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 }

A Mother's Pride

11 May 2012

A young musician is always a delight, and it is a special treat to meet this mother and son violin duo. Some antique photos invite you into a home and introduce you to a family. This image greets you as an honored guest and grants you a view of a mother's pride in her child's accomplishments.
Despite the lack of postmark or other writing, this postcard conveniently provides a caption that takes us into a story beyond the drawing room. Her Majesty the Queen Elisabeth and the Crown Prince of the royal family of Belgium, are performing a small concert for us. Prince Leopold, dressed in a sailor suit, looks a bit reluctant to demonstrate his violin under the watchful eyes of his mother. While musical skill has always been prized by a royal household, it is unusual to see it displayed here by a Queen and her Crown Prince. What is their story? 

Her majesty is Queen Elisabeth Gabriele Valérie Marie, Duchess of Bavaria, (1876 – 1965), the queen consort of King Albert I of the Belgians. A member of the House of Wittelsbach, her father, Duke Karl-Theodor of Bavaria, who was also a renowned ophthalmologist, instilled in his children a love of the arts. Duchess Elisabeth married Prince Albert of Belgium in 1900, at a time when he was second in line after his father, Prince Philippe of Belgium, Count of Flanders, to succeed King Leopold  II.  The genealogy of a royal family can read like a complicated road map, and it is quite easy to get lost and discover you are in another country. But it is not their lineage that I want you to meet, but the people themselves.

A second postcard gives us a more intimate view of this Belgian family. The caption reads:

La Reine donnant une leçon au Duc de Brabant,
à ses côtès, le Roi.

The Queen giving a lesson to the Duke of Brabant,
at his side, the King.

King Albert I (1875 - 1934) sits reading a magazine, as his wife instructs his son on proper violin technique. Did his father-in-law make his spectacles? The date is around 1910, or shortly after Albert had assumed the Belgian throne after the death of his uncle, King Leopold II in December 1909, as Albert's father, Leopold's brother, had died in 1905. Albert, a devout Catholic, was a very different person from Leopold II. Admired as a supporter of working class people, he also instituted reforms of the inhumane treatment of the native people of the Belgian Congo. But his greatest challenge was to come in 1914 with the invasion of the German army and the start of World War I.

King Albert I
In 1914 King Albert refused to allow the Germans to advance on France through his country. When they attacked anyway, he assumed personal command of the Belgian army and managed to delay the invasion long enough for the British and French forces to take a stand at the Battle of the Marne. He subsequently withdrew the remaining Belgian forces to behind the river Yser where the prolonged trench warfare would begin. His wife served as a field hospital nurse and even young Leopold was made a private in the army at age 14, but was later sent to Eton in 1915.

After the war, Albert helped to bring the various Belgian political forces together and institute universal suffrage. He participated in the Paris Peace Conference. advocating for war reparations for his devastated country and yet opposing the harsh terms forced onto Germany, as he feared it would lead to another war.

An avid outdoors man, He died from a mountaineering fall during a solo rock climb in 1934.

_ _ _

Crown Prince Leopold and
Princess Astrid of Sweden, 1926

Crown Prince Leopold, (1901 - 1983), the Duke of Brabant whose full name was Léopold Philippe Charles Albert Meinrad Hubertus Marie Miguel, continued his education after England, by enrolling at St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, California. In 1926 he married Princess Astrid of Sweden. and they would have three children. Leopold became King Leopold III after his father's tragic death in 1934, but the winds of fate continued to follow this family. While driving around Lake Lucerne in August 1935, Leopold lost control of his car causing it to plunge into the lake, killing Queen  Astrid and their unborn 4th child.

One of the strangest ironies of history came in 1939 when King Leopold III faced the same difficult confrontation as his father - a German invasion. This time, Belgium attempted to maintain neutrality, but in May 1940, German forces once again attacked this small country. While the Belgian defense would soon fail, it was long enough to allow the British Expeditionary Force to evacuate from Dunkirk.

Yet King Leopold as commander of the Belgian army, refused to leave his country and was at odds with his government ministers. The German offensive proved too crushing, and on 27 May, 1940 he was forced to surrender the army, a decision considered contrary to the Belgian constitution. Leopold refused to cooperate with Hitler and form a new government, and was deported to Germany in 1944. In 1942 Leopold married Lilian Baels in a secret religious ceremony, while under house arrest. This marriage and his position on the surrender forestalled his return to Belgium after the German defeat until 1950. It was marked by a violent general strike that led Leopold to abdicate in 1951 and allow his 20 year old son, Baudouin to succeed him as Belgium's monarch.

King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium
with their children c.1910
Source: The Internet

But this is Mother's Day weekend and Queen Elisabeth is the real interest for today. Clearly a devoted mother, as shown here with Albert and her children Leopold, Charles, and Marie José. she was also a devoted enthusiast of the arts, and in particular - music.

She developed a friendship with the celebrated Belgian violin soloist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858 - 1931) who had a desire to create a music competition for young musicians. He died before he was able to achieved this, but in 1937 Queen Elisabeth established a solo competition in his memory, but which now commemorates her name and patronage, called the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition.

_ _ _

H.M. Queen Elisabeth

In that first year David Oistrakh took first prize for violin and the following year, Emil Gilels won for piano. The war and various other circumstances postponed the competition's revival until 1951, but it is now one of the premier events for young soloists and has prizes for violin, piano, voice, and composition. This year the Queen Elisabeth Competition will be a violin contest which begins this weekend.

A life of privilege  probably did not require Elisabeth to make a peanut butter sandwich for her children or to drive them to school. But I think she serves as an exemplar model of both a mother and a Queen.

But the history worth discovering in these two postcards is perhaps her most important life contribution. During the German occupation of Belgium in WWII, Queen Elisabeth aided in the rescue of hundreds of Jewish children from deportation by the Nazis. For this she was presented the title Righteous Among the Nations by the government of Israel. That is a story of  a true mother and a great queen.

This is my Mother's Day gift for all mothers everywhere,
but with special love to my own mother
who gave me a love of music too.
And it is also my contribution to Sepia Saturday,
where you might find more stories from a royal kitchen.


Howard said...

Fantastic photos Mike. When I was a child I was forced to play the violin, the resulting sound was worse than awful. Fortunately I discovered music on my owm terms about five years later, now I am a happy incompetent guitarist with a rudimentary knowledge of music theory. I do remember my violin teacher when I was nine years old not comprehending that I couldn't read music. Thank heavens for later teachers who were more understanding.

Alan Burnett said...

That is a fascinating history lesson and it is brought alive by such wonderful illustrations - and (as usual) such good writing.

Wibbo said...

Terrific post; lovely photographs and such interesting history.

Wendy said...

The very intimate and personal photos suggest she was quite forward-thinking. I enjoyed this post as the perfect connection between the royal aspect of the prompt photo and Mother's Day.

Little Nell said...

A very enjoyable post. I knew a little of each of these royals’ histories but it was nice to have those morsels of information put together so well. I really had no idea about the Queen’s musical talents either. Thank you

Bob Scotney said...

A tremendous post with so much historical detail and interesting photos.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Mike, another excellent historical article with fantastic photos (they are so clear!).

I didn't know anything about these folks, though I have heard their names. Thank you so much for the time and research that you put into this post. It is sad about the young wife drowning in the lake though.

Kathy M.

Kristin said...

Very interesting. I had only heard of the King Leopold who was so diabolical in the Congo. Glad his line improved.

barbara and nancy said...

I too only knew the history of king Leopoldo of Congo fame having read a biography of him. I knew nothing about the other Leopolds. Elisabeth was so interesting. Thanks for sharing her fascinating story with us.

Postcardy said...

Your post was very interesting and educational. You sure covered a lot of ground after starting with the postcard of the mother and child with their violins.

Karen S. said...

I never really know which to comment most on your story telling or the photos, all of which are just dreamy, especially the last one...I think I could even hear her play! Great moments in their lives!

Brett Payne said...

As usual, a fascinating account of a story about which I knew nothing. I always learn so much visiting your Sepia Saturday contributions, thank you.

Tattered and Lost said...

I'm assuming they are also related to the royals of Britain. There are such physical similarities.

Fascinating post!

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

I'm not sure where to start, this was an amazing glimpse into history. I have to say I knew next to nothing about these royals and found their story quite fascinating in your telling. There really were a lot of twists and turns. Prince Albert & Queen Elisabeth sound like they were both very good people and rulers. So sad he died reasonably young. And very sad the way Leopold III's wife and baby died.

The irony of Leopold III having to face down Germany in WWII was both brave and sad as well.

It was a very interesting post and of course with beautiful accompanying pictures and weaved around music.


A nice touch for Mothers Day, and an interesting look at a less familiar family. Thanx 4 sharing!!


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