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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Xylophon Kinder part 3

03 November 2017

Her gaze has that faraway daydream quality
of a sensitive teenager lost in thought.
Perhaps her reverie is linked to the two instruments
lying on a fuzzy sheepskin in front of her.
A rotary valve trumpet and
the wooden bars of a trapezoidal xylophone.

Her name is written on the back of the postcard:
Elmira Rohl
Piston in Xylophon Virtuosin

Elmira is another example of Xylophon Kinder that I have featured in the last two months. Readers can review this musical fad for the European Xylophone in Xylophon Kinder Part 1 and Part 2. For reasons that still remain a mystery to me, many talented small children were promoted as professional Xylophon virtuosos who performed in the cafes, theatres, and music halls of the German and the Austrian-Hungarian Empires. Some were solo acts, others played with sibilings, and several were members of a larger musical ensemble led by their father. Many like Elmira Rohl played multiple instruments. Her trumpet or Piston was not an uncommon solo instrument fro young women either.

But their chosen instrument for a postcard souvenir was not the more common solo instruments like violin or piano, but a percussion instrument, the xylophone. And not the familiar modern xylophone with bass notes on the left and treble on the right. This unusual instrument was the Xylophon, also known under its folk name, the Strohfiedel or Straw Fiddle. Its wooden bars are arranged parallel to the player with the bass notes closest and the treble notes farthest away, and small lightweight hammers are used instead of mallets. It was usually associated with the music of the Tyrolean region of the Alps but was adopted by musicians from many regions of Central European. The bars were woven together with twine and rested on straw rope so they are often displayed casually draped over a chair or table. 


This young woman is dressed in typical folk costume of the Tirol
with a flat hat and ornately embroidered blouse.
Her name is Liesl Rechl.
Her xylophon has four columns of bars
which I believe make it a fully chromatic instrument.
This postcard was mailed from Hannover, Germany
on 19 September 1909.


Here is another young pre-teen girl
with the faraway look.
She is
Lucie Friemel

She wears a rather unflattering shift dress
with white bow and white shoes and stockings
while standing on another ubiquitous photographer's sheepskin.
She sent this postcard herself, signing the back.
The postmark location is unclear but the date was 16 July 1919.

Her instrument was the Xylophon
which was partly displayed on the second postcard
while she hold the hammer sticks.
Strewn on the floor beneath the xylophon table
is a collection of posters of her musical program.

Perles de Cristal
Overture Dichter
Guillaume Tell
2nd Rhapsodie Liszt
 This was some serious music
that required great skill to play well.
If she performed alone
the music was probably adapted
from piano arrangements.


This last attractive Xylophon Virtuosin
has another understandably romantic gaze
as she is a more mature young woman
of perhaps age 16 or even 20.
Her name is Wilhelmine Kreuzig
and she is posed over her xylophon
placed on what is clearly a combination
folding case and table for the instrument.

Her postcard was posted on 12 November 1908
from Kiel, the major German port on the the North Sea

This concludes (for now) my series
on this unusual instrument.
But as I have discovered on YouTube
it is not entirely forgotten
but is still regularly played
by German-Austrian bands.
 The piece most often performed is the
Souvenir de Cirque Renz,
aka Zirkus Renz,
by Gustave Peter (1833 – 1919),
a xylophone performer and composer
who is remembered today
only for this single popular tune
which I'm sure every
Xylophon Kinder played a thousand times.

 I found three versions of
this Strohfiedel hit.
The first
is played by OktoberfestDrummer
the assistance of another Xylophon Kinder in a way. The performance was at an Oktoberfest
in Helen, Georgia of all places.




This second version of Zirkus Renz
is from the Valina Polka Band
at an Oktoberfest in Galveston, Texas.
Could any of the young xylophon girls 
have matched the exuberance of this Texas gal?



This last version of Zirkus Renz
shows us the frightening future of music.
Technically it is a modern xylophone
but I'm sure it would be easy enough
to rotate the player's programing 90 degrees.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more tricks and treats.


Mollys Canopy said...

Absolutely wonderful post-card photos and how great to have them signed by the person pictured! This has been an enlightening series and introduced me to an instrument I was not familiar with. Enjoyed seeing and hearing it played on the video clips you posted.

La Nightingail said...

All the ladies are worthy of inclusion in your post, but my fav' is the lovely Wilhelmine. I love the dress she's wearing. The electronic player would be okay if working solo, but would never do in a band or orchestra unless programmed to follow the conductor's every whim! :)

ScotSue said...

My favourite is Liesl - love her costume!

Wendy said...

The musician in Helen was lucky that the kid on his shoulders was not mischievous. I kept waiting for the little guy to put his hands over the player's eyes.

Maybe because every child has had a colorful toy xylophone, I have never regarded the xylophone as a "real" instrument, but your series plus the videos has opened my eyes.

Jo Featherston said...

Elmira is my favourite with her dreamy gaze. I wonder what she would have thought about the electronic xylophone, or the manic player in your second clip. Love that first clip with the small boy blindfolding his father to make his playing appear more tricky.


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