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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The Imperial Boys' Orchestra

03 August 2012

In the first decade of the 20th century, just before the world was turned upside down by war, the word Imperial had a different connotation than its use in our 21st century. For one thing it was a regular adjective in the vocabulary of advertisements, as it was easily understood by a world populated with monarchs great and small. Europe had over 23 royal heads of state in the years before the Great War of 1914-18. Though there were some national democracies with various levels of freedom, it was the crowned head that was the defining image of most countries. 

Last year I wrote a story on the Imperial Girls Band of Reading, Michigan. In this set of postcards it is the Imperial Boys' Orchestra who have perhaps a better claim to the word as they are from England, Scotland, Germany, and maybe Austria. The first photo shows 17 boys and young men dressed in kilts and led by Muiskdirktor Mr. Linde who wears a formal tailcoat. The top corner has a handwritten date of June 30- 06 with another line that I'm unable to decipher. Perhaps a future concert date of 14-18 July? The card has no postmark and was probably sent in an envelope.

The orchestra is made of a mix of strings, brass, woodwinds, drums, and curiously bagpipes. The one piper is standing just beside the double bass on the right. The two boys to the right of Mr. Linde, hold rolls of music which was the typical musical prop for a pianist or organist. On the left behind the group is a set of tubular bell chimes. In the center is an elaborate shield or crest to signify the Imperial nature of this ensemble. On the right is a percussion instrument called a Turkish Crescent, or Jingling Johnny, which was a popular instrument in German and Austrian marching bands. It is a staff with hanging bells, and comes from the Turkish Janissary bands of the 16th century.

In the next card, which is printed in halftone, the ensemble has a more eccentric title of:

Imperial englisch schottisch Streich-Orchestra, London u. Glasgow.
Musicdirector Mr. Linde.

The musicians are arranged differently with a few older men as well as boys. This time Mr. Linde is wearing a kilt and sporran too. They also seem to have replaced the piper with a cellist, which would be a more practical orchestral instrument. On the sides are some testimonial words in an odd Anglo-Deutsch:

Mr. Linde who appeared by Royal command before their majesties
König Eduard et Queen Alexandra etc

Mr. Linde hatte d. hohe Ehre vor Sr. Majestät König Eduard VII. u.
der Königin Alexandra kommandiert, vorgestellt u. presented zu werden.

As King Edward VII was on the British throne from 1901 until his death in 1910, this gives a good date for Mr. Linde's Imperial Boys of 1905 to 1910.

The third card offers yet another pose and an English text.

The Imperial Boys' Orchestra
(The only Boys' Orchestra who have appeared before the KING and QUEEN,

Musical Director - Herr Wilhelm Linde
(Late Strauss Court Orchestra, Vienna).

“The King complimented Herr Linde on the splendid training of the boys,
and expressed his good wished for their future”

“His Majesty recognised (sic) Herr Linde, and noticing that he was wearing
a Medal presented to him by the Emperor Wilhelm of Germany,
asked to be informed of the occasion.” Daily Telegraph

This is a slightly larger group with 19 players, including two bassoonists in the right front row. At the back right with his jacket covered in medals is the piper again, though his bagpipes are hidden. Herr Linde with his baton is dressed again in tailcoat. His resume would imply that he is Austrian by the reference to a Vienna Court Orchestra under Strauss, a deliberately vague citation which could mean he once played waltzes conducted by one of the many orchestra leaders of the Johann Strauss Family. But Wilhelm is a very Prussian name, as is his mustache, (Austro-Hungarians favored muttonchops) so he might just as easily be from Berlin. Or he might be Scottish!

At a glance this last card appears to be the same as the first, but it is not.

This postcard traveled in a postman's bag in Stuttgart, Germany. The postmark is not completely clear but I think it is also 1906 like the first. The numeral 12 is a postal zone and not a year. The handwriting is quite beyond my ability to translate so I leave it to any Germans who would like to try

The pose of the orchestra is so nearly identical, I have made a GIF image, a kind of modern Kinetoscope, for a demonstration of what computer imaging can do.

Now how could an orchestra be more Imperial than to combine three Empires? Are these musicians from England? Though boys may be boys, I think these lads look more English than German, but would any English boy wear a kilt?

So are they Scottish? The caps, jackets, kilts, and sporrans look authentic. And how many German virtuosos of the dudelsack  won medals? But remember the Scottish dress of the girls in the Janietz Elite Damen? Appearance is not always what it seems. 

UPDATE: Bob had a comment on the crest which I believe is the Royal Coat of Arms for the United Kingdom. Only the Royal Family, the British Government or holders of a Royal Warrant can use it. So how did Herr Mr. Linde get permission? And the coat of arms is different for Scotland with the Lion and Unicorn switching sides. Very curious. 

On the other hand, the language mash-up suggests a strong Germanic connection. Herr Mr. Linde seems to have had an Austrian or German background, and not Scottish or English. And this kind of promotion was typical of many postcards of German and Austro-Hungarian bands from this period.

The answer is there are no answers. I have been unable to find any trace of the Imperial Boys Orchestra or Herr Mr. Wilhelm Linde. He may have been an enterprising orchestra leader who collected young talent from several countries including Scotland and England. Music halls all around Europe were a big business in this era, so the confusion of dress and nationality may have been deliberate to enhance their novelty value. They may have been orphans or from impoverished families looking to give a young boy an education in a useful craft. They are definitely not a community  band like the Imperial Girls of Reading. These boys are a professional troupe who were skilled entertainers. Many would no doubt play in the military bands that served the Empires at war in the second decade of the century.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link to catch up with what other bloggers are running this week.


Little Nell said...

That gif adds another dimension and brings the musicians to life! It's always fascinating to hear of different instruments Mike; the Turkish Crescent is a new one on me.

Peter said...

Interesting post! Reminds me of the Wiener Sängerknaben. They also did some touring.

Bob Scotney said...

I've been trying to make out the crest/shield in the centre of the three flags to see whether that would give us a clue, but no luck. Educating me again, Mike.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Another series of fine photos ... very interesting post, Mike. I really do enjoy how you figure out so much in each picture that you post.

Kathy M.

Wendy said...

First Tony gives us a voice clip and now you give us the Gif trick. Sepia Saturday is becoming very high tech. The English - Scottish - German connection is very interesting. I hope the kilts weren't just a novelty to attract an audience.

Postcardy said...

Fascinating post. That is the first I have heard of the Turkish Crescent. And I love your gif.

Queen Bee said...

I'm not familiar with the Turkish Crescent - but it's fascinating. Also enjoyed the GIF image - it brings the photos to life.

Titania said...

Music speaks all languages; a wonderful post. It is as much pleasure to play as it is to listen. Interesting to see the instruments they used and Kapellmeister Linde wearing a kilt. Gif suits the old photo.

Alan Burnett said...

Absolutely fascinating, as usual. A magazine article of a post, and a thoroughly entertaining and informative one at that.


The gif allows us to see the subtle changes. Pity there is no vid to listen to some of their repertoire. Something we won't have to worry about in a century when WE are sepia to future generations, as everything gets recorded nowadays.
Fascinating post, as ever!!

tony said...

An Interesting Mystery!The Past Does It's Best To Hide Itself!

Brett Payne said...

Many, many photographers during the latter part of the 19th century claimed Royal patronage or to operate by Royal Warrant, either explicitly or implicitly by use of the Royal Coat of Arms, but very few of them were actually legitimate. Perhaps this was a similar scam.


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