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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Even More Ladies with Brass

01 December 2017

It seems very unlikely that
the military regulations
of Kaiser Wilhelm's Imperial German Navy
ever approved pearl necklaces and earrings
as acceptable accessories for a salior's uniform.

Likewise long sashes
affixed, somehow, to the hips
were probably only permitted by the navy
in extreme circumstances
as emergency flotation devices.

Nevertheless exceptions were allowed
for the five female trumpeters
of the Elite Damen-Orchester
led by Herr J. von der Hitz.

The women also wear
very large German sailor caps
with the name of their ship
embroidered on the brim.
The lettering is not clear
but it seems they were not
members of the same ship's crew.
Perhaps they only appeared together
for special naval maneuvers.

Their postcard was sent through the mail but the stamp and postmark are too damaged to read. But their group was photographed for another postcard that dates from 1911. Here the Fräuleins of the Elite Damen-Orchester have expanded their number to six . Their naval uniforms are the same  but the only face that I can see in both ensembles is the trumpeter on the left in the first postcard who is also standing third from left in the second postcard.  I think there are also some sister pairs in both photos.

This postcard was mailed from Mannheim on 7 September 1911. The writer added some detailed annotations on the front of the card which may be the individual names of the women.

Groups of female brass players were very popular in Germany and Austria in the early 20th century. These Damen-Orchesters, Damen-Trompetercorps, Damen-Blasskappelles, were pictured on thousands of souvenir postcards produced predominantly from around 1898 to 1918, with fewer examples dating from between the great wars. Thousands of women, German, Austrian, Bohemian, Hungarian, etc., worked as professional musicians performing on the many musical venues of Central Europe. Most of the postcards are like the second one of the Elite Damen-Orchester and the women are posed in costumes or elegant gowns but without instruments. Though many of these women played string and woodwind instruments, it is the brass players that I'm most interested in. So much so, that they now constitute the largest genre of musical images in my collection.


The Trompeter Corps with the long valveless trumpets and fringed banners were a common feature on a lot of these postcards. I've posted several stories about them before: More Ladies of BrassLadies with Brass - part 2Ladies with Brass.  These instruments are similar to bugles in that they play only a very limited number of notes. They are descended from the Natural Trumpets used for  fanfare music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. 

The Damen-Trompeter-Korps „Stradella“, directed by Osw. Roscher who stands center,  used four fanfare trumpets shown here leaning on the knees of two young women who also hold rotary valve brass instruments. The group is basically seven brass instrumentalists with one versatile drummer.  The costumes of the five women in this octet are not nautical, though they do have flotation sashes around their shoulders. They also wear enormous white hair bows tied atop their heads that must have gleamed in the stage spotlights. 

The Stradella Damen-Trompeter-Korps postcard was sent from Dresden on 28 June 1926 and is an example of women's musical ensemble that performed in Germany's postwar period. As Germany did not suffer as much destruction in the First World War as it would in the Second, many of the entertainment venues probably continued operations much as they had in the prewar years. But the changes in popular music, especially from the European interpretation of American jazz music, must have made groups like this a very old fashioned musical style.


The sound of brass instruments
are all about attracting attention.
If four blaring fanfare trumpets
can make a fearsome noise,
then eight will be awesome!

The 22 brass musicians, all female, of H. Brandt's Damen Blas & Streichorchester must have made a stunning blast of sound when they started their show.  Dressed in long white gowns with a mixture of hip sashes and shoulder sashes for the eight fanfare trumpeters at the rear, they hold a full range of bass, tenor, alto, and soprano brass instruments. They may have played outside on occasion but I doubt they were ever a marching band. These were refined musicians who could play both brass and string instruments.

The postmark on their postcard is from Coblenz, Germany on 23-9-06. 

Herr Herman Brandt marketed his group with a number of postcards which I've featured before on Postcards of German Ladies Orchestras in 2011.  Here's a variation which shows Herr Brandt seated in the center with four young ladies blowing natural trumpets behind him and four more on either side with rotary valve trumpets and bass and tenor helicon tubas.  Standing at the back are three men with two clarinets and an upright tuba.

This postcard was mailed to Berlin from Magdeburg, Germany on 7 September 1904.


Sometimes a photographer would have the ensembles pose outdoors for better light. The Damentrompetercorps „Westfalia“, directed by C. Rehfeldt, stood on a courtyard pavement in front of a small copse of potted trees. There are twelve musicians, seven of whom are women holding various brass instruments. Placed before them are more brass instruments including four natural trumpets and two long fanfare trumpets with valves.

This postcard came from Cöln, now spelt Köln, on 5 December 1906 .

The Damen-Trompetercorps „Westfalia“ also produced a postcard in color which shows off the golden brass of course, but really gives the ensemble more visual appeal with the women in green vests and dresses. The one exception in a yellow dress is likely Frau Rehfeldt seated next to her husband Herr C. Rehfeldt, the band leader.I suspect that this may be a family band made up of several daughters and brothers, augmented with a  cousin or two.

The group is again outdoors in a park, and at the back are four women playing fanfare trumpets which have flags attached in red fabric and gold fringe.

This postcard dates from 27 March 1913.

The hardest question to answer is what did these Damen Trompeters sound like? Programs of their music are impossible to find in my usual sources of online archives. These female bands/orchestras are rarely a subject for musicologists and I've found only a few references which are understandably written in German. So uncovering the full history of this interesting cultural trend will prove very difficult.

However we can always use our imagination. So courtesy of YouTube here are the London Fanfare Trumpets performing a 7 piece fanfare on the long valved trumpets. They were filmed at Salters' Hall, a modern building that is the home of the Worshipful Company of Salters, one of the Livery Companies of the City of London.



The natural trumpets make the same splendid sound as the valved instruments but require much more skill. Here the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets perform a military fanfare of David Buhl, composed around 1829, but used as one of familiar themes in the Olympic Fanfare.



Now imagine that same magnificent music played by young women in a German beer garden.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone's in the market for a good photo story.


Postcardy said...

It seems odd to me to see so many women playing trumpets. When I was in school, I think that the only trumpet and brass players were boys.

La Nightingail said...

I like the outfits of the gals in the middy blouses, and those with the huge bows on their heads better than the rest of the ladies' outfits. More nostalgic and fun. Watching and listening to the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets it was too bad someone wasn't around to stop those folks from walking past the camera. However, I smiled at the last two folks to walk by. Unlike the others, they were walking in time to the music. :)

Jo Featherston said...

Eitherthose lady trumpeters in the first group all went to the same hairdresser or they are wearing wigs! Some of the bands could well have entertained the crowds at both regular and Christmas markets.

Anonymous said...

I'm delighted to learn about these "Brass Ladies." I find Sepia Saturday delightful because I find out about such wonderful pieces of history.

Barbara Rogers said...

So glad to hear some brass being played (as well as wonderful kettle drums) in the last video. It seemed a sort of casual performance however, compared to the previous one from London. Shall I mention my love of the outfits the female brass players wore? Nothing but great performance costumes! And it was the sound, not the musician, that was the focus, so it's too bad there weren't recordings.


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