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
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Stoelzer & Blodeck - The Mozart Symphony Club

01 December 2010


Two musicians pose for a promotional photograph, but their instruments are not the typical violin and cello but something very different - a Viola d'Amore and a Viola da Gamba -  two antiquated string instruments that went out of fashion in the late 17th century. The players are Richard Stoelzer and Mario Blodeck from New York City, who were founding members of a chamber music group called the Mozart Symphony Club. This photo, by Geo. Schmitt of Cincinnati, OH was taken sometime around 1891-92, and probably used as a concert advertisement or souvenir.

Richard Stoelzer (1864 - 1947) was from Leipzig, Germany and came to the United States on tour in 1885 with the Royal Saxon Orchestra playing viola and clarinet. Unfortunately the orchestra tour failed and musicians were given a choice of returning to Germany or remaining in the US. Stoelzer stayed and found work in theaters and then with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Club. In 1891, he and Blodeck, who was also a German emigrant, formed the Mozart Symphony Club which played concerts programed around their novel instruments. Much more on Stoelzer and photos of his instruments can be found at this website. Richard Stoelzer Collection

The viola d'amore has 14 strings of which only 7 are played with the bow, while the others run below the finger board for sympathetic vibration. It has a flat back and no frets on the fingerboard. It was one of many varieties of early bowed string instruments that were popular during the renaissance and baroque periods.

The viola da gamba, or bass viol, goes back to medieval times and has 6 strings and a flat back. It was typically played in a consort of viols that came in different sizes from treble to bass. A  renaissance viol would have frets made of gut twine, tied around the fingerboard, but Mr. Blodeck's fingerboard is more like a cello without frets. Also both bows are not the style used during the baroque period and Blodeck holds his in the modern overhand position. These instruments, while suitable for music of their time, could not compete with the violin and cello for range of expression and dynamics and they were discarded by the early 19th century.

These two musicians are unique not so much for their instruments, but as  important pioneers in the development of chamber music in America. For 15 years they played theaters and halls in countless small towns and big cities. Concert announcements for the Mozart Symphony Club show up in hundreds of newspapers across North America:  Richmond, VA; Paducah, KY; Yakima, WA; Fort Worth, TX; Omaha, NE; Bismark, ND; as well as San Fransisco, Atlanta, Winnipeg, Boston and many others.

They traveled with an ensemble of about 10 players including vocal, violin, harp, flute and cornet soloists from 1891 to 1906. The musicians and programs seem to remain constant over the years, doing a medley of popular opera and light classics. Other instruments included in some programs were the Roman triumphal trumpet alpine echo horn, and saxophone. Given the hundreds of performances, I would bet they played from memory.

Occasionally they played with others, such as the famous violin soloist Maude Powell in Washington DC in 1891.  This clipping is from an 1891 Washington Sunday Herald.

The Mozart Symphony Club was promoted similar to the Chautauqua and Lyceum lecture concert series that were part of a growing educational and intellectual movement in 19th century America. Every group tried to distinguish itself from other traveling groups by using novelty and a great deal of hyperbole in press releases. But the two viol players represent the beginning interest in virtuoso Chamber music rather than "Early music", which came later in the 20th century. None of the programs include renaissance music or even much baroque music. No music of Purcell, Handel or Bach and really not much Mozart either. The goal of Stoelzer and Blodeck was entertainment, not historic performance practice. This clipping is from Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa in 1894.

This newspaper clipping comes from a Richmond VA Times of  1893 and includes brief bios of the performers and a description of  their instruments.

Herr Theodor Hoch, was the cornet soloist of the Mozart Symphony Club and continued with the group until it disbanded in 1906. The excerpt below  from a 1905 Paducah KY newspaper offers a glimpse of the personality and flair of these musicians. It describes how Hoch played at the 1896 Berlin exposition:

"Mr. Theodor Hoch has just returned from Berlin where he had been engaged at the exposition. Besides he gave other concerts in his native city, and everywhere he met with the warmest reception. The last day he went up 6,000 feet in a balloon, playing a cornet solo, starting with the "Star Spangled Banner", "Dixie Land" , etc. While descending he played the German national airs, but when he reached the ground he again played "Home Sweet Home". The applause which greeted him was deafening, people from far and near having gathered to hear him. His object in going into the balloon was to be able to judge the distance his instrument might be heard. Musicians who had come to hear him said every note could be heard distinctly, the effect being wonderful at times.

2 comments:

Allen Garvin said...

That's a wonderful photo. In the late 19th century, before the sainted Dolmetsch's efforts, there were a number of such attempts to show off antique instruments to the public. That included lots of viols played without frets, or even, in this picture:

http://www.casadesus.com/famille/mafamillecasadesus/photo2.html

holding a pardessus on the shoulder. Note the end-pin on the bass is ahistorical as well. Though I know one G violone player who uses a small end-pin on her instrument.

Max D. Machy said...

Great post! @Allen I also love your Casadesus photo - but I would not see these people as competitors. Interestingly the site dolmetsch.com describes Arnold Dolmetsch's interest in early music / instruments as "not particularly remarkable" in that time.

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