This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Boys with Sticks 3

09 December 2017

Most precocious musical children
demonstrate their exceptional talents
by performing on a solo instrument
like the violin or piano.
Despite their youth
these Wunderkind
develop extraordinary skills
that astonish us with their mastery of music.
But only a very very small number
of children exhibit
sufficient rhythmic coordination
along with a musical ear
good enough to play
the ultimate musical instrument -
a symphony orchestra. 

Evidently this young boy had that gift,
as his postcard caption reads:

Der kleinste Dirigent der Welt
Hori Hecht   4 Jahre alt.
The smallest conductor in the world
Hori Hecht 4 years old.

This cherubic German boy stands with arms outstretched, a conductor's baton in his right hand, ready to command the attention of an orchestra.  At least that is what is implied as we can't see the orchestra. And unless Hori Hecht was placed on a very tall box, it would be very hard for the orchestra musicians to see him. I have been unable to find any history about him or his claim to be the youngest conductor in the world. His postcard is unmarked but the printing style is similar to postcards from 1910 to 1920.

Unlike the humorous postcards  I've shown before in this series:  A Young French Maestro; Boys with Sticks 1, Boys with Sticks 2; and Le Chef d'orchestre  (which was an unintentional reprise of the same cards in A Young French Maestro) I believe Hori Hecht was an actual boy conductor because in this decade he competed against a few other small boys who also took up the baton.

 * * *

Der jüngste Kapellmeister der Gegenwart
The youngest bandmaster of the present
Rinaldo Ariodante
aus Wien (Vienna)
— 6 Jahre Alt —
in BOHÈME von Puccini

Like Hori, Rinaldo Ariodante is dressed in short pants with belted tunic and fancy collar ruffs, and brandishes a stout baton as if he was holding off a phalanx of trombones. His luxurious long hair gives him a charismatic appearance suggesting he is from an earlier century. The reference is to the opera La Bohème composed by Giacomo Puccini which premiered in 1896 at Turin's Teatro Regio and was conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini. Considering that this opera has four acts and typically takes over 3 hours to perform, leading singers and orchestra would be quite an accomplishment for a six year old child. However I can't imagine any opera house director allowing a child to do that. It's more likely that Rinaldo led a performance of a short aria excerpt.

The spirited conducting styles of Italian conductors and bandleaders like Toscanini became very popular with the public at the turn of this century. Their manic behavior is where the mythology of the impassioned conductor, the inspired musical leader, the all-powerful Maestro, began.  This postcard was mailed on 17 May 1914 to someone named Engelmann in Worms.

For his next postcard, Rinaldo's outfit is decidedly from the 18th century. His parents have also hired a hairdresser to arrange his mane of dark curly locks.  He seems confident and relaxed as he leans against a photographer's studio chair., almost as if he has just finished conducting a symphony of Mozart or Haydn.

Rinaldo Ariodante
der musikalische Wunderknabe und jüngste Dirigent
the musical prodigy and youngest conductor

His souvenir card has
a postmark of 2 November 1913
from Dortmund to München.
Rinaldo looks about age seven
and taller than his picture in the postcard from 1914.

A third postcard of Rinaldo Ariodante
has the same caption as the last card,
but the image is a closeup photo of the boy's face,
better to show off his long hair.
There is no novelty about this picture.
It's a glamour shot used to promote this child entertainer
to theater agents and adoring fans.

There is no date but based on the other two cards
Rinaldo's conducting career probably
ranged from around 1912 to 1914.
His Italian name and German postcard
are not contradictory I think,
as in this era Germany
had the most theaters and orchestras,
so it was where the money was
for entertainers of any size or nationality.
 Unfortunately history and the internet
have no records of Rinaldo Ariodante
that I could find.
Undoubtedly the Great War of 1914-18
disrupted the
opportunities for concerts.

* * *

This last boy conductor has short pants too
but his long blonde hair
demands an ensemble in white.
(Or maybe lemon yellow?)
His hands and baton are raised for a dramatic downbeat.
His name is in the corner of the postcard.

Rio Gebhardt

The postmark is 24 August 1919 from post-war Berlin. The postcard writer's script is very difficult to read, but I think it does refer to the boy.  Though Rio appears to be about age 7, here again, the postmark is not always contemporary with the image.

In fact Rio Gebhardt was born in 1907 at a hospital in Heilbronn, Germany. His full name was Julius Rigo Gebhardt and his parents were vocalists in a traveling theatrical ensemble. In 1911 he showed off some childish conducting motions leading a gypsy band in Monte Carlo with a spoon. His father decided to expand Rio's talent and taught him proper conducting technique to music from gramophone records. He became a novelty music hall act that was not given serious attention from real musicians. However Rio's uncle recognized a real musical prodigy and arranged for the boy to have lessons in piano and composition. Eventually as a young man he found work as a pianist, composer, and band leader in Germany's early radio networks. In 1932 he composed a jazz piano concerto in imitation of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Though Rio Gebhardt was too young to serve in the First World War, he was not so lucky in the Second War. He was drafted into the German army in 1942 and killed on the Eastern Front in Russia in 1944. He was only 36 years old.

 * * *

These boy conductors were a curious sensation that started in the pre-war years when child prodigies of all kinds were paraded across the theater stages of Europe and America. They were a show business enterprise that exploited the public's fascination with youthful genius, whether real or invented.

Conductors may look like they wave a magic musical wand, but of course the baton does not make any sound. A concert of a symphony orchestra requires actual sheet music for a group of musicians to play, and a conductor only directs the music's tempo and dynamics, and maybe the phrasing too. Competent orchestra musicians really don't need a conductor for most music, though it does help sometimes to have a metronomic stick keep the ensemble together. No orchestra today,  major or minor, would ever perform under a child conductor. (Though I've known a few adult conductors who were unbelievably childish.)  This notion of a boy conductor was a short-lived fad because it was entertaining to see a child imitate the choreography of real conductors. Some of the boys, like Rio Gebhardt, did become successful in the music profession but that is another story for a future post. Stay tuned for another installment of Boys with Sticks.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the fishing is always good.


Here is a nearly black and white photo of
my dog Scarlett faithfully bringing in the newspaper
this morning after yesterday's storm
dropped 10+ inches of snow
on Western North Carolina.

Even More Ladies with Brass

01 December 2017

It seems very unlikely that
the military regulations
of Kaiser Wilhelm's Imperial German Navy
ever approved pearl necklaces and earrings
as acceptable accessories for a salior's uniform.

Likewise long sashes
affixed, somehow, to the hips
were probably only permitted by the navy
in extreme circumstances
as emergency flotation devices.

Nevertheless exceptions were allowed
for the five female trumpeters
of the Elite Damen-Orchester
led by Herr J. von der Hitz.

The women also wear
very large German sailor caps
with the name of their ship
embroidered on the brim.
The lettering is not clear
but it seems they were not
members of the same ship's crew.
Perhaps they only appeared together
for special naval maneuvers.

Their postcard was sent through the mail but the stamp and postmark are too damaged to read. But their group was photographed for another postcard that dates from 1911. Here the Fräuleins of the Elite Damen-Orchester have expanded their number to six . Their naval uniforms are the same  but the only face that I can see in both ensembles is the trumpeter on the left in the first postcard who is also standing third from left in the second postcard.  I think there are also some sister pairs in both photos.

This postcard was mailed from Mannheim on 7 September 1911. The writer added some detailed annotations on the front of the card which may be the individual names of the women.

Groups of female brass players were very popular in Germany and Austria in the early 20th century. These Damen-Orchesters, Damen-Trompetercorps, Damen-Blasskappelles, were pictured on thousands of souvenir postcards produced predominantly from around 1898 to 1918, with fewer examples dating from between the great wars. Thousands of women, German, Austrian, Bohemian, Hungarian, etc., worked as professional musicians performing on the many musical venues of Central Europe. Most of the postcards are like the second one of the Elite Damen-Orchester and the women are posed in costumes or elegant gowns but without instruments. Though many of these women played string and woodwind instruments, it is the brass players that I'm most interested in. So much so, that they now constitute the largest genre of musical images in my collection.


The Trompeter Corps with the long valveless trumpets and fringed banners were a common feature on a lot of these postcards. I've posted several stories about them before: More Ladies of BrassLadies with Brass - part 2Ladies with Brass.  These instruments are similar to bugles in that they play only a very limited number of notes. They are descended from the Natural Trumpets used for  fanfare music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. 

The Damen-Trompeter-Korps „Stradella“, directed by Osw. Roscher who stands center,  used four fanfare trumpets shown here leaning on the knees of two young women who also hold rotary valve brass instruments. The group is basically seven brass instrumentalists with one versatile drummer.  The costumes of the five women in this octet are not nautical, though they do have flotation sashes around their shoulders. They also wear enormous white hair bows tied atop their heads that must have gleamed in the stage spotlights. 

The Stradella Damen-Trompeter-Korps postcard was sent from Dresden on 28 June 1926 and is an example of women's musical ensemble that performed in Germany's postwar period. As Germany did not suffer as much destruction in the First World War as it would in the Second, many of the entertainment venues probably continued operations much as they had in the prewar years. But the changes in popular music, especially from the European interpretation of American jazz music, must have made groups like this a very old fashioned musical style.


The sound of brass instruments
are all about attracting attention.
If four blaring fanfare trumpets
can make a fearsome noise,
then eight will be awesome!

The 22 brass musicians, all female, of H. Brandt's Damen Blas & Streichorchester must have made a stunning blast of sound when they started their show.  Dressed in long white gowns with a mixture of hip sashes and shoulder sashes for the eight fanfare trumpeters at the rear, they hold a full range of bass, tenor, alto, and soprano brass instruments. They may have played outside on occasion but I doubt they were ever a marching band. These were refined musicians who could play both brass and string instruments.

The postmark on their postcard is from Coblenz, Germany on 23-9-06. 

Herr Herman Brandt marketed his group with a number of postcards which I've featured before on Postcards of German Ladies Orchestras in 2011.  Here's a variation which shows Herr Brandt seated in the center with four young ladies blowing natural trumpets behind him and four more on either side with rotary valve trumpets and bass and tenor helicon tubas.  Standing at the back are three men with two clarinets and an upright tuba.

This postcard was mailed to Berlin from Magdeburg, Germany on 7 September 1904.


Sometimes a photographer would have the ensembles pose outdoors for better light. The Damentrompetercorps „Westfalia“, directed by C. Rehfeldt, stood on a courtyard pavement in front of a small copse of potted trees. There are twelve musicians, seven of whom are women holding various brass instruments. Placed before them are more brass instruments including four natural trumpets and two long fanfare trumpets with valves.

This postcard came from Cöln, now spelt Köln, on 5 December 1906 .

The Damen-Trompetercorps „Westfalia“ also produced a postcard in color which shows off the golden brass of course, but really gives the ensemble more visual appeal with the women in green vests and dresses. The one exception in a yellow dress is likely Frau Rehfeldt seated next to her husband Herr C. Rehfeldt, the band leader.I suspect that this may be a family band made up of several daughters and brothers, augmented with a  cousin or two.

The group is again outdoors in a park, and at the back are four women playing fanfare trumpets which have flags attached in red fabric and gold fringe.

This postcard dates from 27 March 1913.

The hardest question to answer is what did these Damen Trompeters sound like? Programs of their music are impossible to find in my usual sources of online archives. These female bands/orchestras are rarely a subject for musicologists and I've found only a few references which are understandably written in German. So uncovering the full history of this interesting cultural trend will prove very difficult.

However we can always use our imagination. So courtesy of YouTube here are the London Fanfare Trumpets performing a 7 piece fanfare on the long valved trumpets. They were filmed at Salters' Hall, a modern building that is the home of the Worshipful Company of Salters, one of the Livery Companies of the City of London.



The natural trumpets make the same splendid sound as the valved instruments but require much more skill. Here the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets perform a military fanfare of David Buhl, composed around 1829, but used as one of familiar themes in the Olympic Fanfare.



Now imagine that same magnificent music played by young women in a German beer garden.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone's in the market for a good photo story.

The Grand Parade of the Knights Templar

24 November 2017

Spontaneity. Whimsy. Humor.
People photographed before 1900
didn't typically exhibit such playfulness.
But this animated cornet player
with a bottle balanced on his head
shows that sometimes early cameras
could capture a moment of fun.

The bandsman's friends get the joke,
sharing a smile over his antics.
They are not musicians
but they are dressed
in elaborate uniforms
with plumed bicorne hats
and gleaming swords.

In the 20th century we would call
such a lighthearted image a common snapshot.
But in 1895 it was a new art form.

{click the images for larger detail}

The cabinet card photo has a handwritten caption:

Boston Aug 27. 95   Compliments of Bearce & Wilson

The four men are resting after participating in a grand parade
They are members of the Masonic Order
called the Knights Templar
which gathered together in Boston
for a great conclave in August 1895.
Over 25,000 marched in the parade.

Boston Post
27 August 1895

The Sir Knights as they were called, had been arriving during the previous weekend from all across the country. Boston's train stations and docks were filled with thousands of men dressed in splendid regalia who took up temporary residence in the city's many hotels. On Tuesday morning the 25,000 masons assembled for a parade through Boston. It was scheduled to start at 10:00 AM and take over 2 hours to finish the roughly 5 mile route. Not surprisingly it took a bit longer than that.

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The Knights Templar, formally known as the United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta, were a Christian order of Freemasonry. Masonic lodges of Knights Templar were first established in Ireland and Scotland in the 1780s and then in England in the 1830s. In America the Knights Templar first organized in 1816 as the highest degree within the York Rite masonic society, and this event in Boston was their 26th triennial conclave.

A local lodge of the Knights Templar was called a Commandery and part of the Grand Encampment of the United States. In 1895 the number of commanderies had increased from 30 to 36, and each one sent large groups of men to the Boston conclave. The national membership of the Knights Templar was reported as 106,770.  Though some of the Sir Knights brought wives, women were excluded from membership in Freemasonry, as they were in most fraternal societies at the time.

The cornet player came from the No. 6 KT Commandery of Lewiston, Maine, identified by the badge pinned to his jacket. In August 1895 Maine sent over 1200 knights, nearly the full ranks from the 11 commanderies in the Pine Tree State. The Lewiston KT commander was Charles E. Libby, a baker who lived in Auburn, ME, Lewiston's twin city on the western side of the Androscoggin River. The lodge's membership was then 154.  Four years later in 1899 it expanded to 225.

* * *

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The newspapers of 1895 did not yet have the technology to print photographs. Instead wood and metal engravers duplicated the work of artists. The Boston Post illustrated the activities of the Knights Templar that week with dozens of splendid images. Some like this one of the Grand Marshal and KT Commander leading the procession on his black charger, were printed on a full page.

- - -

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The Knights Templar based their origins on the knights of the Christian Crusades to the Holy Land. Their elaborate uniforms, hats, and swords  were part of a quasi-military tradition that included practicing precision drills and marching, both on foot and on horseback. To see a parade of  25,000 was a sight not to be missed in Boston that summer.

- - -

Boston Post
28 August 1895

Boston's Masonic Temple was decorated for the conclave with symbols of the Knights Templar. Every hotel in the city was occupied by the Sir Knights and numerous restaurants and halls were booked for KT banquets. Boston's numerous theaters and summer amusement parks also did a good business entertaining the visiting masons.

- - -

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The newspapers played up the fellowship and conviviality of the Knight's conclave. The Boston papers printed lists of honors, transcripts of speeches,  and detailed schedules of events. The membership of the Knights Templar were men largely from America's business class, along with farmers and land owners. The mission of the Knights Templar was a continuation of Freemasonry with an emphasis on non-denominational Christian spirituality. Secular politics were considered to be outside the order.

- - -

The Boston Post enlivened the columns and columns of reports by interposing charming woodcut views of the grand parade. According to this image, young women tossed fruit to the knights from the windows of the Post building.  The official bleachers set up along the parade route held over 4,000 people. Enterprising wagon owners sold standing room on their vehicles to anyone who wanted a better view.

- - -

It was a grand day.
Even old Sol was blinded by the display.

Boston Post
28 August 1895

* * *

Now let's return to the bottle.

It's a clear glass bottle with a flip-top. It's also empty, which reveals lettering in the glass. Despite my best efforts I can't quite identify the name but I am certain it is a typical circa 1890s beer bottle from Boston. Notice that that the cornet player's pointing finger is actually offering someone a corkscrew. It looks to me like he has just won a wager to play his cornet while balancing a bottle on his hat. You'd have to be pretty good to pull that off.

The lines on his face put the  man's age at around 60+. His hat is not the KT bicorne style but a military kepi with two badges, LB - initials for Lewiston Band, and Second Regt. In the 1890s Lewsiton-Auburn, Maine had a combined population of 33,000 citizens which supported six bands and orchestras.

1904 New England Business Directory and Gazetteer

One was the Lewiston Brigade Band and another was Payne's Second Regiment Band which belonged to the National Guard of the State of Maine. The Brigade Band was also called the "best military band in Maine" but it was not a regular US Army band. More likely it was "attached" to a  volunteer infantry unit in Lewiston. All the Lewiston bands and orchestras shared musicians and performed for various civic functions. It's likely that the cornet player was one of the leaders who worked in both bands and was also a mason. His band may have been hired to accompany the Lewiston Commandery of Knights Templar on their parade through Boston. Given the length of the Boston parade, there was at least one band if not several accompanying every KT State Commandery marching.  You can not march with precision without a good drum beat and catchy tune. The Boston Post printed music composed for the occasion by Wiliam Bradford Fairchild called the Freemason's March. The paper claimed that 300 bands would play it in the procession.

The photo was marked Compliments of Bearce & Wilson. This was not the name of a photography studio in either Boston or Lewiston. Actually Bearce & Wilson were dealers in coal and wood, essentially a fuel supplier for Auburn-Lewiston.

1898 Lewiston-Auburn, ME city directory

Perhaps the clever cornetist indulged in bottle of
Van Nostrand's
Bunker Hill Lager
Quality the best.
Taste agreeable.
Effect beneficial.
Order a case of your grocer.

Boston Post
27 August 1895

Boston Post
28 August 1895

Or perhaps it was a bottle of
King's Bohemian Beer
"Now could I drink hot blood!"
quoth Hamlet.
Poor Fellow who had never known
the charms of...
- - -

Boston Post
29 August 1895

Perhaps it was a bottle of
Old Sterling Ale
from the
Highland Spring Brewery
of Boston

The Knights Templars
Right noble they performed their part
Dealt many a valiant blow,
When Richard of the lion heart
Went forth to meeth the foe.
Before them Saracens went down
As falls the winter hail,
And here today in Boston town
They drink Old Sterling Ale.

- - -

Or maybe it was just a bottle of
Moxie  Nerve Food
New Englan's Leading Health Drink.

Recommended to every the tired and thirsty Knight Templar.

Boston Post
29 August 1895

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The Elegant Low Brass of Philadelphia

18 November 2017

Good portraits try to present
more than just a mere likeness.
The image should, of course,
show the person's countenance at its best.
From the smile to the twinkle of the eyes,
everything must illustrate the subject's personality.

The woman on this cabinet card photograph
is framed by the character of her fashionable hair style,
the beauty of her elegant gown,
and the attraction of her favored accessory,
a valve trombone.

This woman affects a similar pose
with a lovely white dress,
a thoughtful gaze,
and graceful arms
artfully arranged
upon her tuba.

This third young lady
presents an almost classical Grecian visage.
The sepia tone can not hide
her bright eyes. Blue? Green?
Her gown's voluminous puffed shoulders
give dramatic effect
to her choice of a chic prop,
a slide trombone.

These three women
form an interesting musical trio
of three different low brass instruments.
I do not know their names
but I am certain that they once
knew each other very well,
and that there was an occasion when
they went together
to the same photographer's studio
to have their portraits taken.

The photography studio for the portraits
of all three ladies was:
Meynen & Co.
1204 Walnut St.

Only the photo of the valve trombonist
has a backstamp with more information.

Meynen & Co.
Franz Meynen
Artists and Photographers
Studio  1204 Walnut St.

The Skylight is on the Ground Floor.

Franz Meynen was born in Germany in 1840 and emigrated to the United States in about 1874. in 1875 at age 35, he married Amelia Medicus, age 18 ½ of Philadelphia. They were still together for the 1900 census and at that time recorded six children.  Franz Meynen took an active part in Philadelphia's German-American community and interestingly was noted as a member of the Männerchor or German Men's Choir in 1879.

His work in Philadelphia was not initially as a photographer but as an artist. Many early photographers advertised themselves in this way, but Meynen trained in Germany as a sculptor. I think his  background in 3-dimensional art shows in the way the three women are posed.  Especially the tubist whose instrument's size might otherwise obstruct the view of the musician's feminine charm.

The address of Meynen & Co. at 1204 Walnut St. is a good clue for dating the photographs. In the Philadelphia city directory, Meynen's home address was at 601 Marshall, and from 1890 to 1894, his photography studio was at 540 Franklin Street, not far from Philadelphia's waterfront dockyards on the Delaware River.

But in 1895 the city directory listed Meynen & Co. at 1240 Walnut St., a site closer to Philadelphia's city hall and business center. It was also just a short walk to the famous Academy of Music, the oldest opera house in the United States. This location for a photography studio surely attracted not just the attention of Philadelphia's high society but also the patronage of performers in the entertainment world who visited this center of American culture. Given the style of the women's hair and dress, top knots and puffy sleeves were big fads in the 1890's, and this change in Meynen's studio address, I think these women posed for his camera around 1895-97.

Who they are I can not say. But in this era the number of female tuba and trombone players in America was very small. The women's white dresses suggest school graduation pictures, and in 1895 Philadelphia did have a National Conservatory of Music at North Broad St. which accepted women and promoted its Ladies Orchestra class. But it advertised it as open just to string players, not low brass.

In the Philadelphia newspapers of the 1890s it was not uncommon to see theatre playbills with performances by ladies bands, which would seem an obvious place to find trombones and tuba, but those groups generally dressed in quasi-military attire suitable for marching, at least across a theater stage. These ladies are dressed too nice for that kind of ensemble. Try emptying a spit valve wearing a full length evening gown. 

In my photograph collection, the center of music for women in 19th century America was not Philadelphia, but Boston. I suspect that this trio were part of a Boston Ladies orchestra that came to play select performances in Philadelphia. In 1896 one such "ladies orchestra", actually just 12 to 18 musicians with a handful of strings, a few winds and percussion, accompanied a panto of Cinderella at the Arch Street Theatre. That's only a 12 minute walk from Meyene's studio. It's possible that these musicians were members of that ensemble, as sometimes one or two low brass were included to help fill the sound in large halls, but this still needs more research before I can confirm that supposition.

What intrigues me most about these elegant low brass ladies is a tiny but important detail in all three photos. Each woman wears a wedding band on the ring finger of her left hand. Marriage in the 1890s usually ended the professional career of female musicians. I do not have an explanation as to how these married women managed to perform.

In August 1915 Franz Meynen died as age 75. His obituary appeared in the journal, The Bulletin of Photography. It noted that his career began in his native Cologne, Germany where he produced portrait busts of the composer Franz Liszt and Pope Pius IX. He also contributed a centerpiece sculpture of the Archangel Michael to the north portal of the Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom.

Bulletin of Photography, Vol. 17, No. 420
August 25, 1915

Kölner Dom, north portal
Source: Wikimedia

The figure is just between the two doors of the portal and show St. Michael slaying a dragon/devil. According to the Cologne Cathedral website, Franz Meynen's original sculpture was altered shortly after it was first installed. It was partly destroyed during WW2 and restored in 1970 to something more like its original design. 

Archangel Michael
in the north portal of the Cologne Cathedral

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where beauty has no match.


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