The Condon music roll archive captures the playing of more than 700 pianists including Debussy and Gershwin.

The world’s leading authority on piano rolls, Australian Denis Condon, has died at the age of 78, leaving as his legacy a vast archive of rare rolls, recordings and reproducing pianos from the early 1900s.

Born in Hamilton, NSW in 1933, Condon began collecting piano rolls at the age of 15: his father, who had a heart condition and could no longer pump the pedals of the household player piano, traded the instrument for a reproducing piano. “I was the only person I knew at the time who was insterested in them,” he said.

Manufactured in the early 1900s by companies including Welte Mignon (first marketed in 1904), Ampico (1911), Duo-Art (1914) and Hupfeld’s Triphonola (1919), paper piano rolls recorded the degree of the force with which each note must be struck to reproduce the music as the artist played it in the recording session – a faithful reproduction of their playing style and technique. Many legendary artists of this era preferred this medium to other recording methods such as cylinders or shellac discs.

Now totalling more than 7,000 rolls (many more than 100 years...