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 }

Vibrato Hair

08 June 2018

We see this kind of image all the time,
a man with long wavy hair
dressed in formal white tie and tails
contemplates the universe
while sitting on rocks by the seaside.
He's promoting a romantic notion
but what is he really selling?

And how do we interpret this mop topped fellow
dressed in a dinner jacket with an enormous black tie

as he aims his bow for the low G on his violin.
Sure, he's a dreamy guy
but what's his sales pitch?
Cologne? Luxury cars?
Life insurance?

Then there's this tousled hair chap
going for the high notes on his fiddle.
He's looking straight at you.
There's a hint of a smile
beneath his mustache.
What does he really want?

The first violinist is on a postcard captioned:

S. Rigo
Modernster aller Dirigenten
Most modern of all conductors

Most conductors today would hide their instrument,
but evidently Herr S. Rigo, violinist,
wants us to know he is a performer as well as music director.
I think he's made a surprisingly modern image for a musician
that could easily be from the 1970s, 80s, or even 2000s.
Except it was taken in 1911.

His postcard was mailed from Mannheim, Germany
on 17 October 1911
to Fräulein Helene Dehm
of some place in Württemberg (?)

* * *

The second violinist uses a very minimal caption:

Ota Gygi

His debonair picture was sent from Freiburg im Breisgau,
a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany,
and postmarked 6 April 1910.
His animated pose is quite unusual
for a violinist's promotional photo
of this pre-WW1 era.

Ota Gygi was born in Russia in 1890 and studied music in Germany. According to a 1919 article in The National magazine, in August 1914 he was living in Berlin at the outbreak of war and arrested by German authorities as an enemy alien. He spent three months imprisoned in the Ruhleben Internment Camp before gaining release. With the aid of the American ambassador to Germany, he secured a U.S. passport and escaped to the USA, which was then still a neutral country in the conflict. In 1912 Ota Gygi had made a concert tour of America which persuaded him to immigrate even before the war.  In April 2016 I wrote a story entitled The Role of a Lifetime  about the music at the Ruhleben civilian detention camp where Gygi was held.

The National magazine
December 1919 p 493

The National magazine
December 1919 p 495

Ota Gygy was quite the self-promoter and in 1933 he originated the idea to develop the Amalgamated Broadcasting System (ABS) radio system with American comedian Ed Wynn. The company assembled 15 affiliate radio stations in the Northeast but could not compete with the two major radio systems, NBC and CBS. The ABS network lasted only five weeks before its creditors forced it into involuntary bankruptcy. In 1934 and 1936 Gygi tried unsuccessfully to organize another broadcasting company, but when Ed Wynn was asked if he would make another attempt at building a radio network, his reply was: "Never again. My business is to make people laugh, not to make myself feel like crying."

Ota Gygi died in Illinois in 1959.

* * *

The image of the third violinist comes from a postcard labeled:

Josef Kysilka, Violin-Virtuose

genannt: Mister Meschuggem, die große Bombe
called Mister Crazy, the big bomb.

Though we can't know what his act was exactly,
his long hair and wild eyes,
combined with a 19th century frock coat,
suggests he was a comic musician,
perhaps a one-liner comedian like Henny Youngman
who used his violin as a prop to tell jokes.

This postcard was sent from Frankfurt am Main
on 29 September 1912.

In today's world of advertising
we endure a relentless daily assault of imagery
that tries desperately to attract our attention
for just a few seconds of our consideration.
Yet once upon a time such images
were fresh and original,
like these three portraits of violinists.
They were only trying to sell themselves.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the tide waits for no man.


Barbara Rogers said...

Men with hair that speaks of their talents, somehow! I'm also imagining how a toss of the head when playing would have meant some passion from them, which would increase the enjoyment of the music (of course.) But there were many times when hairstyles would not have included wild locks! Oh well...I like considering how they were selling themselves.

La Nightingail said...

Josef has the look of a tease or, perhaps as you suggest, he's a comedian; Ota appears to be one of those dramatic/passionate musicians; and S. Rigo looks very sure of himself which equates with being a conductor. The conductor of my daughter's community band doesn't hide her instrument-playing ability at all. She can play them all and often steps in to take the place of an important band member who suddenly can't make a performance. And she often plays and directs at the same time. She's rather amazing!

Avid Reader said...

Great post. The figures are so graceful.

Kathy said...

Their personalities show in these photos - or are they selling a personality?

Molly's Canopy said...

This post, along with your previous one on the prison camp, is extraordinary. Three cheers for the imprisoned artists who found a way to continue the practice and display of their talents while so inhumanely detained. Some of my German ancestors immigrated from Württemberg to the U.S. in the 1800s, so the Württemberg connection is also of interest to me. I wonder if the body motions of violinists made them tend toward longer hair for dramatic effect?

Jofeath said...

I see you very subtly included an image of a musician by the sea, although whether it’s real or just studio backdrop I can’t tell, without adverting to the fact at all.
Thank you for your comment on my blog by the way. Unfortunately it got deleted by mistake but I did manage to read it before that happened. Not all Australian beach sand is fine, but we certainly don’t have many stony beaches, if any.

tony said...

Josef Rocks :) Wonderfully (i'm sure)!


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