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 }

Time for Two

14 November 2014

Today's extreme sports enthusiasts could learn something from the daring example of this happy couple of 1913 who are sledding  down a steep Alpine slope while at the same time playing two complex string instruments. If only they had had Go-Pro video cameras in their hats.


This unidentified Austrian duo are holding two unusual  instruments that produce a very distinctive and beautiful string sound.  

The large guitar is a type of harp guitar instrument developed in Vienna around 1850. It is called a contra guitar or a Schrammel guitar after the brothers Johann Schrammel (1850–1893) and Josef Schrammel (1852-1895) who popularized the instrument in their Viennese quartet of the 1880s.

The contra guitar or Kontragitarre typically has 15 strings, with the normal 6 strings of a regular fretted guitar combined with a second neck for 9 more strings played open without frets. Though associated with the music of Wien it was also used by small musical groups in the Alpine regions of Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland. Note that the instrument in the postcard has an almost modern shape with its angled upper bout. This allows an easier reach of the higher frets by the left hand. 


The postcard was sent on 27/IV/1913 to Fräulein Berta Kocanter (?) of Wien. Given the calamitous events that changed the boundaries if not the landscape of Europe in the next 4 years, I like to think this card was saved for its happy memories of a more peaceful time.

YouTube provides a perfect video to hear and see these two instruments together in the duo of Alfons and Rita Bauer from a 1990 German television program.



Another musical couple who are perhaps a few years beyond extreme performances are pictured in this postcard from 1912.

Volkssänger-Duett Franzl –Mirzi
D' Juxvögl"

Frau Mirzi stands with a standard 6 string guitar while Herr Franzl has a zither on his lap. As Volkssänger the duo specialized in folk songs. Vogel means bird but their full name does not easily translate so I assume it is a contraction of a German dialect word.


Alpine zither
Source: Wikimedia

Franzl's instrument is an Alpine Zither which is a larger version of the regular concert zither having 42 strings. The first 4 or 5 melody strings are over a fretted fingerboard and a curved extension is added in the same manner as the contra guitar to support the length of the open bass strings.

The playing technique is similar to a steel guitar or a dulcimer but requires a very dexterous little finger on the right hand to reach the bass notes.


This Austrian postcard was sent in December 1910 to another Fräulein whose name and address is beyond my ability to decipher.

One characteristic of the Germanic folk music of the Alps is good humor. This duo - Original Christania Duo — Frankfurt a M. certainly demonstrate it with their clown faces and comic Alpine costumes. Surely they were singers too though the only one with an instrument is the man playing a guitar. I would guess his female companion undoubtedly had the last word in the act.

This postcard was sent in August 1913 from Hessen, Germany which is a good distance from the Alps. It shows how well the Alpine music style, even in satire, traveled throughout the Germanic people. 

YouTube provides several videos with the delightful sound of the zither and contra guitar. This group, die Kerschbam Zithermusi has one of the best using three zithers. Perfect music for any beer or wine.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to see what other couples are up to.


Anonymous said...

I do enjoy the music you use to illustrate your choice of musical instruments. Tbat last piece is so beautiful. It's fascinating watching the player's fingers. I guess a lot of us met zithers through Harry Lime !

Lorraine Phelan said...

More beautiful photos from your amazing collection. I learn so much from your bogs.

Wendy said...

Bravo! I enjoyed the happy, peppy tunes from these instruments that are so foreign to me.

Bob Scotney said...

I was introduced to the zither thanks to Harry Lime as well. The music lingers still.

Postcardy said...

I really enjoyed seeing and listening to the unusual instruments.

La Nightingail said...

Fun pictures, & I enjoyed the second video where all zithers & the contra guitar were in tune. But in the first video, the gal with the contra guitar was not in tune with the fellow on the zither & I cringed a bit. Oh well. They looked like they were enjoying what they were doing.

Patrica Ball Morrison said...

We can always count on you to make merry musical notes, but the photo card of the Austrian slown likes is something that really made me laugh! Quite the attire, noses and all!

Little Nell said...

I was going to say that I expected a rendition of the Third Man theme but Bob beat me to it. A childhood friend had a toy zither which made a decent sound and that was one of the tunes we played. There’s the Vienna connection to your postcard too!

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

I was amused by the clown musician duo, especially the knobby knees of the gentleman...a bit beyond what I would expect, and padding that I didn't expect!

Jo Featherston said...

Your ohotos are all such classics! No doubt sliding down rocks came as naturally as walking to those two Austrians.

Kristin said...

I had forgotten Harry Lime and his zither music but I guess that is where I heard it too.

Tattered and Lost said...

This has brought back such a great memory. Long ago my family was visiting good friends for New Years Eve. A neighbor family was there headed by a man named Todd. As the evening went on, and the newspaper party hats were made, and the drinking got merrier, Todd regaled us with a story about Pfenuchen players. A long horn that required being placed on the ground. The player would blow through the long horn and then run down to the other end to do the fingering. My best friend and I still laugh about the Pfenuchen players. I guess the closest you could come to a Pfenuchen would be the alpenhorn.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

That looks like a very hazardous ride down the mountain.

Alan Burnett said...

Now most of us would look at that postcard and think little more than "what a strange photograph this is" But you look past the photograph and introduce to the world of weird and wonderful musical instruments. You could make an out of tune rusted triangle interesting, Mike.


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