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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Fashion Styles for Lady Cornetists

19 May 2017

A skilled photographer knows the power of a glance,
understands the allure of a neckline,
appreciates the graceful line
of arms and torso.
It's the art of seduction,
and the unknown photographer
who captured the elegant beauty of
Madeleine Le Bihan
Virtuose of the Cornet
was a master.

Her translucent gown
shimmers with pale light
and swirls onto the studio floor.
Lowering her instrument
she looks directly at the camera
as if to acknowledge
our applause
with a solo bow.

Not surprisingly, she is on a French postcard. But there is no date or other mark. It's a very modern promotional image but the postcard style comes from the first decades of the 20th century. My best guess is that Madeleine Le Bihan was a music hall instrumentalist performing in France or Belgium around 1908 to 1914. I've been unable to any more information on her and suspect that Le Bihan was her stage name.


The glamour pose in this postcard is similar
but the woman's costume is much less flattering. 

Mary Bernow,
Instrumentalistin, Schnellmalerin und Concertsängerin
Instrumentalist, Speed Painter and Concert Singer

The top half of Mary Bernow's attire is a grand bodice with plumed hat and short cape, while her  bottom half is circus-like ruffled pants with very long hose. She holds a side action rotary valve trumpet. Evidently she was fond of pearls. Presumably her act involved singing and playing the trumpet while quickly painting portraits of people selected from the audience.

Her postcard was mailed from Apolda, Germany on the 28th of December, 1901. The sender filled all the available space on the front of the card with a lengthy message, but alas the handwriting is too difficult for me to read.


For this next postcard, the photographer
adjusted the overhead light,
placed his subject in a part turn,
directed her gaze to the camera lens,
and took a fine publicity photo
of cornetist,
Jessie Millar.
Yet the attraction is not the same
as that of Mlle Le Bihan.

She wears a more decorous shirt waist,
over a striped dress. Perhaps red or blue?
Her hair is bound in the back
with a large white bow
and in the front with a regal star pin.
Pinned to her blouse are several medals.
Her arms are relaxed, extending down
with her cornet at her side.
She has the look of a professional entertainer, and though her postcard was never mailed I was able to determine that she worked the British music hall circuit from around 1905 to 1912. She may have started in 1890 as a child act as I found an advertisement in the theatrical trade magazine, The Era, for the Sisters Kate and Jessie Millar, character duettists and banjoists. This postcard likely dates to 1908-10. In April 1907 she was playing at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in Belfast, Ireland. As a lady cornetiste, Jessie Millar worked with the American juggling eccentric Alburtus the First. Their act involved juggling clubs during a comic skit  which kept the audience in a continual roar of laughter by the funniosities, while the cornet playing of Miss Millar was really excellent and artistic.    

Belfast News Letter
16 April 1907


Stylish clothing was an important part
of any entertainer's show business image,
but sometimes the fabrics chosen
seemed better suited for furniture upholstery
than for an artiste's wardrobe.
Like Mary Bernow, the trumpet player
Miss Wandina,
 dressed in a two part costume.
The upper portion was made of
elaborate embroidered satin.
Are those monkeys?
She also wears
an enormous feathered hat
and a heavy velvet cape.
But what captures our eye
are her curvaceous legs
as her dress hem
is raised much higher
than any respectable woman
of this era would wear.

This German postcard was sent on 26 May 1907 from Berlin to a soldier serving in Potsdam.


Sometimes a photographer's skill
was not up to the task,
and an image needed retouching.
Such was the case with
Marta Grottke
Pistonnistin (Solisten)
Piston Valve Cornet Soloist

Marta's dress is a gauzy lightweight fabric
perhaps in white or pale yellow.
She stands holding her cornet at the ready
but an attempt was made to "improve"
her face and instrument with darker outlines
that was less than successful.

When Marta Grottke's postcard was produced there was a war going on, so quality printing was not available for the general public. It was sent from Erfurt, Germany on 29 July 1918 to Fräulein Lina Wolf from her brother Richard Wolf. In German bands at this time, the standard trumpet used rotary valves. Marta's piston valve instrument was considered a bit exotic, even French, and used in Germany mainly for solo instrumentalists. I suspect she was a member of a family band that performed on the German variety theater circuit.


If fashion style is a personal statement,
especially from a woman,
what does this over-the-top outfit say?
Kätie Ibolt
Dirigentin u. Kapellmeisterin
des Damenorchestrers „Diana“
Director and Bandleader
of the
Ladies Orchestra „Diana“

 She combines the direct gaze
with a tougher stance
of a trumpeter with attitude.
Her shortened dress shows
some calf and high top shoes,
and the beads, sash, and plumed hat
add an indescribable exoticism,
that suggest an ethnic or national identity.

Her postcard was posted on 24 September 1910 from Völklingen, a town in the district of Saarbrücken, Germany. Kätie Ibolt was a member of a Damen Trompeter Corps, which was originally directed by her father O. Ibolt (In German a capital J is sometimes used for the letter I.) My collection has other postcards of this German brass band which had between 8 and 10 musicians, not all of whom were female. One gets the sense that Kätie Ibolt cut a striking figure around the German theater districts.

So who wears it better?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes photos come in camouflage.



Wendy said...

Would the two in circus pants and drapery fabric have been considered risqué for the time? How daring they looked compared to the others. I am trying to imagine a horn-playing portrait artist at work. That must have been one frenetic performance.

ScotSue said...

Music and costume two of my main interests! You have given us some wonderful examples from the sweet innocence of Martha's white dress to Katie's " I'm a woman of the world" look - and even a mini skirt with knees on show - but my favourite by far is Jessie's costume.

Little Nell said...

Madeleine; the dress is beautiful and the pose so elegant. The ladies in tunics, showing a lot of leg, remind me of the traditional pantomime part of principal boy (played by a woman of course).

Barbara Rogers said...

Well, demure is my favorite...but I'm struck by all those legs! At that time it wasn't a usual thing to see anywhere, I don't imagine. And as someone commented on the fishnet stockings meme, panty hose had not been invented there were other means being used to hold up those hose. There were the Elizabethan stays I believe, which hung inside the puffy pants to hold up full length hose...I wonder if that number 2 Mary had such under her ruffles!

Jo Featherston said...

Madeleine is my favourite too. Mary looks as if she has forgotten to put on her skirt or lower costume, which is what a lot of young girls look like when they step out in less than figure flattering skin tight leggings - 'forgot your pants, Miss?', as I once heard some guy say, sotto voce. I love the word "funniosities" in the Belfast paper's report on Jessie and Albertus.


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