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 Part 2

05 November 2011

We have met these two musicians before. They were introduced here last December as Stoelzer and Blodeck or more properly Richard Stoelzer and Mario Blodeck of New York City.  They toured the country as performers on two unusual string instruments of the baroque and renaissance, the Viola d'amore and the Viol da gamba in a group called the Mozart Symphony Club.

Stoelzer (1864 - 1947) was the leader of this small chamber music ensemble of 4 to 8 musicians which played all over America and Canada from around 1891 to 1905. The Richard Stoelzer Collection at the Adelphi University Library in Garden City, New York has more on his biography, but he and Blodeck serve as two examples of the many immigrant German musicians who helped to develop classical and orchestral music in late 19th century America.

This cabinet card photograph is a recent discovery which I acquired after the first photo, which is its obvious companion. The photographer was George Schmitt of Cincinnati, Ohio who is cited in Artists in Ohio working from 1893-1895.

His use of the German word Fotografer is no surprise when you go through a 1888 Cincinnati city directory and find page after page of Schmid, Schmidt, Schmit, and Schmitt in what was arguably the most Germanic of American cities. In 1888, the only photographer listed for 56/58 West 5th St. was named E.B. Core, so perhaps  George Schmitt worked there and then took it over, but he had a lot of competition as there were over 11 photographers on 5th St. alone and 6 more on 4th St.

The Mozart Symphony Club played from New York to Toronto to Seattle to Jacksonville, FL to Charleston, SC and seemingly everywhere in between. The University of Iowa has an online exhibit of Traveling Culture - the Circuit Chautauqua which describes the hundreds of different artistic and musical  groups that toured America from the late 1800's through the 1920's.

In this collection I found a promotional brochure of the Mozart Symphony Club from their 11th season, 1901-02 which describes Stoelzer, Blodeck and two other musicians, Miss Marie Stori a violinist and soprano; and Theodore Hoch, a virtuoso on the cornet and alpine echo horn.

This image from the back of that brochure shows how the group emphasized novelty but no doubt in a serious and educational manner. In addition to the viola d'amore and viol da gamba, the quartet displays the alpine echo horn with its two bells, a herald trumpet, a lute type instrument, and a violin, viola and cello. Though Stoelzer and Blodeck were demonstrating instruments that came from previous centuries, their repertoire was arrangements of 19th century opera tunes and light classics and not at all representative of the music originally played on these instruments. Nonetheless they brought a very unique and unusual ensemble to many cities and towns that had very limited exposure to quality chamber music performances.

The modern Early Music movement is usually credited to the British instrument maker Arnold Dolmetsch (1858 - 1940) who popularized music from the 18th, 17th and earlier centuries by setting up his own workshop to make harpsichords, lutes, and recorders. But his efforts were in the first decades of the 20th century, so it's possible that Stoelzer and Blodeck were the first musicians to reproduce early string instruments that had otherwise been left out of the modern orchestra. Despite their non-historical repertoire, they still deserve to be recognized for promoting the distinctive sounds of these forgotten instruments.

Here are some media examples of the instruments Stoelzer and Blodeck played. First is the sound of the viola d'amore as played on this YouTube video by the group PRATTICA TERZA with Maria Krestinskaya - Viola d'amore, Omay Bayramov - violoncello, and Georgy Blagodatov - harpsichord. At the beginning you can see the viola's upper playing strings and lower sympathetic strings that are under the fingerboard.
The viol da gamba was made in different sizes from treble to bass, similar to the violin string family but it was played da gamba - between the legs. A consort of viols was the precursor to the string quartet and from the Renaissance to the Baroque period it was the standard bowed string instrument of musical ensembles. Mario Blodeck had a wonderfully decorated viol with inlay and carved figurehead on the pegbox, but his instrument left off the most important feature of viols - the frets. These were made of gut tied around the fingerboard. Presumably Blodeck, as a cellist, preferred using modern cello technique and kept his viol like Stoelzer's viola without frets. I found a great video on YouTube which explains the difference between the cello and viol da gamba. The musician is Craig Trompeter from the Chicago early music ensemble The Baroque Band.


This week on Sepia Saturday the theme is an antique photo of the Lighthouse Workers' String Band from MÃ¥holmen, Sweden. You'll have to click the link to see the full photo and links to other enthusiasts of vintage photographs, but here is a clip of one of the musicians. His instrument is not an ordinary violin but a Norwegian instrument called a Hardanger Fiddle . Norway was actually part of Sweden for much of the 19th century until it gained independance in 1905. The Hardanger fiddle is similar to the viola d'amore in having extra sympathetic strings that run under the finger board. Like the viol, it is also ornately decorated in a Scandinavian style with inlay and sometimes carved figureheads, as seen in this image from the Wikipedia entry.

It continues to be played in folk ensembles and can be played at a virtuoso level. I found this stylish video on YouTube of a solo Hardanger Fiddle or Hardingfele played by Sindre Vatnehol. With the same concept of tuned sympathetic strings that resonate to the melodies and chords played on the upper strings, the sound is very similar to the viola d'amore.


barbara and nancy said...

This duet reminded me of the movie "the fabulous baker boys" with Beau and Jeff bridges as traveling musicians. When their popularity waned they decided to add a sexy female singer to boost their fan base. Looks like these two did the same.
Very interesting and informative post. Loved the musical samples.
Nancy javier

Jinksy said...

That made my ears sit up and take notice! Thanks. ♥

Bob Scotney said...

Hardanger fjord is a must place to visit especailly in the spring, Now if you were on a boat with music from a Hardanger fiddle that would be great.

mary said...

My mother was Norwegian heritage. I starving for knowledge of the culture since it was not really passed on to me. Thank you for the excellent lesson on the instruments, in particular the hardanger fiddle.

Alan Burnett said...

You know, as soon as I chose the theme photograph I was already looking forward to seeing your post. You haven't disappointed me (you never do). What else can I say - just fascinating.

Little Nell said...

Such a scholarly post. I’m not at all surprised to see that you were able to give us details of the instruments in the original SS photo prompt, on top of all the information on Baroque music!

Postcardy said...

I always enjoy your posts and am amazed at all the different instruments you can identify.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Wow! What a detailed and informative post, Mike. Thank you so much for all of the hard work that you put into it. I enjoyed the videos and that group photo especially.

Have a wonderful week, and thank you so much for stopping by to visit.

Kathy M.

Brett Payne said...

Another virtuoso performance, Mike, thank you. And after all that, Mr Vatnehol's wearing such a cool shirt!

Caminante said...

The Mozart Symphony Club might have serious intent, but I can't help thinking the lady is looking mischievous!


splendid job here!!
I'm totally tone deaf, but I would have loved learning to play an instrument. A cousin did try one summer to teach me some basics, just for fun, and I learned one single piece, played more by ear than by understanding the music itself...

thanx 4 sharing!!


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