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 }

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.

Greetings from Windthorst, Texas!

15 November 2013

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Postmarked from Windthorst, TX on May 28, 1911 this postcard was sent to Miss Mary ?Steaberly? of Ft. Worth, Texas. The heavy pencil script is difficult to read. The writer is unknown except for their initials, and there is no location or name given for any of the 16 members of this family group.

                        May 28
I will take the ?blame? in sending you this card hoping yours are all well as is here with us.  ?We? the same it is getting ?_? warm and hot. I thought Id send this card to see wether you know any on this photo There is one a missing that was sick and then on ?stam_? at here was a little sick with ?_?
__? regards C.G.


Windthorst, Texas is northwest from Dallas and was settled by German Catholics in the 1890s. It had its first post office in 1892, and Google Street View shows the current post office and general store built by Mr. Weinzapfel in 1921. In 1895 there were 75 families in the community. Windthorst reached its peak in 1977 with 1000 citizens and twelve businesses, but according to the 2010 census the population today is only about 409.

I trust the guitar player and trombonist enjoyed that Dunkler Bock beer. What songs did they sing together with that accompaniment?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the door is always open to guests.

Jummy the Cat from Rugby

08 November 2013

Dogs find their way into antique photos with some regularity. Cats? Not so much. Even less so, cats that have a name.

This postcard of a handsome black cat has the following caption:

"Jummy" the Cat which walked from Hampstead to Rugby, a distance of 85 miles, June 1904. It was taken from Rugby to Hampstead in a closed basket.

Underneath is a note:

Are you going to
Rugby Show?

Heard you were in town
last Thursday.

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The postcard, which left Rugby at 9:30 PM SP 7, 1905, contains a cryptic message to a Miss Smith of Heath House, Brinklow, Counventry.  The secretive admirer offered this short doggerel, but signed it with only his (or her) initials. 

I wish I was I know where,
And I know who was with me.
I wish I had I know what,
And I know who could give me.
C.D.R.? L.B.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
18 September 1904

A cat that made a solo trek of 85 miles would be remarkable at any time, and Jummy made the news even in Ohio, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran this detailed report in its September 18, 1904 edition. The cat was owned by Mrs. Mark Robinson of No.9 Belsize Grove, Hampstead, and in June 1904 Mrs. Robinson moved to Hampstead from Overslade, which is near Rugby. Her cat was then about 7 years old and a medium sized cat. When furniture began to arrive at his new home, Jummy took exception and disappeared. After several weeks, news came from Overslade that Jummy, thin and rough, had returned to Rugby.

What made this notable was that Jummy could not have seen this route on his first trip to Hampstead because he had been carried there in a closed basket!


Google Maps shows us a possible pedestrian route northwest from Hampstead in London  to Rugby and gives a better appreciation of the distance Jummy walked. Today this pathway measures only 78 miles. The world is smaller now, I'm told.

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But I believe Jummy might have taken a longer but easier course. Interlaced between roads and railway tracks is another line of transportation that Google does not recognize - the inland British Waterway system. The section that connects London to Birmingham is now called the Grand Union Canal, and both Hampstead and Rugby are "ports" on this intricate system of narrow canals and locks. Regent's Park which is along the canal is only a modest stroll from No.9 Belsize Grove. 

The Grand Union was made from an amalgamation of several 19th century canal companies and is now 137 miles long with 166 locks. Stanfords map store provides this image to which I have added red arrows to show Hampstead and Rugby.

Grand Union Canal
source: Stanfords

Wikipedia provides this nice photo of the Hampstead Road Locks in London. What sensible cat would turn down an opportunity to hitch a ride north on a narrowboat? It might be longer, but it certainly would save the paw leather and offer some food and lodging on the journey.

Camden Lock, or Hampstead Road Locks
source: Wikipedia

Whether Jummy walked or floated the entire distance back to his purrrferred home, we can never know. Yet it is still a feat worthy enough to record his name in the digital Catalog of internet trivia.

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Last spring on our holiday to Britain, my wife and I had the great pleasure to meet another spirited cat who easily could be one of Jummy's descendants. Starsky lives in Kensal Town, not far from Hampstead and only a block from the Paddington branch of the London canal network. His mistress takes him everywhere and on this holiday, they joined us on a trip to Weardale in the Pennines of the north of England, where Starsky keeps a second home.

On a beautiful June day we took a long walk around the Burnhope reservoir and Starsky insisted on accompanying us (and complained about it too) the whole way. Though he sometimes got carried, he managed to circumnavigate this lake complete with pastures, forests, sheep, and dogs for a distance of nearly 5 miles. A very impressive feat for a medium sized cat.

On our return, Starsky took his boots off to wait for his tea and posed for my camera.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
scratch the link for stories on old photographs and maybe cats too.

The Band at the Big House

01 November 2013

We know the scene, even if we can't remember the movie. The camera shows us the stone walls, harsh lights, and dark grey of a grim prison. A scowling convict stands at his cell door. Slowly he begins to bang his tin cup on the bars. Soon other prisoners have taken up the rhythm. A murmur becomes a chant. "Give him back his tuba! Give him back his tuba!"

Okay, maybe that wasn't the exact line. But it might have been heard at the Wisconsin State Penitentiary where the Wisconsin State Prison Band, at Waupun, Wis played. The 23 uniformed inmates of the band are arranged in a square formation in the prison yard. Beside them are some benches and a single chair on a box with a music stand. Next to it is a man wearing a broad brimmed hat who is presumably the bandleader or warden. The ensemble carries mainly brass instruments with a few clarinets, and the band's name is neatly painted on the bass drum head. This postcard was never mailed but was probably produced in the prison print shop around 1910.

This second postcard shows a different angle from the walls of the Wisconsin State Prison, and we can see the imposing main castle of the Waupun penitentiary with two lines of inmates standing in rows and facing prison guards. This card also was un-posted, but both may have been kept in the same old photo album.

Waupun is a small city with about 11,340 residents today, but in 1910 the population was only 3,365. The correctional facilities occupy much of the city center. In 1913 the prison had an average population of 732 inmates, male and female. In this same 1914 Wisconsin State report, a table was included that listed the occupations and professions of the prisoners. In 1913 the prison had the same number of musicians as ministers amongst the incarcerated, i.e. - 1.  Most convicts were laborers (125), followed by carpenters (15), cooks (12), and barbers (11).

Waupun Penitentiary c1893
source: Wikipedia

The Waupun Penitentiary was established in 1851 and built of local yellow sandstone taken from the prison quarry. To answer public concern over housing young juvenile offenders with the adult inmates, a reformatory school was added in 1857. The castle scheme of the big house at Waupun was common to many prisons of this era, but it lacked one thing that most other penitentiaries had. There was no execution room, since in 1853 Wisconsin became the third state after Michigan and Rhode Island to abolish the death penalty.

Wisconsin State Prison, Waupun c1885
source: Wikipedia

The grounds of the Wisconsin State Prison covered 23 acres, and included a farm as well as a quarry. Inmates were employed as road crews, furniture makers, and worked at manufacturing twine and fabrics that were sold to the public.

According to the warden's report of 1914, the prison chaplain directed a band and orchestra that "takes second place to no prison band in the country."  The orchestra played each day at the noon mealtime in the prison dining hall, while the band provided music for summer baseball games and sometimes performed concerts in the front yard for the general public.

What makes this a unique image can be seen in the enlargement. It shows several men of color playing alongside white musicians. This was a very rare mix to find in any band of this era, as integration in American society was still many years away. Waupun's town citizens who saw this band when it occasionally played outside the prison walls, must have remarked on this unusual group of musicians. It matches similar mixed race prison bands that I've written about previously in Fort Madison, Iowa and Red Wing, Minnesota,

The Waupun Prison introduced its band program in 1908, and the reformatory followed with a boys band in 1917. This was part of a reform movement of the 1900s that campaigned to improve conditions of our nation's prisons. Across the country, new progressive wardens were hired to eliminate corruption and harsh treatments, and initiate modern methods for rehabilitating criminals. Rather than relying on punishment alone, the prison wardens focused on basic education, disciplined work, and recreational activities to motivate prisoners. Providing musical instruments to create bands and orchestras in the prison was seen as a way to restore the humanity of the inmates and also promote the other prison improvements at large.

So Yeah,Warden! Give Him Back his Tuba!


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where a house of correction is the exception this weekend.


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