Felix Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture – Roll recording C.1908

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Here is one of Mendelssohn’s best known works which was played and recorded on a piano roll around 1910. The four hands arrangement (presumably by Mendelssohn) was performed by two pianists, Josef Weiss and Emerich Stefaniai who together made a number of rolls in duet at Leipzig for Hupfeld AG before WW1.
Both pianists have unfortunately been long forgotten.
The Austro – Hungarian pianist Josef Weiss had a very distinguished career – he was not only a ‘pupil’ of Liszt, but friend and colleague of both Mahler and Busoni. A technically gifted pianist, his style of playing although somewhat eccentric was brilliantly effective. He recording many piano rolls but very few gramophone records, all show an interesting interpretative approach.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out much about Emerich Stefaniai He was probably from Hungary and a child prodigy – certainly at the time he made this roll he was still a very young man and he may have been a pupil of Weiss. Maybe someone has more information?
For those who think piano rolls are not a valid recording medium, it is worth pointing out that longer piano works such as this could not in the 1900’s be recorded on to gramophone records without either making huge cuts or the pianist playing beat the clock. The roll recordings therefore in many ways are a more faithful record of the overall performance but not necessarily of the dynamics.
My apologies for the sound distortion in the upper volume level – four hands make it FF and evidently my camera couldn’t cope.

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9 Comments on "Felix Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture – Roll recording C.1908"

  1. Thanks for uploading this. Josef Weiss was a Liszt pupil. Catalogues indicate that he recorded the Liszt Sonata on a Phillips-Duca roll but the roll does not appear to have surfaced. Does anyone have it and if so would they please arrange for it to be played back, recorded and issued on Youtube? Weiss seems to have been an excellent pianist. Thanks for the annotations .

  2. @gerardbedecarter Yes you're right and I'm still looking. It's out there somewhere but I don't think you'll ever find it in the form of the Duca rolls, there's more chance of finding the 88 note standard rolls but for some reason Phillips rolls are pretty rare.
    In any event, you may have gathered that I don't think much of reproducing rolls anyway. Most were coded post performance and I don't think they're as accurate as pedal power can be.

  3. Can you confirm that the gentleman on the left in the image shown at the very end of this roll is that of Josef Weiss. No doubt it is, but I have to ask the question. Thanks!

  4. @gerardbedecarter Yes, it is indeed Josef Weiss. The photos are stuck on another roll they did which is pre-1914. Weiss is an interesting pianist, I will endeavour to put up some more of his rolls which I have, including an outstanding Harmonies du Soir.

  5. @RollaArtis Thanks very much for confirming this. I would very much like to hear Josef Weiss in Harmonies du Soir and any other Liszt etc. Also, of course, the Liszt Sonata. Somebody must have it. Someone in the Netherlands, perhaps.

  6. Josef Weiss looks in the photo exactly how I expected he would have looked. Incredibly gifted but a little lacking in resilience and ability to compromise. Am I talking nonsense?

  7. @szendyarpad Thank you very much for your very interesting information, Stefaniai was evidently an important figure in Hungarian music, interesting that he studied with Busoni and Dohnanyi – all made rolls for Hupfeld but not in great numbers. Stefaniai it seems was Weiss's piano partner for the duets as nearly all the rolls he did are four hands. The only solo roll he made was the Muette di Portici fantasie which I had once but it quite obviously was heavily edited. I hope you liked the photo.

  8. szendyarpad's comment seems to be gone, and I do not know the information in it, but I just found that Imre (Emerich) Stefaniai was Geza Anda's teacher at the Budapest Franz Liszt Academy.

  9. Thank you for this- it  is charming and sounds good.:)

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