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 }

Brahms & Liszt

28 February 2014

Brahms and Liszt. Two celebrated composers enshrined on two ordinary postcards. Herr Dr. Johannes Brahms stares at the handwriting on his postcard with a stern and almost disapproving look.

    Dear  Geo - 
 Glad to hear of the Good Time you have been having in Berlin.  
 Have had further proof of this from Paul today. 
 I say that introduction to Berlin you got was rather original.
 Don't do more of this "tipping" Policemen -
 May say I have had quite a decent time of it myself during the week - 
 The girls took pity on poor me. 
    Very sincerely yours, 

George and George have left us an intriguing story that we can only imagine. My theory is that since hotel doormen in this era often wore elaborate uniforms not unlike those of soldiers and police officers, George may have put himself into an awkward situation of mistaken identity.

This card was addressed to Mr. Geo. Haage and has a postmark dated 24_5_99 or May 24, 1899 from someplace that begins with B but is not Berlin.

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Franz Liszt seems to ignore the handwriting on his postcard, which is just as well, as this message has far too many umlauts to be translatable by me. It may not even be German. I do recognize the Bavarian city name of München or Munich.

The card was sent from Rosenheim to Hern Ferd. Kropf in Dresden on 17.9.99 or September 17, 1899. Rosenheim is southeast of Munich on the way to Lake Chemsee. The postmark is just 13 years after the death of Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886). Most of Liszt's famous music came from early in his life in the 1840s when he toured Europe as a concert pianist. His brilliant music and virtuosic performances were so emotionally charged that his music came to define what is known as Romantic Music. Though Liszt was Hungarian, in the 19th century Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire which was then the largest nation in Europe. He was so widely traveled that his name became associated with Vienna, Paris, Rome, Weimar, as well as Budapest. He was also one of the first musicians to use photographs for self promotion.

When George sent his friend a postcard of Brahms, only two years had passed since the great composer's death. Like Liszt, Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) was a pianist as well as a composer. He first met Liszt in 1853 while on a concert tour accompanying the Hungarian violinist, Eduard Reményi. At this meeting, Brahms reportedly fell asleep as Liszt was playing his great B minor Sonata, and was forced to apologize due to travel fatigue. Brahms's birthplace was Hamburg, Germany but his professional career was made in Vienna. Though he composed many great pieces for solo piano, it is as a composer of symphonies and concertos that he is best known.

These postcard writers probably picked out a card from a stationers shop; stopped at a café to scrawl a quick note; and then dropped it into a postbox. In 1899 picture postcards like these were still a novel method of communication. They had not yet been introduced to Britain or the United States for domestic use. Postal services were worried that the cheaper rate of postcards would cut into the revenue from letter rate postage, so they placed restrictions on them, like limiting the area of the card where the message could be written.

What interests  me is the choice of subject – a composer. Here are souvenir portraits that present an image of a well known musical artist, yet the captions give only their names with no description, and Brahms and Liszt are not pictured with their principal musical instrument. No one knew their music from recordings. Both had stopped performing as pianists nearly 50 years before. The only way anyone would recognize their music was to have heard it in a live concert performance. Yet the profiles of Brahms and Liszt were popular enough to be used on the first picture postcards.

Can you name any composer that would rate that kind of celebrity today? I can't. 

Some of my readers may recognize the joke in my title – Brahms & Liszt. But for those unfamiliar with Cockney Rhyming Slang, here is a short YouTube explanation.

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This video is part of an online tutorial on the English language found at

Do you suppose Johannes and Franz ever heard of this English phrase?

Source: Bergen Public Library

The Sepia Saturday theme this weekend is a photo of the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg on a country walk with friends. The Bergen Public Library archive has another photo taken on the same outing. I think Grieg and his friend Frants Beyer knew something about Brahms & Liszt, too. 


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to spy on more vintage photos.

The Swift Rangers

21 February 2014

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roamed.
Where the cowboys sing songs all the day.
Where encouraging words are always preferred.
And radio reception is okay.

These cowboys in neckerchiefs and 10 gallon hats are The Swift Rangers – Fred, Ozzie, Leonard, Ben, Ralph, and John, with Mr. Kamp Charles in front of the microphone. For some cowhands a banjo might be a traditional instrument to serenade the cattle, but very few chuck wagons had room to carry an electric organ and a grand piano out onto the range. Instead these musical buckaroos used radio, playing daily for the Swift Roundup hour on radio station WLS in Chicago. 

In 1931, the WLS station published a commemorative album which devoted a whole page to the band using the same photo. The captions reads:

The Swift Rangers who take part in the Swift Roundup each day over WLS. From left to right they are: Fred, who specializes in "songs of long ago;" "Ozzie," who plans and directs the programs; Leonard, whose specialty is baritone solos, and "Big Ben" with his banjo. Seated, Ralph Waldo Emerson, organist, and John Brown, pianist. This picture was taken in the Swift Studio, Union Stock Yards.

The sponsor was Swift & Company, one of Chicago's oldest meat packing and food processing companies. Their daily noontime program, presented by announcer Kamp Charles with musical accompaniment from the Swift Rangers, delivered the latest farm reports along with home cooking tips and guest speakers from the agriculture industry to WLS radio listeners.

The broadcast came from one of the first radio stations in the nation. It was owned initially by the Sears, Roebuck & Company which decided in 1924 to get into the new media of radio with their own station. They gave it the initials WLS which stood for World's Largest Store. The programs were first produced in a studio on the 11th floor of the Sears Roebuck building in Chicago with an aim to reach midwest farmers and ranchers and promote the giant Sears Roebuck mail order catalog. With a clear channel signal of 50,000 watts and no other stations their frequency to interfere, their Chicago radio programs could be heard nationwide.

Right from the beginning in 1924, the most popular program on WLS was the National Barn Dance, a Saturday night variety show that featured skits, humor, and country music. This down home style of entertainment generated so much excitement that the station moved its live music performances to a new site on the 6th floor of the Sherman House Hotel which could accommodate a larger audience.

Though the station became identified with country music, it also aired classical music concerts, and in 1927 WLS gave the first broadcast of a complete performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

But Sears Roebuck soon determined that there was more money to be made in retail sales than in radio, and in 1928 they sold WLS to the publisher of Prairie Farmer magazine. Just prior to the purchase, a survey of people in rural communities for their favorite radio stations, gave WLS an incredible 50% market shareThe next closest stations, which were also in Chicago, only received 10% or less.

After moving the WLS studio to 1230 West Washington Boulevard in Chicago, the management of the Prairie Farmer retained the station's original rural country character and connected it to their publication's mission of providing farmers aid. The era of the Great Depression which began the following year would have been an entirely different economic and social catastrophe without the magic of radio. Since at the time most Americans lived in rural areas with expensive postal service and limited access to newspapers or libraries, radio was the real start to the modern information age.

On page 11 of the WLS family album the two keyboard players, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Brown were given the spotlight. Emerson had a fair claim to his noteworthy name, as the famous essayist was his grandfather's cousin.

John Brown was the jack-of-all-work musician who played everything from classical music to square dances. He was married to Juanita, one of the Milk Maids who appeared on the Saturday night Barn Dance show.

The Swift Rangers were not the only musicians on staff. There was also the WLS Concert Orchestra of 12 musicians led by Herman Felber, Jr. The WLS weather report came from a small thermometer hung on the back porch.

In the 1920 and 30s, recording technology was not yet up to the quality necessary for broadcasts on these AM frequencies. All the voices, sound effects, and music were produced with live performers in front of a microphone. The limitations of studio space and the electronics of transmitting sound kept the radio orchestras and bands on the small size using instruments that favored the treble and bass.

I could not resist including this page entitled News From Everywhere for the Sepia Saturday mastermind Alan Burnett, whose blog is entitled News From Nowhere.  Our present day world of internet commentary has its roots in the early radio listeners who wrote letters and postcards to the station. The station management encouraged this contact as it gave them a way to judge how far the signal was carrying their programs. WLS heard from people in some pretty strange places. Just like the internet.

Those same listeners considered themselves part of the WLS family, and a few were honored by having their extraordinary photos added to the annual radio album. It seems fair to say that between Mr. J. E. Paxton at 600 lbs. and the 18 children of Mr. & Mrs. G. B. Reeves, the Swift & Company got good value from the Swift Rangers promoting their food products on WLS radio.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more suits and hats.

Miss Sylvester's Violin

14 February 2014

She holds a violin, the fingers of her left hand placed firmly on the strings in that way a violinist has when testing their instrument's tuning. Her short frock has colored bows and layers of lace, while her stockings are decorated with a short stripe that accents the jeweled buckles of her shoes. Her long hair is pulled back  from her shoulders to avoid interfering with her playing. She wears pearl bracelets on both arms. On the chair are a plumed hat and cloak, and a leopard skin lies atop a Persian carpet.

The little girl appears to be about 8 or 10 years old. Her name is Miss Winifred Sylvester and she lives in London.  Last week we had a tour of her music room. Today we will have a proper introduction to Winifred and her parents.

She was born in Mumbai, India, or Bombay as it was known during the British colonial period. Her birth year is uncertain as Winfred's name is found in only three census records. The census of 1891 was when she was still single and the next in 1901 was after her marriage. Both agree that 1870 was the year of her birth. But in the third census of 1911 her age magically diminishes by 7 years while her husband adds 10 to his. While a lady's age is often flexible, 1870-71 seems a more honest estimate.

The cabinet photo was created by the studio:

Hills & Saunders
36 Porchester Terrace, W.
By Appointment to the Queen
also at Eton, Harrow,
Oxford & Cambridge

The negative was No.21967 with Position No.3 which means Winifred had multiple poses. Perhaps some were made without her violin.

The Hill & Saunders studio began in Oxford in 1860, and soon expanded with branches in eight other locations. The London studio opened in 1868 and was at this address from 1868 to 1886. In the university towns like Oxford and Cambridge, their specialty was portraits of scholars and faculty. In London they photographed high society. The elite Appointment to the Queen gave Hills & Saunders a concession to photograph Queen Victoria and her extended royal family. The result was a very large number of portraits, many of which can be found
at the archives of the

Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, 1879
Hills & Saunders (photographer)
Source: Royal Collection Trust

One of these royal subjects who posed for Hills & Saunders was Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, who was the eldest son of Princess Helena, third daughter of Queen Victoria. It is unusual because photos of the Queen's family were usually arranged with dogs and horses rather than violins. This image dates from 1879 when the Prince was about age 12.

Clearly this was a very high end London photography studio. It was also quite close to Winifred's home at No.16 Melbury Rd. with a short walk or carriage ride through Kensington Gardens to Porchester Terrace covering only 1 ½ miles. 

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Her mother was Matilda White Sylvester pictured here with Chloé, the family dog. Her dress with its slim waist, puff sleeves and ruffles is made with a single fabric color that the photo's sepia tone may mistake for white when it was really cream or yellow. In one hand she holds her kid gloves and a dog leash. Chloé sports a rather nice leather collar with metal studs and what may be a dog tag.

Like her daughter, Matilda was also born in the East Indies in about 1851. Her father was probably employed by the East India Company which was the charter merchant group that first established British trading posts in India in 1612. By 1757 the company had independent control over much of the sub-continent which lasted until 1858, when the Crown took over direct rule of India under the British Raj.

This photographer used a rather overstated ornamental  design as a backstamp:

Naudin Artist and Photographer
Electric Light and Daylight Studios
169 High St.
Kensington W.
Lately Known as
13 The Terrace

The photographer was William John Naudin whose studio started at No.13 The Terrace in 1883. It moved to No.169 High St. in Kensington, London in October 1894 and was there until 1909.

The phrase Lately Known As suggests Matilda's photo was taken around  1894 to 1895, which was the date written on the back of Winifred's music room photo.

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Winifred's father was John Henry Sylvester, and he also posed with Chloé, whose whiskers are no match for her master's impressive mutton chops. His mustache style would not have been considered eccentric in his time, as it served as a badge of his military career. Sylvester had been a horseman in the cavalry, the 11th Bengal Lancers serving in India. He was not an ordinary trooper either, but a surgeon, a medical officer attached to a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army.

He was born in 1831 in Shipton, Oxfordshire. After passing exams with merit, he was assigned to a cavalry unit as an army surgeon and sent to India, where he soon found himself engaged in some of the most challenging conflicts of Queen Victoria's British empire. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Britain's colonial empire in Asia sustained a long series of wars in the region that is now called Pakistan and Afghanistan. Years later in retirement, Sylvester wrote two memoirs about his military experience. One is available for free on Google books: Recollections of the Campaign in Malwa and Central India: Under Major General Sir Hugh Rose, G.C.B.
Unfortunately the other has not been digitized: Cavalry surgeon: the recollection of Deputy Surgeon-General John Henry Sylvester, Bombay Army.

The first book contains long description of battles and campaigns, but includes Sylvester's observations as a doctor dealing with exotic diseases like cholera and malaria. After promotion from field service, Sylvester stayed in Bombay, which is where he likely met his wife Matilda. He took a position with the Grant Medical College, a teaching hospital founded in Bombay in 1848 to train Indian doctors in the Western methods of medicine. Initially he taught physiology and anatomy, but in the annals of the 1870 edition of Transactions of  the Medical and Physical Society of Bombay, I found his name as a professor of ophthalmic medicine and surgery. In one scholarly article he reports on his success with over 200 operations to remove cataracts.

After 21 years in India, Sylvester left medicine in 1875, returning to London with his wife and daughter. Given his history, he chose an unlikely district for a retirement home.

Surgeon John Henry Sylvester
11th Bengal Cavalry (Probyn's Horse)
Oil on canvas by Colin Hunter (1841-1904), 1885.
Source: National Army Museum

If you remember from my story of Winifred's music room, the Sylvester house on Melbury Rd. had several neighbors who were prominent artists with membership in London's Royal Academy of Arts. A Scottish painter, Colin Hunter, A.R.A. (1841-1904) lived next door at No.14 Melbury Rd. Though his  work was primarily in landscapes, in 1885 Hunter created a wonderful portrait of John Henry Sylvester wearing his splendid Indian army uniform. It's possible that Sylvester wanted the painting made to celebrate the publication of one of his books.

This colorful painting brought to mind another medical officer, late of Her Majesty's Indian Army — the fictional Dr. Watson, partner to Sherlock Holmes. It is intriguing to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was Scottish and a physician, might have used Sylvester as a model for his character of Dr. Watson  in the detective stories of Sherlock Holmes. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887.

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Winifred has become a young woman in this photograph and yet she holds her violin in the same manner as in her younger photo. However this time the camera focuses on a 3/4 length pose with no distractions, only her. She is dressed in a lustrous gown, her hair coiled up and held by a feathered pin. She looks to be about age 15 or 16. 

The photographer had a prime location in South Kensington for London's high society  clientele.

C. Vandyk
125 Gloucester Rd.
Queens Gate, SW
Mr. Vandyk personally photographs each sitter

His full name was Carl Vandyk, a German immigrant from Bremen and this studio on Gloucester Road was his first of several addresses. It opened in 1881 and continued until 1913. Since it was also his residence, that may account for his offer of personal service.

Like the other photographers, Vandyk made several photographs of the Royal Family, many done after he added a studio in 1901 on Buckingham Palace Road, in Westminster.

In 1893 the London Charity Record printed a report about a musical event in aid of the Paddington Green Children's Hospital. It was produced over two January evenings with amateur musicians assisted by some professional artists. On the first night:

Miss Winifred Sylvester was listened to with breathless attention while she performed in a masterly way two lovely morceaux on the violin,"The Nitei Mezzo" (Masiagui), and "The Witches' Dance" (Bazzini), for which she received an encore.

The following year in 1894 a newspaper in Reading, England ran an advert that listed Winifred as a soloist in Miss Murchison's Grand Morning Concert presented at the town hall. A review of the performance was published the next day.

Reading Mercury
March 24, 1894

Mr. Arthur Strugnell was the only gentleman who took part in the concert. His powerful and cultivated baritone sounded pleasantly in two oft-heard melodies "The Bedouin love song" and "Farewell, fond heart." The latter sung without notice, when Miss Sylvester in playing Chopin's "Nocturne" was interrupted by the breaking of a string in her violin. Resuming her performance in a few minutes Miss Sylvester played remarkably well, and responded to a well-deserved encore.

Two young ladies also sang a well known air, the "Ave Maria" from Mascagni's opera Cavalleria Rusticana, to which Miss Sylvester supplied the violin obbligato.

No doubt many violinists have experienced this same mortification when their instrument fails at the middle of a bow stroke. It makes the concert memorable for everyone except the soloist who would much rather forget the mishap.

An interesting female musical pioneer of the Victoria period was Helen Countess of Radnor (1845–1929). The daughter of the vicar of Ryhall, Rutland, in 1866 she married William Pleydell Bouverie, soon to be the 5th Earl of Radnor. From this position of wealth and rank she organized a "ladies string band" in 1881 to play for a special charity concert . This short excerpt from Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality explains her background but leaves out that she was also a very gifted musician herself.

Lady Radnor is perhaps better known by her former title of Viscountess Folkestone, under which name she acquired considerable celebrity by her organization of a Ladies Orchestra, which was the outcome of a skating accident at Prince's. Forced to give up hunting and skating, she had recourse, on her recovery, to the promotion and encouragement of music among the people.

Lady Radnor's orchestra was remarkable news even across the Atlantic, as this illustration taken from the London Graphic was reprinted in the August 30, 1884 supplement to Scientific American.

Lady Folkestone organized her string orchestra and choir in 1881 when she gave a concert at Statford House in aid of the Royal College of Music. The band, like the choir exclusively from the gentler sex, numbers many ladies of the nobility, and it comprises fourteen first, and thirteen second violins; eight violas; eight violoncellos; and even three lady players of that cumbrous instrument the double bass. These ladies under the baton of Lady Folkestone played the march from Handel's "Occasional" overture, the "Lullaby" from Mr F. H. Cowen's string suite, "In Olden Time", and the so-called "Concerto Grosso" which is, however, an arrangement by Geminiani of the tenth the twelve violin sonatas written by Corelli at Rome in 1700. The choir sang a chorus from Dr. Ferdinand Miller's "Song of Victory", Mendelssohn's "Now May Again" and Henry Leslie's part song "The Swallow"

It was a very pretty sight to see Lady Folkestone's executants, the instrumentalists dressed in white, with of pink or blue, occupying the platform, while choristers also dressed in white with breast knots of pink, white, or dark red roses, were arranged in tiers of seats at the background. The display of diamonds almost equaled that at a Court concert. The first of Lady Folkestoue's concerts was attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales and two of their daughters, and the Princess Louise, and at the conclusion of the performance the royal party shook hands with and warmly congratulated the fair conductor

Lady Radnor continued producing and conducting these charity concerts every year. The orchestra used only string instruments (though sometimes adding tympani) and the musicians were exclusively women. The main program was conducted by Lady Radnor though sometimes a gentleman was invited to lead the orchestra through one or two compositions. 

London Standard
June 27, 1896

In June of 1896 she announced a concert for St. James Hall benefiting the special appeal fund of the Earlswood Asylum for Idiots. It included a women's choir as well as the ladies string orchestra, which brought over 150 performers to the stage. 

London Standard, June 22, 1896

The London Standard of June 22, 1896 published a roster of the Lady Radnor's string band for that year's concert. It lists 72 women's names and in the second column of the first violins, there is Miss Winifred Sylvester.

The newspaper clipping of the concert announcement mentions a new piece by the noted English composer, Sir Hubert Parry. This composition was dedicated to and titled as Lady Radnor's Suite in F for strings. It is lovely music and remains a staple repertoire of youth orchestras around the world today. Winifred Sylvester played it first.

This would be the last concert Lady Radnor conducted and it is unclear why she discontinued this event. Perhaps the novelty of women musicians no longer appealed to the patrons and did not attract the contributions that the earlier ones had solicited. There may have been pressure from the high class society she was part of. Nonetheless, Lady Radnor remained a patron of the Royal College of Music in Kensington and other art institutions. She was a friend of the great English composer,  Sir Edward Elgar who was inspired by her promotion of women musicians to start his own ladies orchestra in his city of Worcester.

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At this point in Winifred Sylvester's story I must pause to make this humble caveat.  

The preceding photographs (unless otherwise noted) are all in my collection, and they have the same provenance: a British antique dealer with a specialty in photographs. The detailed sale descriptions placed them as originating from the estate of John Henry Sylvester. However the two photos of the young violinists have no identification marks of any kind. While I believe they are both photographs of Winifred Sylvester, there remains a possibility that this is incorrect. With these limited clues there can never be 100% certainty on artifacts that are 120 years old.

All of the photo stories I write for this website are only about the photographs and postcards in my personal possession. Whenever I add additional pictures or historic material, I make efforts to use only image files from open source archives such as Wikipedia. However for this story of the Sylvester family I am making an exception and adding photos that do not belong to me. The next three images came from the same estate sale, but I do not know to whom they currently belong. Hence I apologize to the owners and trust that they will see the value that these photos add to the story of Winifred, Matilda, and John Henry Sylvester.

Now back to the story.

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From an anonymous collection

Here we can see another side to John Henry Sylvester talents as he stands outdoors at an artist's easel while holding a brush and palette. I do not know the location, but England seems a fair choice. In this era drawing was a skill that many men and women developed, either as a pastime or a vocation. For a soldier and professor of anatomy like Sylvester it would have been a very useful talent.

When he cast off his medical career in Bombay and returned to London, Sylvester may have chosen the house on Melbury Rd. because he wanted to join the small circle of artists who lived on that street.

On the web, there are a just few hints that John Henry Sylvester may have painted and possibly concentrated on military subjects. He has one citation at the National Portrait Gallery for a print made of his 1893 painting of Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts. Since Lord Roberts, one of the most important British military commanders of the Victorian age, made his first reputation during the India and Afghan campaigns, it is possible that he and Surgeon J. H. Sylvester were acquainted.

Ducks on a Pond
John Henry Sylvester
Source: Blouin Art Sales
Another John Henry Sylvester citation was attached to this watercolor which sold at Christie's auction house in South Kensington, London in 2001 for £ 800. It does not fit the vague image of the painting on his easel, but perhaps one day I will find that match and solve the case.

From an anonymous collection

This last photograph shows John Henry Sylvester in his final years, as both he and Chloe look a bit bedraggled with age. The photography studio is marked
H. & R. Stiles of Kensington High St., London.

1903 UK Probate Records

John Henry Sylvester died on November 29, 1903 at age 73.  His effects were valued at £32,761 10s, 5d which would be worth between £2,980,000 and £3,376,000 in today's money.

Curiously his wife, Matilda Sylvester lived exactly 10 years more, dying on November 28, 1913. Her effects were valued at only £1,829 17s, 8d.

As I have already hinted, Winifred did marry and left the life that was centered on her music room.

This official document of the Diocese of London is dated 5th June 1896 and was found on It records the marriage bond between William Morgan Hodder and Winifred Sylvester. This church license was required to be sworn and witnessed prior to the actual wedding ceremony, and the phrase, Twenty one years and upwards, only indicated that the couple were of legal age.

Captain William M. Hodder was a military man, an officer in the Royal Engineers, which must have pleased John Henry. He was born in County Cork, Ireland and was 9 years older than Winifred.

The Morning Post July 24, 1896

The wedding was held on July 22, 1896 and we can imagine that there was suitable music and pageantry for the happy couple. Did any of Winifred's fellow lady musicians perform? Perhaps Josef Ludwig, her master, played a solo.

Did you notice the date?  Only three weeks earlier, Winifred played her concert with Lady Radnor on July 1st. Did her excitement about the wedding temper her nerves about the concert? Or vice versa? Surely she knew that her future was now as a military officer's wife, and her days with the violin and concerts were finished, if not severely limited. Though the musicians roster of the Ladies String Band did have some married women, they were the exception. Society, at least in the circles to which Winifred belonged, could not accept the idea of a married woman performing in a concert hall.

She followed her husband now. By 1901 they lived in Weymouth on the south coast of Dorset. Hodder had made the rank of major, and Winifred was the mother of two daughters, Muriel and Beryl. According to the next census, William Hodder at age 50 had retired as a colonel of the Royal Engineers. This fortunately must have kept him from active service in the Great War, as his death is noted on one family tree as occurring in 1930.

What happened to the violas, the violins, the piano, the guitar, and the other photographs in Winifred's music room? I can offer no answer.

From an anonymous collection
This last photograph was described as signed on the back - Winifred Sylvester Hodder and Becky.  My opinion is that it dates to shortly after her marriage in 1896. Winifred's crushed velvet jacket with fox tail scarf creates an interesting fashion statement next to her neatly clipped poodle. Is she holding a dog treat? Though her face is hidden behind a veil, I think it bears a strong resemblance to the young woman violinist in the Vandyk photo.

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It is very uncommon to have the opportunity to research the full arc of a life, and even more rare to include an earlier generation. The story of Winifred and her parents offers an intimate glimpse of the London society and culture that had reached a pinnacle of sophistication at the end of the Victorian era. Because of her parents, Winifred enjoyed a position of wealth and privilege that afforded her an opportunity to study music and excel on the violin. Yet at the end of the 19th century, the world was not ready for a woman to have a professional career in music, or for that matter in art or medicine. It was considered improper for any respectable woman to pursue such a vocation.

Today in the 21st century, we can see how far society has advanced by looking at the roster of any professional orchestra. Not only are there thousands of women violinists and double bassists, but female horn players and percussionists as well. Today that notion that a female musician is inferior to a man, or somehow incapable of attaining the highest virtuosity in the musical arts seems absurd and preposterous. The integration of women into professional music took many more decades. It began with women like Lady Radnor and Winifred Sylvester who bravely ignored conventions and encouraged their audiences to appreciate musical talent without regard to gender.

Winifred died on September 18, 1948 in Worthing, England.
No letters, flowers, or mourning
. - Cremation private.

Let this be her celebration then.

Don't miss my earlier story on Miss Sylvester's Music Room.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where all the best photos tell a story.

I am most grateful to Alan Burnett and my friends on Sepia Saturday
for their encouragement and enthusiasm. A story like this
may start
with the people in a photo,
but it could not have been written
without the inspiration from the boundless curiosity
of my fellow blog writers.

Thank you.

Miss Sylvester's Music Room

07 February 2014

This is a photograph of a workshop. There are tools, a bench, even a cabinet to hold construction plans. It is a place where a craftsman makes things requiring skill and art. It is a musician's studio. Specifically it is the music room of Miss Winifred Sylvester – her "den". It may look like an occupational still life with instruments, but in fact there are many people here that Winifred would like us to meet.

The foreground is dominated by the side of a grand piano. Behind it along the wall are two violins, two larger violas, and a small parlor-size guitar. Violin bows are propped against the instruments as if to be ready for any moment's inspiration. I suspect that Winifred is standing beside the photographer's camera and checking the arrangement. The many instruments argue that she was a very talented musician. It is her special space and around the walls are framed paintings and photos for us to admire.

This cabinet photograph has no imprint of a photographer's name. However it is nicely signed on the back.

My "Den"    16 Melbury Rd
Winifred Sylvester    1895

Winifred was born in 1877 in Bombay, India, the only daughter of Matilda and John Henry Sylvester. She was only 18 when she inscribed this photo. Her father John was a surgeon and doctor of medicine assigned to a cavalry regiment in the British Indian army. After his military service in India he brought his family to live at No.16 Melbury Road in Kensington, London.

We will meet the Sylvester family another time. Today the story is about Winifred's musical friends and since there are quite a few people to be introduced, let's begin with the most prominent.

Just above Winifred's violas and violins hangs a large framed portrait of man with an impressive brush of a mustache. The picture is swathed in fabric that initially I mistook for the black drapery of mourning. However this gentleman was very much alive in 1895. A slightly smaller etching of him with his violin is tucked behind the frame on the right.

He is one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century, or indeed of all time. He is Pablo de Sarasate (1844 - 1908),  or as his friends used to call him — Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navascués.

Pablo de Sarasate (1844 - 1908)
Source: Wikipedia

Born in Pamplona, Spain in 1844, Sarasate's father was a bandmaster of a military band. As a child, Pablo was recognized as a prodigy on the violin and gave his first public concert at age 8. He would go on to become one of the most successful violin virtuosos of his time, performing in every major concert hall around the world, including regular recitals in London. His fantastic skill was displayed in incredibly difficult pieces that he composed or arranged himself. Many of today's violin superstars play these same pieces.

As he lived into the era of sound recordings, we can listen to him play. This YouTube video has Pablo Sarasate himself performing his best known encore for piano and violin,  Zigeunerweisen (1878) based on Hungarian gypsy melodies. The recording was made in Paris in 1904 and I recommend it as the perfect accompaniment for reading the rest of the story. Just before the Allegro you can even hear his voice.

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The front of the piano lid has been flipped over and the polished surface is shiny enough to reflect this framed portrait of another man with a distinctive hair style.

It is Ignacy Jan Paderewski, (1860 - 1941) the great Polish pianist and composer.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 - 1941)
Source: Wikipedia

Paderewski was also a musically gifted child but his talent took longer to mature as it developed in the Warsaw conservatory and then private study in Berlin and Vienna. But after his debut in Vienna in 1887 his name soon became synonymous with piano virtuosity. Like Sarasate, he gained fame as a brilliant pianist by touring the world. He was a frequent concert artist on the stages of London.

On the other side of the room is another of portrait of Paderewski displayed on the music cabinet. It sits on a small easel festooned with decorative fabric and flowers.

His flamboyant hair is unmistakable but sepia tone photos fail to pick out the red color. Though he was by no means the only musician to fashion his celebrity image around a hairstyle, in the 1890s he was the best known performer of "long-hair" music. 

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 - 1941)
Source: Wikipedia

Paderewski was living at a time when travel and technology freed artists from the dependency of wealthy patronage which earlier composers like Mozart and Beethoven had needed for survival. But success only came after building a fan base and that meant posing for the camera. Many musicians produced for themselves or licensed photos to be produced for sale as souvenirs. Unlike violinists who can easily pose with their instrument, pianists were rarely pictured at the piano.

Music was not Paderewski's only passion. His place in history was enshrined by his great love for his country of Poland. During the First World War he was a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris, and became a important political activist advocating for the establishment of Poland as a free independent nation. In honor of his tireless efforts and international prestige, he was made Poland's first Prime Minister in 1919, but the hard knock life of politics became too difficult and he left it in 1922 to return to concertizing on the piano. 

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Next to Paderewski's second portrait is a small image of a man holding a violin. He appears to have a beard too.

In the 19th century, even this blurry figure would be instantly recognized as a superstar musician. His name is Joseph Joachim (1831 - 1907), a Hungarian violinist who knew all of the famous composers of his time. He too was acclaimed as a musical wunderkind violinist when his early musical training took him to Leipzig to become a protégé of Felix Mendelssohn.

For a time Joachim was concertmaster in Leipzig under Franz Liszt's music directorship. He was a good friend of Robert and Clara Schumann. But it was his close personal relationship with Johannes Brahms that placed his name in music history. Brahms's Violin Concerto, and Double Concerto for violin and cello were written for Joseph Joachim. 

Joseph Joachim (1831 - 1907)

There were a number of photographs made of Joachim, and this one matches the blurred image in Winifred's music room. It was made around 1885 when Joachim was in his 50s. Though he was also a composer like Sarasate and Paderewski, his own music is little known today.

His primary influence came as a violin soloist playing other composers' music. But he is also remembered in the genre of chamber music when his Joachim String Quartet achieved major prominence with world tours. He brought this group to London many times, and it may be how Winifred Sylvester first heard him play, rather than as a soloist with an orchestra.

Joseph Joachim also lived long enough to produce a solo violin sound recording. In fact he was the first, with a disc made one year earlier than Sarasate. This is his arrangement of the Brahms Hungarian Dance No.1, recorded in Berlin in 1903.

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Just to the right of Joachims photograph is another unclear image. We can see that it is a woman, but only someone like myself who sits at the back of the orchestra would recognize the silhouette of a violinist's backside.

This musician is definitely someone that a young girl like Winifred would idolize. The violinist in the photo is
Wilma Neruda, (1838 - 1911) also known as Lady Hallé. She was the most famous female musician of the Victorian era, and was a frequent soloist with British orchestras. 

The unclear image matches a copy of a photo of Lady Hallé produced in the 1880s. She was born in 1838 in Brno, Moravia, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. It was a musical family as her father was the organist of the cathedral at Brno. In those days, a violin was not considered a proper instrument for a girl, so Wilma's first music instruction was on the piano. After she was discovered secretly playing her brother's violin, she was allowed to develop her true talent. Her first concert was at the age of 7 performing a Bach violin sonata. 

In 1865 Wilma Neruda married a Swedish pianist Ludvig Norman (1831–1885) who was also a composer and conductor. When Norman died in 1885, she had already been living and performing in London. Just a few years later she married the Anglo-German musician Charles Hallé, noted as a pianist, conductor and the founder of Manchester's The Hallé orchestra in 1858. He was given a knighthood for his service to British music in 1888, and thus she took on the name Lady Hallé.

Wilma Neruda, Lady Hallé (1838 - 1911)
Postcard photograph by Bassano, London, c.1885

In this age, women had very few avenues to follow for a career in the musical arts. Professional orchestras did not accept women as members, but they would accompany female soloists of the respectable "feminine" instruments – piano, voice, harp, and violin. Lady Hallé had a musical talent and ambitious drive that made her the most visible woman instrumentalist on the concert stages of Europe. By 1901, she had attained such international esteem that Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII, appointed her violinist to the Queen. One can easily imagine how such an artist would inspire a young woman like Winifred Sylvester.

In 1893, the Monthly Musical Record, a London magazine, reported that Dr. Joachim and Lady Hallé performed Bach's Double Concerto at a Saturday concert series at St. James Hall. The audience was described as larger than any previous in the season and demanded an encore of the slow movement. In the same edition were numerous reviews of Pablo Sarasate who also had his own regular concert series at St. James Hall. Likewise Paderewski performed there in 1892 and 1893 too.

A review of an 1895 concert of Joachim found in the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 79, page 315 included a mention of both Sarasate and Lady Hallé. Since this was the same year as when Winifred Sylvester made a photograph of her music studio, it's quite possible she attended the concert. I don't know the author of this review, but it is a marvelous example of damning with faint praise. 

All Joachim's many shortcomings we cheerfully admit; and then we assert that the man does play at times so as almost to warrant the most encomiastic things said of him by critics of his own race. There are people who have heard him many times and declare that never in their experience did he play well; but for our part we rarely sit through a Joachim concert without ultimately receiving our reward in at least one spell of inspired interpretation. The waiting is often long and dreary, for he is no great fiddler who can cover the weakness of his uninspired moments by wonderful technical displays or uniformly lovely tone: he is no great fiddler, but rather a consummate interpretative musician who fiddles; and when the execution does not come up to his conception he makes matters worse by forcing the pace and thrashing his strings until the jarring sense discord reaches the limits of what human nerves can endure. 

Then unexpectedly the moment arrives, he slips into the right groove, his better genius seems take the bow from his right hand and control the fingers of his left, and the tones come from his violin magnificently strong — not glowing in voluptuous splendour like Sarasate's, nor with the purity of Lady Halle's — but throbbing, alive, with something human in their accent that reminds one that, after all, Joachim has always aimed high and sought to get essential qualities of the human voice into his playing. All exaggeration melts away; the player's technique masterful, his phrasing strong and lucid, his florid passages clean cut, even his intonation fairly true. 

But these points we remember later; at the time we are conscious only of the high gift of expression which Joachim sole amongst modern violinists possesses: the of voicing not the player's but the composer's emotions. Not only is the dramatic accent true, but the tone colour, the "clang tint", is astonishingly appropriate. In the delivery of the "Death and the Maiden' theme in the Schubert quartet played on 25 February (1895) the tone was tragic sinister; in the major variation, which Schubert's way of singing "Surely he takes his fill, Of deep and liquid rest", and thus he ever varies it, when the mood is on him, using only to the finest ends the wonderful capabilities of the violin which lesser men prostitute when they make their instruments crow like cocks, cackle like geese, or shriek unholy dances for witches to dance to. 

To come to an end then: only in his inspired moments is revealed the incomparable artist, the Joachim who is worth admiration; as for the fellow who plays with Bach, takes Beethoven skittishly, and insists upon wearying us with tedious Brahms sonatas, he is a commonplace, rather unskilful mechanic, unfortunately sometimes a pretentious mechanic.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
photograph by Frd. Bruckmann of
painting by Carl Jäger

Just to the right of Sarasate's picture are two drawings or etching of composers. The one on the left might be Mozart as it looks like a man wearing a baroque period wig, but it may be a woman's picture. There is too much glare to be sure.

This etching of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by the German artist, Carl Jäger (1833-1887) seems very similar to Winifred's picture.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)   
Painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887)
Source: Wikipedia

However the other one is definitely the glowering face of Ludwig van Beethoven, (1770 - 1827) who of course died before the advent of daguerreotype photography. Consequently like Mozart, he is represented only in drawings and paintings, of which there are thousands, and every one shows him with a grumpy frown. This etching of Beethoven, also by Carl Jäger, shows the typical Romantic period interpretation of the composer.

By 1895 music was no longer based on what living composers wrote, as it had been in the time of Mozart and Beethoven. Music publishing had become a big business that enabled any musician anywhere to study the music of composers from any earlier era. Winifred probably had editions of the collected works of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven in her music cabinet. This would have been unheard of only a few decades earlier. 

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But the most important picture is the one just under Beethoven in a small gilt frame. It is another picture of a man with a violin. It is the reason I acquired the photo of Winifred's music room.
Sometime ago a set of estate photos was put up for auction. On close examination, I found one photo inside another. It was so unusual I could not allow them to be separated, so I bought both.

This photo within a photo is Winifred's most prized memento, "her master", Josef Ludwig.

Across the front is an inscription in ink. It reads:

Yours very sincerely
Josef Ludwig

In the detail of the music room photo, you can just see the faint marks of his handwriting.

Josef Ludwig was a German musician, born in Bonn in 1845. He was one of many German musicians who came to Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria, whose consort, Prince Albert, was from Saxe-Coburg in Germany. The first notices of Ludwig's concerts came from 1869. He became an annual favorite at the Bath Grand Pump Room concerts and played there until at least 1915. As a violinist he seems to have specialized in chamber music rather than orchestral music, as he is described as a soloist rather than a leader or concertmaster.   

On the back of this cabinet photography by Walery, Photographer to the Queen,  184 Regent Street, London is a scrawl in red pencil.

My Master

In Italian the word is Maestro. Surely only Winifred could have written this of her violin teacher.  I suspect that same red pencil drew many bowing marks onto her violin music.
Josef Ludwig was entered into the 1911 England census, age 66, widower, living with his daughter Christine Ludwig, age 38. His occupation was Professor of Music. His home was at No.10 Howley Place, London, which is only a short walk from the Royal Academy of Music and convenient to the many concert halls in central London. It is also only 2 miles from Melbury Rd. where Winifred Sylvester lived.

I never cease to be amazed at the resources available in the vast library of the internet. In the past I would never have contemplated that we could ever see Winifred's home, but through the magic of Google Maps we can take a virtual tour to No. 16 Melbury Rd., London W14.


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Today this narrow red brick house has been divided up into very expensive flats, but at one time in the 1890s a small family of three – father, mother, and daughter (plus a servant or two) called this home. Was Winifred's music den on the ground floor behind the bow windows? Or maybe higher? A piano is big, but it is not impossible to move one to the floor above.

This is a very beautiful and quiet section of London that is off of Kensington High St. and below Holland Park. When I first looked it up on a London map I was surprised at how close it was to the Leighton House, the extravagant residence of the great painter Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896), who was an important artist of the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood style. Many years ago I once performed a recital there at the Leighton House Museum when I lived in London and was studying the horn. At one time I might even have walked past No.16 Melbury Rd.

In the gigantic 1902 London Post Office directory, the residence names are also listed geographically by street name. Melbury Road is quite short with only 22 names for 18 numbered houses. Among those names are 8 men whose occupation is listed as artist. Five were members of the Royal Academy of Arts. (R.A.), as was Frederic Leighton. Winifred's neighbors turned out to be some of the most distinguished personages in the Victorian world of art. This was an extraordinary street even by London standards.

This unframed picture is propped up in the left corner of Winifred's studio. I believe it is a group of musicians as there are two violin shapes held by the figures far left and right. But the people are dressed in costume reminiscent of the Elizabethan or Renaissance periods. The English artists of the Pre-Raphaelite were very fond of painting historic subjects in elaborate dress and I believe this may be either a copy of a painting by one of Winifred's neighbors, or a photo of a group of models for such a painting.

Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession
Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
Source: Wikipedia
This immense painting was painted by Leighton in 1853 and gives an example of the florid colors and fabrics that are a characteristic of this romantic style. When Queen Victoria saw it on the opening day of the exhibition where it was first displayed, she was so impressed she bought it on the spot for 600 guineas. 

But there is one more picture on the wall of Winifred's studio that attracted my attention because it doesn't have a musical subject. Slipped behind the frame of Pablo Sarasate, is a curious image of a seated man. He appears elderly with a white beard and wears a black skull cap. Within the picture are even more paintings. Could this image be connected with one of the artists who lived on Melbury Road?

The internet provides the answer. Yes, this is Miss Sylvester's neighbor, George Frederic Watts (1817 - 1904) who lived at No.6 Melbury Rd.

George Frederic Watts (1817 - 1904)
Source: National Portrait Gallery, London
George Frederic Watts was a popular English artist and sculptor who was connected with the Symbolist art movement. This is a photograph of the artist in his home at Melbury Rd. taken by John Caswall Smith. It is found in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, in London. The museum listing only estimates that this relief halftone photo was taken some time before 1899. Winifred's note proves it was actually before 1895 when Watts would have been about age 78.

Hope, 1886
George Frederic Watts (1817 - 1904)
Source: Wikipedia

The sculpture and paintings of Watts were often allegorical in nature and had mythological subjects. His 1886 painting, entitled Hope, hangs in London's Tate Gallery. It shows a blindfolded female figure seated on a globe and plucking a lyre that has only one remaining string. Watts gave this explanation: "Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord".

This melancholy depiction of hope led the writer G. K. Chesterton to suggest that a better title would be Despair.

I would be remiss if I did not introduce you to
Miss Winifred Sylvester. 

She is age 10 here, about the same year as when Mr. Watts was exhibiting his painting.

The collection of keepsakes in her music room would not be unusual for a girl from any decade. The posters hung on the bedroom wall of a modern teenager are not much different. Except that Winifred was not living in Kansas in 2014.

All of her musical heroes were in their prime as musical artists in 1895. Today they are renown as luminaries of 19th century music. Since it is highly likely that Winifred knew these famous musicians from hearing them perform in London, and may even have taken lessons from them, their presence in her music room helps describe a new powerful culture of concert musicians who precede the age of sound recordings. The beautiful music they made became the sound that filled a young girl's imagination and dreams.

If you return next weekend, I promise to make a proper introduction of Winifred and her parents at No.16 Melbury Rd. She has more stories to tell.

Click this <<Link>> to read more about Miss Sylvester.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves to sing along with the piano.


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