Stravinsky’s Player Piano [...]

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Stravinsky, like many artists of his time, saw in mechanical reproduction of performance a way to ensure fidelity to the original artistic vision. Hedy’s Folly records his initial reaction to the player piano (and later, the gramaphone):

Pleyel had contacted Stravinsky in 1921 to propose that he transcribe his works for the Pleyela reproducing piano. The company offered him use of a suite of rooms in its building in Paris and technical support. He quickly decided to accept the offer, he wrote, for two reasons:

“In order to prevent the distortion of my compositions by future interpreters, I had always been anxious to find a means of imposing some restriction on the notorious liberty…which prevents the public from obtaining a correct idea of the author’s intentions. This possibility was now afforded by the rolls of the mechanical piano, and a little later, by gramaphone records.” — Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes (amazon)

It is strange to think it, but until very modern times composers and playwrights had no way to “fix” the interpretation of their work, to prevent its inevitable drift as interpretations of interpretations changed its nature over time. The ability of reproduction technology to control such interpretation was among the very first benefits seen by composers. (Debussy and Gershwin had similar reactions). Mechanical reproduction has always been partly about control.


See also Jacquard Loom for an early example of mechanization by recipe.