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 }

The Great Luigi D'Urbano and his Royal Italian Band

28 March 2013

One could almost say that music was invented in Italy, since so much of the language of music is in Italian. It's in the words for tempo - Largo, Andante, Allegro, Presto; for dynamics - Forte, Piano; and for emotions - Bravura, Dolce, Espressivo. But more than the vocabulary, the most important Italian contribution to music has always been its musicians, like
The Great Luigi D'Urbano and his famous Royal Italian Band of Artists.
This band was one of many professional Italian bands that toured America at the turn of the 20th century and became musical ambassadors for the culture of the new Kingdom of Italy.

The postcard was sent to Oscar Morrow of Spokane, WA on April 9, 1912.

Hello Oscar
I am here againe  Say old pall Why in H. dont you write  are you sick 
I hope not  How is Irish  I had my Dinner here tonight  Write soon.

C.F. Schulz
74 Turk Street, San Francisco   (on front)

Oscar's friend heard the band over his steak and potatoes at the Odeon Cafe in San Francisco, CA, a city where the band had made its first appearance in 1904. D'Urbano then led them on a tour of the country, playing in New York, Chicago, Portland, and almost everywhere in between.

Originally the 24 musicians of the Royal Italian Band were a much larger ensemble of over 50 men. They used instruments like rotary valve trumpets, horns, and valve trombones that were different from the typical American military bands. This excerpt from the British Columbia newspaper, The Victoria Daily Colonist of April 16, 1905, offered a detailed musical review of D'Urbano and his Royal Italian Band.

In the arrangement of the band the old Italian method is observable, the trombones being of a type unfamiliar to American audiences, trumpets taking the usual place of the cornets, and the French horn being largely depended upon for certain of the cllmaterlc effects . The band plays all grades and classes of music , but preference is evident for the Italian school with its intermingled melody, passion and crashing tumultuous effects.

Changing the programmes each afternoon and evening , the conductor has covered a wide range of good composers, while almost every programme has contained something of D'Urbano's own, the artistic young conductor making a specialty of marches that are almost Souseque in their inspirational quality. Besides, the band last week offered an artist on the accordion, Sig. Frosini , who proved himself a truly remarkable performer upon this humble instrument.

The Sunday Oregonian, July 15, 1906

In the summer of 1906, the band played at The Oaks, an amusement park built to accompany the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon.

Among the many attractions such as a Skating Rink,  Mystic Maze, Temple of Mirth, Carousel, Balloon Ascensions, and Japanese Figure Exhibit, was music. Every day you could hear Del Hoyo's Famous Mexican Orchestra, and Wednesday was Prize Waltz night. But the top draw was D'Urbano's Royal Italian Band which gave a concert of French composers on Tuesday and a  Wagnerian Program on Friday.

The park motto sounds like an inspiration for Walt Disney.

Everything that Mortal Man Could Wish for to Prolong Life and Create Happiness.

The Sunday Oregonian, Dec. 10, 1911

The bandleader was Luigi D'Urbano, a showman of a new style. He was passionate, forceful, and above all egocentric. The Rockford, IL Republic gave this description of the Maestro in December 1909.

D'Urbano affects a most remarkable series of absurd mannerisms, shaking his massive head with its great shock of hair; waving his arms and throwing his body this way and that as though by the very force of example to throw his men into a frenzy of tuneful excitement, then again standing almost on tip-toe and making the daintiest movements with his baton as a painter putting the last touches to a masterpiece.

In spite of his peculiarities, D'Urbano has his men well in hand. He delights in turning from reeds to brass and back again, some times with the velocity of a weathervane in a cyclone, and occasionally he addresses a sharp command to some player loud enough to be heard by the audience. Nevertheless he won favor with those who were present in spite of his idiosyncrasies.

The Daily Press
Sheboygan, WI
May 20, 1910

Luigi was born in central Italy in 1877 and studied music first in Naples and then Rome. His conducting technique was very unlike the German and English conductors of this era, who avoided  extravagant gestures and overt choreography on the podium. For the American audiences this bandleader was a novelty that let them watch the music as well as listen to it.

His music repertoire was not just Italian opera favorites, but included French, German, and even American composers. However D'Urbano did not like "ragtime or popular airs". In 1907 he became entangled in a breach-of-contract lawsuit with a skating rink for refusing to play such "humiliating" music.

In this era, the bandleader was a king who often mistreated his fellow musicians as inferior subjects. In May of 1910, his bandsmen had taken enough abuse. They were playing in Sheboygan, WI and when D'Urbano's fiery temper got the better of him during a rehearsal, he shouted harsh criticism to some of the players. In protest, they all walked out and quit.

Later the band would be reassembled but it would never be as large.

The band was often involved in lawsuits. American musicians felt their jobs were threatened by the increasing numbers of foreign musicians. In 1907, the Chicago musicians' union alleged that the Royal Italians were undercutting their union wages and fees, and tried to fine D'Urbano $1,000 and each of his musicians $100.

To call the Odeon a Cafe was a bit of understatement. This advertisement for the restaurant from 1915 shows an opulent interior that could seat hundreds of diners. At the back of the huge room is a stage for bands and vaudeville acts.

The back of the card promoted the World's Fair of 1915 which was actually called the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which you may have noticed in the postmark on the band's postcard. This World's Fair was set to run between February and December 1915 in celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal, but it's real purpose was to showcase the city's recovery from the earthquake of 1906. Note the logo's resemblance to Japan's Rising Sun motif.

This second promotional card for San Francisco's Leading Restaurant, Odeon Cafe, Corner of Market and Eddy Sts. has patrons patiently awaiting their order as they listen to a musical group (which unfortunately is too small to be the Royal Italian Band)

The postcard was sent to Mrs. Kate Darfler of Blue Island, IL in November 1910.

Will Kate
it has been a long time since I seen you 
I hope I will see you all in 1915
when we have ower big Fair 
Guss & Myself ower Best Reard to you all
J W Leathers

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At this point I was going to finish my short history of Luigi D'Urbano and his Royal Italian Band, but an amazing coincidence pulled the story into a deeper level.

Did you look closely at the ads in the excerpt from the July 1906 Portland newspaper?

The Sunday Oregonian, July 15, 1906

On about April 14, 1906 the Famous Miles Brothers made one of the most astounding film records in history. That spring in San Francisco they but a film camera on the front of a streetcar and recorded a trip down Market St. beginning near their studio and finishing at the port entrance of the Embarcadero.

Days later on  April 18, 1906 the city of San Francisco was devastated in a great earthquake and fire. 



I could not find any records for the Odeon Cafe from before 1906, and like many restaurants its history is very ephemeral. But using the detailed description for the film on the webpage at the Library of Congress, we can see where it will be in 1912. The film begins about 8th Street, and at about 1:25 there is a stone column on the left which was at the intersection to Mason & Turk Streets. It is the Native Sons Monument, built in 1897 to honor California's admission into the Union in 1850. At about the 2:10 mark the street car is very near the intersection on the left of Eddy St. and Market St., which would become the address for the Odeon Cafe.

This remarkable film was fortuitously sent to New York for processing on April 17, 1906 and its value was quickly recognized. It toured the country as part of the popular Hale's Tours of the World film series, and played in Portland in July 1906 when D'Urbano's Royal Italian Band was performing at The Oaks amusement park.

The background to this film is a terrific story. There is a good presentation from the CBS show, 60 minutes on YouTube which describes how the history detectives came up with the truth to a mystery.


This second film shows the tragic aftermath of the earthquake that killed so many people and destroyed a city. I don't know if the Miles Brothers made this film too, nor how much of the film shows San Francisco's Market Street, but viewing the two films together will demonstrate what an incredible change D'urbano and his musicians experienced when they performed there again in 1912.

In the December 12, 1909, edition of the Rockford IL Morning Star there was a lengthy interview with Luigi D'Urbano.

"I like your America." he said. "Me no like Europe so well. O yes me like my Italy, the land of music and song. How could I forget it. I like America first because it is so bright and cheery. Everybody smiles and gives you what is called here the 'glad hand'. Is that right? And then the American women? I am in love with them all. I am going to marry an American some day, well dat is if she wants me. I have met many nice American girls who I like but I wait a few years before getting married. I travel merely to see the great America of which everybody in Italy talks of.

"I could play in Chicago or New York all winter, but no, I want to see the different people. A few weeks ago my band was playing in Calumet, Mich., and after one of the evening performances my men and myself were given a banquet by the Italian consul of that city. That is what I like. To make friends. When I get to a new city I make my manager take me to see all the things in the town and I am not satisfied until I have seen everything worth while. Then I make notes in my book and I have a book full of things I have seen in all the cities."

The Italians that immigrated to America at the start of the 20th century brought a special vitality and spirit that became an important influence on American musical culture. Luigi D'Urbano married a girl named Anna, but I could not find any records to know if she was an American girl. According to his 1940 draft card, he continued as a musician through the 1940s. He died in Springfield, PA in 1956.

How many times do you think he and his bandsmen went to see the Miles Brother's films in Portland? Did Luigi ever consider what music should accompany these silent films?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Would you like an espresso or a caffè latte?

Hebel's Cherry-Bud Band

22 March 2013

On May 1, 1915, the Capital Journal of Salem, Oregon ran a story with the headline:

"Hebel's Cherry Bud Band"

Is the Latest Sensation

in Local Music Circles

Sousas In the Miniature Perform Wondrously Upon

Wind Instruments --- Petite Evelyn Hebel "Wrestles"

With Monster Tuber and Does Herself Proud

Little Evelyn Hebel is kneeling with her E-flat "tuber" on the left, just in front of her father, Charles Hebel, who stands at the back of his children's band, the Cherry-Bud Band of Salem, Oregon. The name is derived from Salem's nickname, The Cherry City, where the citizens have celebrated a summer Cherry Festival since 1903.

The 20 boys and girls are from Hebel's neighborhood in East Salem, east of 14th and north of Center Street. Their first public performance was planned for Memorial Day of 1915, only a few months after they had first acquired their brass band instruments. Over the next few years, they would become a common feature of Salem's patriotic parades and events.

This lengthy newspaper report also included the names of the first band members:

Claude Burch and Earnest Kubin, solo B-flat cornets, aged 10 and 12 respectively;
Frank Lynch and Hubert Seamater, first B-flat cornets, aged 14 years;
Claude Palmer and Ralph Swartz, second and third B-flat cornets, aged 10 and 9 respectively;
Everett Givens, Lawrence Schunelle and Otto Albers, altos, aged 11 and 10, respectively;
Earl Yarnell and Richard Riley, tenors, aged 11 and 10, respectively;
Ben Rider and Everett Walker, trombones, aged 14 and 10, respectively;
Earnest Zinn, baritone, aged 9;
Miss Evelyn Hebel, E-flat bass, aged 9;
Charles Chase, bass drum, aged 13, and Cecil Stambaugh, snare drum, aged 15.

The Daily Capital Journal, May 31, 1915
Salem, Oregon

Charles Hebel was born in Illinois in 1877 and had called Champaign, IL his home until moving to Salem in 1913. where he set up his own business as a decorative sign painter and dealer in paint and wall paper. He was also a talented and experienced musician. Though his instrument was not mentioned, it was probably the cornet, which was the most common instrument for a bandleader.

Sometime in 1914, he decided to organize a brass band for the wayward boys in East Salem. It's not clear how he acquired the instruments, but they practiced two evenings a week at his shop and on Fridays gave a concert for the neighborhood.

Sensibly, like many other enterprising family bandleaders who had no sons, Hebel also added his three daughters to the band roster.

By 1916, The Cherry-Bud Band had acquired professional band uniforms and become "Salem's Pride". Charles stands on the left, and his wife, Goldie Hebel, who was the band's business manager, stands on the right. The children are a year older now. There are three girls in the center that I believe are the Hebel sisters. The girl standing at the back would be the oldest, Marribel Hebel (b.1900). Marribel's trombone is hidden by her younger sister, Evelyn Hebel (b.1904) with her E-flat tuba and wearing a large black ribbon in her hair. The petite drum major in front would be the youngest sister, Annita Hebel (b.1913).

On the same day, the Cherry-Bud Band also posed on the bandstand in front of the Oregon state capitol. The band had a repertoire of popular marches and patriotic songs that they played for many civic events from 1915 to 1918. The children's band may have been a way for Hebel to market his business name, but I think his real purpose was a genuine desire to help young boys (and his girls) develop an interest in music. In this era, musical training was seen as a career path, just the same as other traditional trades, but it was not usually included in the public education curriculum. Bands like this were also used as an acceptable activity to keep city boys from straying into mischief or worse.

After 1918, the name of the Cherry-Bud Band disappears, though Charles and Goldie Hebel continued to live in Salem until the 1940s. Hebel produced a number of postcards of the band, which he probably sold to help support it. This photo intrigued me, and I wondered if I could find a Google Street View that shows this capitol building as it is today.

Alas, this view is gone forever.

Oregon State Capitol in 1909 ~ Wikipedia

Here is the Oregon State Capitol in 1909. It was the second building on this site as the first capitol was destroyed by fire in 1855. This replacement was finished in 1876 and the dome was added later in 1893.

Oregon State Capitol
Fire at night, 25 April 1935

On the evening of April 25, 1935, a fire started in paper records kept in the basement of the east wing. The conflagration quickly spread from the ground floors traveling up the hollow supporting columns to the upper floors and the dome. The building was a total loss. The state also had no insurance.

Oregon State Capitol

With substantial aid from the Federal Public Works Administration, Oregon rebuilt its capitol and the new building was dedicated in 1938. The contrast between the old and the new is striking, and not in a pleasing way. Locals soon nicknamed the central dome "the paint can". The statue on top, the golden Oregon Pioneer, was not recognized as a great improvement.

Today the park in front of the fountains is lined with cherry trees, and with the start of Spring they soon should be full of Cherry-Buds.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the focus this weekend could be other kinds of capitol buildings.

The Kaiser's Band

15 March 2013

"An army marches on its stomach," said Napoleon Bonaparte.
He might have added, "but always with music!"  

Every nation has a military band tradition. The U.S. Marine Band dates to 1798. The Royal Artillery Band of Great Britain dates officially to 1762. But it is Prussia that first perfected the army wind band, and this was its premier band which provided the household music for the Kaiser, the Musikcorps I. Garde-Regiment zu Fuss.

This Souvenir postcard of the Music Corps of the 1st Guards Regiment of Foot was never posted, but I have seen another copy that was clearly mailed in 1898. The 47 bandsmen are artfully arranged in tiers like a wedding cake, each wearing a dress uniform of a German foot guard regiment with its distinctive tall hat and  mitre plate.

Sanssouci - Potsdam, Prussia 1900  ~ Wikimedia Commons

The Royal Family of Prussia, and then, after 1871, of Germany, kept their official residence in  Potsdam, east of Berlin, in the state of Brandenburg, Germany. The band appears to be in formation on the garden steps of the Kaiser's summer palace, named Sanssouci, which was built for Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. The photographer used a bit of clever theatrics and maybe an early version of Photoshop, as the musicians were instead posed in small groups and then pasted in front of a painted backdrop.

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Last week I used this widget from and was pleased that everyone
was able to use it for a large format photo.
This time I will try an enlargement of the smaller postcard image.

UPDATE: I am sorry but this widget no longer works.
However any image on my blog should enlarge for more detail whenever you click on it.

More of the history of this band can be found at this German website Traditionsmusikkorps. If I have understood Google's translation correctly, the music director, standing front center with sword, is probably Fritz Möller who was first Stabshoboist and then Music Director with the 1st Garde-Regiment Band from 1887 to 1909. 

Note that there are several woodwind players - clarinets and saxophones, but all the brass players are holding only natural trumpets, that is trumpets without valves. There are also a few of the peculiar long straight trumpets which are held up using a metal prop not unlike a folding music stand.

There were only three German Emperors, and the third was Kaiser Wilhelm II who would have the most significant effect on world history. In this next postcard, a guards band marches pass the Kaiser (marked with an X). The postcard must have been sent in an envelope as someone has written on the back, "Unter den Linden" - Berlin   The Goose Step. The numeral II on their collars may signify that this unit are members of the 2nd Garde-Regiment.

There are no bandsmen in this next postcard, but it shows the honor guard of the 1st Garde-Regiment zu Fuss standing at attention while the Kaiser and his new daughter-in-law, Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Oldenburg (1879 – 1964) walk pass in review. Sophia married the Kaiser's second son, Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia  on 27 February 1906, and this postcard was mailed (without message) to Miss Edith Still of Ridley Park, PA on 15 March 1906. This photo was probably taken during the elaborate three day wedding ceremony which had over 1500 guests. But the Princess would not have a happy life with Eitel Friedrich. Their marriage was soon marked by scandal and they divorced in 1926.

The guardsmen seem uniformly tall, so I would think that soldiers were selected in part for their height which was then accentuated by their tall metal helmets. The regimental nickname was "Erstes Regiment der Christenheit"  or "First Regiment of Christendom". I believe the one short soldier on the left is  Prince Joachim (1890 – 1920), the youngest son of the Kaiser, who was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Garde-Regiment zu Fuß.  He's the only guardsman not looking dead straight ahead.

Following the end of the war when his father abdicated and moved to Holland. Joachim became severely depressed and committed suicide in Potsdam in 1920.

In 1945, the victors of the war with Germany - Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met at the  Potsdam Conference which as held at Cecilienhof, the former residence of Kaiser Wihelm's eldest son, Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern.  Here is Der Kronprinz with the band of the Garde zu Fuss as they march past the famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Note the bassoon and horn on the second rank left, followed by the glockenspiel, and some very tall guardsmen on the right. The Crown Prince is the one on the horse. Some readers may remember a story from last year which included a postcard of his four young sons playing with a machine gun.


Fortunately there are still musicians in Germany who preserve the musical heritage of the old German military bands. The Traditionsmusikkorps Ertes Garderegiment zu Fuß is a band that performs concerts dressed in the uniforms of the military bandsmen of Imperial Germany. In this video they play the Petersburger March.

But after you click the YouTube video above, Go ahead and click the next video below.  

This is a short silent film made in 1913 during a parade in Berlin for another royal wedding, this time of the Kaiser's daughter and youngest child, Princess Viktoria Luise to Ernest Augustus, heir to the title of Duke of Cumberland, The film uses a early color process that though primitive, still recreates the hue and colors of Germany's Imperial Age. It just needs some German army band music to give it the best effect.

The 1st Garde-Regiment zu Fuss makes an appearance at about 00:33. Supposedly the yellow streets are correct as they were covered with sand to give the horses better traction.


The Great War of 1914-18 brought tremendous revolution to the nations of the world. It toppled governments, changed international borders, divided populations, and invented new horrors that the world had never known. It also ended a culture of extravagant pomp and spectacle that had been dominant in Europe for centuries.

The music that came out of Germany, as well as Austria and the other former monarchies, is filled with reference to military bands. It's in the trumpets and tympani of Haydn and Beethoven. Its in the horns and woodwinds of Bruckner, Mahler, and Richard Strauss. The Music Corps of the 1st Guard Regiment of Foot was part of a musical color that abruptly stopped in 1918. It is as if someone removed a pitch, a note from the musical scale, that we will never hear or see again.

There is one instrument in the Musikcorps of the Garde-Regiment zu Fuss that caught my attention. It is just in front, to the left of the bandleader, propped up between two tubas. It resembles a saxophone or an ophicliede, but it is actually a Sarrusophone,
<INCORRECT - SEE UPDATE BELOW>  an unusual hybrid brass and woodwind instrument that combined the double reed of the bassoon with the coiled metal body of a saxophone. It was invented in 1856 by Pierre-Louis Gautrot, but he named it after the French army bandmaster Pierre-Auguste Sarrus (1813–1876). Though it supposedly came in 9 different sizes from sopranino to contrabass, the most common usage was the deep contrabass Sarrusophone. It never caught on for use in military bands like the saxophone, and is no longer manufactured. Because the Garde zu Fuss band had at least 4 bassoonists, this may explain why they had this rare double reed instrument.

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Through the magic of YouTube we have a splendid demonstration of the Sarrusophone with music that the Prussian musicians could never have imagined. If you watch to the very end, this fine musician will reveal the single most important quality necessary to properly play a sarrusophone. It is one that the Prussian bandsmen of the 1st Garde-Regiment zu Fuss would surely have understood!

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is standing around a table in Potsdam
in 1945 and wondering, "What do we do now?"

  <<     UPDATE: 20 MARCH 2013     >> 

By an amazing coincidence, just a few days after writing this story, I met a good friend at a nearby university, who is an accomplished bassoonist and contra-bassoonist. He also collects unusual instruments, and showed me his Contrabass Sarrusophone and his Reed Contrabass, also known as a Contrabasse à anche. These two instruments are both made for a large double reed sounding through a very long metal conical bore. They both also use mechanical keys to change pitch and serve the same position in a band as the lowest of the bass instruments, the Reed Contrabass can play D1, the lowest note on the piano. But here the similarities end, as they are different musical species just as a Mammoth is not a Mastodon. 

Reed contrabass. Nominal pitch: E♭.
The Reed Contrabass was developed in the 1860 by the Belgian instrument maker Mahillion. Like the Saxophone and Sarrusophone, it was designed for the military band which required a durable metal construction and a compact design that allowed it to be carried while marching.

But the keys on this instrument operate the opposite way from other woodwind instruments, where the pads stand open and it is only when the player presses all the keys down that the lowest pitch is produced. Releasing keys uncovers successively more holes on the bore which thereby shortens the instrument length and raises the pitch in a musical scale.

With the Reed Contrabass the pads are all closed, so the lowest note is the natural keynote, and pressing a key opens an individual pad. This means that each musical pitch requires only one key, not a complicated combination like the fingering found on clarinets and saxophones. This makes for a very odd sequence of keywork, as the lower notes begin on the pinkie of the upper left hand and the highest finish on the lower right pinkie, just as a piano keyboard arranges low to high pitch for left and right hands. In the 1860s this may have seemed logical, but for a modern woodwind player it is as if a computer keyboard switched from the QWERTY layout into a strange foreign alphabet.


The museum database also includes this next instrument from the German National Museum but it is labeled as a Kontrabaß Sarussophon in tief C or Contrabass Sarrusophone in low C.

It appears nearly identical to the instrument in the Edinburgh collection and very like the instrument displayed by the Kaiser's band, and yet it is described on the museum website as a Sarrusophone.

I think it is mislabeled and that it is actually a Reed Contrabass, as it has the same wide tuba flare and the same extra large pads. Note how the flared tubing winds around to the center for the narrow bocal where the reed is inserted, though not pictured here.



Here is the front side of the same instrument, which shows the unusual  key mechanism and is similar to the Reed Contrabass in the University of Edinburgh Museum collection. 


Contrabass Sarrusophone
by Conn (c. late 1850s)

For comparison, here is a Contrabass Sarrusophone that shows the narrower and taller bell flare and more connected keywork.

Like the giant prehistoric mammals, the Reed Contrabass and Contrabass Sarrusophone are now extinct and have been replaced by the modern contrabassoon. In the 19th century, composers, bandleaders, and musicians were always seeking new sound colors to make their orchestras and military bands more distinctive. The instrument makers saw an opportunity for money and fame, and developed these unusual inventions as "improvements" to music.

This extraordinary boom in musical instrument manufacturing in this era was a cutthroat business which needed more novelty for marketing hundreds of different kinds of instruments, most of which are no longer played. Darwin was right, the rule of survival of the fittest applied to industrial design too, and the Reed Contrabass and the Sarrusophone could not compete successfully against more practical instruments like the saxophone family.

I'm not sure how the bandsmen marched with a reed contrabass, but I am fairly certain, that like the Sarrusophone, the proper performance of the Contrabasse à anche required lots of beer.


Comparison of Woolly mammoth and American mastodon

Adolphe Dumont and the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra

08 March 2013

In the summer of 1931, Loyola University in Chicago arranged to present a series of Sunday concerts of classical music. It would feature a new symphony orchestra, the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Adolph Dumont. The orchestra had just been organized earlier that year for the NBC radio station WGN in Chicago. Its first concert in January 1931 was with the Australian composer and pianist, Percy Grainger. These summer concerts were to be performed in Loyola's open air stadium, and would be broadcast across the country on the NBC radio network.

This wide format photograph (17" x 7"), made by the aptly named Daguerre studio of Chicago in 1931, shows Adolphe Dumont standing center at the podium.   Seated to the left is Isador Berger, the concertmaster of the 72 musicians of the Chicago Philharmonic. Their full complement of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion were much larger than the typical radio orchestras of this era like the Detroit News Orchestra, which played on a small studio sound stage.

It's interesting to note that the sections of the orchestra are set up differently than modern American orchestras. The 1st and 2nd violins are seated left and right respectively in the old European fashion. The cellos are inside left with the violas inside right, and double basses are at the back left, which is rarely done today. There are also 5 horns instead of the usual 4.  And as this is 1931, there are no women, and no one of color.

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For some time, I've been looking for an easy way to best display these large photographs. This  widget from is intended for detailed custom maps but it also works with very large image files. The file (6000p x 2056p) was uploaded to the MapLib website which then created a tile set that it put into the Google Map viewer. The website produced an HTML code that I could then embed into the post.
I hope that it works for everyone.
Let me know in the comments if there are problems. 
Try the full screen button too.

There is very little history on Adolphe Dumont and his orchestra. There is a present-day Chicago Philharmonic which was first organized in 1988 by professional musicians of the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra, but it has a limited season of only 4 concerts each year, and has no connection to the earlier philharmonic.

Despite its grand name, the philharmonic orchestra was not a rival to the more famous Chicago Symphony, but the players were still some of the best musicians in the city who worked in its many theaters and clubs. Dumont had led the Grand Opera of Chicago as well as several cinema theater orchestras in Chicago and also in New York.

The concertmaster, Isador Berger, was a noted soloist and had been a member of Belgium's Royal Orchestra, London's Queen's Hall Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony. During the years 1915-25 he toured the Chautauqua circuit playing all the great violin concertos in recital with a piano accompaniment. One program in 1916 included his own compositions that tried to depict abstract paintings in music. Berger was also a collector of violins, and at various times owned several instruments of Stradivarius.

Adolph Dumont was born in France in 1888, and immigrated to the United States in 1890. Though undoubtedly a talented musician, Maestro Dumont was still a typical autocratic conductor of his time, and evidently prone to fits of temper. The Chicago musicians union newsletter of February 2007 for Local 10-208, American Federation of Musicians, reprinted an official union board report from May 1926.  Adolphe Dumont was found to have violated the union rules and fined $1,000.    

For many years the Defendant, Mr. Dumont, has made a practice of publicly humiliating Musicians in the Pits of those theaters wherein he has been directing. Despite repeated warnings given him by President Petrillo he persisted in his overbearing, offensive attitude towards those laboring under him.
The present case against him was instituted as the result of a particularly flagrant breach of ethics, and only when it became all too apparent that reasoning and pleading with him were absolutely ineffectual as corrective measures. The message contained in the verdict rendered is clear enough for everyone to understand and profit by, if they care to. CONDUCTORS, afflicted with a temperamentum abnormis, are advised to heed the warning and govern themselves accordingly.

The 1920s brought many changes to musical culture. The increasing popularity of cinemas brought a demand for more musicians to provide music for silent films. These orchestra players had to be versatile at all kinds of musical styles. The music used for accompanying films was rarely specified, and music directors like Dumont assembled new scores for each production made up of popular songs and dances as well as excerpts of classical symphony and opera music. In 1926, he was quoted in a newspaper report on theater music.

Adolphe Dumont, former Chicago grand opera conductor now directing music in one of the theatres, evaluated this changing public taste as a boon not only for good music but also for good musicians. His own orchestra, he said, has Just been increased to more than fifty pieces.

"More grand opera music is played in the large motion picture houses each day," he said, "than is played by grand opera orchestras in a week. We play grand opera four times a day, week days, and five times. Sunday, The grand opera orchestras and Symphony orchestras hardly ever play a program more than three times a week.

"A public demand for more and better music has been recognized. Eight years of patient work, interpreting the emotions of the movies, as only grand opera music can do, created the demand.

"Day after day, showing sometimes slapstick comedy to the tune of the 'Ride of the Valkyries'; love scenes to strains from 'Tristan and Isolde' and Charlie Chaplin's antics to Debussy's 'Girl of the Flaxen Hair,' the moving picture orchestras have given audiences a taste for classic music that many of them would have formerly disavowed. Great music consequently has found a new significance and importance. It gives motion pictures
dramatic intensity."

The following year saw the release of The Jazz Singer,  the first film with recorded sound. The golden era of the silent film was finished. Within a decade, live performances of theater orchestras would be finished too, and the many musicians who accompanied those movies would have to find new work.

Many would find it in the new medium of Radio. The National Broadcasting Company or NBC started its first regular broadcasting in 1926. Using telephone lines to transmit signals to other stations across the country, it soon became the dominant radio network, divided into the NBC Red and Blue networks. The Chicago Philharmonic was just one of several orchestras and music ensembles that competed for listeners every week in the early days of radio. The effect on culture was profound. Until the advent of broadcast radio, music could only be heard either in live performance or on short recorded media like Edison's phonograph records. Finally the great repertoire of classical music could reach all of the public from big city apartment blocks to farmhouses on the prairie. A new audience had first row seats in the concert hall. For free. 

The Chicago Philharmonic concerts disappeared from the radio schedules after 1932.  In March 1934, Adolphe Dumont died of a heart attack during an orchestra rehearsal. Was it an infuriating trombone that pushed him over the edge?

We'll never know. His obituary is short on such details.

Sadly he would miss an opportunity to conduct one of the greatest orchestras of radio, the  NBC Symphony Orchestra which gave its first broadcast on Christmas Day of 1937 under the conductor Arturo Toscanini, another maestro noted for his fiery temper.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might find other landscape photos this weekend.

Irma Surányi - A Child Violin Virtuoso

01 March 2013

The child prodigy. The young phenom. The whiz kid, The precocious youth. The wunderkind. The next Mozart. Exceptional musical talent in a child has always been an astounding, even miraculous experience, because it seems so improbable that a mere youth can exhibit fantastic skills and artistry. We can't understand it, so we call it a gift.   Here is one such gifted child,  Irma Surányi, the 8 year old violin virtuoso.

Wearing a white dress with her long hair in tight curls, Irma presents a kind of surreal effect as she stands in front of a photo studio's impressionistic pond. She holds her violin down in a classic resting pose, looking directly at the camera. Even without the caption of Die 8 jährige Violinvirtuosin, we can see a confidence and sensibility in her that is beyond a beginning violin student.

The postcard was sent from Veitsch, Austria on 19 XI 1907. The penciled scribble on the back and front looks like the handwriting of several people. Perhaps a card for a birthday congratulations or just a "wish you were here" message. Under the picture is another date of 18.11.07   finishing with an exclamation mark. Did the writer hear Fraulein Surányi perform and was marveling at her music?

Just because I think it is pretty impressive mountain, this is the Hohe Veitsch. It is in the Mürzsteg Alps in the Austrian state of Styria, with a height of 1,981 m (6,499 ft). 

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Here is a second postcard of Irma, this time holding the violin in playing position. Her hair is shorter and she is taller. Her dress is no longer that of a child but of a young girl. The caption reads Surányi Irma, jugendliche Violinvirtuosin. Her name is Hungarian, though in this time before the first world war, Hungary was one of the kingdoms of Austria under the rule of Kaiser Franz Joseph.

Back in 2011, I posted the story of another young violin prodigy, Kun Arpad, who was also Hungarian and from Budapest. This postcard, which I didn't use in that earlier post, dates from 1901, and shows the boy violinist at age 7.

Hungarian names are complicated because the family surname and given forename are reversed in order. So in the other European languages he would be known as Arpad Kun. However in all the newspaper accounts of his short career in London and New York, he was always called Kun Arpad. 

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This third postcard shows Surányi Irma, 12 jährige Violinvirtuosin, four years later. Here she stands at the ready with violin under her chin. There is a white bow in her hair and the photographer has placed her before a simple blank wall which concentrates our attention on her angelic gaze. 

Like the second card, this one was never posted but with Irma's age we can date it to around 1911.

Kun Arpad received quite a number of newspaper and magazine reports. Irma Surányi - not so much, in fact nothing. Unfortunately with the distance of time and the obstacle of language, it seemed my research would only tell the story in just these images of a lovely wonder child. 

The Sunday Repository, Canton OH
 June 3, 1917

Then I found a tantalizing advertisement in the aptly named newspaper of Canton, Ohio - 
The Sunday Repository
.  The date is June 3, 1917 and The Courtland Restaurant placed a big box ad for performances by the

Suranyi Ladies

Two Singers, All Soloists
Popular and Classical Music
Violin, Piano, Cello, Cornet
and Trap Player

Never mind that there are five instruments, a drummer never counts anyway, the violin is listed first and the name is linked to an ensemble of lady musicians. Could Irma Surányi have emigrated to America before the Great War? Did she live in Canton or was she a touring artist on the vaudeville circuit?

Here is most of the entertainment page from The Sunday Repository  so that readers can see what they missed at the theaters in 1917. Satan's Private Door; The Silent Lie; Mystery of the Double Cross; and The Railroad Raiders.

Despite my best effort, I could not find Irma's name in any US census or city directory. Of course  by 1917, she is now a young woman and regrettably for historians and genealogists, a marriage confers a new name that becomes the cloak of invisibility for a woman. Maybe she left the music halls of Europe for the concert stages of America, but we can never know for sure. Another musician lost in mystery.

Or maybe not.

Just as I was nearly finishing this post, I decided to try once more with a new combination of search terms. Google now finds PDF files too and it found a university graduate paper, written in Hungarian, on the history of Hungarian people educated in London. Irma Surányi was listed as an example of a Hungarian music student at London's Royal Academy of Music in 1915.  Could this young prodigy have gone to London to study violin? It certainly seemed plausible, even for an Austrian national in 1914-15.

Then just like catching a fish, I hooked a big one and this time it didn't get away.

The London Gazette 23 May, 1947
The London Gazette of 23 May, 1947 published a long, long list of names of people who had been granted re-admission to British nationality. The list included alternate names, nationality, occupation, and address.

And on page 2344, Steier to Tajg, is the entry:

Suranyi, Irma. See Szlovak, Maria Stefaniia.

Which convienently, is just 8 names below.

Szlovak, Maria Stefania (also known as Irma Suranyi); Czechoslovakia; Music Teacher and Concert Artist; 103, Brunswick Road, Buckley, near Chester, Cheshire.
11 April, 1947.

It would be hard to find a more authoritative documentation than the London Gazette, the official record of British court and government proceedings. If it linked the name Szlovak with Suranyi then it must be true. 

(Let us take a moment to appreciate the fairness of the British legal system that  would allow Mr. Abraham Szmuclerz Dit Fuks to become Mr. Albert Fox)

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Last week I wrote a fictional story based on musicians whose names will always be unknown. Even when we know an identity, without the continuity of a real history we are forced to imagine one. Looking at this young girl, Surányi Irma, from 1907-11 we know that she faces the years 1914 to 1945, a period filled with immense turmoil. Therefore it is a great sense of relief to know that by 1947 she had survived this horrible void of time that tragically stole so many names from history.

It is also satisfying to know that she continued in music after her inevitably brief career as a child violin virtuoso. Did she play restaurant music in Ohio? Did she marry a Czech? Her full history must remain a mystery since the records of the second half of the century are still sealed.  But I found one last reference from Rhuddlan, Wales. A death notice dated July 1989 for Maria Stefania Szlovaka, age 92, birth date - 20 September 1896. Perhaps Surányi Irma was a bit older than 8 when the photographer took that first photograph in 1907.

But a woman never reveals her real age.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you might meet more young ladies in white.


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