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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Le Chef d'orchestre

05 July 2013

Music excites the passions, especially those of conductors, whose mercurial temper always seems to be in proportion to their size. So this diminutive French conductor may be the most feisty little maestro in history. These two postcards are entitled:

Le chef d'orchestre
The Orchestra Conductor

(Métier Ingrat)
(An Ungrateful Profession)

1. Suivez la mesure! (a part) Triples sots!
Follow the action beat! (aside) -- Triple fools!

2. Sombrioso (A part) - Abrutis!
Sombrioso (aside) -- Idiots!

3. Allegro vivace. (A part) -- Limaces! marchez donc!
Allegro vivace. (Aside) -- Slugs! march on!

4. (A part) -- Ah! les braillards! La seule chose qu'ils
sachent faire n'abusant pas, du fortissimi.

(Aside) -- Ah! the loudmouths whiners! The only thing that
they know not to abuse are the fortissimos.

It was the trombones that sent him over the edge, I think.

(Any suggestions for a better translation are always welcome.)

These lighthearted postcards were sent by Remy to Mademoiselle Madeleine Mercier in Bry-sur-Marne, France, a commune in Paris,  on 29 September 1904.

Did Mlle. Mercier laugh at the little conductor? It's never a good idea to let a small child play with a stick.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
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Wendy said...

I suspect that child knew what he was doing. I don't think a non-musician could have faked that emotion. What a fun contribution to SS.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Reminds me a little of our L.A. Phil conductor "Dude" Gustavo Dudamel.

Nigel Aspdin (Derby, UK) said...

Its very interesting to know who buys/collects these special little bits of postal/postcard history and why, and why there is sometimes some considerably fierce competition between maybe just 2-3 collectors. Recently I decided to divest myself of a postcard sent to my great aunt from Shanghai in 1906, on which was painted an original image of a horse kicking a Chinese lady's arse. The sad thing is that I got an extraordinary price for it, but would have happily accepted less if I had the pleasure of knowing why the person so wanted it, and what was the theme of their collection.

Mike Brubaker said...

That is a very perceptive observation, Nigel. I now always explain to a seller what it is that I collect and sometimes why, if it is a very unusual subject. Sometimes I do get a deal on other material.

I'm interested in how early postcards mimic the real world of entertainment and fashion, and in fact there were several young boys in the 1900s who were marketed as novelty conductors, indeed they were described as musical geniuses like Mozart. Many were depicted in postcard promotions. But this boy was not one of those wunderkinder, and was probably only the photographer's son. He appears in a different humorous postcard set as a child violinist.

Kristin said...

At first I thought it was a child, then I thought it was an adult who looked like a child and then I read the text.

Brett Payne said...

What an amusing pair. These series of ostensibly humorous postcards followed similar series of stereocards and other formats produced in the late nineteenth century. They cover a variety of themes, although I don't remember seeing any musical ones. Coincidentally, I recently scanned a series of three lantern slides in my collection from a Derbyshire photographer which depict such entertaining scenes. I'm sure I'll find an opportubity to post them on PS soon.

Brett Payne said...

Oh and welcome back, Mike.

tony said...

I used to play Rugby League & I noticed that the smaller the player (e.g.Scrum-Half) the smaller the player the the more energetic & determined they were! Same rules seem to apply to conductors!

Kathy Morales said...

I feel certain she chuckled at the intense little conductor - just as I did.

Postcardy said...

That boy did a convincing impression of a temperamental conductor.

Little Nell said...

He was a good actor if nothing else. I suspect someone else was modelling the moves! I'm sure these raised the intended chuckle for the recipient.

Karen S. said...

I so adore this young boy!

Alan Burnett said...

As always, a thoroughly enjoyable post Mike. And thank you so much for your postcard Mike : I am on the look-out for a suitable one I can send you in return.

Tattered and Lost said...

I'm betting he was a handful who grew up to be an even bigger handful. Did his fame continue? As he grew older did he have his own line of Walter Mitty-ish cards displaying his talents in a variety of fields? Ohhhh, I hope so.

barbara and nancy said...

Ditto to Helen's comment. That's the dude!

Bob Scotney said...

His gestures seem just right for the words, Great fun.


If I may:

#1- Wouldn't it rather be the "beat" rather than "action"?!?

#4-"Oh, the whiners!!"

And also for #4, you wrote "marchez done", but it is actually "donc".

He must have been a riot in those soirées!!!

Mike Brubaker said...

That is so much better, TB. I was hoping you would correct it. Merci!

And yes, I imagine this tyke was a terror of any soirée he was allowed to attend. At least until the cuteness wore off. His teenage years would have been tough.


Not to mention adulthood,
where the risk of becoming a nobody after so much fame...
we see numerous cases in the acting business now, of young ones not transitioning well into adulthood,
and falling into depression/drugs/alcohol...
Oh well!!


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