Admittedly, devices for producing music mechanically had existed in various forms and degrees of sophistication for centuries. However, it was not until the player piano was invented around the turn of the twentieth century that art music

was popularised through mechanisation. When the new instrument/machine invention was first launched, it was intended as a means of reducing fatigue in keyboard performance and of sidestepping musical literacy as a prerequisite for this activity. As such, the player piano was an important factor in the democratisation of music. Due to the role of the traditional piano as the undisputed altar of domestic and highly gendered music making, its new mechanically operated rival had a particularly significant effect on the perception, performance and appreciation of music, and thus implicitly on the fictional treatment of these phenomena. In contrast to other more or less contemporary technical appliances for recording and reproducing sound such as the phonograph and the gramophone, the player piano granted its operator the freedom of individual expression by making her or him the master of the music rolls; while the machine produced the notes, the performer was at liberty to modify the tempo and the expression. This potential had a subversive effect on traditional notions concerning the status of the musical work itself as well as that of the people who were in different ways defined by their relationship to it. As a consequence, the established definition of musical form and the respective roles of composer, performer and listener was upset. A particularly controversial figure was the virtuoso who cut across all categories and came to be associated with mechanisation, superficiality and excess. While the nineteenth-century virtuoso had embodied these features, they were reified in the player piano. Hence, the instrument was an engineering product and a genius in one – a virtuoso machine.