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 }

Tonight at the Apollo Theater

27 November 2013

Tauschek, Steiner, Smeschkall, and Winter await your musical pleasure. The musicians of the Wiener Schrammeln - „Die Urwiener” are appearing at the Apollo Theater. You wouldn't want to miss them.

Oops, we're a little late, as this postcard was sent from Stettin on 19 January 1903 to Fräulein Auguste Wagner of Hildesheim.  Before the end of the German Empire in 1918, Stettin was in Prussia at the mouth of the River Oder in what was once called Pomerania. Now it is known as Szczecin and is in Poland.  Hildesheim is in Lower Saxony in north central Germany.

The image is not quite clear enough to identify where the Apollo Theater on their poster is locatedbut it is probably not the one in Harlem. If the theater was in Stettin on the Baltic Sea, the musicians of Die Urwiener who are Wiener Schrammeln are very far from their home on the Blue Danube.

Source: Wikipedia

This quartet of two violins, accordion, and guitar is not an unusual ensemble for 1903. The gentleman in the center strums an Austrian version of the Harp Guitar. It was called a Contraguitar and typically has an odd number of strings, either 13 or 15. The lower neck has the traditional 6 string guitar tuning, while the upper neck has seven open bass strings plucked like a harp and tuned in a chromatic scale down from E-flat. The contraguitar pictured here has 15 strings.

Chromatic Button Accordion
Source: Wikipedia

The contraguitar player's companion holds a  Schrammelharmonika which is a Viennese version of the chromatic button accordion. In between the white buttons are black buttons making the fingering nothing like the piano keyboard found on other accordions. According to the Wikipedia entry, in 1900 there were 72 accordion makers in Vienna. It was a very popular instrument not only in Austria and the Alps, but also in other parts of Eastern Europe which were once part of the vast Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Note that on the rustic table there is also a small rotary valve posthorn. A brass instrument similar to the cornet, it provided the obligato solo voice for rustic Austrian songs.

These instruments along with the two violins were standard instrumentation for Schrammeln music groups from Wien, or Vienna as it is known in English. This Schrammelmusik is named after two brothers, Johann and Josef Schrammel who developed a mixture of traditional Austrian folk song melodies and dance tunes in the late 19th century that were played by a small quartet. I believe they are the two musicians on the left in this photo found under their Wikipedia entry. 

Schrammel Quartet 1890
 Source: Wikipedia

The music that Johann Schrammel (1850-1893) and his younger brother Josef Schrammel (1852-1895) composed became as distinctive of Viennese culture as the dance music of the more celebrated Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899) and that of his brothers Josef and Eduard and also his father Johann Strauss. In many ways the light-heated music of the Schrammels was just as influential as Struass's and still remains part of traditional Austrian music.

Perhaps the Schrammel brothers are less celebrated because they failed to achieve mustachios as grand as that of Herr Strauss.

Johann Strauss II
Source: Wikipedia

The small Schrammeln quartets were well suited for the many wine gardens or Heuriger, of which there are currently 621 in Vienna. These rural taverns sold only their own house wine with simple dishes of food, and were not the same as a public house or restaurant. Heurig means this year's and refers to the wine grower's recent wines.

Schrammel Quartet circa 1890
Source: Wikipedia

In this second photo. the Schrammel brothers seem to have acquired an enthusiastic fan club. It was clearly taken on the same day as the first photo but was described as from 1878. I don't think the photos are that old, so I will compromise and call it circa 1890. The musician on center right is playing a small clarinet, another traditional Schrammelen instrument. They appear to be drinking beer so perhaps they are not at a Heuriger. What do you suppose was in the spritzer bottles? 

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And now for your listening pleasure, courtesy of YouTube, here is the Philharmonia Schrammeln playing the  Schmutzer-Tanz by Johann Schmutzer. The video has some super closeups of the contraguitar and the button accordion. Unfortunately their concert venue is as far removed from a Heuriger as one could get, as it looks like the interior of Vienna's Opera House. (I bet they've never played the Apollo!) In any case the music is best enjoyed with a glass of wine.

Mustaches are obviously no longer the style for musicians in 21st century Austria, but good music will always be on offer in alte Wien.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link
for more prize winning mustaches.


ScotSue said...

A fascinating musical history with some impressive moustaches on show.

Howard said...

Fantastic post Mike. I've long been fascinated in harp guitars after coveting early 20th century Gibsons. A little research shows that they were relatively common in the early years of the 20th century. A perfectly sensible instrument, the guitarist could replace the keyboard player. A few custom builders offer similar instruments now. Early Gibsons are going for silly money.

Anonymous said...

A contraguitar. Well I never. A pleasure to read your post, as usual. Thanks.

Wendy said...

Those moustaches make the quartet appear to be smiling.

And how about that kid carrying 2 steins of beer! Not in America ;-)

Bob Scotney said...

We have a current TV programme called 'Live at the Apollo. Unfortunately it is a stand-up comedian show and not the magnificent moustachioed Schrammel quartet.
Again you have furthered my musical education.

Gail Perlee said...

Great pictures and thanks so much for the video. The music by the Schrammel quartet is wonderful - so light and airy & full of energy, yet gentle enough to be background music. Aside from their performances in the Apollo theatre, I can just imagine the original quartet playing in a fine dining establishment while the elegantly dressed patrons eat & sip wine before getting up to dance. Beautiful music.

Deb Gould said...

Love the harp-guitar thingie; not to mention all that facial hair!

anyjazz said...

A lot of research there. That 15 string guitar is very interesting.

Jackie van Bergen said...

What wonderful groomed mos!
This was very timely as Mr Jax and I are off to Europe for Christmas and have included Vienna. A lovely little taste of what is to come for us! Thank you

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Oh thank you for beautiful music. And you sure have some great moustaches depicted by musicians...waxed do you think?

Kristin said...

I have never seen those instruments before.

Liz Needle said...

Fascinating post - a geography, history and music lesson all in one. Love the range of moustaches you have on display.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Another great post. The Strauss moustache is stupendous. Like most other commenters, I've never heard of the contraguitar or the small clarinet. Learn, laugh and listen....that's what you're all about.

Boobook said...

What fun. The Stauss moustache was impressive.


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