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 }

Weihnachtsgrüße! Christmas Greetings from the Front!

20 December 2013

Wir wünschen Ihnen allen
We wish you all

ein frohes Weihnachtsfest 
a happy Christmas

und ein herzhaftes Neujahr!
and a hearty New Year!


This small postcard photo of an Imperial German Army Band was undoubtedly sent in a letter as it has no postmark or address on the back.  But the writer, presumably one of the 10 musicians, does add a message (which is unfortunately beyond my ability to translate) and a date:  24.12.16Christmas Eve, 24th December 1916 - the third Christmas of the First World War 1914-1918.

The band appears to be indoors in a classroom, perhaps their rehearsal room, but there are no clues to identify their location or to show which regiment they belong to. On the chalkboard are some French words that could be from a language lesson. If you look closely, four of the German bandsmen have ribbons tucked into their tunic. The white/black/white matches the pattern of the Iron Cross award. A typical regimental band would normally have over twice this number of bandsmen, but 1916 was a particularly harrowing year for casualties.

Now nearly 100 years on, it is difficult for us in the future to fully grasp the feelings these young soldiers must have felt to have a place to trim their Christmas tree. Little could they know that they were only halfway though this horrific war, and they would need to endure even more unimaginable adversity and hardship.

Yet even in the hardest of times, the human heart always seeks hope and solace. We must imagine that the sound of their instruments crossed over the empty wasteland between the lines and that German, French, and English voices joined together in singing the musical refrains of O Tannenbaum and for a brief moment shared thoughts of peace.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where I wish everyone a most
joyful and peaceful holiday.

A Puzzling Parade

14 December 2013

This is a photo puzzle, and here is the first corner piece. We can see a figure of a boy, or maybe a young man, wearing a white shirt, coat, and the common soft cap of the early 20th century. He is also African-American. He is on the edge of a street and as we shall see, he is leading a parade.

This is an edge piece that connects to the first one. We see more children running along side a group of men who are walking more than marching, and are in a double line. They wear a mixture of caps and hats, and some have a ribbon or tag on their coat lapel. They look young and clean shaven.

A middle piece shows us that there are people watching this procession on the sidewalk. A sign reads John H. Lyons and underneath Hanover Rye. One man wears a straw boater so the season is not likely to be fall or winter.

Another middle piece from further up the street. There is another sign with vertical letters that reads New York Store. Hanging from some upper windows are American flags.

Another small middle piece makes this a challenging puzzle. If this was a parade of celebration, why do the men in the foreground have serious expressions? They seem oddly somber. They might be a fraternal society, but then they would be dressed in similar suits. And if it was a holiday parade, they should be looking around and smiling. Perhaps instead they are part of a funeral cortege. But would caps and straw hats be suitable for such an occasion?

To add to the confusion we have another corner piece that shows two musicians, a drummer and a cymbal player. Both are black and wear fancy embroidered uniforms with tasseled shakos.

It's a puzzle, alright. Put the pieces together and the complete picture is revealed on this small sepia tone postcard.  {click to enlarge}

Who are they? Why are they in a parade? Can we know where they are, or even venture a guess on which decade?

On the back of the postcard is one more clue. A rubber stamp in blue ink reads Photo by W. M. Adsit. There is no postmark. The AZO stamp box pattern suggests the years from 1910 to 1930. The penciled 1148 is a dealer's mark.

The name of Adsit comes up on an internet search for a photographer from Catskill, New York. In this small town on the Hudson river, halfway between Kingston and Albany, there once lived a Wallace M. Adsit (born 1862) who is listed in the census as a merchant of a candy store in 1910 and a photographer in the 1925 NY census. He lived on West Bridge St.

The other name on the small sign, John H. Lyons, also turns up as a resident of Catskill, NY. Mr. Lyons lived on West Bridge St. and ran a hotel or rooming house.

And the New York Store? It was at 46-48 Bridge St., Catskill, NY.

Catskill NY Recorder
April 1918

  Three hits makes a strong case for this to be a parade in Catskill, NY.  Could we date it?

Catskill NY Recorder
July 19, 1918
The Great War of 1914-1918 had already entered its third year when the United States reached a tipping point with the revelations in the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. President Wilson then declared war with Germany on April 6, 1917. But the US military was seriously underpowered compared to the millions of soldiers mobilized in the previous three years by its allies, Britain and France, and those of the central powers, Germany and Austria. In 1917 the US regular army had a force of only 121,00 men, so in May, Congress authorized the Selective Service Act. The first draft of young men between the ages of 21 and 31 was set for June 5, 1917. The second round came in June of 1918.

On July 19, 1918 the Catskill newspaper The Recorder appealed to its citizens to join in the big sendoff for the local boys joining up. The event was planned for July 24 when a special train would collect the new inductees to take them to Camp Dix for training.

Do not stand on the street or stay at home in bed — get in the parade! Join the ranks! Be one with the boys! March with them! Shout your loudest for victory and America! Show your appreciation of the fact that they are willing to give their lives for our country and for humanity the world over. Let their memory of Catskill's "send off" be one that will stick with them pleasantly all through their army life, to inspire them to battle and console them in their hours off duty.
"Send them away with a smile," as Gunner Depew writes in his story. "The very best thing you can give your son or husband or brother is a smile." Get in the ranks and march in the parade, people of Catskill.

Downstream in Kingston, NY the newpaper ran a headline on July 25, 1918 - The 360 Left For Camp Dix With Epochal Send-Off.  The inside pages have not only the names and vocations of every draftee, but the names of all the recent causalities suffered by the US troops in France.

Kingston NY Daily Freeman
July 25, 1918

Americans were not unaware of the horrors of the Western Front. The public debate leading up to the declaration had been strenuous and contentious. There were many groups opposed to war, and from pacifists and unions to isolationists and German-Americans, there were many strong opinions against the United States joining the conflict. But by the spring of 1918 when the first US soldiers had reached the battle lines, the pendulum of public interest had swung to the side of patriotism.

I believe this small postcard shows men of Catskill, NY taking their first steps toward serving in the U.S. Army in World War One. There is a kind of celebration going on that one can maybe see in the children and adults on the sidewalks, and clearly there is music. The men however appear to have less joy and more grim determination in their stride. Soon they will experience war in a way that no American men have seen in a generation.

The two black musicians remain an enigma. The reports all describe bands participating in these events, but these two drummers are not dressed like typical town bandsmen. Their uniforms are more like those of circus musicians, and I suspect that is who they are. They could be members of a traveling circus or minstrel band who happened to be near Catskill in July 1918 and joined in the grand parade.

Understanding history sometimes seems like looking though the wrong end of a telescope. We have to squint to see vague outlines and very small shapes and yet nothing comes into clear focus. What we can know is that Mr. Adsit took this photo and that someone saved it. Did they recognize a son, a husband, a brother, or a father in one of those faces?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link to see more obscure street photos.

Ladies with Brass

06 December 2013

On stage are six young Mädchen, the trumpeters or Fanfarenbläser of the Damen-Trompeter-Corps Alpenveilchen, who stand at the ready and await their conductor's cue. Their trumpets have no valves and are actually long bugles complete with fanfare flags.

The Alpenveilchen Damen-Trompeter-Corps und Gesangs-Ensemble, or Ladies Trumpet Corps and Vocal Choir, were under the direction of J. Reinstadler, shown in this next postcard standing at the back with his baton and medals. His brass band and singers number 9 women and three men, as presumably Herr Reinstadler also sometimes played lead cornet. The musicians (except for the drummer) have rotary valve brass instruments  and include an impressive bass helicon arranged in front on the floor. The young ladies wear the same uniform with a generous sash belt as in the first postcard but they sport a large white cap. The gentlemen are in formal evening dress minus the hat.

The postcard was sent on August 24, 1903 from Leipzig to someone in Eschenbach, Germany.

Herr Reinstadler produced another postcard with the Alpenveilchen ladies trumpet corps but economized with a cheap printer who used blue paper. The band here has only 11 musicians, 4 men and  7 women. Were they related? Brothers and sisters? Cousins? Perhaps married?

Unfortunately such questions will never have an answer.

This postcard was send from Markersdorf, Germany on Christmas Day, December 25, 1901, and postmarked at 6-7 in the evening.

Cyclamen purpurascens
Source: Wikipedia

The European Alpenveilchen (Cyclamen purpurascens) is the German name for the purple cyclamen, an alpine flower.  Can you guess the color of the ladies uniform of the Alpenveilchen Damen-Trompeter-Corps

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where other ladies turn trumpets into bullets.

Tonight at the Apollo Theater

27 November 2013

Tauschek, Steiner, Smeschkall, and Winter await your musical pleasure. The musicians of the Wiener Schrammeln - „Die Urwiener” are appearing at the Apollo Theater. You wouldn't want to miss them.

Oops, we're a little late, as this postcard was sent from Stettin on 19 January 1903 to Fräulein Auguste Wagner of Hildesheim.  Before the end of the German Empire in 1918, Stettin was in Prussia at the mouth of the River Oder in what was once called Pomerania. Now it is known as Szczecin and is in Poland.  Hildesheim is in Lower Saxony in north central Germany.

The image is not quite clear enough to identify where the Apollo Theater on their poster is locatedbut it is probably not the one in Harlem. If the theater was in Stettin on the Baltic Sea, the musicians of Die Urwiener who are Wiener Schrammeln are very far from their home on the Blue Danube.

Source: Wikipedia

This quartet of two violins, accordion, and guitar is not an unusual ensemble for 1903. The gentleman in the center strums an Austrian version of the Harp Guitar. It was called a Contraguitar and typically has an odd number of strings, either 13 or 15. The lower neck has the traditional 6 string guitar tuning, while the upper neck has seven open bass strings plucked like a harp and tuned in a chromatic scale down from E-flat. The contraguitar pictured here has 15 strings.

Chromatic Button Accordion
Source: Wikipedia

The contraguitar player's companion holds a  Schrammelharmonika which is a Viennese version of the chromatic button accordion. In between the white buttons are black buttons making the fingering nothing like the piano keyboard found on other accordions. According to the Wikipedia entry, in 1900 there were 72 accordion makers in Vienna. It was a very popular instrument not only in Austria and the Alps, but also in other parts of Eastern Europe which were once part of the vast Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Note that on the rustic table there is also a small rotary valve posthorn. A brass instrument similar to the cornet, it provided the obligato solo voice for rustic Austrian songs.

These instruments along with the two violins were standard instrumentation for Schrammeln music groups from Wien, or Vienna as it is known in English. This Schrammelmusik is named after two brothers, Johann and Josef Schrammel who developed a mixture of traditional Austrian folk song melodies and dance tunes in the late 19th century that were played by a small quartet. I believe they are the two musicians on the left in this photo found under their Wikipedia entry. 

Schrammel Quartet 1890
 Source: Wikipedia

The music that Johann Schrammel (1850-1893) and his younger brother Josef Schrammel (1852-1895) composed became as distinctive of Viennese culture as the dance music of the more celebrated Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899) and that of his brothers Josef and Eduard and also his father Johann Strauss. In many ways the light-heated music of the Schrammels was just as influential as Struass's and still remains part of traditional Austrian music.

Perhaps the Schrammel brothers are less celebrated because they failed to achieve mustachios as grand as that of Herr Strauss.

Johann Strauss II
Source: Wikipedia

The small Schrammeln quartets were well suited for the many wine gardens or Heuriger, of which there are currently 621 in Vienna. These rural taverns sold only their own house wine with simple dishes of food, and were not the same as a public house or restaurant. Heurig means this year's and refers to the wine grower's recent wines.

Schrammel Quartet circa 1890
Source: Wikipedia

In this second photo. the Schrammel brothers seem to have acquired an enthusiastic fan club. It was clearly taken on the same day as the first photo but was described as from 1878. I don't think the photos are that old, so I will compromise and call it circa 1890. The musician on center right is playing a small clarinet, another traditional Schrammelen instrument. They appear to be drinking beer so perhaps they are not at a Heuriger. What do you suppose was in the spritzer bottles? 

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And now for your listening pleasure, courtesy of YouTube, here is the Philharmonia Schrammeln playing the  Schmutzer-Tanz by Johann Schmutzer. The video has some super closeups of the contraguitar and the button accordion. Unfortunately their concert venue is as far removed from a Heuriger as one could get, as it looks like the interior of Vienna's Opera House. (I bet they've never played the Apollo!) In any case the music is best enjoyed with a glass of wine.

Mustaches are obviously no longer the style for musicians in 21st century Austria, but good music will always be on offer in alte Wien.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link
for more prize winning mustaches.

Feuer in der Oper! Fire at the Opera House!

22 November 2013

It was described only as Hoftheater, Dresden. The hazy image had no people, no vehicles, no shop fronts. It appeared to be just another faded photograph of an unremarkable city building. But a closer look revealed that the dark blotch at the top of this carte de visite was not a discoloration, but actually smoke and fire! This was no ordinary architectural photo but a record of a great catastrophe.

It also turned out to be the key piece to a puzzle.

Written in ink on the back was an annotation.

Hoftheater in Dresden
Während des Brandes
Court Theater in Dresden
During the fire

The photographer is Marie Steffen-Groth of Dresden, Annen Strasse, vis-à-vis No.1, who was active from 1865 to 1876, according to a terrific website that documents early European photographers -  The website does not say, but since the first name is feminine, we must presume that Marie was a female photographer, which adds another dimension to this unusual picture.

My reason for acquiring this photo was because it was part of a large set being broken up by a dealer for individual sale. All except this one were cdvs of members of an orchestra. Here are just two musicians of the group that I purchased.

This distinguished flutist sits for the camera while holding his fine blackwood flute. On the back is written in pencil ?f? Dr. Fleischer. The backstamp, like that of the Hoftheater photo, is for Marie Steffen-Groth & Co. but someone has struck through the address on Annen Strasse, leaving the und Dohna Platz No12. as printed.

Madam Steffen-Groth's camera was moved back a bit for this violinist who sits as relaxed as if he was waiting for the concert to begin. Written on the back is ?_? ?Reg___gisatr? Weigel Viol.1. 

At some future date, both musicians will return for Part 2 of the Dresden Hofoper Orchester, as that is the ensemble I believe they were members of. All of the other musicians were from Dresden and many had written their names on the back of the photographs. About a third posed in Marie Steffen-Groth's photography studio.

But this story is about the Hoftheater - the Royal Court Theater and Opera House of the King of Saxony.  On the 21st of September, 1869 at half past eleven in the morning, the Dresden watchman rang the alarm. The Opera House was on fire!

When the photo is corrected for fading, the fire and smoke seem to leap out from the roof of the theater. But it is really a clever special effect that Marie Steffen-Groth's studio painted onto an older photo of the Hoftheater. This was a commemorative photo made as a souvenir of the fire. The real inferno would have been far too hot for a photographer to set up a camera this close. And where are the firemen?

They were actually very busy.

Erstes Opernhaus Sempers ca1850 1860
The Hoftheater was also known as the Semperoper , named after its architect Gottfried Semper (1803-1879). The Dresden Court Opera first opened on 13 April 1841 with an opera by Carl Maria von Weber, and would be the site of many premieres of music by the great composers of the 19th century. One of its first opera directors was Richard Wagner, who staged his operas  Der fliegende Holländer (2 January 1843) and Tannhäuser (19 October 1845) in Dresden. In 1849, Wagner ran afoul of the authorities when he became involved in the unsuccessful May Uprising in Dresden. To avoid arrest he fled to Switzerland, and would not return to Germany until 1862.

Dresden Hoftheater c1841
Source: Wikipedia

This colored illustration from 1841 shows the opulent interior of the Dresden opera theater. The orchestra would be just in front of the stage. Hanging from the ceiling is an impressive chandelier. According to a recent investigation by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (Central German Broadcasting, MDR), the Dresden Semperoper Fire was an accident caused by workmen using a flammable rosin to glue rubber gas hoses to the chandeliers. MDR put together an elaborate report for television using people in historic costume and with authentic 1869 fire fighting equipment. It is in German but the report has some great photos.

Several of those modern MDR images use the same techniques of special effects that were used by the Steffen-Groth studio and other Dresden artists of the time. A picture of a fire really needs color for best effect.

Source: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

This is a Lithograph of the Hofoper showing the 1869 fire. In the foreground, very small firemen are valiantly manning the hand pumps to spray water on the flames. It would be in vain. In fact their bigger problem was that the conflagration might spread to adjacent court buildings.

Source: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

In this next colored Lithograph, which is also from the archives of the Dresden Art Museum, the artist has depicted a more realistic number of firemen and spectators. The fire fighters appear more professional but the Dresden townspeople really don't look properly horrified. One could almost believe there was a brass band playing a concert in the background.

Source: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

The photographers came out the next day and this photo of the Hoftheater shows the ruins after the fire. Since most of the interior and structural components were made of wood, the building was a total loss. However no one was killed and no other buildings were touched by the fire.

 Could some of the musicians of the orchestra be in the group posed in front?

Dresden Altstadt Semperoper 1865
Dresden has always been famous for its art and architecture, and considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. This photo taken in 1865 from the riverfront shows the Dresden Royal Court Cathedral in the center and the Semperoper on the right beyond the old Augusta Bridge that crosses the River Elba.

Following the great fire, the opera house was rebuilt by Gottfried Semper's son, Manfred Semper according to his father's plans, and reopened in 1878. The music of symphonies and opera would fill this new hall for 67 years, until one dark night in February 1945  when alarms would again sound.

Dresden after the bombings of February 1945
Source: Wikipedia

On February 13th, 1945, in one of the largest air raids ever conducted by the Royal Air Force, somewhere between 22,700 and 25,000 people perished in a devastating firestorm that destroyed not only the Hoftheater but incinerated over 90 percent of Dresden's city center. In that one night 772 British bombers dropped 2659.3 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs over the city. It still remains one of the most controversial and tragic events of World War 2.

The Semperoper of Dresden
during flooding of the River Elba in 2005
Source: Wikipedia

The city was rebuilt though it took many years. After the war, Dresden was part of East Germany and behind the Iron Curtain. Reconstruction of the Semperoper was not finished until the reopening on 13 February 1985, exactly 40 years after the bombing. The program was the same opera last performed before its destruction in 1945, Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber. Today it is the home of the renown Staatskapelle Dresden, but this magnificent theater is still subject to threats, this time from water of the River Elba, shown here in the flooding of 2005.

The photo of the Dresden Hoftheater Fire is one piece of a larger puzzle that needs more time to solve. So stay tuned for more stories on the orchestra musicians of Dresden. They were all there on that fateful day in 1869.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where momentous events are the feature this weekend.


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