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 }

Boys with Sticks 2

15 June 2017

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Are you ready, Shentlemen?”

Addressed to Master Ray Elphick
of 18 Cliffe
Lewes (Sussex)
and posted from Tooting on April 25, 1911

Dear Ray
I thought you
would like this
for your album, my
fond love to Cyril
& yourself from
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“You 2nd Fiddles! Vill you please make
zat pizzacato more marked?”

Posted on April 29, 1911

Dear Ray,
Many thanks for
very interesting p. c.
I received this morning
how well you wrote
it, my fond love &
kisses to Cyril &
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Very goot! Very goot!!”

Posted May 6, 1911

Dear Ray,
I hope Cyril &
yourself are still
quite well, am
sending you another
card for your album,
the little boy looks
quite pleased with
himself does he not?
my fond love & kisses
to you both.
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Stop! Stop!! Stop!!  Zat is 'horrible.”

Posted May 17, 1911

Dear Ray,
I hope Cyril &
yorself are quite
well, my fond love
& kisses to you both,
E. M. R

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Hush-sh-sh, Piano, Pianissimo.”

Posted May 31, 1911

Dear Ray:
Another p.c to let
you know I have
not forgotten you
my fond love & kisses
to Cyril & yourself.
I hope you are both
quite well.
Your affectionately
E. M. R.

An Orchestral Rehearsal.
“Grand Finale”

Posted June 17, 1911

Dear Ray,
I am very sorry
I did not see you
on Sunday, but hope
to do so on Thursday
next, fond love to
Cyril & yourself
E. M. R.

* * * *

This set of six charming postcards of a temperamental Wunderkind orchestra conductor was published in London by J. Beagles & Co, whose founder was John Beagles (1844 – 1907). His company both before and after his death, was known for postcards of royalty, theatrical artists, London street scenes, and humorous novelty sketches like this series. However this postcard originated much earlier in 1903 with a German printer, Paul Bayer of Dresden. The boy conductor's image is identical to second card of the set, but the print quality is noticeably inferior.

Der kleine Kapellmeister

Stopp, Stopp, was ist denn da blos los,
Da setzt der Bass nicht ein,
Die erste Geige spielt auch falsch,
Dir Flöte stimmt nicht rein,
Das Pizzicato, bitte sehr,
Markiren Sie doch etwas mehr,
Es hört sich sonst so leirig (leidig) an,
Was ich nun mal nicht leiden kann.
Ich bitte auch um mehr Gefühl, –
Na, überhaupt - es fehlt noch viel.
The little Conductor

Stop, stop, what's going on,
This is not the bass,
The first violin also plays wrong,
Your tone, flute, is not pure,
The pizzicato, please very
more marked a little,
It sounds otherwise so annoying.
What I do not like.
I also ask for more feeling, –
Well, overall – there is still a lot left.

It was posted 2 December 1903
to Herrn Ernst Hapfelel (?)

The six images of the boy conductor, age five or six maybe,
are humorous parodies of what adults would recognize
as imitating the capricious demands of noted Germanic orchestra conductors.
I've posted other stories about similar postcards of young maestros,
Boys with Sticks, in September 2013,
and Le Chef d'orchestre, in July 2013.
which, I am embarrassed to say, was an unintentional repeat,
of A Young French Maestro from September 2011.

All of these postcards are just clever young boys
pretending at conducting music for the photographer's camera.
There were however,  quite a number of actual boy conductors
who were marketed as real musical "geniuses" of the orchestra baton.
So stay tuned for another sequel in the future:
Boys with Sticks 3  (or even 4)

* * * *


The English set was sent to Raymond Elphick of Lewes, Sussex, England. As 1911 was a census year, it was easy to find his family in the archives of Ray Elphick was then age 6, and his brother Cyril was age 1. Their father was Samuel Elphick, 31, a Corn & Seed Merchant. His wife was Edith Elphick, 32 and at that time they had just two sons. Their household at 18 Cliffe, Lewes included a sister-in-law, Samuel's widowed mother, an aunt, and a domestic servant.

It's impossible to know if the original photos came from Germany or Britain, but the score on the boy's music stand attracted my attention because the title was deliberately obscured by the printer with whiteout. However the other cover lettering is clear and we can see:

The Only Complete Edition,
Price Half-A-Crown
London & New York
Novello, Ewer & Co.

The back page on the left has a catalog list;
Cantatas and ...? for Female Voices.

The composer's name is hidden, but this is not some symphony score. The whiteout was added by the photographer or printer but enough of the letters are visible that with a little digital adjustment the letters stand out better. They are capital letters – LIEDER OH.. W..RTE.

I believe it spells LIEDER OHNE WORTE, a collection of works for piano by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. It translates as Songs without Words, and some pieces were often arranged as instrumental solos with piano accompaniment. Here is another cover of an edition by Novello, Ewer, & Co. The only reason I can see for obliterating the title would be to dodge copyright issues, or disguise the title as an orchestral score.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a gardener's hope springs eternal.


A recent comment by a reader offered a link to an image of a real conductor, the great Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. It was published in 1914 but created before 1900, so not it's impossible that it was known to the producer of the German boy conductor's postcard series. Following the variety of gestures used by a conductor to cue orchestral and opera music is part of the fun for music patrons. But when done to excess, a conductor's flamboyant movements become a real distraction to orchestra players who prefer not to watch. Just show us where beat ONE is!

Gustav Mahler, Silhouette
Böhler, Otto ()
Dr. Otto Böhler's Schattenbilder
Vienna, Austria: Wilhelm Lechner, pp. 20, III
SOURCE: Wikimedia


Wendy said...

How interesting that EMR turned the card upside down for the message, but I suppose it felt more natural to write on the right side. I wonder who she was. Grandmother maybe? And what about Ray - was he a musician or did he just like to collect cards? Inquiring minds want to know.

La Nightingail said...

Clever of you to notice the music was not an orchestra score! ;) My daughter plays in a band and I've seen the conductor's scores of the pieces they're playing and wondered how in the world she keeps track of it all! On the other hand, I'm a choral singer and am used to reading four, six, and eight part scores with piano accompaniment below, so when I look at my daughter's alto sax score with single lines so close together, I find it hard to read her music. It's all in what you're used to, I guess.

Kristin said...

I think I will write some postcards upside down. It was interesting to see the household and the ages of the boys when they received the cards.

Mike Brubaker said...

I believe the upside down message was used in the early years of postcards to discourage the postman from reading the quasi-private communication.

Little Nell said...

A charming set that Ray would have been very pleased to receive I’m sure. Funnily enough I was at postcard exhibition only yesterday (of old Lanzarote before tourism made its mark) and there was a slideshow of postcards donated by residents and visitors. It was lovely to read some of the funny and poignant messages, though I dont think there were any written upside down.

Barbara Rogers said...

Ah, while you chased down the composition title, I noticed that these studio photos had some enhancement of the lighting around the boys face. Since this was way before photoshopping, I mused, how did he do that? Either having a reflector of light directed towards his face when the shot was originally taken, or some darkroom efforts. I tend to think the later, which was done by screening the area that was to be given less exposure while the rest was exposed to light...a technique taught in Photo 101 when I was in art school. The photographer moves his hand or a piece of paper that's cut small and maybe on a stick, back and forth over the area that is to become lighter than the rest of the photo, thus it is underexposed to the light that is beamed through the negative onto the paper...creating a lighter part of the overall photo. The opposite can also be done with a hole cut into paper, letting the edges of a print become darker. Ansel Adams did this very efficiently on some of his works, as did the Butcher Brothers of Florida in their great scenes of clouds. At least that's my take on these great post cards!

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

I've never heard of the upside down writing on post cards. The series is charming and a good match for our youthful theme.

Francis Griffin said...

I wonder if the poses might be suggestive of Gustav Mahler, one of the great conductors of his day, who was noted for his rather extravagant style.öhler.jpg


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