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 }

Send in the Clowns!!!

28 August 2015

The Circus-Day Parade
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)

Oh, the Circus-Day parade! How the bugles played and played!
And how the glossy horses tossed their flossy manes, and neighed,
As the rattle and the rhyme of the tenor-drummer's time
Filled all the hungry hearts of us with melody sublime!

How the grand band-wagon shone with a splendor all its own,
And glittered with a glory that our dreams had never known!
And how the boys behind, high and low of every kind,
Marched in unconscious capture, with a rapture undefined!

How the horsemen, two and two, with their plumes of white and blue,
And crimson, gold and purple, nodding by at me and you.
Waved the banners that they bore, as the Knights in days of yore,
Till our glad eyes gleamed and glistened like the spangles that they wore!

How the graceless-graceful stride of the elephant was eyed,
And the capers of the little horse that cantered at his side!
How the shambling camels, tame to the plaudits of their fame,
With listless eyes came silent, masticating as they came.

How the cages jolted past, with each wagon battened fast,
And the mystery within it only hinted of at last
From the little grated square in the rear, and nosing there
The snout of some strange animal that sniffed the outer air!

And, last of all, The Clown, making mirth for all the town,
With his lips curved ever upward and his eyebrows ever down,
And his chief attention paid to the little mule that played
A tattoo on the dashboard with his heels, in the parade.

Oh! the Circus-Day parade! How the bugles played and played!
And how the glossy horses tossed their flossy manes and neighed.
As the rattle and the rhyme of the tenor-drummer's time
Filled all the hungry hearts of us with melody sublime!

* * *

There is no date, no place, nor any name marked on this small unmounted photograph.
It was an unexpected surprise to find a detail of youthful faces
reflected in the mirror of this circus clown band wagon
that captures all the wonder, glee, and delight of a circus parade.
The poem is by James Whitcomb Riley, (1849-1916)
one of America's favorite authors of children's poetry.

James Whitcomb Riley
10¢ U.S. postage stamp issued 1940
Source: Wikimedia

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is on the wagon this weekend.

Music at the Beer Garden

21 August 2015

The concert is just about to start, however you and your
companion are late. Suddenly you regret the extravagance
of booking center-front tickets.
The audience is silent. You look up to see that the band conductor
has turned around to stare directly at you.
He waits patiently as you take your seats.

You try to hide your embarrassment by intently studying
the music program. The conductor makes a smart about-face
toward his 120 musicians and the Monstre-Concert in „Tivoli“ begins.

This gigantic band of 120 German military musicians posed for the camera on the extended stage of the Tivoli Beer Garden in Hannover, Germany. The title Monstre-Concert was a French term used to describe performances by especially large forces of musicians and instruments, usually with hundreds of brass, percussion, and woodwinds. In the 19th century there was of course no electronic amplification, so more instruments equaled more dynamic volume. For special outdoor occasions or sometimes in very large halls, several regimental wind bands would be assembled into a single monstrous musical ensemble. This concert dates from no later than the 1903 postmark on the back of the postcard sent to Mr. Louis Persenot of Saint-Denis, Paris, France.

Tivoli was a popular name attached to public gardens that could suggest the relaxed atmosphere of the first Tivoli in Italy where the Ville d'Este was famous for its beautiful 16th century gardens. The first amusement park with this name was the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris, built in 1766. It suffered during France's very turbulent revolutionary history, but in its several forms the Tivoli Gardens were always a place for high society to enjoy simple outdoor entertainments like panoramas, magic lantern and marionette shows, and concerts of light music.

Denmark had the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, which was originally named the Tivoli & Vauxhall in 1846 after the Paris amusement park and London's Vauxhall Gardens. The developer acquired the first charter by persuading the Danish King, Christian VIII, that "when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics".

The Tivoli Beer Garten in Hannover was a much more modest establishment that began as a cafe/restaurant in 1844, but was expanded in the 1890 as the Tivoli Concert Gardens. In 1901 it was included in a series of stereoscope photos on Germany published by the H. C. White Co. The stage shell in the background appears to have some kind of musical ensemble playing. The patrons seem to be enjoying coffee or tea rather than beer.

(I am most grateful for the information on Hanoover and the Tivoli Gardens provided by, an excellent blog dedicated to the history contained in Hannover's many postcards.) 

An afternoon Concert at the Tivoli Beer Garden, Hanover, c. 1901
Source: WikiMedia

The back of the card has the title in 6 languages including Swedish and Russian, and a lengthy travelogue commentary in English.

Source: WikiMedia

An Afternoon Concert,
Tivoli Beer Garden, Hanover, Germany

This is the afternoon scene familiar to all travellers in any part of Germany. To be sure the beverage is not everywhere the same. In the Rhine country the same kind of a garden might furnish only the wines of the region, and leave the stranger who does not know the ways of the place, and ventures to ask for beer, with the uncomfortable feeling that he has betrayed his ignorance. But at least the has learned the useful lesson that the United Germany is not a complete unit after all, when it comes to these liquid aids to digestion. 

Of an afternoon, it is true, differences between the Rhineland and the rest of Germany fade away in the presence of the universal coffee habit. It is the women's hour too, and the choicest music is now to be heard. Men are not wanting in such a gathering, but they are usually to be found in the family groups. The cup of coffee, which would be taken at home in bad weather, is here enjoyed by the whole family together. 

Cakes and coffee, however, are only the excuse for a pleasure which needs none, – that of gathering in a place where friends are sure to be met, and many matters discussed which do not have much to do with the musical programme. The leading actors and singers. and other well-known people, are always to be seen here among their admirers, and are glad for the time to be simple citizens, enjoying the open air, and whatever else is to be enjoyed. Not that they escape the public eye, for they are universally known and incessantly talked about over the tables far and near. But besides these notables of the stage, or the army, or public life, there are children and babies in go-carts, to add variety to the scene.

See Baedeker's Northern Germany.
Dawson's German Life in Town and Country.

* * *

The proprietor of the Tivoli-Hannover had at least two postcards made of the Monstre-Concert on the same day. This second photo shows the 120 bandsmen at ease and four band masters standing at the front of the stage platform. This postcard was mailed on 2 December 1906 to Frau Helene Ribbach of Münder am Deister, which is near Hannover.


I suspect that the stout man wearing a bowler hat is Wilhelm Mussmann (1870-1940), the owner of the Tivoli Concert Gardens. He also owned a hotel which still operates under his name in Hannover. The four uniformed men in front all have the characteristic swallowtail epaulets of a military band musician, though only one has a baton while the others have swords. That man is likely Bruno Hilpert, the music director of the Hannover regimental bands. He also led an orchestral society and women's choral group in Hannover.  
But the man on the right is dressed in a more decorative hussar's uniform and bears an uncanny resemblance to Kaiser Wilhelm II. I can't believe it really is the Kaiser, as his left hand is exposed and Wilhelm had a withered left hand which he usually kept discretely hidden. As Wilhelm's Prussian mustache was almost a requirement for any German army officer, this man may be only a senior officer and band leader of a cavalry band that has joined this Monstre-Concert.  

Tivoli-Hannover, Spiegelterrasse
Source: WikiMedia

The Hannover Tivoli Gardens was close to the rail line and at night people could see the gardens illuminated by 40,000 gas lamps and mirrors hence the name Spiegelterrasse or Mirror Terrace.

This view of Tivoli Gardens shows the terrace and ornamental lamp posts. The postmark is 1911.

This view of the concert shell shows the arrangement of the typical cafe tables and chairs found throughout Europe. The patterned table clothes are a touch of class but Herr Mussmann must have incurred a sizable laundry expense for maintaining the cafe linen. Note the waiter in the center.

The perspective on this postcard photo is very close to where that waiter was standing and shows the terrace from the previous view as well as one of the the impressive stags which guard either side of the stage. This postcard was posted in 1908.


This colorized postcard of the Concerthaus „Tivoli“ is from 1909 and shows the terrace without patrons. Hannover had many entertainment establishments like the Tivoli which gave concerts. Several venues offered more respectable theaterical and opera performances, and there were numerous smaller theaters for the German equivalent of vaudeville shows. Most restaurants regularly  employed musicians to provide music during the dining hours, and there were bandstands in other parks and beer gardens. It would have been difficult not to hear music in Hannover.

This postcard of the „Tivoli“ Hannover Concert Etablissement ersten Ranges – Concert Establishment of the first Rank, is postmarked 1913 and has the name of a new proprietor, Rudolph Lamarche. The following Autumn in 1914, the Hannover Tivoli Gardens were converted into a military hospital.

The Tivoli resumed concerts in the 1920s and 30s but competition from cinemas and the changing taste in music left little public enthusiasm for Monstre Concerts of military bands. The gardens were closed in 1937 and today the only memory of the music and Gemütlichkeit at the Tivoli Concert Garden is a plaque in a parking garage.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 
pull up a chair, sit down, and listen to more photo stories.

Music Behind Bars

14 August 2015

As a rule, small children should not sit on bass drums. They tend to stretch the drum head and often leave scuff marks. However exceptions can be made when taking photographs of a band if the child is deemed cute enough.

This child is pretty cute, but there was another reason it was the center of attention for this band.

On the right are bandsmen with the usual cornets and tubas.

While on the left are more bandsmen holding clarinets, saxophones, and mellophones.
The man seated on the far left has a high E-flat clarinet,
and behind him is a rare curved version of a soprano saxophone.

Underneath the photo is a caption:

M.S.P. Band    Deer Lodge, Mont.

In the first decade of the last century, there were military bands, town bands, company bands, fraternal society bands, ladies bands, boys bands, orphanage bands. But this group belongs to a different musical category as the initials M.S.P. stand for the Montana State Penitentiary in Deer Lodge, MT. These jolly bandsmen smiling for the camera are all inmates serving time behind prison bars. They had very little occasion to see small children. 

There is no postmark, date or other notation on the back. It has the same quality of real photo postcards from 1905 to 1925.  Over the past few years I have posted several stories on prison bands, and with 39 musicians (not counting the conductor and baby) this prison band was by far the largest wind ensemble of incarcerated musicians. Like the other penitentiary bands from this era when American society was rigidly segregated, it includes at least three African-American musicians and possibly a few Native-Americans as well. But it is not the integration or the small child that makes this photo really interesting.

Anaconda MT Standard
May 28, 1903
The Montana State Penitentiary was built in 1871 when Montana was still a territory. After statehood raised the obligation for more justice in the West, the prison in Deer Lodge was expanded using convict labor in the 1890s. Sometime around 1900 the warden, Frank Conley, engaged a civilian bandmaster to form a band that would provide entertainment and musical training for the inmates, most of whom had never played a musical instrument before. In 1903 the Montana State Penitentiary Band became so accomplished that it performed summertime concerts on Friday and Sunday afternoons that were open to the public. Programs were varied and regularly reported in the society pages of Montana newspapers.

Deer Lodge had a population of only 1,200 in 1900 but it doubled to 2,570 by 1910, in part to its position in western Montana as district headquarters for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad also known as the "Milwaukee Road", as well as its proximity to many wealthy cattle ranches and mining operations. The Montana State Hospital, established in 1877, is not far away in Warm Springs, and there was a former state tuberculosis sanitarium in nearby Galen. Deer Lodge was also the site of the College of Montana, the first institution of higher learning in the state, which operated from 1878 to 1916. The old Wild West had towns with more sophistication than dime novels ever gave credit.

The man in the center of the photo is what I find most intriguing about this band. The bandleader's uniform is unlike the musicians' American band apparel. His hat and coat are made of a dark fabric, and his front has decorative ribbon buttons that are the style of a British military bandmaster. He also has army chevrons on the sleeves, and a regimental cap badge.

Undoubtedly the child in front of him is his pride and joy.

Why was this British bandmaster leading a band of American prison inmates? In Montana?

It was a tradition.

* * *

Research revealed that the first band director of the Montana prison band was named Frank Cline. He was Canadian, but of course in this era that was almost the same as British. He left before 1903 and was succeeded by John H. Viol, an Englishman who led the band for many years. He was followed in the 1920s by Sam Treloar another English bandsman who was a celebrated cornet player and bandleader from nearby Butte, MT. He was the conductor at the Penitentiary in Deer Lodge until the 1940s. Clearly the Montana warden trusted the musicianship of men from the British brass band tradition. 

Any of these men could fit the description of the M.S.P. bandmaster in the photo, but put them in a police lineup and there were problems connecting them to a postcard from around 1910. Frank Cline left Montana around 1902 and died in 1916. A photo of him posted by a descendant on shows him with a cornet and a long handlebar mustache. Not a good match. 

John H. Viol was formerly a bandsman in Her Majesty's British Army, and he had a son-in-law who was a British regimental drummer. But he was born in 1850, while the bandmaster in this photo is certainly no more than 35.  A questionable match.

Sam H. Treloar was the leader of the Boston & Montana Mine Company Band, and he also received his musical training in the British army. But Treloar was born in 1867 and didn't take over the Montana State Penitentiary Band until 1921 or so. Another unlikely match.

We need another clue.


The, which stands for Internet Bandsman's Everything Within, has an enormous online archive of vintage band photos and postcards from around the world. Under the list for Montana is a postcard of the Montana State Prison Band that is identical except for one detail. The caption in the lower right corner reads Musical Director ?.?. Watson.

For some reason the full caption was not included on my copy of the postcard. Names, even those with unclear letters are always useful search terms. Filed away in the virtual stacks of was a digitized book published in 1938 entitled Mount Morris IL, Past and Present , an illustrated history of the village of Mount Morris, Ogle County, Illinois. The chapter on musical organizations of Mount Morris listed several of the town band's directors. It recorded that James (G.) Watson led the band from November 1916 to the end of the 1917 season, and that previously he had been director of the Montana State Prison Band for five years. He was born in Scotland where he learned to play the cornet and gave his first concert at the age of 8. Later he immigrated to Canada and conducted bands there.

The historians of Mount Morris, IL thought so highly of James Watson's brief tenure in their town, that they included a photo of him. 

In a uniform.

I don't often find a better identification than this.

James Watson
Mount Morris IL Past and Present, 1938

Mount Morris, IL is located about halfway between Rockford, IL and Davenport, IA. In 1910 it had a population of around 1,132 citizens, and of course supported a town band.  Polo City, IL is a few miles further towards the Mississippi and in 1920 it had 1,967 residents, including James Watson, age 38, birthplace Scotland, occupation – Music Director, Band; and his wife Eleanor Watson, age 33, also Scotch; and daughters, Darah, age 9, born in Scotland, and Evelyn, age 2 8/12, born in Illinois.

1920 US Census for Polo City, IL

The child on the bass drum must surely be Darah Watson at about age 2-3, making the date of the photograph of the Montana State Penitentiary Band somewhere around 1913-14.

Anaconda MT Standard
February 25, 1914

In February 1914, about 450  townspeople of Deer Lodge, MT were entertained by a minstrel show put on by the inmates of the Montana State Prison. The stage was decorated with American flags as the show was an annual event in honor of George Washington's February birthday, now known as President's Day. The band, under the direction of Professor Watson, opened with selections from Verdi's Il Trovatore. There were jokes, songs, dances, and music, including a saxophone quartet which Professor Watson played in.

* * 

After Mt. Morris, James Watson and his family moved on to another small town, Marshall, Minnesota where he found work as a band director. In 1929 West Plains, Missouri hired him to lead their town band. It must have seemed a metropolis with a population of 3,335 in 1930.

 * * *

Meanwhile in Montana, the prison band announced at a concert in June 1926 that they were the recipient of a $25,000 endowment from William A. Clark, Jr. (1877-1934), the son of a Montana "Cooper King". In his time W. A. Clark the elder (1839-1925) became one of the richest men in the world and was a notorious character of the Gilded Age. In 1899 he bribed state legislators to secure their votes to make him U.S. Senator for Montana. This scandal contributed to passage in 1912 of the 17th amendment to the Constitution requiring popular election of Senators. Mark Twain portrayed Clark in a 1907 essay as epitomizing all the corruption and excess of the era.

    He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time.

After his father's death in 1925, Clark the younger presented the Montana State Penitentiary with a gift of $25,000 that was dedicated to purchasing instruments and sheet music for the prison band. It seems an unlikely organization to receive a small fortune like that, but there may have been a personal connection to the band's concerts. Though born in Deer Lodge, William A. Clark, Jr. was educated in France, New York, and Virginia. After a brief period working in a Butte law firm, he moved to California after his second marriage in 1907 and became a prominent philanthropist and collector of antiquities, especially rare books. But he was also an amateur violinist and used his fortune to found the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1919, and help fund the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater.

Unfortunately the money for the M.S.P. Band was placed into a bank that went bust in 1933 during the Great Depression. The band fund trustees won a case against the bank in state supreme court, but it is unclear if the funds were ever recovered. It didn't help that Warden Conley, who was one of the trustees, had been dismissed for corruption and graft.

Over the years, membership in the band and attendance at their big-house concerts was reserved for inmates who demonstrated good behavior. Withholding entertainment was considered an important tool for maintaining order in the prison. Though Warden Conley was reported to run a tight ship, he at least endeavored to provide meaningful work and vocational training to all his charges in the prison. 

In the 1950s even though the band continued to give concerts, conditions were deteriorating in the Montana Penitentiary. On July 30, 1957 a violent prison riot started when the band musicians refused an order to shell peas for the prison kitchen. The band had a concert scheduled for the following week, and protested at what they considered menial work. Other inmates joined in the quarrel with the guards, and the disturbance suddenly exploded into a vicious turmoil involving the entire prison population. The inmates destroyed property; took hostages; locked up prison officers; and made a list of 19 grievance demands. State authorities called in the National Guard an it took 24 hours before order was restored.

The band concert was postponed.

The old Montana State Penitentiary in Deer Lodge was finally shut down in 1979. The prison walls and buildings were preserved and turned into a museum. The grounds have also been used as a set for a few feature films involving prison life.

Courtesy of Google Maps StreetView, without ever being convicted of a crime in Montana, we can take a tour of the street outside the prison walls built by Warden Conley's convict labor.

* * *

* *  *

Google offers a new panorama view for many places in the world. This point is taken from the prison yard and the 360° technology allows us to spin around and zoom in as if we were there. (Don't click on the grey arrow as it will magically transport you to another point in the prison.) The imposing red brick building was built in 1912, about the same time that James Watson and his daughter posed with the members of the Montana State Prison Band. I have been unable to spot any windows that match those in the photo.

* * *

* * *

At the far end of the prison yard you may have seen this ornate building. It is the W. A. Clark Theater, named after the Montana "Cooper King", William A. Clark the elder. In 1919 Clark donated $10,000 to construct a plush 1,000 seat theater. It was a popular venue for both prison inmates and citizens of Deer Lodge to watch concerts, movies, and boxing matches until it was ravaged by a fire, likely arson, in 1975.

Some people may find the next panorama disturbing.
Unfortunately the following Google panorama no longer works
as it did when I wrote this back in 2015.
At the time there was a macabre 360° view from the gallows
at the Montana State Prison Museum.
For reasons probably due its shocking history
that image has been removed.
But if readers follow the link to Google Maps
there are several other panoramas from inside the prison walls.

* * *

* * *

Today, inside the blackened remains of the W. A. Clark Theater, the Old Montana Prison Museum in Deer Lodge exhibits a portable gallows apparatus that carried out the ultimate sentence of justice. As far as I know, the theater was never used for this purpose. This dizzying modern photo technology grants us a particularly ghastly point of view that has no equal on the internet. The odd effect when you look down is especially unsettling. I don't think W. A. Clark, Sr would be thrilled either.

We can not ignore that a penitentiary is more than just a facility for incarceration. It is also, at least in many parts of the United States, a place of execution.  Between 1900 and 1943 there were 39 men executed by hanging in Montana. {Source: Montana Executions 1863-1996 .pp.187-189} No one ever went to prison on a holiday. Doing your time was the consequence of being prosecuted and judged in a court of law. So was hanging for your crime.

The latest date that I could find in newspaper reports of a performance by the Montana State Penitentiary Band was 1975. That's a remarkably long service for any musical organization. Many of those small town bands did not last half as long. Professor Watson and his fellow British bandmasters were respected and admired for their musicianship. But they knew the real reward was in granting these prison inmates a degree of humanity and freedom that is the essence of live music.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more treasured stories.

Music by the Seaside

01 August 2015

Why did a symphony orchestra have four harp players?
It's simple —
one harpist to keep the other harps out of tune;
one harpist to miscount the measures rests;
one harpist to distract the conductor with flirtatious smiles;
and one harpist to actually play the notes at the right time.

With all due respect to harp players, most symphony orchestras get by just fine with a single harpist. Sometimes a composer might feel a need to have two harps provide an angelic interlude within an orchestral piece. But four harps? At one time? In the front rank of the orchestra? Unheard of.

Unless you were listening to the Orchestra of the Kursall in Ostende, Belgium. Because with 120 musicians packed on top of each other in 6 narrow tiers, and with 12 double bassists stretched along the back, and with a massive pipe organ hanging on the wall behind, four harps were the least excessive section of this symphony orchestra.  

The year was 1907, and Ostend, Belgium (or Oostend in Dutch, or Ostende in French and German) was the holiday seaside destination for the fashionable people of Northern Europe. The Kursaal was an extravagant casino and concert hall built on a sandy beach of the North Sea. 

Originally a small fishing village in the Flemish province of West Flanders, Ostend took its name from its first location on the East End of an island that in the Middle Ages was reattached with dikes to the mainland. In the 19th century it became an important port when it was linked by a rail line to Brussels. The ease of travel consequently made this coastal resort popular with British tourists as well as Belgians, French, Dutch, and Germans looking for a seaside holiday.  

Kursaal, Ostend, Belgium circa 1895
Source: Wikimedia
In the 1890s the Ostend casino was considered second only to Monte Carlo for its gambling revenue. Its gaming tables were a favorite attraction for the high end society of the various European royal courts. Ostend was also the summer retreat of King Leopold II  of Belgium (1835-1909). Known as the "Builder King", Leopold spent a fortune on commissioning many grand public buildings in Belgium and acquiring several enormous private parks. Even though Belgium was a very small country and had only recently become an independent nation in 1831, Leopold became enormously rich from his personal control of the Congo Free State in Central Africa. From 1885 to 1908, Leopold profited from the rubber, ivory, and other natural resources taken from the Congo region. This devastating exploitation caused the deaths of millions of Congolese people impressed into forced labor camps. The tragic history of Belgium's African colonial era places a dark shadow behind images of Belgian society in the 1900s.

The Kursaal orchestra was arranged in a special gallery high above the main floor of the hall. The patrons sat around small cafe tables where liveried waiters would bring them refreshments during a performance. This second postcard view of the orchestra moved the camera from the floor to a higher gallery giving a better view of the hall's fantastic chandeliers and ornate columns. The orchestra's stage has at least six main risers with possibly two more shorter ones in the upper corners. All the musicians seem to be playing in this photo. Note that the harpists are the only female musicians and that they are wearing rather large hats. I think the conductor is not the same man as in the first postcard. This card was postmarked 1916 during the war but the image dates from pre-war.

The first Kursaal was built in the 1850s and then replaced in 1877 with a larger venue with a ballroom, exhibition area, reading rooms, and a concert hall surrounded with glass windows. Unfortunately the hall never had satisfactory acoustics and it was often difficult to hear the music over the clatter of coffee spoons and conversation, which might account for the need of a very large orchestra. In the 1900s the concert space was improved and remodeling added sumptuous decorations. The resort season was from May to October, but I understand the North Sea is still very cold in the middle of the European summer. The vacationers in this 1908 postcard view of the Kursaal seem more interested in watching the sea rather than attempting to wade in it, or much less swim in it.   

An excerpt from Punch magazine of August 27, 1898

There are several ways of getting through the day at Ostend, where the day is about as long as at other seaside resorts. or perhaps rather longer. The simplest plan is to sit in the morning on the terrace of the Kursaal and chatter till it is time to go to dejeuner, to do the same in the afternoon, till it is time to go to dinner, and to repeat this amusement in the evening, till it is time to go to bed. The next morning you begin again. In this way you avoid all needless exertion. 

Another plan is, in the morning to stand in the sea. If you are very brave you go in up to your waist, and if you are very strong you splash a little water on your chest, but you never wet your head for fear of hurting your hair. You may wear a straw hat as a protection from the sun, and, if you are a German, you may add a pair of spectacles. The only disadvantage of this plan is that about four thousand people want the four hundred bathing machines. If you are a woman, you flounder about on wet sand and never get a cabine at all. If you are a man, you take off your boots and socks, wade in up to your knees, and pursue the machine in the water. The chasse aux cabinet is fine exercise, but it is hardly luxurious. 

By standing in the sea you begin the day comfortably cool. In the afternoon you stand on the racecourse, the pigeon shooting ground, the pier, or the promenade, or you can sit down if you like. These pastimes make you considerably warmer. In the evening you have a choice of two places to stand in. One of them is the dancing room of the Kursaal, where the temperature is about ninety degrees. You can dance if you wish. The other is the gambling room, where the temperature is about one hundred and fifty degrees. You stand here in a dense crowd, reach over the heads of the few who have obtained chairs, and lose as many louis as you like.

A third system is to linger over your café-au-lait till it is nearly time for dejeuner, to prolong your dejeuner with coffee and liqueurs until about the time of the fivocklock, when you have a glass of port, or a scherry gobbler, and, beginning dinner soon after seven, to go on with this till half past ten, or later, when all the other diners have left the restaurant, and the weary waiters have piled all the other chairs upon all the other tables. But this system will ruin your system after a time.

It is believed by some that there are excellent concerts in Kursaal every evening from 7.30 to 9. But to hear them at an impossible time one must go without dinner altogether, which no one can do. In fact, there is reason to believe that no one ever did get to these concerts. Once when VANDERBLANK and I had rather hurried over our coffee and cigarettes in his véranda – the vérandas of Ostend are very pleasant in hot weather – we  arrived at the Kursaal just in time to see some men with violins disappearing from the orchestra. Since then I have considered myself rather an authority on the Ostend concerts, having been as near hearing one as that.


The previous card was sent by Carlo from Ostend in August 1908 to Miss KatieWexzel of London. The profile of King Leopold II is on the stamp.

Ostend provided activities like sailing regattas, horse racing, pigeon shooting, and golf during the season. There were theaters and dancing halls, as well as fine dining, and of course a promenade along the waterfront, but the Kursaal did not develop into an amusement park of thrill rides and carnivals games. This was a holiday place for genteel society. 

Source: Musica, Paris
September 1906

The celebrated orchestra of the Kursall in Ostende was put together from the best musicians in Belgium, France, and Germany. Many were music professors at the conservatoires and held positions in prominent orchestras of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany.  And clearly a harp quartet was a popular feature of the orchestra. By my count there were over 120 musicians perched on the perilous stage of the Kursaal. By comparison, in 2015 the New York Philharmonic can boast of only 101 musicians (with just one harp) and the London Symphony Orchestra has a mere 87 musicians. Very few symphony orchestras carry more than 8 double basses. Only opera orchestras retain larger orchestras, and then such musical force is used only for grand musical spectacles like those of Wagner and Verdi.

This image came from Musica, a Paris music journal of 1906. It lists dozens of famous pianists, violinists, opera singers and composers who appeared in concert with the orchestra. There were two performances each day at 2:30 and 7:45. The organ was featured in two recitals each week. The music ranged from arias of light French operettas to scenes from Wagner's operas, from the tuneful waltzes of Johann Strauss II to the dramatic tone poems of Richard Strauss. Many leading composers like Camille Saint-Saëns visited Ostend to have their music performed. In 1908 Sir Edward Elgar was honored by the Kursall Orchestra with a festival of his music which he conducted.    

Leon Rinskopf (1862-1915)

The principal conductor of the Kursaal Orchestra was a Belgian musician, Leon Rinskopf (1862-1915) who became its music director in 1891. It was due to his artistic leadership that the orchestra was renown for its high quality musicians and refined programing. He introduced audiences to the latest symphonic music and was responsible for promoting many Belgian composers. He took the orchestra on tours to Berlin,  St. Petersburg, and London where they received tremendous acclaim. 

In August 1914 Ostend's music and high society life came to an abrupt halt as the army of Kaiser Wilhelm marched through Belgium on the way to Paris. The Great War would close the resort for four long years.

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The Times of London
July 25, 1919

Rinskopf and his orchestra managed to leave Ostend safely for exile in Paris. Meanwhile Ostend as a port city became an important base for German submarines and the Kursaal was converted into a military headquarters. It was the target of British bombing raids during the war. 

The Kursaal Orchestra played a benefit concert in London in February 1915 where many Belgians took  refuge during the war. All the music was by contemporary Belgian composers It proved too much for Leon Rinskopf who would never see the Kursaal again. A few months later he died in Paris in June 1915.

In July 1919, Ostend re-opened its seaside resort. People all over Europe certainly needed a holiday, but Ostend was never the same. And of course in 1939 there was a reprise of German occupation, this one more terrible than the first.

In 2015 the Kursaal Oostende continues to operate as a modern venue for touring theatrical shows and orchestra concerts. But the facility is no longer the grandiose cultural center of 1908.

And today it is probably very rare to see four lady harpists on stage with 120 men.

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This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone has gone to the coast for the summer.


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