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 }

Midday in the Pleasure Gardens

26 February 2011

Kaiser Wilhelm's Band sends Greetings from Berlin as they play at Mittags im Lustgrarten.  Though I suspect that in January 1900 1906, they preferred the barracks. Besides their distinctive Pickelhauben, (see my earlier post on the Baden Life Grenadiers ) they carry short swords like most European bandsmen at this time. (see my post on Adolf Adel )  No doubt to defend the Kaiser against an assault from those impertinent anarchist tourists.    Surely there were Eb-clarinets for that. Note also the bassoons in the center. Is this a march or a waltz?

The card was sent to Aunt Mary Merkle in Allentown, Pennsylvania on January 10, 1900 1906 from her niece (maybe nephew?) who felt it unnecessary to sign a name since Aunt Mary certainly would know which relation was traveling through Europe. This is a real test of reading handwriting, but I think I have most of it.

At__ + I do wish you could be here. saw Emperor William's Palace today also saw the same scene which card represents, it is directly opposite the Castle.
Love to all, Please do write, Ham____ Saw the Emperor looking out of one of the windows in the Castle-yard(?)

Mary Merkle is found in the 1900 Census for Allentown, age 43, single but the head of a household that includes four younger adult siblings Hannah, Henry, John, and Ella, all single. So the writer is from another branch of the family. Mary lists her occupation as Grocer. But her birthplace was Germany having immigrated to the US in 1860. Perhaps this is a family visit back to the fatherland? A wedding trip? A school trip?

I found this image on Wikipedia for the Lustgarten  from 1900. It shows the Old Museum, but you can better see the fountains and gardens behind the band. It must have been a beautiful place for a promenade. No doubt a popular place. But not in January. Even the Kaiser stayed indoors.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

An Army Orchestra of World War One

24 February 2011

Military bands have always been a popular subject for photography, but not so with military orchestras. Marching soldiers always require a rousing parade tune played by a band. But sometimes there are other more sociable events where the blare of brass is just too much. For that the military needs string instruments.

This photo postcard shows a group of European soldiers with an odd mix of strings and winds, along with a chorus, perhaps. The conductor sits in the center wearing a heavy coat. Unlike most of my collection, this one comes with names. Lots of names! And a date too. Februario 1917.

Just about every soldier signed his name. But though this card was never mailed, someone added a place above the date: Liebenau. There are two towns with the same name in Germany and one in Austria, but because of another clue, I believe it is Liebenau  in upper Austria. Why does the date use the Italian spelling for Feburary?  Because this was 1917 and much of northern Italy was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were hundreds of languages spoken in this vast country and I think many of them are represented on this card.

There is also another reason for choosing Austria. There was a military cadet school for training officers in Liebenau, and Austrian officers would certainly appreciate quality music. There are not many details visible on the uniforms, but the collar stars look similar to those of the Austrian army. But these men are not in full parade dress. They look very cold. You can almost see the fog of their breath. Perhaps that is why they are huddled together. Are they rehearsing Strauss waltzes and polkas?

In early February 1917, President Woodrow Wilson severed diplomatic ties to Germany and later that month when the contents of the Zimmermann Telegram were revealed to the public, the US finally had reason to declare war against Germany. By the end of 1917, the music and songs these men tried to commemorate would have become a very faint echo.

A Gentleman Flutist

19 February 2011

The flute is member of the woodwind family, but the modern flute is made in silver, gold or even platinum for the musician with good credit. But the early concert flutes were made in wood, usually the same African Blackwood or Grenadilla   which is used in oboes and clarinets. The tone of the wooden flute is different from the metal instruments and continues to be popular in Celtic folk bands, but it seems to show up more often now with orchestral players too.

This anonymous well-dressed gentleman posed for the camera with his fine flute sometime after 1865 but probably not much after 1870. It is a plain carte de visite print with the corners cut off to fit in a photo album, but it offers no clues for photographer or place. Since it came from an antique dealer in Texas, we can guess it is from the American Southwest, but unless someone recognizes the family eyebrows, he will remain a mystery.

My contribution to Sepia Saturday

The Well Dressed Clarinet

13 February 2011

In 19th century American bands, there were ordinary uniforms and then there were truly splendid uniforms! This unidentified clarinet player, or clarionet as it used to spelled, from Dunkirk, New York stands at attention dressed in a wonderful uniform that was a popular style in the 1890's. Compare his fashion to those of the 1920's Harrisburg Trombone   and the earlier 1880's Pottstown Cornet   He is probably not a member of an official US Army  band (though his hat crest is definitely an eagle), but is more likely a player from one of the many "regimental style" bands that toured the country. John Philip Sousa's Band was certainly the most well known of these "military" bands but there were dozens and dozens of competitors all trying to look just as sharp.

Dunkirk is on Lake Erie in Chautauqua County in western New York, and was incorporated in 1880. The photographer is George H. Eggers and he was born in Prussia in 1849. In the 1870 US Census for Dunkirk, he and his older brother John Eggers list their occupations as Cigar Makers. But by 1880 George has become an Artist in Crayon. In the 1893 NY Census, he is a Photographer and seems to have run his own studio well into the 1920's.

So what color is this uniform? Gold braid and epaulets for sure, but navy blue or scarlet? And did our clarinetist also carry a hat box for his shako and plume?

A School Orchestra from Wedena, Minnesota

08 February 2011

For a change from my usual emphasis on brass instruments, here is a photo of string players - a school orchestra from Wadena, Minnestota. There was a time in America when string orchestras were almost as common as brass bands. The immigrant experience often tried to retain the musical traditions of the old country, so music education in many small towns became just as important as any other academic subject. Here we see what is basically a fiddle band - as far as I can determine there are only violinists, as a viola would be noticeably larger in this pose, along with one guitarist and a mandolin player. Unlike the bands that tended to be of one gender, they are a nice mix of boys and girls. The music teacher stands at the back, 3rd from the right.

This photo postcard was sent from Wadena, MN in 1911 to a Clara Nisges of New York Mills, MN, a village in Otter Tail County about 12 miles to the northwest along the rail line. The writer. also named Clara, begins:
Hello Sweetness,
I ought to be spanked for not writing to you, but as I'm home for a visit I'm coming out to call on you as
I'm anxious to see Tony any way if you tell me what time(?) you have church Sun. we will come then if that is O.K. Clara.

A search of the US census records found no Nisges, but in the 1905 Minnesota Census. there was a farmer in New York Mills named Anton Nesges, with a daughter named Clarice, age 11.  It is a German name, but there were many more neighbors in the village who were Finnish or Swedish, so the spelling of names must have changed often, depending on the background of the writer.

So Clara Nesges would be around 17 when this was sent. Could the writer be one of the older girls in the photo?   I'd vote for the one with the bow.


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