Player-Piano Research in Spain: The case of the Victoria label and the discovery of unknown works by Catalan composers Federico Mompou and Manuel Blancafort
Founded in 1905 by Joan Baptista Blancafort, Victoria was the pioneer and undisputed leader of player piano roll production in Spain during the three decades of the “pianola era”. Its catalogue has over 4,000 works, and a significant part of them were exported worldwide. Despite its importance in the national market, Victoria was a relatively small company compared to big labels such as Aeolian, QRS, Ampico, Hupfeld or Welte and its catalogue seems to tell us that its production was entirely dedicated to metronomic –not recorded– rolls. As with most historic companies in the sector, it is very difficult to talk about technical issues as most of the documentation has been lost. However, recent researches confirmed the existence of unreleased recordings that great composers such as Federico Mompou, Manuel Blancafort and Joaquin Rodrigo made in La Garriga (a small village 30 miles from Barcelona) in the late 1920’s. These recordings were probably made using a hand made mechanism designed not for commercial purposes but with extremely good results. This findings ―unpublished and completely unknown until today― includes the very first recording of Mompou's playing an early version of his first and second Preludes and also among 20 ragtime and foxtrot pieces written by Blancafort and Mompou under the pseudonym “Hobby”.
Over the last years, the Arts and Musicology Department of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain), has undertaken several projects related to the study of player piano rolls. This includes the design and implementation of a technology to preserve a digital copy of the rolls and generate both an audio and a MIDI file automatically that is been used in the Barcelona Music Museum (2015), the National Library of Catalonia (2015) and the National Library of Spain (2016). Although the importance of this preservation projects we strongly believe that another fascinating challenge begins now with the study of everything that the rolls tell us about the music of the past. So, starting from a brief historical approach on the activity of Victoria and his collection this proposal also aims to present some of our researches and analysis on the interpretation and reception of music from all this materials.
As a researcher he is an active member of the MUSC research group (Music in Contemporary Societies, UAB) and the SSIT (Silence, Sound, Image and Technology, TC-UPF), and his research interests moves towards the multidisciplinary relationships between music and technology. He has published several articles and book chapters about music technology and audio production techniques as creative tools, focusing on how technology influences, not only music creation, but also its aesthetic perception and reception. In the field of historical formats he’s been working about the relations between past and present listening practices (as, for instance, player piano music being studied as a precursor of practices like karaoke or Guitar Hero). Also he’s very interested in the possibilities given by reproducing rolls for graphical analysis of historical performances. In recent years he has worked with some of the main institutions involving sound archives as The National Library of Spain, The Barcelona Music Museum, The Mediterranean Museum or The Catalonia National Library. He has been recently awarded by The Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation with a grant to work with a series of highly valuable musical pieces, located on piano rolls stored at the Historical Archive of Ecuador, in Quito. At the same time he has also received a grant by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (US) to support the playback and recording of original piano rolls recorded by Federico Mompou and Manuel Blancafort in the late twenties.