One could almost say that music was invented in Italy, since so much of the language of music is in Italian. It's in the words for tempo - Largo, Andante, Allegro, Presto; for dynamics - Forte, Piano; and for emotions - Bravura, Dolce, Espressivo. But more than the vocabulary, the most important Italian contribution to music has always been its musicians, like
The Great Luigi D'Urbano and his famous Royal Italian Band of Artists. This band was one of many professional Italian bands that toured America at the turn of the 20th century and became musical ambassadors for the culture of the new Kingdom of Italy.
I am here againe Say old pall Why in H. dont you write are you sick
I hope not How is Irish I had my Dinner here tonight Write soon.
74 Turk Street, San Francisco (on front)
Oscar's friend heard the band over his steak and potatoes at the Odeon Cafe in San Francisco, CA, a city where the band had made its first appearance in 1904. D'Urbano then led them on a tour of the country, playing in New York, Chicago, Portland, and almost everywhere in between.
Originally the 24 musicians of the Royal Italian Band were a much larger ensemble of over 50 men. They used instruments like rotary valve trumpets, horns, and valve trombones that were different from the typical American military bands. This excerpt from the British Columbia newspaper, The Victoria Daily Colonist of April 16, 1905, offered a detailed musical review of D'Urbano and his Royal Italian Band.
the arrangement of the band the old Italian method is observable, the
trombones being of a type unfamiliar to American audiences, trumpets
taking the usual place of the cornets, and the French horn being largely
depended upon for certain of the cllmaterlc effects . The band plays
all grades and classes of music , but preference is evident for the
Italian school with its intermingled melody, passion and crashing
Changing the programmes each afternoon and
evening , the conductor has covered a wide range of good composers,
while almost every programme has contained something of D'Urbano's own,
the artistic young conductor making a specialty of marches that are
almost Souseque in their inspirational quality. Besides, the band last
week offered an artist on the accordion, Sig. Frosini , who proved
himself a truly remarkable performer upon this humble instrument.
|The Sunday Oregonian, July 15, 1906|
In the summer of 1906, the band played at The Oaks, an amusement park built to accompany the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon.
Among the many attractions such as a Skating Rink, Mystic Maze, Temple of Mirth, Carousel, Balloon Ascensions, and Japanese Figure Exhibit, was music. Every day you could hear Del Hoyo's Famous Mexican Orchestra, and Wednesday was Prize Waltz night. But the top draw was D'Urbano's Royal Italian Band which gave a concert of French composers on Tuesday and a Wagnerian Program on Friday.
The park motto sounds like an inspiration for Walt Disney.
Everything that Mortal Man Could Wish for to Prolong Life and Create Happiness.
|The Sunday Oregonian, Dec. 10, 1911|
The bandleader was Luigi D'Urbano, a showman of a new style. He was passionate, forceful, and above all egocentric. The Rockford, IL Republic gave this description of the Maestro in December 1909.
affects a most remarkable series of absurd mannerisms, shaking his
massive head with its great shock of hair; waving his arms and throwing
his body this way and that as though by the very force of example to
throw his men into a frenzy of tuneful excitement, then again standing
almost on tip-toe and making the daintiest movements with his baton as a
painter putting the last touches to a masterpiece.
In spite of his
peculiarities, D'Urbano has his men well in hand. He delights in turning
from reeds to brass and back again, some times with the velocity of a
weathervane in a cyclone, and occasionally he addresses a sharp command
to some player loud enough to be heard by the audience. Nevertheless he
won favor with those who were present in spite of his idiosyncrasies.
|The Daily Press|
May 20, 1910
Luigi was born in central Italy in 1877 and studied music first in Naples and then Rome. His conducting technique was very unlike the German and English conductors of this era, who avoided extravagant gestures and overt choreography on the podium. For the American audiences this bandleader was a novelty that let them watch the music as well as listen to it.
His music repertoire was not just Italian opera favorites, but included French, German, and even American composers. However D'Urbano did not like "ragtime or popular airs". In 1907 he became entangled in a breach-of-contract lawsuit with a skating rink for refusing to play such "humiliating" music.
In this era, the bandleader was a king who often mistreated his fellow musicians as inferior subjects. In May of 1910, his bandsmen had taken enough abuse. They were playing in Sheboygan, WI and when D'Urbano's fiery temper got the better of him during a rehearsal, he shouted harsh criticism to some of the players. In protest, they all walked out and quit.
Later the band would be reassembled but it would never be as large.
The band was often involved in lawsuits. American musicians felt their jobs were threatened by the increasing numbers of foreign musicians. In 1907, the Chicago musicians' union alleged that the Royal Italians were undercutting their union wages and fees, and tried to fine D'Urbano $1,000 and each of his musicians $100.
To call the Odeon a Cafe was a bit of understatement. This advertisement for the restaurant from 1915 shows an opulent interior that could seat hundreds of diners. At the back of the huge room is a stage for bands and vaudeville acts.
The back of the card promoted the World's Fair of 1915 which was actually called the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which you may have noticed in the postmark on the band's postcard. This World's Fair was set to run between February and December 1915 in celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal, but it's real purpose was to showcase the city's recovery from the earthquake of 1906. Note the logo's resemblance to Japan's Rising Sun motif.
This second promotional card for San Francisco's Leading Restaurant, Odeon Cafe, Corner of Market and Eddy Sts. has patrons patiently awaiting their order as they listen to a musical group (which unfortunately is too small to be the Royal Italian Band)
it has been a long time since I seen you
I hope I will see you all in 1915
when we have ower big Fair
Guss & Myself ower Best Reard to you all
J W Leathers
At this point I was going to finish my short history of Luigi D'Urbano and his Royal Italian Band, but an amazing coincidence pulled the story into a deeper level.
Did you look closely at the ads in the excerpt from the July 1906 Portland newspaper?
|The Sunday Oregonian, July 15, 1906|
On about April 14, 1906 the Famous Miles Brothers made one of the most astounding film records in history. That spring in San Francisco they but a film camera on the front of a streetcar and recorded a trip down Market St. beginning near their studio and finishing at the port entrance of the Embarcadero.
Days later on April 18, 1906 the city of San Francisco was devastated in a great earthquake and fire.
I could not find any records for the Odeon Cafe from before 1906, and like many restaurants its history is very ephemeral. But using the detailed description for the film on the webpage at the Library of Congress, we can see where it will be in 1912. The film begins about 8th Street, and at about 1:25 there is a stone column on the left which was at the intersection to Mason & Turk Streets. It is the Native Sons Monument, built in 1897 to honor California's admission into the Union in 1850. At about the 2:10 mark the street car is very near the intersection on the left of Eddy St. and Market St., which would become the address for the Odeon Cafe.
This remarkable film was fortuitously sent to New York for processing on April 17, 1906 and its value was quickly recognized. It toured the country as part of the popular Hale's Tours of the World film series, and played in Portland in July 1906 when D'Urbano's Royal Italian Band was performing at The Oaks amusement park.
The background to this film is a terrific story. There is a good presentation from the CBS show, 60 minutes on YouTube which describes how the history detectives came up with the truth to a mystery.
This second film shows the tragic aftermath of the earthquake that killed so many people and destroyed a city. I don't know if the Miles Brothers made this film too, nor how much of the film shows San Francisco's Market Street, (move ahead to mark 4:10 for the same view) but viewing the two films together will demonstrate what an incredible change D'urbano and his musicians experienced when they performed there again in 1912.
In the December 12, 1909, edition of the Rockford IL Morning Star there was a lengthy interview with Luigi D'Urbano.
"I like your America." he said. "Me no like Europe so well. O yes me like my Italy, the land of music and song. How could I forget it. I like America first because it is so bright and cheery. Everybody smiles and gives you what is called here the 'glad hand'. Is that right? And then the American women? I am in love with them all. I am going to marry an American some day, well dat is if she wants me. I have met many nice American girls who I like but I wait a few years before getting married. I travel merely to see the great America of which everybody in Italy talks of.
"I could play in Chicago or New York all winter, but no, I want to see the different people. A few weeks ago my band was playing in Calumet, Mich., and after one of the evening performances my men and myself were given a banquet by the Italian consul of that city. That is what I like. To make friends. When I get to a new city I make my manager take me to see all the things in the town and I am not satisfied until I have seen everything worth while. Then I make notes in my book and I have a book full of things I have seen in all the cities."
The Italians that immigrated to America at the start of the 20th century brought a special vitality and spirit that became an important influence on American musical culture. Luigi D'Urbano married a girl named Anna, but I could not find any records to know if she was an American girl. According to his 1940 draft card, he continued as a musician through the 1940s. He died in Springfield, PA in 1956.
How many times do you think he and his bandsmen went to see the Miles Brother's films in Portland? Did Luigi ever consider what music should accompany these silent films?
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Would you like an espresso or a caffè latte?