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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Three Boy Violinists

09 December 2011

Once a long time ago, a proud mother and father stood behind a photographer as he positioned his camera in front of a young boy holding a violin. The boy stands at the ready, violin under his chin and  bow arm relaxed. The music on his wire stand is just slightly out of focus so we can not read the notes, but we can see enough to know that it is not the simple exercises of a beginning student. His  eyes have an assured quality that expectantly asks us a question. Would we like to hear him play?

There is no identification for this young violinist, so his name is unknown. I would estimate his age as 7 maybe 8. His short pants, high button shoes, and jacket's sailor collar look to be from around 1900. But it was a popular fashion, so it could be 1890 or 1910 too.

But we do know the place: Berlin.

The photographer's mark is actually the name of a department store, A. Jandorf & Co, once a major chain in Berlin with several locations. These giant retail emporiums were founded in the 1890's by Adolf Jandorf (1870-1932) with the initial idea of offering inexpensive goods to Berlin's growing population.

Jandorf became a very successful businessman and in the 1900s saw an opportunity for starting something even larger. The Kaufhaus des Westensor, or KaDeWe which opened in 1907 and is still the premier shopping house in Berlin. A bit more upscale than its predecessors, the store continues a tradition of beautiful presentation of quality merchandise from around the world.


Two addresses are on the back of the photo, Belle-Alliance Str. 1/2 and Spittel-Markt 16/17. 
I do not know if the other stores continued beyond 1907, but this photo, taken from the German Wikipedia entry for Jandorf, shows the Belle-Alliance storefront from 1898 as illustrated on the photo's back.

Since German optics at the time of the Kaiser were considered to be the highest in quality, one would imagine that photographers in a store like this would be very skilled and have the best equipment. I would think they were also kept very busy in such a fashionable city with so many layers of class and society.

This second photograph comes from Halberstadt a town in the central German state of Saxony-Anhalt. There is no identification other than the Halberstadt photographer's name, Paul Rehe on Roonstrasse 2.

This young violinist wears another type of boy's sailor suit and has his violin tucked confidently under his right arm. He is older than the first boy, maybe 9 or 10. Again the boy's clothing suggest 1900 but it might be earlier or later. His shoes are high but with laces. Note the fur or sheepskin rug, a common 19th century furnishing for photographer's studios.

I see in his pose a mature and experienced musician. Is he a prodigy too?
I don't think we can ever know about either boy. One bit of trivia for Halberstadt was the information that in the 17th century, it had the largest Jewish community in Germany. Perhaps this boy is a link to the many German-Jewish musicians that came from this great artistic period.

The third photo is a postcard of  a violinist who, though technically not German, has a caption that is written in German. Unlike the other two, we know this boy's name. 

Der kleine ungarische Violin-Virtuos Karl Gara-Guly ~ The small Hungarian violin virtuoso Karl Gara-Guly.

Karl appears to be 6 or 7, about the same age as another Hungarian violin prodigy that I wrote about earlier this fall, Kun Arpad. Karl, like Kun is dressed in a sailor-suit style but with soft leather slippers instead of shoes.

His name, like many Hungarians, is spelled in several variations and it took some hunting until I found him as Carl von Garaguly, born 1900 in Budapest, died 1984.

Garaguly studied violin under Henri Marteau (1874-1934), who was also a child prodigy, performing in 1884 in Vienna at the age of 10. In 1907, Marteau joined the Berlin Hochschule für Musik as head professor of violin. The Berlin Hochschule trained many famous musicians, so he might have known the first boy too, or even Kun Arpad. Though his mother was German, his father was French, so he was expelled from Germany during WWI and went to Sweden to make a new career. Obviously a gifted teacher, his influence continues with the Marteau International Violin Competition.

Garaguly seems to have followed Marteau, and made his career in Sweden also. As happened to so many concert musicians, the Great War disrupted the network of concert stages, which were only to be shattered again with WWII. Garaguly became the principal conductor of the Stockholm Concert Society, the precursor to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra from 1942 to 1953, and then led the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from 1952 to 1958.

You can see a picture of an older Carl von Garyguly at this website devoted to Famous Hungarian Musicians. It's at the very top of the page.

The card was postmarked from Amberg, Bayern or Bavaria on 13 May 1910. The handwriting is in in pencil and I have increased the contrast for readability should anyone out on the web wish to decipher this card. Just figuring out the addressee is a big challenge.

I'd like to know if the two young Hungarian violinists, Karl Garyguly and Kun Arpad ever met. Did they trade stories of favorite performances and bad concert halls? What languages did they speak? Did they try out each others instrument or trade bows?
And just maybe, they tried to remember the names of those other two boys.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday whose theme photo is the thumbnail image below. Click the link to find more enthusiasts of vintage photographs.


Postcardy said...

Interesting post. Even young musicians wore sailor suits for their portraits.

When I saw the first picture, I thought it looked a lot like one of the players on the current Survivor TV show.

Karen S. said...

These were quite amazing and talented, besides completely charming young lads...who did very well for themselves!

Bob Scotney said...

Your posts make today's TV talent shows look mundane. Young violinists don't appear that often now it seems.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Mike, this is a fantastic post, as always. The boys look so proud, and rightly so. So much work has gone in for them to be so accomplished at such a young age.

Thanks for the photos and the post!

Kathy M.

Tattered and Lost said...

Fascinating post. And I love the look on the first boys face. Such an interesting story behind those eyes.

mary said...

Interesting post. Karl and the boy in the first picture look very confident in their role at violinist. I am not so sure about the middle picture. He doesn't seem as connected. Perhaps it is the sailor suit that is bothering him.

Wendy said...

Such an interesting post. The expression on the first boy's face and the position of the feet on the third boy make me want to know more about them.


Remarkable pictures,
but the first one
beckons to me the most.
Something about him is compelling.


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