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 }

Brahms & Liszt

28 February 2014

Brahms and Liszt. Two celebrated composers enshrined on two ordinary postcards. Herr Dr. Johannes Brahms stares at the handwriting on his postcard with a stern and almost disapproving look.

    Dear  Geo - 
 Glad to hear of the Good Time you have been having in Berlin.  
 Have had further proof of this from Paul today. 
 I say that introduction to Berlin you got was rather original.
 Don't do more of this "tipping" Policemen -
 May say I have had quite a decent time of it myself during the week - 
 The girls took pity on poor me. 
    Very sincerely yours, 

George and George have left us an intriguing story that we can only imagine. My theory is that since hotel doormen in this era often wore elaborate uniforms not unlike those of soldiers and police officers, George may have put himself into an awkward situation of mistaken identity.

This card was addressed to Mr. Geo. Haage and has a postmark dated 24_5_99 or May 24, 1899 from someplace that begins with B but is not Berlin.

  >> <<

Franz Liszt seems to ignore the handwriting on his postcard, which is just as well, as this message has far too many umlauts to be translatable by me. It may not even be German. I do recognize the Bavarian city name of München or Munich.

The card was sent from Rosenheim to Hern Ferd. Kropf in Dresden on 17.9.99 or September 17, 1899. Rosenheim is southeast of Munich on the way to Lake Chemsee. The postmark is just 13 years after the death of Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886). Most of Liszt's famous music came from early in his life in the 1840s when he toured Europe as a concert pianist. His brilliant music and virtuosic performances were so emotionally charged that his music came to define what is known as Romantic Music. Though Liszt was Hungarian, in the 19th century Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire which was then the largest nation in Europe. He was so widely traveled that his name became associated with Vienna, Paris, Rome, Weimar, as well as Budapest. He was also one of the first musicians to use photographs for self promotion.

When George sent his friend a postcard of Brahms, only two years had passed since the great composer's death. Like Liszt, Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) was a pianist as well as a composer. He first met Liszt in 1853 while on a concert tour accompanying the Hungarian violinist, Eduard Reményi. At this meeting, Brahms reportedly fell asleep as Liszt was playing his great B minor Sonata, and was forced to apologize due to travel fatigue. Brahms's birthplace was Hamburg, Germany but his professional career was made in Vienna. Though he composed many great pieces for solo piano, it is as a composer of symphonies and concertos that he is best known.

These postcard writers probably picked out a card from a stationers shop; stopped at a café to scrawl a quick note; and then dropped it into a postbox. In 1899 picture postcards like these were still a novel method of communication. They had not yet been introduced to Britain or the United States for domestic use. Postal services were worried that the cheaper rate of postcards would cut into the revenue from letter rate postage, so they placed restrictions on them, like limiting the area of the card where the message could be written.

What interests  me is the choice of subject – a composer. Here are souvenir portraits that present an image of a well known musical artist, yet the captions give only their names with no description, and Brahms and Liszt are not pictured with their principal musical instrument. No one knew their music from recordings. Both had stopped performing as pianists nearly 50 years before. The only way anyone would recognize their music was to have heard it in a live concert performance. Yet the profiles of Brahms and Liszt were popular enough to be used on the first picture postcards.

Can you name any composer that would rate that kind of celebrity today? I can't. 

Some of my readers may recognize the joke in my title – Brahms & Liszt. But for those unfamiliar with Cockney Rhyming Slang, here is a short YouTube explanation.

> <

> <

This video is part of an online tutorial on the English language found at

Do you suppose Johannes and Franz ever heard of this English phrase?

Source: Bergen Public Library

The Sepia Saturday theme this weekend is a photo of the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg on a country walk with friends. The Bergen Public Library archive has another photo taken on the same outing. I think Grieg and his friend Frants Beyer knew something about Brahms & Liszt, too. 


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to spy on more vintage photos.


Wendy said...

YES -- I agree that Grieg was definitely Brahams and Liszt (now that I know the joke!).

Many years ago when my piano teacher told me about Liszt's ability to reach beyond an octave, it became my secret goal to do the same. Not too successful -- I can reach 9 in isolation but if I had to play it in a piece with any speed, I'd be in trouble.

Karen S. said...

So true, and what strikes a real-true chord with me, is how our simple little post card, seems to be falling out of popularity as well. As a child I could stop most anywhere, and did, to purchase a post card and mail to friends or family!

Karen S. said...

Your video, too funny, and yes, now I'll have to check out more from him!

Patrica Ball Morrison said...

The first card from George leaves me curious....what about tipping policemen and who were those girls who pitied him and why. Did he tip too much, not enough...ah so many quizical ponderings from your musical post...wonderful

Jackie van Bergen said...

I was wondering how you would choose what to post this week - the theme was so written for you.
I couldn't choose and ended up posting twice - half expected you to do the same.

Brett Payne said...

It seems that you too went exploring for further inspiration on the Flickr photostream. Very impressive to come up with the Brahms and Liszt connection!

Postcardy said...

I like the way the picture you found ties in with the prompt as well as Brahms and List.

Bob Scotney said...

As soon as I saw you title I knew I need to be sober to read the rest I'm not very well up on composers but I knew Brahms & List. Having spent time in Bergen I had to be aware of Grieg. Modern composers, not pop song writers, I know of none.
It's not just postcards that are falling by the wayside, letters are going the same way aided yet again by another hike in the price of stamps.

Joy said...

Those old postcards and message are gems. The only composer I've ever seen on a postcard was Benjamin Britten but it was on his home turf of Snape. On the other hand I have seen a Brahms and Liszt pub a long time ago in Leeds.

Little Nell said...

That’s a funny and clever link, and the postcard has left us all wondering exactly what went on with the policeman.

Postcards are still popular here in Lanzarote, as it’s a holiday destination, so there are plenty of scenes and humorous ones to choose from, but no composers that I’ve ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Such beautiful mysteries. And such high quality scans that you give us of the images. Thanks you.

Alex Daw said...

Hoorah! Another phrase to add to my store - Brahms and Liszt.

Jonathan said...

The rocky Norwegian countryside in the Grieg photo pulls up memories for me. I've visited Bergen but didn't get to Troldhaugen.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP