Alongside the Welte-Philharmonie organ, the Seewen Museum of Musical Automatons also possesses an extensive collection of music rolls for this instrument, including 1230 master rolls. In terms of music history, the SeewenBritannicorgan of 1913/14 with its original master roll recordings is an exceedingly valuable instrument. The rolls can be replayed with a high degree of authenticity, thus providing an insight into how the music of the day was interpreted, and giving retrospective detail of the performance practices of an era of which no other recordings exist. The museum is delighted to have found in Bern University of the Arts (part of Bern University of Applied Sciences) and the Swiss National Sound Archives two partners eager to explore the subject matter.
Digitalisation of music rolls
"Wie von Geisterhand" [As if by magic] was the name given to a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation for the purpose of digitalising the music rolls of mechanical musical instruments; the piano and organ rolls of the Welte Company in Freiburg im Breisgau were the first to receive the project's attention. Under the leadership of Bern University of the Arts (part of Bern University of Applied Sciences) in partnership with the Swiss National Sound Archives in Lugano, the major collection of organ rolls belonging to the museum's Philharmonie organ - the 'Britannic' instrument - has been subjected to a digital scanning process and made available to a wider public.
The stated intent of the project was to secure these cultural treasures, make the information they contained available in the digital realm, and thus facilitate research into their immeasurable musical-historical value. Preliminary results of this research work appear in the catalogue published to coincide with this exhibition. Follow-up projects will no doubt yield further results.
The Seewen Museum of Music Automatons is indebted to Daniel Debrunner and his colleagues from the Department of Engineering and Information Technology - part of Bern University of Applied Sciences - who designed and built the music roll scanner and developed the corresponding software; the museum also owes an immense debt of gratitude to David Rumsey who, as an organist and authority on the organ, has spent years studying the museum's music rolls and was so generous with his time and knowledge during the restoration of its Welte-Philharmonie organ.
Catalogue and CDs
Accompanying the temporary exhibition of 2011 is a catalogue - As if by magic - from Seewen into the world - 100 years of Welte-Philharmonie organs - that draws together the latest research findings relating to the Welte-Philharmonie organ. Timed to coincide with this publication, the Seewen Museum of Musical Automatons is delighted to be releasing an initial CD featuring recordings of its Britannic Welte-Philharmonie organ made in association with the Munich-based classics label, OehmsClassics. Visitors to the museum will be thrilled to know that its Britannic organ plays live every day.