Arrangements for Triola

As a sort of experiment, this page presents most of my arrangements for Triola, a self-playing zither. I do not know of any pages giving exhaustive information on the Triola—but you can find much information when searching the archives of Mechanical Music Digest; especially John Wolff and Nicholas Simons gave information on this instrument.

I wrote most of the following arrangements in 2002 for Mr.Augustin, a Triola owner and player in Saxony (Germany). In 2003, I improved (or rather rewrote) the arrangements after learning more about the Triola.

Mr.Augustin's Triola, numbered 8497, was bought by Mr.Augustin's father in or around 1923, mainly as a means of earning money in the then very bad times in Germany. Thus, the current owner is not a collector of any sorts—which appears to be an exceedingly rarity in our hobby (with the excepton of player pianos). He told me that he routinely uses the instrument to play at meetings with his colleague ex-miners in his home area of the Erzgebirge in Saxonia—i.e., this Triola is still used in "real life" (as opposed to "collector's demonstrations" or the like).
In 2002 und 2003, Nicholas Simons, Christian Greinacher and John Wolff thankfully helped me to understand many of the technical and musical aspects of the Triola—I failed to return to them later, because I lost the Triola out of sight somewhat.
A short time ago, Mr.Augustin came back to me as he wanted a few more arrangements. I took the opportunity of a holiday journey to visit him in his home to "get in contact with the instrument." At this occasion, I recorded nine of my earlier arrangements. The sound quality is not the best, as I simply started my laptop near the Triola and had Mr.Augustin play the rolls. We also did not take our time to tune or regulate the Triola, rather, we took the approach of a "real-world, just-do-it use" of the Triola (especially the f-sharp of chord no.4 is quite out of tune, I'm sorry to admit).

As usual on my website, you can listen to an MP3 files of each arrangement by clicking on the black notes. The blue notes, on the other hand, are just used for explanatory purposes—they do not have any music behind them.

With most arrangements, I have added some text explaining my self-critique about problems with the arrangement. One problem of this instrument is the missing damping of its strings (see also remarks below at the arrangement of The Third Man). In this respect, the Triola can be compared with instruments like music boxes (in "Das Mechanische Musikinstrument" No.90, p.35, Jürgen Ehlers writes the following about music boxes [translation by me]: "... The real hearing pleasure only comes if the piece played is known to the listener ... The listener must detect the melody in all the sounds emitted."), glockenspiels, but also the classical harp. Arrangements for all these instruments require considerable restraint, a goal I do not always achieve in my "harmonic enthusiasm!"

If you would like to add additional remarks, questions, or criticism, I would be delighted if you sent me an email:

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or by posting to the Mechanical Music Digest (see Links).


Blue Spanish Eyes

With this slow piece, one of the "problems" (or features) of the Triola is not that audible: The strings are not damped, therefore a note will sound quite some time after the corresponding slot in the roll has ended. A smaller problem: Because of the low repetition rate of single notes, I had to tie together the first two notes in the long scales. Only in the coda I separated them:

Der Dritte Mann
Anton Karas

This is of course the zither piece! In contrast to many (smaller) organ scales, it is possible to arrange the chromatic melody correctly. Also chromatic harmonization is possible:
The unclear final chords, on the other hand, are somewhat disturbing: Because of the non-damped strings, the melody strings will sound for around 4 seconds (listen to the single note played at the beginning, just after our little discussion); the bass strings will sound for roughly 2 to 4 seconds. The fast harmonic changes in the very last three chords I–V–I result in a "cacophony" after the last chord—which could maybe be prevented by manually damping all strings.

Alte Kameraden
Carl Teike

Two problems:

  • The melody in the trio requires precisely calibrated vibrating springs—we did not take care of this in our ad-hoc recording session, therefore some notes are almost inaudible.
  • The fast triplets near the end are drowned by the many chords around them:

Ave Maria

Here I compromised with some bass chords. The Triola only provides six major chords—the Bach accompaniment would require much more complex harmonies. I skipped the bass completely when the harmonics where totally unacceptable—but I stamped bass numbers at some more "daring" places ...


This old German hit has somewhat too complex rhythmical figures which are drowned by the many notes from the counter-melody and by the Triola's fast note "trilling."

Glückauf, der Steiger kommt

In this old German miners' song, I tried to hint at the silver and gold (in the text) by using single notes (or strokes) above the melody—see the score above.

Santa Lucia

In this traditional Scandinavian song, I had to tie together a few notes because of the Triola's low note repetition—see the score above.

Strangers In The Night


The additional higher notes and the fast-changing harmonics create a somewhat chaotic arrangement. Especially the final chords "fall over each other"—although as an arranger, I prefer such "strange" chords over more straight ones:

Petersburger Schlittenfahrt
Richard Eilenberg
This recording contains only a few bars from the beginning, including some discussion and a re-try ...

... because the accompaniment chords are spaced much too closely. An attempt to manually correct this by striking out many chord numbers with a ball-point pen lead to more confusion and the decision to re-punch the roll and provide correctly stamped chord numbers.


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