DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Keyboard Thursday album review: Wagner's opera music reincarnated on player organ

By John Terauds on March 7, 2013

A sketch of the Welte Philharmonic organ that was supposed to have been installed in the Britannic in 1914.
A sketch of the Welte Philharmonic organ that was supposed to have been installed in the Britannic in 1914.

The Britannic Organ Vol. 5 from European label Oehms Classics is a rarity of rarities, collecting performances of the music of Richard Wagner imprinted on rolls made for Welte player organs 100 years ago — in time for the Wagner centenary.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

The only way we can tell how pianists and organists interpreted music before the advent of the phonograph is by listening to the rolls they recorded for companies like Welte in Europe and Aeolian in the United States.

wagnerFor the 100th anniversary of Wagner’s birth in 1913, Welte hired the world’s best concert organists to record rolls for its player mechanisms. The rolls are made of paper, so are being digitized in a complex, expensive process, to preserve the hands and feet that originally recorded them.

In the digitising process, which has been coordinated in Switzerland, the rolls were brought to the Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen in order to record the music one of the few surviving organs with a working Welte playback mechanism — one that includes cute little special effects like bells.

The instrument used to record this album is called the Britannic Organ because it was built for White Star Lines to be installed in one of the Titanic‘s sister ships. (The story of the Britannic, which never saw regular passenger duty because it was commandeered to serve as a hospital ship during World War I, is just as tragic as the Titanic‘s. You can read the short version here.)

What we get is a colourful collection of Overtures and miscellaneous other largely operatic material from Wagner’s greatest hits.

Particularly fine is a transcription of “Träume” from the Wesendonck-Lieder and a jaunty Homage March for King Ludwig II of Bavaria on disc 1 and the Death March from Götterdämmerung and the Overture to Rienzi on disc 2.

The Götterdämmerung excerpt, with its bells, chimes and heavy tremolo (vibrato) is cheesy yet utterly engrossing.

You can find all the details on this fascinating two-CD album here, but the information is all in German.

+++

If you’re planning to be in Switzerland, the Museum of Music Automatons has a special exibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Welte Philharmonic Organ running until March 31, 2014. Details here.

+++

Here is a little home video of a Welte Philharmonic player organ at work, at Broomhill, Sir David Salomon’s house in Kent, in the U.K., followed by a bit more Offenbach on another Welte organ:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

QUIZ | What Is Your Canadian Classical Music IQ?

By Ludwig Van on September 19, 2017

Do you think you know a lot about Canadian Classical Music? Let's put you to the test.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

INSTAGRAM | Close Encounters Of The Instrumental Kind

By Jennifer Liu on August 25, 2017

We've rounded up photo evidence of musicians who played with the idea of changing instruments. That's Insta-worthy!
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

SCRUTINY | Mysterious Barricades Concert Society Raises Suicide Awareness In Toronto And Across Canada

By Robin Roger on September 11, 2017

Over one continuous day, music communities from St. John's to Victoria performed concerts around the theme of suicide awareness and healing.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.