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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Three Boys in Sailor Suits

16 May 2014

This closeup photo of a dark haired boy with his violin has a modern look but his sailor suit dates him to an earlier time when such uniforms were the standard fashion for a boy violin soloist. His name is Andreas Weißgerber and he is 13 years old. We know this because this postcard provides his name, birthday and birthplace on the back.

The card was posted on 30.3.13 ~ 30 March 1913 and is captioned

Andreas Weißgerber
geb. 10 Januar 1900 in Athen

Andreas Weissgerber
born 10 January 1900 in Athens

At age 13, young Andreas Weißgerber was already an accomplished violinist and would go on to a successful solo career. As a boy he once performed for the Ottoman court in Istanbul, where Sultan Abdul Hamid II was so impressed that he rewarded Andreas with a gift of five parrots. In 1913 Andreas' nationality was identified with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire but like many violin prodigies of this time he studied in several places. First in Athens, then Budapest, Vienna, and finally Berlin.  

He made several recordings and this one dates from 1921. It is the famous gypsy melody Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate.

Andreas Weißgerber was also Jewish and in the 1930s like many other musicians in Germany, he was subject to the cruel race laws enacted by Hitler and the Nazi party. Fortunately in 1936 he managed to escape Germany with his brother, a cellist, and become a founding member of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra was organized by Bronisław Huberman (1882 - 1947), a Polish violin soloist (and also once a child prodigy) who recognized that the rise of the Nazi regime would lead to a great catastrophe for the Jewish people in Europe. Huberman's inspiration was to create an orchestra in Palestine of Jewish musicians from around Europe. The inaugural concert was conducted by Arturo Toscanini in Tel Aviv on December 26, 1936. Today the Palestine Symphony Orchestra is known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Weißgerber was one of those courageous musicians who helped to preserve the musical heritage of the Jewish people in Palestine. Sadly he died of a heart attack in Tel Aviv exactly 5 years after that concert on December 26, 1941.

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We have met this next boy violin soloist before on this blog, but these are new postcards to add to his history. His name is Arpad Kun or in Hungarian - Kun Arpad, and he was born in Budapest, Hungary then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. This postcard is another copy of the one featured in Arpad Kun's first story, but this card has a postmark. It was mailed on 10.4.02 ~ 10 April 1902 to Herrn Th. Müller, Kammermusiker or chamber musician of Braunschweig, Germany. The card notes that Kun was only 7 years old but because of the postmark this makes him older than Weißgerber, with a birth year of 1894.

Chicago Daily Tribune
July 12, 1903

Beginning in 1901 this Hungarian "boy wonder" violinist was frequently mentioned in newspapers all across America. Even small town papers in Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Utah ran reports of his phenomenal talent. In 1903 at age 9, Arpad embarked on a tour of the United States which was to start with an engagement in New York City at Madison Square Garden. It did not go well.

I won't repeat Kun Arpad's complete story here, but his widowed mother did not see her son make the grand debut that had been promised by their music agent. New York and other major US cities were under increasing pressure to prevent children from being exploited in theatrical entertainments. Kun Arpad's premiere became entangled in the politics and he was unable to perform concerts as expected. The Chicago Daily Tribune ran a promotion with his picture, but I don't believe Arpad ever made the grand American tour. By February 1904 he was back in Paris playing for French society soirees.

The following snarky review appeared in the September 1903 edition of Everybody's Magazine, published by The Ridgway-Thayer Company of New York City. It seems some people were a bit tired of incessant sensational reports of child musicians.

Mayor  Low of New York, did a real service to musical art recently when he refused to allow the ten-year-old Hungarian violinist, Kun Arpad. to play in public. The little chap had been heralded as another "musical prodigy."  He was said to have had an endorsement from Jean de Reszke, and Heaven knows who else, among European musicians of eminence. He played once and showed himself to be in truth a child fiddler in tone, technique, and intelligence. We have had an overdose of this sauce of "unripe fruit" of late years, and it is about time for rational music lovers to set their faces against further repetitions. Musical "prodigies" of this sort, if they must exhibit,  should be relegated to circus side shows and freak museums. They injure the cause of art and give false ideas to the uncultivated. Their performances do not justify the admission fees, and their exploitation during years of immaturity in nearly every case prevents their healthy development. The world, doubtless, has lost many an excellent artist because money-loving parent or guardian foisted him a patient public as a "wonder child." The solution of the problem is to refuse patronage to "musical prodigy" concerts. 

Back in Europe where he could be appreciated and allowed to play, Arpad's postcards now displayed a more romantic image of a solo violinist,  though he still wears a sailor suit. On some of the earlier postcards of Arpad, there was a caption that said he was also a composer. So far I have found only one reference to one of his compositions, a short recital piece for violin and piano. His music may not have found a publisher. Here his name is printed in a cursive font and without any other labels. The implication being that he is now famous enough to need no additional description.


This postcard was mailed on 12.10.08 ~ 12 October 1908 to Fräulein Martha Reinländer (?) of Plettenberg, Germany. The writer makes note of the 14 year-old violinist. That would seem to be the age limit for boys in sailor suits.

Source: 1912 Wer ist Wer? Vol. 6

Evidently Kun Arpad was a gifted young musician in the first decade of the 20th century. He even rated an entry in the 1912 German version of the encyclopedia of Who's Who? - Wer ist Wer? Vol. 6. page 887, which gives his date of birth as 12 VII 94 Budapest, V: (Father) Dr. Kun Arpad Bürgermeister. Using some Hungarian terms I discovered a Hungarian website page that has the history of a mayor of Mezőtúr, Hungary who was named  dr. Kun Árpád (1865-1947). At the bottom of the blog page is a postcard of his son, the violinist Kun Arpad and a clipping from a New York newspaper of 1903. It also  says, if I am translating the Hungarian correctly, that Mayor Kun divorced his first wife in about 1899 for rather scandalous reasons. This may explain why the American newspapers described Kun Arpad's mother as a widow.

By 1912, Arpad is 18 and surely wearing long trousers. The Who's Who entry lists his address as in Berlin. But after this date he disappears. Did he survive the Great War? Did he become a successful violin soloist? His adult history remains a mystery.

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For contrast I present one more child prodigy of the violin. In this postcard he is also dressed in a sailor suit. He is also a Hungarian, with Budapest his birthplace too. His name is Franz von Vecsey or in Hungarian – Vecsey Ferenc, and he was perhaps the most successful of these three boys. He was born in 1893 just one year before Kun Arpad. Like Arpad, Vecsey first studied in Budapest and then moved to Berlin which had become the center for violin teaching.

In 1905 at age 12, Vecsey's musical gifts were recognized by the great Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, who dedicated his revised Violin Concerto in D minor to him after having problems with the concerto's premiere and the first performers. Vecsey would play it many times as his solo career continued into adulthood. He was also a composer who wrote several virtuosic pieces for the violin.

This postcard was sent to William Biddle in Berlin on 15.10.04 or 15 Octorber 1904. I'm not sure if the short message on the front might not refer to a concert of the young violinist. 

One reasons that Berlin became the focal point for child violinists in this era was that it was the home of Joseph Joachim (1831 – 1907) who was one of the great figures of violin music and music pedagogy. He was one of the eminent violin soloists of the 19th century. He was also Hungarian and had once been a child prodigy. So naturally every young violinist from this era tried to study with him. However not Andreas Weißgerber who was probably too young to have taken lessons before Joachim's death in 1907. And Kun Arpad's encyclopedia entry would surely have mentioned Joachim if he had been accepted by Joachim as a student. Only Franz von Vecsey won an opportunity to play for the great Joachim and the moment was celebrated in a photograph.   

Joseph Joachim and the young Franz von Vecsey
Source: Wikipedia

There is the sailor suit again, Vecsey looks to be about the same age as the postcard photo. Maybe white was worn for spring and summer while the dark suits were for autumn and winter. Did Joachim ever wear the same naval collar when he was a young wunderkind? For a story I wrote in 2011 on another trio of German boy violinists, also all in sailor suits, click here. Some of them might have sat on Joachim's lap too. 

Franz von Vecsey toured Europe and the US (first in 1905) as a concert violinist well into the 1920s. At one point his piano accompanist was the composer Bela Bartok. But travel proved fatiguing and was not helped by a bad heart condition. By the 1930s his aim was to become a conductor, but he was overcome by illness and died in a Rome hospital in 1935.

Vecsey made a number of recordings, but this one is remarkable because of the date of the recording. It was made in London on 15 July 1904  only three months before the postcard was mailed. Franz was just 11 years old.  It is Bizet's Carmen Fantasia arranged by Hubay, op.3, no.3.

And only a few months later, he would be playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where other boys in sailor suits play in the sand at the beach. 


violet s said...

Without the aid of you-tube, I imagine there were a few child prodigies who turned out be a little less than expected.

Postcardy said...

I was surprised that sailor suits were standard attire for child violinists.

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

Never knew the sailor suit was uniform for prodigies of the violin. And many young children continue to learn to play the violin today, even in America! And I think their recitals might often seem like side shows, but to support the arts is worth it, within reason of course.

Anonymous said...

I alway seem to associate sailor suits with Vienna. How ever do you find the time to do all this amazing research,

Jo Featherston said...

Fascinating research into those sailor-suited young prodigies!

Jackie van Bergen said...

I too am surprised that the sailor suit was so popular among child musicians. Maybe my father in law is wearing one and not a choir boy suit at all

Jinksy said...

What an intriguing collection of musicians. :-)

Bob Scotney said...

Great post again, Mike. Enjoyed the recordings especially. What a bigotted review of Arpad in America. How times have changed with the rubbish peddled these days.

Boobook said...

I enjoyed reading about the three boys Mike. Thanks for sharing some of your fantastic research with us.

Wendy said...

While that reviewer was harsh in saying child prodigies belonged in the circus, he made a good point about money-hungry parents exploiting their children. Look at the pathetic lives of some child actors.


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