The piano is not confined to what two - or even four - hands can produce. In an earlier post, I wrote a little bit about what piano rolls were used for in the days before acoustic recordings. One could go out and buy a roll of pianists like Busoni, or Horowitz, or Paderewski, take it home and put it in the piano, sit back, relax, and enjoy an approximated (!) performance.
With the work of Conlon Nancarrow, however, the focus changed from reproducing the performance of an actual pianist, to using the player piano to create pieces of music that were so complex, it was impossible for pianists to perform them. This opened up wonderful new possibilities to composers - something that perhaps has not been fully explored.
The French-Canadian pianist and composer Marc-André Hamelin has created a few pieces for player piano inspired, no doubt, by Nancarrow’s music. Like Nancarrow, these pieces are filled with overwhelmingly complex rhythmic and surprisingly inventive harmonic ideas, all topped off by a wonderful sense of humor.
Here’s something to make you smile - Hamelin’s Circus Galop for player piano.