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 3

09 December 2017

Most precocious musical children
demonstrate their exceptional talents
by performing on a solo instrument
like the violin or piano.
Despite their youth
these Wunderkind
develop extraordinary skills
that astonish us with their mastery of music.
But only a very very small number
of children exhibit
sufficient rhythmic coordination
along with a musical ear
good enough to play
the ultimate musical instrument -
a symphony orchestra. 

Evidently this young boy had that gift,
as his postcard caption reads:

Der kleinste Dirigent der Welt
Hori Hecht   4 Jahre alt.
The smallest conductor in the world
Hori Hecht 4 years old.

This cherubic German boy stands with arms outstretched, a conductor's baton in his right hand, ready to command the attention of an orchestra.  At least that is what is implied as we can't see the orchestra. And unless Hori Hecht was placed on a very tall box, it would be very hard for the orchestra musicians to see him. I have been unable to find any history about him or his claim to be the youngest conductor in the world. His postcard is unmarked but the printing style is similar to postcards from 1910 to 1920.

Unlike the humorous postcards  I've shown before in this series:  A Young French Maestro; Boys with Sticks 1, Boys with Sticks 2; and Le Chef d'orchestre  (which was an unintentional reprise of the same cards in A Young French Maestro) I believe Hori Hecht was an actual boy conductor because in this decade he competed against a few other small boys who also took up the baton.

 * * *

Der jüngste Kapellmeister der Gegenwart
The youngest bandmaster of the present
Rinaldo Ariodante
aus Wien (Vienna)
— 6 Jahre Alt —
in BOHÈME von Puccini

Like Hori, Rinaldo Ariodante is dressed in short pants with belted tunic and fancy collar ruffs, and brandishes a stout baton as if he was holding off a phalanx of trombones. His luxurious long hair gives him a charismatic appearance suggesting he is from an earlier century. The reference is to the opera La Bohème composed by Giacomo Puccini which premiered in 1896 at Turin's Teatro Regio and was conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini. Considering that this opera has four acts and typically takes over 3 hours to perform, leading singers and orchestra would be quite an accomplishment for a six year old child. However I can't imagine any opera house director allowing a child to do that. It's more likely that Rinaldo led a performance of a short aria excerpt.

The spirited conducting styles of Italian conductors and bandleaders like Toscanini became very popular with the public at the turn of this century. Their manic behavior is where the mythology of the impassioned conductor, the inspired musical leader, the all-powerful Maestro, began.  This postcard was mailed on 17 May 1914 to someone named Engelmann in Worms.

For his next postcard, Rinaldo's outfit is decidedly from the 18th century. His parents have also hired a hairdresser to arrange his mane of dark curly locks.  He seems confident and relaxed as he leans against a photographer's studio chair., almost as if he has just finished conducting a symphony of Mozart or Haydn.

Rinaldo Ariodante
der musikalische Wunderknabe und jüngste Dirigent
the musical prodigy and youngest conductor

His souvenir card has
a postmark of 2 November 1913
from Dortmund to München.
Rinaldo looks about age seven
and taller than his picture in the postcard from 1914.

A third postcard of Rinaldo Ariodante
has the same caption as the last card,
but the image is a closeup photo of the boy's face,
better to show off his long hair.
There is no novelty about this picture.
It's a glamour shot used to promote this child entertainer
to theater agents and adoring fans.

There is no date but based on the other two cards
Rinaldo's conducting career probably
ranged from around 1912 to 1914.
His Italian name and German postcard
are not contradictory I think,
as in this era Germany
had the most theaters and orchestras,
so it was where the money was
for entertainers of any size or nationality.
 Unfortunately history and the internet
have no records of Rinaldo Ariodante
that I could find.
Undoubtedly the Great War of 1914-18
disrupted the
opportunities for concerts.

* * *

This last boy conductor has short pants too
but his long blonde hair
demands an ensemble in white.
(Or maybe lemon yellow?)
His hands and baton are raised for a dramatic downbeat.
His name is in the corner of the postcard.

Rio Gebhardt

The postmark is 24 August 1919 from post-war Berlin. The postcard writer's script is very difficult to read, but I think it does refer to the boy.  Though Rio appears to be about age 7, here again, the postmark is not always contemporary with the image.

In fact Rio Gebhardt was born in 1907 at a hospital in Heilbronn, Germany. His full name was Julius Rigo Gebhardt and his parents were vocalists in a traveling theatrical ensemble. In 1911 he showed off some childish conducting motions leading a gypsy band in Monte Carlo with a spoon. His father decided to expand Rio's talent and taught him proper conducting technique to music from gramophone records. He became a novelty music hall act that was not given serious attention from real musicians. However Rio's uncle recognized a real musical prodigy and arranged for the boy to have lessons in piano and composition. Eventually as a young man he found work as a pianist, composer, and band leader in Germany's early radio networks. In 1932 he composed a jazz piano concerto in imitation of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Though Rio Gebhardt was too young to serve in the First World War, he was not so lucky in the Second War. He was drafted into the German army in 1942 and killed on the Eastern Front in Russia in 1944. He was only 36 years old.

 * * *

These boy conductors were a curious sensation that started in the pre-war years when child prodigies of all kinds were paraded across the theater stages of Europe and America. They were a show business enterprise that exploited the public's fascination with youthful genius, whether real or invented.

Conductors may look like they wave a magic musical wand, but of course the baton does not make any sound. A concert of a symphony orchestra requires actual sheet music for a group of musicians to play, and a conductor only directs the music's tempo and dynamics, and maybe the phrasing too. Competent orchestra musicians really don't need a conductor for most music, though it does help sometimes to have a metronomic stick keep the ensemble together. No orchestra today,  major or minor, would ever perform under a child conductor. (Though I've known a few adult conductors who were unbelievably childish.)  This notion of a boy conductor was a short-lived fad because it was entertaining to see a child imitate the choreography of real conductors. Some of the boys, like Rio Gebhardt, did become successful in the music profession but that is another story for a future post. Stay tuned for another installment of Boys with Sticks.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the fishing is always good.


Here is a nearly black and white photo of
my dog Scarlett faithfully bringing in the newspaper
this morning after yesterday's storm
dropped 10+ inches of snow
on Western North Carolina.


Anne Young said...

Really enjoyed your post about boy conductors. I suspect conductors today do much of their work before the performance with the orchestra in rehearsal and their performance is to remind the orchestra of their prescriptions to do with timing and emphasis.
Your dog is very useful in saving you from going out into the snow for the paper. My grandparents had a dog who would fetch the paper - she regarded it as a special privilege. Sometimes though the paper would get caught in trees in the garden and she would bark to have the paper rescued, handed to her, and then she would carry it inside.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

In LA we have our former boy conductor, G. Dudamel. Fourteen when he began conducting, he
might be considered a late bloomer compared to these little chaps.
Your dog in the snow shot is enchanting.

Barbara Rogers said...

We only got 9 inches up the hill in Black Mountain! Scarlett does lend herself to B&W images! Boy conductors must have been difficult for orchestras to follow, let alone see.

La Nightingail said...

Love Rinaldo's second pose. I can just see a caption over his head: "I've got this in the bag.". Of course it's likely the photographer's idea of a neat pose. Still, owing to his apparent popularity in the music world, the kid probably couldn't help being just a little bit arrogant - even at such a tender age. Not his fault really, though. And what a good doggie you have - faithfully bringing his master the paper in the snow! :)

Jo Featherston said...

As a non-musical person generally I have often wondered what the conductor really adds to a performance so it's interesting to read what you say about it. Parents still push their child prodigy offspring in undesirable fashion in both artistic and sporting pursuits. I imagine your dog would also fetch sticks in the snow.

Kristin said...

I like Rinaldo's wild fist haircut best. Thirty six does not seem so young for a soldier, but in the scheme of life, it is.

We got between 3 and 4 inches here in Atlanta Friday and Friday night. It's slowly melting in the sunshine.

ScotSue said...

I am always amazed that every week, you come up with a musical interpretation to match the prompt. I love the photographs of the young conductors.

Little Nell said...

Whilst I can believe the blonde mane, I am very much hoping that the dark haired one wore a wig. As if there wasn’t enough for that little boy to live up to, to add luxuious hair and a perfect styling seems hard.

It never snows here in Lanzarote, but has been raining a lot this week!


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