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 3

08 April 2016

Smudge or schmutz?
If there was a jelly doughnut involved,
it was more the fault of the postman than the boy.
Nonetheless Frau Steiner doubtless ran a daily inspection
on the uniforms of her husband
Lambert Steiner's Hungarian Cadet Band.

I say Frau Steiner, because that seems the most likely explanation for the appearance of a woman in a boys band. Sitting next to Kapellmeister Steiner and holding blackwood concert flute, she is surrounded by 37 boys dressed in military style uniforms with braids and plumed shakos. Can you imagine the movie plot?  The band has nine woodwinds, not counting Frau Steiner, and the rest are brass instruments and two drums. There are four horns on the back row. Most of the boys are aged 9-12, while a few are older teenagers, perhaps around 16.
Behind the band are a number of pedestrians gawping at the camera, as this postcard came from the Earl's Court Exhibition in London, with a postmark of OCT 9, 1908 from South Kensington, to Mrs. Rinkay of Stoke Flemming, South Devon.

Dear Aunt,

Have received
parcel quite safely.
Thank you very
very much for it. The
coat fits me exactly,
& I like it very much.
I am writing you a
letter, so you will have
it soon. Sorry to say dad is
out of work & hope you are
better now.
With best love
I remain
your loving niece Nellie.

Nellie had no doubt acquired the postcard of the Hungarian Cadet Band at the 1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court. This summertime event began in May as a combination of Hungarian arts, industry, and culture with a strong emphasis on fun.

1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London

London The Graphic
16 May 1908

Steiner's Hungarian Cadet Band got top musical billing, followed by Gustav Racz's Tzigane Orchestra, and English Military Bands, which gave four performances daily. In the Empress Hall there was America's Greatest Zoological Show, the Bostock Arena with thrilling displays with Jungle Brutes by the World's Best Trainers. People were encouraged to Don't Fail to "Turtle" ! ! ! ! ! !  There were Hungarian Ice Caverns; a beautiful summer ballroom; the Urania, a giant cinemaograph; an Auto-rail; ballooning; a submarine; a Haunted castle; and a WORKING COAL MINE.  Wet or Dry. Hot or Cold. Always attractive.

Hungary was known for many exotic entertainers beyond its talented musicians. This event featured enough circus and carnival acts to fill an amusement park. Which is what Earl's Court really was, a seaside holiday park without the ocean.  

Here we see the bandstand at the Imperial Court of the Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court. 

According to the program and guide book of the exhibition, available on, Steiner's Hungarian Cadets Band played at the Queens Court in the center of the Exhibition which featured a lake surrounded by an impressive promenade.

They played three times each day from 1 to 2:30; 3:30 to 5:30; and finally 8:00 to 10:30 when the exhibition closed. The programs are remarkably varied with 28 pieces listed. There are marches, overtures, waltzes, polkas, songs, and novelty tone poems, almost all by Austrian composers, not Hungarian. Undoubtedly the programs changed each week, but many professional bands of adult musicians would find this repertoire to be very challenging. 

1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London

1908 Hungarian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London

At the other end of the lake were the Ice Caverns, and possibly the Working Coal Mine to judge by the mountains.

Now I need to explain that I know the Earl's Court area of London very well, as I lived there for over two years within earshot of its underground station. Therefore I can say with some authority that London does not lie in the valley of a mountain range. Certainly not the Tatra Mountains as painted in this next scene from the Hungarian Exhibition. 

The exhibition's ballroom and Hungarian Village offered a prosperous street view that could easily accommodate thousands of strolling Londoners eager to learn more about Hungary's gross national products and see examples of the many crafts of Hungarian peasants. 

The ballroom was promoted as the finest dancing floor in London. In the background of this painted postcard we can see a uniformed band, but probably not Steiner's Hungarian Cadet Band. Though I expect women while dancing could secure their  head covering with a hat pin, I have no idea how men were able to dance a waltz or polka while wearing a top hat. Maybe lots of hair gel.

The Western Gardens of the Hungarian Exhibition featured cafes, fountains, hills, and another bandstand with a uniformed band. This was where the British military bands played. This colorful painted postcard was part of a full set of 13 cards that I recently acquired, and several images were included in the official 1908 guidebook.

In fact the Hungarian Exhibition of 1908 was organized by a London entertainment producer. The Italian Exhibition was in 1904, The Austrian Exhibition was held in 1906. Ironically the following year, 1907, saw the Balkan States Exhibition of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro. And the America Golden West Exhibition came to Earl's Court in 1909. During the summer of 1908 the Hungarian Exhibition competed with the Franco-British Exhibition at nearby Shepard's Bush, and London was also the host of the IV Olympiad 1908 Olympics.

The postcard was sent by L. to Miss Abbott of Fort Lee, New Jersey. The postmark is Earl's Court, SW1 at 3:15 PM, 2 SeP 1908. I know that post office well, but I don't recall anything nearby that remotely resembled the grandeur of London's 1908 Hungarian Exhibition. The event closed on October 3rd. Though we can imagine that the lake, the village, the ice caverns, the coal mine, etc. were all packed up and shipped back to Hungary, in truth, over the winter they were just redecorated in the style of another nationality for the following season. The Ice Caverns that were once Stalactite Caverns became next season's Salt Mines.  Sadly one hundred years later, all this fantasy land has disappeared.


Lambert Steiner, the director of the Hungarian Cadets Band, was age 71 when he brought his young musicians to London. Like Niklas Schilzonyi, the leader of the Hungarian Boys Military Band that I featured in part 1 of this series, Lambert Steiner was also a native of Billed, Hungary, now part of Romania. Born in 1837, he was old enough to have been Schilzonyi's first music instructor.

Steiner established his first Knabenkapelle - Boys Band in Warjasch, Hungary, now known as VariaČ™, Romania. In 1870 he moved his family to Sanktana, a suburb of Arad, Hungary, also now in Romania, and started a music academy there. Over the next 40 years, Lambert Steiner developed a band program for boys that took them around Europe and the world. From Budapest to Vienna to Berlin to Paris to Amsterdam to St Petersburg to Stockholm and beyond, they played for two Kaisers, a Czar, and numerous princes and princesses. That of course was where the patronage money came from.   

The 1908 tour was not Steiner's first visit to England. In 1903, his Royal Hungarian Military Boys Band boarded a ship there for a long tour of South Africa and Australia. At the time this band numbered 54 musicians. It included a very young assistant conductor named Birger Steiner, Lambert's son, whom I suspect is the boy with the clarinet standing next to Frau Steiner at Earl's Court.

1903 Royal Hungarian Military Boys Band

After a month in Africa, the trip to Australia was canceled, in part because of the cost, but also because many parents had complained and wanted their sons back home in Hungary. Kapellmeister Steiner was used to that because he had managed many long tours of his boys band. One month seemed short.

Boston, MA Daily Globe
09 November 1891

In November 1891, he brought a group of 40 boys to the United States. The promoter was described as a producer of many celebrated high class concert tours including Patrick Gilmore's Famous Band, the US Marine Band, and Johann Strauss II, who in 1871 gave a noted series of performances in America of his Viennese music. Even though it was reported that Steiner's Knabenkapelle was from Arad, Hungary, it was renamed The Austrian Juvenile Band for this tour. Waltz music would be an important part of the band's musical program.

The band arrived in New York, but its first concerts were to be in Boston.  The young musicians supposedly ranged in age from 12 to 18, but their maturity may have been stretched in order to appease New York City's strict labor laws for children used in theatrical productions. The instrumentation was listed as 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 10 clarinets, 4 fugel horns, 4 trumpets, 4 French horns, 2 tenor horns, 2 euphoniums, 2 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone, 2 alto horns, 1 bombardam, 1 F helican, 1 C helican, 1 B helican, snare and bass drums and cymbals.

The boys also sang and whistled in chorus for novelty effect. A soprano, Miss Marie Glover of New York, was engaged as a soloist and traveled with the band.

The Boston concerts of the Austrian Juvenile Band received several favorable reviews which were used in the  advertising for the tour.

 * * *

By December 1891, the band reached St. Paul, Minnesota. The 40 Musical Marvels of the Austrian Juvenile Band used an illustration of a uniformed boy playing a kind of herald trumpet. There was Unparalleled Enthusiasm Everywhere of the Most Wonderful Band Ever Heard in America. Such high expectations placed a great burden on 40 young shoulders, not to mention Lambert Steiner's too.

St Paul, MN Daily Globe
10 December 1891

By the end of 1891, the Austrian Juvenile Band had given concerts in all the major cities of the East Coast and Midwest, with performances in smaller cities in between. Newspapers did not yet have a technology for printing photographs, but they did have very skilled engravers who could copy a photo for a newspaper illustration. It is probably no coincidence that the Elkhart, Indiana newspaper, the Weekly Truth, would publish a large image of the band, as the paper's founder was Charles G. Conn, whose Conn Band Instrument Co. was then the largest manufacturer of music instrument in America, if not the world. We can only wonder if he gave the band boys a tour of his factory. It's certain that these young Austrian/Hungarian musicians inspired a lot of towns in America to purchase sets of Conn band instruments for their own American boys bands.

Elkhart, IN Weekly Truth
31 December 1891

Music programs are often the most elusive history to track down in my research. Old newspaper reports usually recorded when and where a band played, sometimes they included individual names as well, but they seldom mentioned the actual music on the concert. Certainly the audiences of the time knew how to respond to tunes they recognized, and applauded vigorously when there was something new that they liked. This was of course, some decades before radio, when music could only be experienced through live performances. If other musicians heard Austrian/Hungarian music that seemed successful, it was likely to be programed by an American band in very short order.  

Wilkes-Barre PA Evening News
01 January 1892

An 1891 pre-tour notice said that Steiner's Austrian Juvenile Band could play fifty-five marches, thirty-five overtures, fifty-seven concert pieces, and hundreds of other selections. This program from Wilkes-Barre, PA, during the last leg of their tour in January 1892, supports that claim, with 19 different pieces used for the afternoon matinee and evening concert. It's interesting that unlike the program from the 1908 Hungarian Exhibition when the band was officially from Hungary, this one from the Austrian Juvenile Band included Hungarian songs and traditional Czardas dances. Maintaining a quality entertainment like this would be very difficult for adults. For young boys touring a foreign country who knew little of the language, this is an amazing accomplishment.

Niklas Schilzonyi's Hungarian Military Boys Band which I wrote about in Part 1, the other similar Hungarian Boys Bands seen in Part 2, and Lambert Steiner's Royal Austrian / Hungarian Military Cadet Boys Bands, were the result of an extraordinary musical talent found in a exceptionally small region of the world. The Banat district of what was then called Hungary produced a phenomenal number of  boys bands for an area in central Europe made up of ethnic Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Romani, Germans, Krashovani, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Czechs, Croats, and Jews, all nominally beholding to Kaiser Franz Josef, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

It is uncertain which groups the boys in these bands came from, but it seems likely that they had a number of languages to learn in addition to studying their musical instrument. In this era, a career in music was considered a skilled trade, not unlike a butcher, a carpenter, or machinist, but with the added glamour of show business. Music was music, whether it was a military band or a boys band playing on a summer afternoon in Earl's Court. The Hungarian Band Boys were taught discipline, precision, organization, and above all, quality musicianship. It took good leadership to instill that and as anyone who has ever taught school children will tell you, that takes a special talent to do well. Imagine keeping 40 boys in line and focused on music when they are surrounded by an amusement park or traveling to a new country. Even John Philip Sousa would have admired Lambert Steiner's managerial skill.

The notion of playing music in a traveling band
may have a romantic allure,
but it was really all about WORK.

Take a look at these 1891 show dates of
Lambert Steiner's Austrian Juvenile Band,
as published in the show business weekly, the New York Dramatic Mirror.

New York Dramatic Mirror
14 November 1891

  • Boston. Mass., Nov. 11-13,
  • Portland, Me., 14.
  • Boston. Mass., 15,
  • Providence. R.I., 16,
  • New Haven, Conn., 17,
  • Bridgeport 18,
  • Philadelphia, Pa., 19- 20,
  • Harrisburg 21,
  • Washington, D.C, 22,
  • Altoona, Pa., 23,
  • Pittsburg, 24-25,
  • C o l u m b u s , Oh., 26,
  • D a y t o n 27,
  • Cincinnati 28,
  • Louisville . Ky.. 30-Dec. 1
  • Indianapolis, Ind., Dec 2
  • Kansas Citv. Mo., Dec 8- 9
  • St Joseph 10,
  • Lincoln. Neb., 11
  • Omaha 12,
  • Des Moines, Ia, 14,
  • Cedar Rapids, 15.
  • St Paul, Minn., 16-17.
  • Minneapolis, 18-19,
  • Superior, Wis, 20,
  • Duluth, Minn., 21,
  • Ashland , Wis., 22,
  • Eau Claire, 23,
  • La Crosse, 24.
  • Dubuque, Ia, 25,
  • Rockford, Il , 26,
  • Chicago 28-31.
  • Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Jan 5.


It's an exhausting schedule. Non-stop without break.
And it does not include the matinees and lunchtime rehearsals.
It borders on the exploitation of child labor, and many cities like New York
tried to control such abuse in the theatrical world, but this was a time
when many children worked long hours on farms, and in mills, and coal mines.
Playing on the road with a prestigious band probably seemed easy
for these boys compared to the alternative apprentice work
available to them back home in Arad, Hungary. 

Now do you understand what I mean by the hidden jelly doughnut?
It's what I would be thinking about during every concert.
What am I going to eat on the train?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone else is off to the boat races.


Barbara Rogers said...

I do hope they got some sweets on the trains...which they must have been on more than the time giving concerts, or almost. What is "do a turtle?" oh wise source of all information band related? I have a feeling it was some kind of dance move....?

Mike Brubaker said...

I wish I had the answer, Barbara, but I still can't figure out what "to Turtle" means. In the guide book it was under the advert page for the Bostock Arena & Jungle, which included "Lions, Tigers, Bears, Wolves, Leopards, Panthers, Jaguars, Elephants," and "Carnivora fed at 5:30 and 10:30 PM". There were "Seals beneath the flowing waterfall" and then "Turtling the Turtle." Apparently it was a popular "American" attraction.

La Nightingail said...

Some wonderful picture postcards of the Hungarian Exposition. I especially like the last one with the bandstand just off to the left. My daughter plays in a community band & during the summer they play once a week in an old-fashioned bandstand in the middle of a lovely park. We take a picnic dinner & listen to the band. Such fun! As for Frau Steiner, I think it's great she apparently works with her husband - I imagine by helping those musicians not quite up to par? She has a very pleasant, friendly look about her and no doubt plays that clarinet very well. :)

Little Nell said...

The Hungarian Exhibition looks quite spectacular, but now I’m worried about the poor young boys in the cadet bands - I see what you mean about exploitation and child labour. By the way, I’m also worried about Nellie’s Dad!

Jo Featherston said...

What an incredible instillation that must have been, and the band's tour schedule is just mind-boggling! If you ever find out what turtling was, please let us know.

Titania Staeheli said...

As people did not travel as much or as far as today, all the exotica, was imported to keep the people entertained. Like with the crystal palace in London. And for turtling, to turtle, perhaps, as a metaphor, turtling refers to the defensive posture of a turtle, which retracts its limbs into its hardened shell for protection against predators. A player who concentrates on defense is said to behave like a turtle, reluctant to leave the safety of its shell for fear of suffering a lethal attack.

Cedomir Vasic said...

Hello Mr Brubaker.

My name is Cedomir Vasic and I am very interested in photographic work of de Jongh freres (de Jongh brothers), a nineteen century studio from Neuilly by Paris. It happens that I got hold of scan of the original photo Of Hungarian Boys Band published as a drawing in Weekly truth on 31 December 1891. The original was made by de Jongh freres somewhere in the Imperial Russia around 1888-1889. Do you have any knowledge about a tour of the Band in that time?

With best wishes
Cedomir Vasic
University of Arts , Belgrade

Mike Brubaker said...

Cedomir -

The earliest reports I've found date from 1890 when the American concert tour of Lambert Steiner's Hungarian Juvenile Band was first announced. There is no specific mention of Russia but they appeared at the Paris Exposition of 1889 and in Stockholm around the same time, so it seems quite possible they played Russia too. My research is limited to only English language newspaper archives, but I'd be happy to share what I have with you. There is much more than I used for this story, including a quote from Dvorak! You can contact me at my gmail address on the sidebar "About Me".


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