The Peter Mintun Collection

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  • Collection
  • Collector(s)

About his collection Peter Mintun writes:
“My house was completed in 1897, and its architect was Henri Fouchaux. The reason I fell in love with this house is that it was so well preserved and maintained. One family, named Priester, owned it for seventy-seven years. It still has its pocket doors, call buttons, drapery rods, speaking tubes, dumbwaiter and seven fireplaces.

Down the hall is my sheet music library, containing about 13,000 individual pieces, mostly from the early 1900s up into the 1940s. I have collected ever since I was a little boy, fascinated by the covers, of course, because they introduced me to hundreds of performers who were legends in their time. Even if the song is bad, its cover might be worth admiring.

The first parlor has two reproducing pianos in it, a Welte-Mignon and an AMPICO. They both play rolls especially made for them from the teens until the 1930s, when radio and the Great Depression made them obsolete. Special recording pianos captured not only the notes, but also the tempo and phrasing of each pianist and played them back on instruments such as these. Major concert pianists recorded for these instruments, including Rachmaninoff, Gabrilowitch, de Pachmann, Paderewski, Debussy and many more. In the popular field, rolls were made by Ferde Grofé, Ray Turner, George Gershwin, Vee Lawnhurst and Zez Confrey. I have learned a great deal from listening to piano roll arrangements of the 1920s and ‘30s.

In the front parlor is a Victor V talking machine, which is used only for records of the acoustic era, in other words, records made before the advent of the microphone and amplification. When the Victor Company created a machine with an “inside” (concealed) horn (more like a piece of furniture), they called it the Victrola.

My second parlor is devoted to 2,500 magazines from the early 1900s, magazines of all types, from The New Yorker, the original Life humor magazine, Arts and Decoration, House and Garden, House Beautiful, American Hairdresser, Architectural Forum, the first Esquire, Apparel Arts, Billboard, Broadcast Weekly, Country Life In America, Fortune, the Gramophone, Metronome, Musical Digest, Popular Song Hits, Radio Music Merchant, Stage, The Dance, Vanity Fair, and other music, theatre, architecture and even restaurant management magazines. They are full of articles and advertisements that reflect the taste and culture of the 1920s and 1930s.

My piano studio contains my best piano, the Steinway concert grand that belonged to composer Dana Suesse (pronounced Sweese). Suesse, who composed ‘My Silent Love’ and ‘The Night Is Young And You’re So Beautiful’ purchased the piano in 1934 after the success of her song ‘You Oughta Be In Pictures.’ During her life it was played by her colleagues George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Cy Coleman and Oscar Straus. I frequently make recordings and video in this room, especially my daily youtube videos (see petermintunmusic on youtube.com).

I have tried to restore each room in the house as it might have been in its original incarnation. Upstairs I have a bathroom I’m very proud of. I spent about six months getting it back to the way it was in the 1890s. The fixtures are all original to the house, claw-foot bathtub, marble sink, and high tank toilet, even down to the primitive electrical outlet.

Down the hall is my sheet music library, containing about 13,000 individual pieces, mostly from the early 1900s up into the 1940s. I have collected ever since I was a little boy, fascinated by the covers, of course, because they introduced me to hundreds of performers who were legends in their time. Even if the song is bad, its cover might be worth admiring. Although journeymen illustrators designed most sheet music, there are occasional covers by famous artists such as John Held, Jr. and Russell Patterson. I collected music years before I was able to read the music. The information on the covers gave me a broad education in stage and film productions. I can usually recognize the sheet music if I am shown just a tiny corner of the cover.

When I was a little boy, 78-rpm records were still sold in record stores. All of our children’s records were 78s, such as Bozo The Clown or Bugs Bunny. Some of my first old records were given to me by my grandparents. In my teens I really started collecting out of more than curiosity. Records from the past teach us how music was interpreted in a time very different than our own. They capture brilliant moments in the lives of talented artists of the stage and screen.”

Visit Peter Mintun’s website.

Peter Mintun began playing the piano by ear at the age of three. Born into a musical household in Berkeley, California, one of four children, he grew up playing for parties, musical shows, ballroom dancing schools, and silent films at museums and colleges. Early on his leanings to the music of the 1920s and 30s caused him to reject the fashion of his contemporary time and to develop into one of today's leading interpreters of popular music written between the two World Wars— those vintage melodies with such classic style that they, in Mintun’s words, “transcend time.”

Peter Mintun has performed with symphony orchestras, with his own society dance orchestra, and has entertained royalty, film and stage stars, heads of industry, and composers themselves. His piano playing has graced such rooms as L'Etoile in the Huntington Hotel, Masons in The Fairmont, the Madison Room of The New York Palace Hotel, and Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle.

CD recordings include: “Deep Purple," "Grand Piano," “Peter Mintun Piano at The Paramount," and "Yours for a Song—Here’s to the Ladies." In 1998 he participated in the Gershwin Centennial symposium at The Library of Congress discussing the music and career of Dana Suesse; and appeared on PBS’ American Masters series in the program "Yours For A Song—The Women of Tin Pan Alley" for which he also served as Musical Advisor, supplying information, phonograph records, sheet music, taped interviews and vintage photos. Also in 1998 he performed with Joan Morris and William Bolcom on National Public Radio in a program profiling women composers taped live in The Oak Room at The Algonquin Hotel.

Peter Mintun has appeared in concert at New York's Film Forum, Town Hall, the National Arts Club, and the Museum of Modern Art. In 2000 he joined Barbara Carroll performing in the "Michael Feinstein and Friends" series at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Each year, since 1994, he has lead his own "Peter Mintun Orchestra" at the San Francisco Symphony's New Year’s Eve Gala at Davies Symphony Hall. In 2002 Peter Mintun performed for a six-month engagement at The Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia inaugurating their newly decorated Old White Lounge, designed by Carlton Varney. He returned to entertain New York audiences with Steve Ross at The Stanhope Hotel for a special two-week duo piano engagement.

In addition to performing classic popular music Peter Mintun serves as a consultant wherever there is a need for musical research about popular music of 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. His extensive knowledge of the period and talent for writing, have made him a favorite among record labels re-issuing classic material. Peter Mintun has been a champion of the composer Dana Suesse (1909–1987) for many years. He has played her music on CDs, and concerts. When Suesse died Mintun was appointed literary executor of her estate. In recent years he has helped facilitate the release of two CDs devoted to the music of Suesse, one on the Pearl label (in Britain) and one on Premier (New York).

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