Spanish piano rolls in Stanford Library’s Archive of Recorded Sound

Esther Burgos Bordonau, PhD (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) gave a paper on the María Jesús Casado García-Sampedro collection of piano rolls at our 2019 conference in London. In this blog post, she writes about an online exhibit she has recently curated dedicated to this collection.

The Piano Roll collection known as “María Jesús Casado García-Sampedro” is one of many that Stanford’s Archive of Recorded Sound conserves in its facilities. Although it’s not a large collection – just 54 rolls – it’s interesting because of the nature and origin of the items collected. It could be considered a “rare” collection.

Stanford’s Archive of Recorded Sound collects a very large number of piano and organ rolls from all over the world. Without a doubt, one of the most outstanding is the “Denis Condon collection” which was purchased in 2015 and marked the beginning of the Piano Roll Project, better known as SUPRA (Stanford University Piano Roll Archive). This project intended not only to keep and maintain these materials for future researchers and scholars, but also to undertake its digitization. Bringing back those old sounds and their appearance to our time is part of the goal of this ambitious project. 

During this time, the Casado García-Sampedro family contacted Stanford Librarians and agreed to donate the entire collection to Stanford University Library. This gift was immediately accepted as the Archive of Recorded Sound didn’t already have a Spanish collection. 

When examining the collection, Spanish and Latin American composers can be found as well as some classical ones. The repertoire is typically Spanish, encompassing a variety of Spanish musical genres: Zarzuelas, Pasodobles, Jotas, Lagarteranas, Peteneras as well as other Latin American musical works, such as Tangos and a typical Pericón. 

The rolls in this collection are all mechanical ones, for piano players. These were not conceived as “artist rolls”, which make them very valuable, but these rolls are also interesting as they permit learning about the music and style of a period of time, as well as habits and fashions of a given country at a certain time in its history. In fact, the date range given in the online exhibit perfectly showcases the most prosperous years of this type of support.

Through this online exhibition on the Stanford University Library webpage dedicated to the Casado García-Sampedro collection, we show an exhaustive study of the titles, composers, musical styles, publishers and main features of the entire collection. We have identified, described and catalogued all the 54 rolls together with a brief study of the collection as well as the donor’s biography. A short introductory video is included in the Chapters tab. Here we explain how the work was done with each one of the rolls and how we managed to unroll them and look at them carefully using the special device that Stanford built for this purpose. 

Also included in the Chapters tab is an explanation of the collection, the bibliographic catalogue and the biography of the donor. The user can also browse documents, pictures, all the piano rolls, and both catalogues (English and Spanish versions). In the About tab, the research Project is explained. To sum up, this is a remarkable contribution to the great sound collection of this outstanding archive as it has given life to 54 unknown Spanish/Hispanic rolls with its music audio files as well as its beautiful scanned images. Congratulations to all!

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