The year is 1899. While workers on the Brussels Mont des Arts are screwing the bolts into Paul Saintenoy’s steel structure for the clothing giant, Old England, the dockworkers in Antwerp are unloading the first “Aeolian player pianos” from the New York Red Star Line onto the quay. Pianolas rapidly adorned many well-to-do salons and even the music-loving Elisabeth of Belgium received her own mechanical piano.
Now, let’s turn the calendar forward to May 2007: on the occasion of the Queen Elisabeth Competition for piano, the Musical Instruments Museum, the current inhabitant of the Old England building, invites you to a pianola rendezvous. This exhibit presenting different types of mechanical pianos, one of which is the “Autopiano” from the estate of Her Majesty the Queen Elisabeth, will give you the chance to enjoy a musical moment listening to a recital, a lecture-demonstration or to try your own hand at this amazing technique.
The key figure in this series of activities is Rex Lawson, a man who has devoted his life to the pianola. Rex is one of the most highly revered performers and is an authority on all matters surrounding mechanically produced piano playing. He is among the directors of The Pianola Institute in London, whose goal is to restore esteem for the musical prowesses of these instruments.