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 }

Ladies Orchestras in Wien

07 September 2012

Few cities can approach the musical heritage of Wien - Vienna. Its citizens were the first to hear the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Johann Strauss, Mahler and many more. Its music has always retained a continuity through the special traditions and styles unique to Vienna. Unfortunately one of those traditions has been to exclude women musicians from playing in its premier orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. This great orchestra, which is an independent group made up of members of the Wiener Staatsoper, did not officially include a woman until 1997, when it engaged a woman as a harpist. It was not until 2003 that it finally admitted the first woman string player , a violist, as a regular member of the Wiener Philharmoniker. At a performance of the Vienna Philharmonic this past week at the 2012 BBC Proms, it was reported that there were just two women in the orchestra.

Yet despite this discrimination of women, Wien has a long heritage of women musicians. This postcard is of the entertainment provided at Adolfi's Salvator-Keller - a ladies salon orchestra or Damen Orchester. This sextet of two violins, double bass, flute, piano and percussion are dressed in a kind of uniform with a quasi-military jacket atop a white skirt, and a hat looking a bit like a naval officer's hat. They stand on the stage of Adolfi's located at Salvatorgasse 1 in Vienna. Why it had a nickname of "Zum dummen Kerl" or "To the Dumb Guy" is a mystery. Perhaps it had something to do with remembering the directions.

The back shows a postmark of
31 October 1910 on top of an impressive postage stamp that celebrates the 80 years of Emperor Franz Josef, who in addition to being the Emperor of Austria, was also King of Bohemia, King of Croatia,  King of Hungary, King of Galicia and Lodomeria, and also Grand Duke of Cracow for good measure. 

In this postcard, the restaurant is at the same address, but it may have changed ownership as it is captioned Franz Lechner's Salvator-Keller, Wien.  Unfortunately the postmark was partially destroyed when the stamp was removed, so this promotional card might date from before or after the first card, but in any case the restaurant still offered daily concerts for its patrons. If you look closely at the collage of three miniature photos the ladies orchestra is in each one.

The ensemble now has seven women musicians and one man. The woman at the piano even looks to have her hands raised in action at the keyboard. The ladies all wear white dresses and have a flower in their hair. On the back wall is a mural of an angelic figure blowing a trumpet, which is different from the first card's large cartoon of military men seated at a cafe table. Restaurant decor is always changing.

This next postcard of a Viennese ladies orchestra sends Greetings from the Restaurant Prohaska at the Prater in Wien. The Prater is the famous park in Vienna which includes promenades for walking and riding, and an amusement ride area with the great  Wiener Riesenrad or Ferris wheel. This outdoor restaurant  offered performances by the Damenkapelle G. Richter. This group has 9 women, made up of 5 string players, flute, piano, and drums led by a woman who holds a baton but no doubt played an instrument too. While you enjoyed your schnitzel, you could keep up with the music announced on the sign at her music desk.

Compare this orchestra to Bessie Greenhill's English Ladies Orchestra from the same period.

This card was postmarked in Wien and Retz Austria in 1905.
A slightly younger Emperor Franz Josef tries to make out the address.   

This lovely young lady is Fräulein M. Frank who plays cello with the Damen Salon Orchester "Alt Wien". Whereas there are many postcards of German and Austrian-Hungarian ladies bands and orchestras, there are very few of individual women musicians.

Women could perform as soloists with the men of the professional orchestras, and there were a number of great women pianists and violinists who did become successful concert artists. But women could not sit in the regular orchestras of the opera and philharmonic. Women musicians instead found professional work in these small chamber ensembles that played salons, restaurants, and beer gardens. There may have been a seasonal quality to these performances, like working only in the summer, but that was true for the entire Vienna concert schedule which revolved around the royal court calenders.

The postcard was sent from Bavaria in 1909 which at that time still had a separate postal service from Germany. Though Germany and Austria share a common language, they have very distinct histories. At this time the Austrian Hungarian Empire was one of the largest multicultural countries in the world, with a complex arrangement of ethnic groups, of which the Germanic was only a small part.

Fräulein M. Frank had a sister,  

J. Frank who played flute in the Damen Salon Orchester "Alt Wien". Younger or older sister?

Note her two toned wooden flute in blackwood and ivory. 

After some hunting I found the companion postcard for the full Österreisches Damen Orchester "Alt Wien", under the direction of E. Frank. This photocard is more typical of the photos of these German/Austrian women's orchestras showing them without instruments. Translated to the Austrian Kingdom Ladies Orchestra "Old Vienna", it has 2 men and 7 women who wear tightly fitted white jackets with fancy bandsmen style embroidery. The older man on the right is presumably Herr E. Frank and in the center, the woman wearing a dark colored jacket is likely his wife.

The card was sent in September 1901 and as I can not recognize Fräuleins J. and M. Frank here, these may be their other sisters. We can't know what their music sounded like, but they cut a splendid figure in a uniform.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might encounter more ladies and gentlemen in photogenic poses.


Peter said...

As usual again a very elaborate and interesting post! What more can I say? Nothing. Thank you Mike.

Wendy said...

Such an interesting history lesson on women in orchestras. I would think Fraulein Frank would have been in great demand - she looks so serene and angelic, and I imagine she played the same way.

Michael J. McCann said...

Hi Mike, new follower. What a remarkable series of images, and a great survey of the subject. Thanks very much for this.

The Overnight Bestseller

Susan said...

Fascinating post. I love the hats in the top photo and all the details.

ScotSue said...

What a different "take" on the theme". As a lover of Viennese music, I enjoyed seeing your photographs and learning about the history of women musicians. My favourite - the first photo with the elaborate hats.

Karen S. said...

Oh my again, so beautiful. It just amazes me how you can locate these so fitting to the theme. Bravo!

Little Nell said...

A bevy of beautiful female musicians - and obviously so talented too! I have been to the Prater, but in the 1960s I don't think there were any ladies' orchestras playing.

Anonymous said...

I learn so much about musicians by reading your blogpost. A big thank you!

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

This is indeed a fine post. I just ready a book about the artist Klimt and now all this info just suits my taste in learning new things.

Kristin said...

I thought the woman second from right looked like she could be the second Fraulein Frank.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Mike! You came up with so many fantastic examples in this week's post. Thank you so much for the interesting info about women orchestras.

Kathy M.

Queen Bee said...

Interesting post and a great collection of photos. My favorite picture was of Fraulein Frank. When her picture was enlarged you could see more details in her lovely dress.

Tattered and Lost said...

I don't know, but all I can think about is sitting in that restaurant listening to the music as I eat pastries. I really really want a pastry right now!

Jana Last said...

These are fascinating and beautiful postcards! Thanks for the history lesson.

Family lore says that my 2nd great-grandfather from Norway played in the Royal Symphony in Norway. Do you know how I could find any information about this? He was born in 1827.


Splendid contribution, as usual. I had never noticed the Vienna Philharmonic had been like a "gentlemen's club", and for THAT long!! The mentality seems a bit archaic to me. I did wonder as I was reading if, even if these were lesser venues, if they provided a better revenue but you mentioned some could be seasonal... Bummer!! Do you know why there was such a systematic discrimination? They didn't want to bother with maternity leaves and such?...

Mike Brubaker said...

There is no easy answer for why the VPO has been so reluctant to admit women. Their arguments have always focused on keeping a continuity (right or wrong) of the Viennese musical traditions and heritage. Many other orchestras around the world have had similar histories. This private men's club idea has also blocked musicians of other nationalities and ethnic origin, as well as women.

Really it is not much different than the Augusta GA Golf Club, home of the Masters Gold Tournament, which only this year finally accepted two women as members. Both policies are good examples of the oldest tradition in the world, the stubbornness of men.

Bob Scotney said...

An absorbing story again Mike. I'm glad I finlly got round to reading last week's posts.
Another area where discrimation has been/is still rife. A great collection of cards.


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