Pianella / PianOrchestra
Piano and Pipework Scales

Piano & Pipework Scale Considerations

In the Philipps Pianella Mandoline, the Pianella Caecilia and Pianella Paganini Geigen Piano / Orchestrion line of instruments (a.k.a., Wurlitzer Mandolin PianOrchestra, Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra and Wurlitzer Paganini Violin Pianos and Orchestrions) the piano is the foundational instrument, and as such essentially determines the limits of the machine's overall musical scale or compass. This potential scale is then further restricted by limitations imposed by the music roll's size and capabilities. To get around limitations of the music roll, pneumatic couplers or some form of mechanical trickery are used to get more out of the machine than the music roll can directly handle.

One of the easiest and most common ways to expand the effective note compass is to extend the bass portion of the piano beyond the range of notes that can be directly operated by the music roll. An instrument with a 56 or 61-note compass scale, for instance, would have a piano with a bass scale as much as one octave larger, with any "extra" bass notes that extend below the operational 56 or 61-note compass coupled to the next higher octave piano note. This kind of coupling adds bass piano notes to the musical scale that could not be otherwise played, substantially enhancing the bass accompaniment.

Not all pianos, however, such as those in the smaller Mandolin PianOrchestras, had a piano action with more than 61 hammers. In this case, where pneumatic coupling of additional bass piano notes would not work, the "coupling" of additional or "extra" bass notes was accomplished by means of some mechanical trickery. By "triple stringing" up to an octave of what would normally have been only a two-string bass section, the bass range could be extended. Triple stringing put three bass strings where only two identically wound and tuned strings of the exact same kind would normally have been. The third, added string, was a wound bass string, too, but wound and tuned one octave lower then the two other bass strings. This triple stringing technique not only saved both weight and space, since a smaller piano could be used, but it also obviated the necessity for a larger and more complex main valve chest assembly, which was a necessary expense when the bass piano notes were pneumatically coupled.

Relating Other Voices to the Piano Scale

The pitch for percussive instruments (other than the piano, such as orchestra bells, xylophone, and a mandolin attachment) and all pipework voices are based upon some portion of the piano scale (excluding coupled bass notes). This amounts to a 61-note compass for the Mandolin PianOrchestra and a 56-note compass for the Concert PianOrchestra. Whenever a note is played on the piano the same corresponding note is sounded on any other instrumental voice that is turned on, unless the note compass for a particular voice excludes the particular piano note being played. As an example, when the piano note C2 (the second note above middle C) is played while the xylophone, violin pipes and flute pipes are turned on, the exact same musical note is also sounded for each of the three added voices.

Even though certain instrument voices, such as orchestra bells or pipe ranks, may be tuned an octave higher or lower than a corresponding piano note, the range of the machine is still essentially confined to the range of its piano, which in the Mandolin PianOrchestra cannot be turned off. In the larger orchestrions, like the Concert PianOrchestra, for which even the smallest style is fitted with many ranks of pipes, it is common for certain pipe ranks (like piccolo, violoncello, or a reed voice) to be tuned to a pitch one octave higher or lower than the piano. Thus, since not all instrumental voices in an orchestrion are tuned to exactly the same vibrational frequency, to easily communicate and describe the pitch relationships between the piano and other musical components some kind of standardized terminology is useful.

To this end, there are several conflicting schools of thought on this matter. So, then, what is the best way to describe relative pitches? For me, the answer came from my good friend, Art Reblitz. He is not only a reputable and long time restorer of automatic musical instruments, but he is also an accomplished musician who benefits from applying pipe organ terminology to pitch relationships in orchestrions and band organs. There is an age-old precedent for using such notation, since pipe organ construction and terminology predates the use of pipework in orchestrions by centuries. Thus, using consistent terminology in the closely related fields of organs and orchestrions allows anyone to converse equally well with pipe organ craftsmen (who can still make pipes), as well as orchestrion enthusiasts, who may only have a casual interest in the mechanics of mechanical music.

Defining the Pitch of Pipework

In the parlance of pipe organs the pitch of a rank of pipes is commonly described in feet, rather than by stating its vibrational frequency, the usual reference standard of measurement being the 8 foot (abbreviated: 8') pitch rank. Note that this definition is based on an open pipe, not a stoppered one, as stopped or covered pipes play an octave lower than an open pipe of roughly the same length. Some general characteristics of an 8' pitch rank are:

This 8' pitch definition is important for our discussion of orchestrions, because whenever an 8' stop is played on a pipe organ the note of middle C on the organ keyboard plays the same note as middle C on a piano keyboard. A rank playing at 4' pitch plays an octave higher, while a rank playing at 16' pitch plays an octave lower. These pitch designations, along with the pipe names, are what is engraved on the draw knobs or stop tabs of a pipe organ console.

Although, technically speaking, an orchestrion pipe rank may not start with an 8 foot long pipe, let us nevertheless say that any whole or partial rank (as in an orchestrion) that plays in unison with the piano, regardless of the actual note compass of that rank, "speaks at an 8' pitch." It then follows that:

Pianellas (a.k.a., PianOrchestras) commonly have pipe voices playing at 4', 8' and 16' pitches, and occasionally at a 2' pitch (such as with the high-end flageolets oftentimes used in the sophisticated Paganini Violin Pianos and Orchestrions). Having a rank of 8' pitch violins and a rank of 16' pitch violoncellos offers much more than just being able to solo a string voice at different pitches. By simultaneously playing pipe ranks of differing pitches a rich and harmonic fullness of sound can be achieved that is unattainable when all voices are of the same exact pitch.

As a very simplified rule of thumb for Pianella / PianOrchestra type machines, keeping in mind there are always exceptions, the pitch of various pipe ranks can generally be stated as follows:

Divisions of Scale

In the PianOrchestra, there is no mechanical or absolute division of the scale into bass, accompaniment, Melodie Violin and counterMelodie Violin, as with a band organ, for instance. The lines between musical sections are somewhat blurred, if not by design, then by practice, especially in Wurlitzer arrangements. Philipps arrangements tend to use the pipe, xylophone, and bell compass ranges with care, often deftly using a specific pipe or percussive voice in solo, just as it might be played in a real human orchestra. Wurlitzer, on the other hand, seems to have typically cut predictable piano arrangements that could more or less be transposed and used for many types of Wurlitzer music rolls. Relatively minor changes, added flourishes and dropped-in register controls are about all that was needed to adapt the piano arrangements to whatever larger, more complex machine the roll was to be used on. The Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra rolls, however, do oftentimes depart from the one-for-all piano arranging short-cut technique, with arrangements specifically tailored for pipework, as the piano could be completely turned off in the Concert PianOrchestra machines.

For the Mandolin and Concert PianOrchestra, if there is any such thing as a distinct counterMelodie Violin section, it would probably be the uppermost 13 notes. These are the notes used by the orchestra bells, which, in music arranged by Wurlitzer, can and occasionally do play a sort of counterMelodie Violin. However, what may seem to be a genuine counterMelodie Violin section to the layman, may not be so to a musician. According to Art Reblitz (who has arranged music rolls for the PianOrchestra, as well as many other types of mechanical music machines), what the bells do in a PianOrchestra would usually be called "ornamentation" of the Melodie Violin. "Most musicians," Mr. Reblitz reminds me, "would define a counterMelodie Violin as another melodic line, secondary to the main Melodie Violin, often of a sustained nature and often in the same or lower general note range as the Melodie Violin."

Thus, as it turns out, counterMelodie Violin can indeed be played on the 13 orchestra bells, but more importantly, a counterMelodie Violin can effectively be played on nearly any segment of the various pipe ranks. This is accomplished by either playing counterMelodie Violin in the "shrill," more dominant sounding upper range of pipe tones, or by sustaining notes in a lower part of the compass, making the counterMelodie Violin stand out because of the duration of its tones. Both methods of counterMelodie Violin attainment can be easily observed in Wurlitzer arrangements.

By far, it is the uppermost 30 notes (which includes the 13-note orchestra bells, 30-note xylophone and most pipe ranks) that gets the most attention, and which carries the musical load. It is this 30-note range of notes that could be taken to be a true Melodie Violin section, because it is within these 30 notes that the Melodie Violin is mostly played, with occasional skirmishes into the octave below. In the Mandolin PianOrchestra, ranks greater than 30 notes, such as with 37, 42 or 49 note ranks) extend into what might be considered the accompaniment section, although any clear delineation between this pseudo accompaniment portion and what might be considered a true bass section seems blurred. Observing Wurlitzer arrangements, it does seems clear that the piano bass is played as one might expect, suggesting that there is, indeed, a real bass section encompassing the lower piano bass notes.

The Mandolin PianOrchestra incorporates all the different pipe ranks into a single pipe chest, no matter what the compass. Made in various configurations, surviving machines have been observed containing pipe chests with up to five ventils (a ventil is a control valve that pressurizes and/or vents a section of a pipe chest), and that can hold ranks of 30, 37, 42 and/or 49 pipes, with one control ventil for each speaking voice or rank. In the smaller instruments, that have one to three ranks of pipes of no more than 42 notes, the pipework is usually lined up in one or more neat rows. In the larger chests, however, incorporating ranks of 30 notes alongside ranks of 37, 42 or 49 notes (with large bass pipes), since one chest holds all the pipes, all the pipes of any one voice cannot be arranged in one single neat and logical looking row. In these chests, the pipes in the two top treble octaves of a rank are arranged in pairs, with the highest sounding note in front of the next lower sounding note. In the bass region, the large bass pipes may be arranged in a staggered fashion, and placed in as many as four separate rows at the bass end of the chest.

In contrast, the Concert PianOrchestra has two independently controlled pipe chests. The unified 30-note treble (or Melodie Violin) chest has one ventil for each speaking voice or rank. The bass chest is a completely independent 26-note chest, also with one ventil for each speaking voice or rank. If a rank is to extend over the complete musical compass of the machine, the treble and bass pipes chest ventils for a particular type of pipe voice are connected or coupled together, making for a rank of 56 notes.

In the Paganini machines, the tracker scale does mechanically force some degree of Melodie Violin versus bass/accompaniment into any arrangement. However, Wurlitzer arrangements for the sophisticated Paganini instruments do not do them justice, paying scant attention to the musical possibilities of the machine. Using what are basically nothing more than Wurlitzer piano arrangements adapted to the Paganini scale, register controls and trapwork were added to make the rolls work on the rather limited number of imported Paganini Violin Pianos and Orchestrions. To hear the Paganini in its full glory requires original Philipps P.D. (Philipps Duca -- piano only) or P.P. (Pianella Paganini) rolls, some of which are astonishing in technique, rendering popular or classical music with an elegant sense of refinement and feeling.


Written by Terry Hathaway, with information provided by Terry Hathaway and Art Reblitz.


The Art of Organ Building, by George Ashdown Audsley
Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1965
ISBN 0-486-21314-5
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 64-18839/MN