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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Hungarian Boys Bands - part 2

02 April 2016

A jelly doughnut.  Most people see a group
of young boys
dressed in fine uniforms
knotted braid, dashing caps, and shiny brass instruments.
I see a jelly doughnut. The kind with lots of snowy sugar on top.
Or maybe a wurst. There could be a concealed wurst somewhere.
With mustard.
Lots of mustard.

Because I know boys,
and it's what you don't see
that demands constant vigilance.
It doesn't matter how respectable or how well disciplined they may seem,
you can't keep boys away from a jelly doughnut, or a wurst either. 
Most of it may go into the boy, and a bit down the horn,
but it's the dribble on the uniform that everyone will see.

I think Kapellmeister Peter Schmidt knew something about the risks of jelly doughnuts on the uniforms of his Knabenkapelle aus Jánosfold, Ungarn - Boys' Band from Jánosfold, Hungary. His eleven boys look neat enough now under his watchful attention, but who knows what mischief they were capable of getting into. The band has an assortment of drums, clarinets, rotary valve cornets, horns, tenorhorn, trombone, and tuba which is small by Hungarian standards. Kapellmeister Schmidt stands at the back holding an ivory tipped baton. His uniform is probably a traditional Austrian color of light blue while the boys' coats have a darker shade, perhaps blue or maybe red. Did you spot his little assistant conductor? The small boy holding a second baton in front of him is surely his son. He is clearly the youngest at age 5 or 6. The other musicians are between 10 to 15 years old. Note the fanfare trumpets with banners wedged in between the seated boys.

They were a professional band who toured some distance from Jánosfold, Hungary, as their postcard was sent from Nice, France on 22 May 1908. It's a detailed message in French, that I believe begins with the universal postcard phrase– "I received your letter ..."

All attempts at a translation greatly appreciated.


Before the advent of WW1, the Austria-Hungary Empire was well known for the splendor of its military uniforms. The Austrian uniform industry apparently supplied fashions in children's sizes too and every boys' band needed to look as sharp as any adult band. The young musicians of this next group add a brush style plume to their shakos of boar or badger hair. Their bandleader or Dirigent sits regally in the center with two drummers and a small collection of percussion equipment at his feet.

The full band numbers 32 players and they were known as the Original Ungarische Knabenkapelle – the Original Hungarian Boys' Band led by Jakob Münich. The postcard caption says they were from Glogovácz bei Arad, a community once in Hungary but now known as Vladimirescu, Romania. To judge by their size, the musicians all seem very close in age, about 10 to 12 years old. There are a handful of clarinets, a flute, and three drums. But mainly it is a brass band, with two horn players and all the other brass using rotary valves too, including the trombones.


Some of Kapellmeister Münich's boys are a bit older in this next postcard. There are only 26 musicians, and some appear to be young men between 18 and 22. Others are quite young, perhaps age 7 or 8.  Again it is predominantly a  brass band with only five clarinets visible. There are no saxophones, but there are 3 horn players, which was not an instrument typical of British or American youth bands of this time.

The uniforms have a darker hue than the previous band, and less braid. Münich Jakob arranges his name in the Hungarian way with surname first. He wears three medals on his coat, most likely awards for meritorious musical service.

The name of the group is the same but the location is different. The caption reads Münich Jakob, Temesvár-Mihála which is a city once in Hungary and now called Timișoara in Romania. One of its districts is named Mehala, i.e. Mihála. It's about 30 miles south of Arad.

Whereas the other postcard of the Original Ungarische Knabenkapelle was never mailed, this one was posted from Wien, Austria in 1909, I think, as the postmark is not clear. Vienna, the capital of Austria, is over 340 miles from Timișoara., while Budapest, the capital of Hungary is only 200 miles to the northwest, both cities being on the Danube.


Putting a Hungarian boys band together required an investment in instruments, uniforms, and music, not to mention the expense for travel, accommodations, food, and jelly doughnuts. I believe many of these groups were essentially a boys military school with an emphasis on music. The band leader provided a basic education and trained his charges in a useful trade - band music. After the boys became young men, they could easily move into a proper military band for their required military service, and later in civilian life, find work as musicians in the thousands of theater orchestras and civic bands of Europe in the time before 1914-18.

This next band arranges its youthful musicians around the Kapellmeister in tiers. A quartet of fanfare trumpeters stand along the top, while a trumpeter and piccoloist proudly display a large trapezoidal xylophone in front. This unusual instrument arranges the wooden bars cross-wise, similar to the strings of the hammered dulcimer or Cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian instrument.

This band's name was the Ungarischen Knabenkapelle - the Hungarian Boys' Band, under the direction of Kapellmeister Hubert, J.  There are 34 boys whose ages range from 10 to maybe 18. Again there is a predominance of rotary valve brass instruments with 4 horns. The woodwinds are the higher clarinets and flutes with no saxophones.

The uniforms have less ornamentation and their caps look like a softer cap rather than the hard shako style. Consider the cost of adjusting uniforms for boys who are constantly growing out of them. The tailoring no doubt allowed for some adjustment in trouser hems and sleeve lengths but I don't think uniforms in this era could be easily attained off the rack. I also find it noteworthy that not one of the boys in this band or the others could be described as "husky size".

Like many postcards of this era, including millions produced for American souvenir stationary shops, Kapellmeister Hubert's postcard was printed by Dr. Trenkler Co. of Leipzig, Germany. The postcard was mailed on the 9th September 1904 from Regensburg, Germany on the Danube river above Munich. There are no references to exactly where the Hubert's boys are from but I believe they came from the same area of Hungary.


I have marked Jánosfold, Arad, and Temesvár (aka Timișoara) on this map of Austria-Hungary showing the districts and ethnic groups of 1911. When we include Billed, the town of Niklas Schilzonyi's  Hungarian Boy's Band which I wrote about last week, we can see that the area known as Banat in lower southeast Hungary produced a phenomenal number of young talented musicians. The four towns are no more than 30 miles from each other and had populations of about 6,000 to 10,000. The boys probably came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Croatian, Serbian, Romanian, as well as Hungarian, and of course German speaking Austrians. It is likely the music that they played reflected the era of this bipolar country where Hungarian music took a secondary place to Austria's dominant composers, i.e. Strauss waltzes first and Czárdás second. But they were promoting Hungarian culture.

Source: Wikimedia

What is most remarkable though is that these Hungarian boys bands became so accomplished as musical performers that they toured beyond the small region of their homeland. In 1897 and again in 1904. Niklas Schilzonyi's Hungarian Knabenkapelle toured the United States and Canada. Kapellmeister J. Hubert's band followed the Danube river into Germany in 1904, and Peter Schmidt's band from Jánosfold reached the south of France in 1908.

Next week in part 3 of my story of Hungarian boys bands,
we will learn about a bandleader
that toured the both America and the British empire.
Kapellmeister Lambert Steiner,
the king of Hungarian Knabenkapellen.

Can you spot the jelly doughnut?
Frau Steiner knows a thing or two about stain removal.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend everyone else on a Spring break.


Jo Featherston said...

Do you mean the brown marks on the uniform of the boy in the back row? The two boys kneeling in front of the second-last band photograph look a bit strange to me, they seem to have old faces. So many boy bands could get confusing!

Little Nell said...

How funny to think of those young bandsmen concealing their favourite confectionery and being caught out by a tell-tale stain. What clever little boys they must have been though.

La Nightingail said...

Well the jelly doughnut culprit is rather obvious. What has me wondering is what the boy in the front row with the clarinet was waiting to swallow after the photo was taken?

Wendy said...

Ok no, I give up. I'm beginning to think this jelly do-nut is musical slang for French Horn or something.

Barbara Rogers said...

My question is which of Herbert's boys played the huge Xylophone, or even the bass drum? Every boy has a horn in his hand! Who do you think it was?

Barbara Rogers said...

Pardon me, Hubert!

Mike Brubaker said...

That's very observant, Barbara. Many young musicians of this era learned to play several instruments, so I can only guess that the Hubert's herald trumpeters at the back row were usually drummers and percussionists. Sometime soon I'll dedicate another post to this unusual European xylophone.

Tattered and Lost said...

I'm guessing that these kids were probably pretty fearful of getting out of line. I don't imagine them running wild like I'd expect American kids. But when the lights went out in their rooms at night I bet there was a lot of chatter.

Dani Lopez said...

I like the collection of photos, but I have to say, I am a sucker for maps. :) I enjoyed looking at the map a lot!
My grandfather had a very different uniformed experience in Hungary, the son of a Colonel in the Austro-Hungarian military..... at those boys' age he was in military school. Where he subsequently lost a finger not following directions when operating a mortar..... tisk tisk!!!

I thought I spotted the stain, but I'll keep it to myself. :)


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