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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Monsieur le Curé and his Ophicleide

25 July 2013

1. Au Lutrin ~ Avant l'exécution
At the Lectern ~  Prior to the execution

2. ~ Attention !!!
Caution !!!

3. ~ Introduction ... pianissimo
Introduction ... very quietly

4. ~ Crescendo
Increasingly Louder

5. ~ Fortissimo
Very Loud

6. ~ Essoufflé
Out of Puff

7. ~ Harassé
Worn out

8. ~ Exténué

The writer of the last card had such beautiful penmanship, that it deserves to be featured on the Internet too. Five of these postcards were sent to Monsieur Chascel(?) who lived in Passy, Paris.

It is very unusual to find the Ophicleide depicted in postcards, and it is even more rare in vintage photographs. It was an instrument that enjoyed, if that is the right word, a place in French and English opera orchestras from the 1820s to the 1870s. As a bass instrument, it never become part of the brass band tradition, where instead the Tuba had more musical and practical qualities.

The humor of the exasperated padre and his funny instrument was even in this later era, a familiar image in France as the ophicleide was still used in small Catholic parishes to support the music sung in the Roman Catholic liturgy. Monsieur le Curé and his Ophicleide was only one of many postcard series printed by Albert Bergeret & Co., in Nancy, France. By 1905 when most of these cards were posted, Bergeret's company had already produced more than 75 million postcards.

Over the past few years I have featured the Ophicleide and its ancestor the Serpent on this blog, but after this collection there may be no more unless I can find another series or a rare photograph with one. So before we say, "Au revoir!" to the Ophicleide, let us watch a YouTube video that demonstrates this unusual musical instrument. 

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Since the Ophicleide is no longer manufactured, the few modern performers who specialize in this unusual brass instrument must acquire antique models. In this YouTube video, trombonist Everson Moraes debuts his newest acquisition: an Ophicleide in E flat made by Gautrot breveté and manufactured around 1875.  I believe this is a smaller (higher pitch) instrument than Monsieur le Curé's Ophicleide, but this tune, which is very nicely played, is a perfect melody to hear the mellifluous tone of this curious keyed-brass instrument.

YouTube provides all manner of instructional material now. While preparing this post I discovered an ambitious team of young people who have recorded an entire dictionary of words in an attempt to correct the world's English pronunciation. 

Or in this case French pronunciation.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend everything is by the book.


Brett Payne said...

Crikey, M. le Curé makes it look like a bazooka. One does wonder what the market might have been for an entire set of ophicleide postcards. I also wonder how many people are likely to listen to those instructional videos, and after all, what's the correct pronunciation anyway. What might be a beautifully pronounced vowel to one is often an anathema to someone from another continent, country or even dialect. Strange to go to all that effort.

Wendy said...

I had no problem imagining the pronunciation. I find the sound of the Ophicleide more appealing than that of a tuba. But nobody asked me before the O went on the chopping block. The post cards are funny, but it seems they're only REALLY funny if sent sequentially to the same person.

Bob Scotney said...

Fun cards and an instrument that I had never heard of.

The Silver Fox said...

I never heard of an Ophicleide. What an informative and entertaining post. Thanks.

21 Wits said...

Oh my, I think I've met my new hero! What a cool dude, that must have made some woman a happy girl! I just love his expressions and your funny comments! He/you made my evening!

Alex Daw said...

Great stuff. And yes...I listened to the pronounciation of Brain Damage...just in case...

Little Nell said...

Well, that's not how I pronounce Brain Damage! Now, I wonder if I can use Ophicleide in Scrabble. Beautiful handwriting though; something we don't see often these days.

La Nightingail said...

I've never seen nor heard of an Ophicleide before - that's a new one on me. But your post reminded me of the minister of a church I attended who used to play his French horn for all the hymns. He passed away recently, & your entry brought back some lovely memories. It seemed each time he was transferred to a new church, within the year, we would quite coincidentally move to an area not so far away & each time, he would call me up & ask me to come as a guest to sing at his new church & so I did - continuing our friendship for 44 years! :->

North County Film Club said...

I love this funny series of post cards. He reminds me of Mister Bean.
Loved the video - beautiful playing of an obsolete instrument.

Joan said...

What a treat! Funny, entertaining and educational -- I'd never before heard of a Ophicleide.

Liz Needle said...

Thank you. Your post made my day. I love the postcard series - very funny.

Postcardy said...

Great series of cards! Another instrument that I never heard of before. The pronunciation is easier than the spelling.

Bruno Laliberté said...

Quite a funny collection.
That first vid, he played in what looks like his livingroom... I would hate to have him as a neighbor. I currently have a pianist upstairs, a professional one fortunately, but still, I am less than enchanted to hear him during the day and ALSO during evenings. I like some peace and quiet... No such luck!!!
But this instrument sure has a certain look about it!
Great post!!
Au revoir!!!

tony said...

Bravo! The Father of Rock n Roll (as usual) I would have loved to have heard him play! A Brilliant Series of Photographs!

TurtleStone said...

What a surprise to see my video on your blog! It's an honor for me!
In fact, this instrument is smaller then the one in the cards. Mine is an alto or quinticlave Ophicleide.
Thanks a lot for sharing the video! It's good to find people with the same interests, specially when it's about rare instruments like the Ophicleide.
Best regards directly from Brazil!
Everson Moraes

Mike Brubaker said...

I Thank you, Everson! I thought your YouTube video was the best demonstration of the Ophicleide's sound, and was also the most perfect tune to accompany French postcards of the instrument. I'm glad you liked being featured on this story.

earlybrassguy said...

This comment is for blogger TurtleStone (Everson Moraes). I just reviewed your new CD of choro music, for the Serpent Newsletter, and was wondering if your instrument was an ophicleide in C or a quinticlave in Eb. I had read online that it was in Eb, but thought this must be a mistake since it does not look so small as my own Eb quinticlave. So you have confirmed that it is an Eb quint! I can use this information when preparing some other reviews of the same CD for other publications. Yours might be the first commercial CD recording to feature a quinticlave! I would like to interview you for the Serpent Newsletter. If you read this, please contact me through the Serpent Website, Please do not email my gmail address, since I never use that account...the email address given on the website is better.

Paul Schmidt

earlybrassguy said...

By the way, the automated pronunciation for the word "ophicleide" is correct. As an ophicleide player for 30 years, I know most of the players around the world, and every last one pronounces it this same way. We have also researched the correct pronunciation with people familiar with proper Greek from the early 1800s (when the name was coined), which can differ from modern Greek, and they concur with our pronunciation. "Ophicleide" is a compound word, made from the Greek words for "serpent" + "keys" (as in things that close over holes, or clappers), in reference to the musical instrument "serpent", of which the ophicleide is a development.


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