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 }

Helicons and Pigs

22 December 2017

Schmückt den Saal mit grünen Zweigen!
Tretet an zum bunten Reigen!
Auf und nieder, immer wieder!
Singt die alten Weihnachtslieder!

Zündet an die Weihnachtskerzen!
Hell und warm wie eure Herzen!
Laßt die Weihnachtsglocken klingen!
Und euch frohe Botschaft bringen!
Schneller weg das alte Jahr vergeht,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Heil die Neuen, ihr Jungs und Mädels!
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Lachend, alle zusammen schluckend,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
Ohne Rücksicht auf Wind und Wetter,
Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

Frohe Festtage
Prosit Neujahr!!!

This  wonderful card with its embossed musical pig was posted on 31 December 1906 to someone living in the small German village of Gahlenz which is about 20 kilometers east of the Saxon city of Chemnitz. For some reason pigs are considered symbols of good luck in Germany and appear on many postcards offering good wishes for the new year. The bass helicon, or helikon in German,
is the European equivalent of the American Sousaphone. Its long brass plumbing wraps around the player allowing a comfortable posture while marching. Or dancing. I don't think by itself the helicon is a symbol of anything except loud noise.

However this is not my first story of a talented pig. In my post Educated Sheep and Musical Pigs from March 2016, the animal trainer Prof. Blaek Doblado toured America in 1909 with a musical pig named Louie who could also play the bass horn. A case of life imitating art? Or vice versa? Unfortunately I have yet to find a picture of Louie so we will just have to use our imagination.

By a happy coincidence I do have a photo postcard
of a man playing a bass helicon.
He might easily pass
as a model for this postcard.

His name, location, and date are unknown
but I suspect he is a civic bandsman from the 1920s-1930s
who came from somewhere in central Europe.
Perhaps Austria, Germany,
Poland, or Czechoslovakia (as it was then known).

YouTube provided a very suitable video
so that we can hear what a helicon sounds like.

Stefan Huber, trombone, and Manuel Winbeck, helicon,
from LaBrassBanda

play their version of a Christmas classic.
Feliz navidad



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where I wish all my blogging friends
very good cheer for the New Year!

Boys with Sticks 3

09 December 2017

Most precocious musical children
demonstrate their exceptional talents
by performing on a solo instrument
like the violin or piano.
Despite their youth
these Wunderkind
develop extraordinary skills
that astonish us with their mastery of music.
But only a very very small number
of children exhibit
sufficient rhythmic coordination
along with a musical ear
good enough to play
the ultimate musical instrument -
a symphony orchestra. 

Evidently this young boy had that gift,
as his postcard caption reads:

Der kleinste Dirigent der Welt
Hori Hecht   4 Jahre alt.
The smallest conductor in the world
Hori Hecht 4 years old.

This cherubic German boy stands with arms outstretched, a conductor's baton in his right hand, ready to command the attention of an orchestra.  At least that is what is implied as we can't see the orchestra. And unless Hori Hecht was placed on a very tall box, it would be very hard for the orchestra musicians to see him. I have been unable to find any history about him or his claim to be the youngest conductor in the world. His postcard is unmarked but the printing style is similar to postcards from 1910 to 1920.

Unlike the humorous postcards  I've shown before in this series:  A Young French Maestro; Boys with Sticks 1, Boys with Sticks 2; and Le Chef d'orchestre  (which was an unintentional reprise of the same cards in A Young French Maestro) I believe Hori Hecht was an actual boy conductor because in this decade he competed against a few other small boys who also took up the baton.

 * * *

Der jüngste Kapellmeister der Gegenwart
The youngest bandmaster of the present
Rinaldo Ariodante
aus Wien (Vienna)
— 6 Jahre Alt —
in BOHÈME von Puccini

Like Hori, Rinaldo Ariodante is dressed in short pants with belted tunic and fancy collar ruffs, and brandishes a stout baton as if he was holding off a phalanx of trombones. His luxurious long hair gives him a charismatic appearance suggesting he is from an earlier century. The reference is to the opera La Bohème composed by Giacomo Puccini which premiered in 1896 at Turin's Teatro Regio and was conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini. Considering that this opera has four acts and typically takes over 3 hours to perform, leading singers and orchestra would be quite an accomplishment for a six year old child. However I can't imagine any opera house director allowing a child to do that. It's more likely that Rinaldo led a performance of a short aria excerpt.

The spirited conducting styles of Italian conductors and bandleaders like Toscanini became very popular with the public at the turn of this century. Their manic behavior is where the mythology of the impassioned conductor, the inspired musical leader, the all-powerful Maestro, began.  This postcard was mailed on 17 May 1914 to someone named Engelmann in Worms.

For his next postcard, Rinaldo's outfit is decidedly from the 18th century. His parents have also hired a hairdresser to arrange his mane of dark curly locks.  He seems confident and relaxed as he leans against a photographer's studio chair., almost as if he has just finished conducting a symphony of Mozart or Haydn.

Rinaldo Ariodante
der musikalische Wunderknabe und jüngste Dirigent
the musical prodigy and youngest conductor

His souvenir card has
a postmark of 2 November 1913
from Dortmund to München.
Rinaldo looks about age seven
and taller than his picture in the postcard from 1914.

A third postcard of Rinaldo Ariodante
has the same caption as the last card,
but the image is a closeup photo of the boy's face,
better to show off his long hair.
There is no novelty about this picture.
It's a glamour shot used to promote this child entertainer
to theater agents and adoring fans.

There is no date but based on the other two cards
Rinaldo's conducting career probably
ranged from around 1912 to 1914.
His Italian name and German postcard
are not contradictory I think,
as in this era Germany
had the most theaters and orchestras,
so it was where the money was
for entertainers of any size or nationality.
 Unfortunately history and the internet
have no records of Rinaldo Ariodante
that I could find.
Undoubtedly the Great War of 1914-18
disrupted the
opportunities for concerts.

* * *

This last boy conductor has short pants too
but his long blonde hair
demands an ensemble in white.
(Or maybe lemon yellow?)
His hands and baton are raised for a dramatic downbeat.
His name is in the corner of the postcard.

Rio Gebhardt

The postmark is 24 August 1919 from post-war Berlin. The postcard writer's script is very difficult to read, but I think it does refer to the boy.  Though Rio appears to be about age 7, here again, the postmark is not always contemporary with the image.

In fact Rio Gebhardt was born in 1907 at a hospital in Heilbronn, Germany. His full name was Julius Rigo Gebhardt and his parents were vocalists in a traveling theatrical ensemble. In 1911 he showed off some childish conducting motions leading a gypsy band in Monte Carlo with a spoon. His father decided to expand Rio's talent and taught him proper conducting technique to music from gramophone records. He became a novelty music hall act that was not given serious attention from real musicians. However Rio's uncle recognized a real musical prodigy and arranged for the boy to have lessons in piano and composition. Eventually as a young man he found work as a pianist, composer, and band leader in Germany's early radio networks. In 1932 he composed a jazz piano concerto in imitation of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Though Rio Gebhardt was too young to serve in the First World War, he was not so lucky in the Second War. He was drafted into the German army in 1942 and killed on the Eastern Front in Russia in 1944. He was only 36 years old.

 * * *

These boy conductors were a curious sensation that started in the pre-war years when child prodigies of all kinds were paraded across the theater stages of Europe and America. They were a show business enterprise that exploited the public's fascination with youthful genius, whether real or invented.

Conductors may look like they wave a magic musical wand, but of course the baton does not make any sound. A concert of a symphony orchestra requires actual sheet music for a group of musicians to play, and a conductor only directs the music's tempo and dynamics, and maybe the phrasing too. Competent orchestra musicians really don't need a conductor for most music, though it does help sometimes to have a metronomic stick keep the ensemble together. No orchestra today,  major or minor, would ever perform under a child conductor. (Though I've known a few adult conductors who were unbelievably childish.)  This notion of a boy conductor was a short-lived fad because it was entertaining to see a child imitate the choreography of real conductors. Some of the boys, like Rio Gebhardt, did become successful in the music profession but that is another story for a future post. Stay tuned for another installment of Boys with Sticks.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the fishing is always good.


Here is a nearly black and white photo of
my dog Scarlett faithfully bringing in the newspaper
this morning after yesterday's storm
dropped 10+ inches of snow
on Western North Carolina.

Even More Ladies with Brass

01 December 2017

It seems very unlikely that
the military regulations
of Kaiser Wilhelm's Imperial German Navy
ever approved pearl necklaces and earrings
as acceptable accessories for a salior's uniform.

Likewise long sashes
affixed, somehow, to the hips
were probably only permitted by the navy
in extreme circumstances
as emergency flotation devices.

Nevertheless exceptions were allowed
for the five female trumpeters
of the Elite Damen-Orchester
led by Herr J. von der Hitz.

The women also wear
very large German sailor caps
with the name of their ship
embroidered on the brim.
The lettering is not clear
but it seems they were not
members of the same ship's crew.
Perhaps they only appeared together
for special naval maneuvers.

Their postcard was sent through the mail but the stamp and postmark are too damaged to read. But their group was photographed for another postcard that dates from 1911. Here the Fräuleins of the Elite Damen-Orchester have expanded their number to six . Their naval uniforms are the same  but the only face that I can see in both ensembles is the trumpeter on the left in the first postcard who is also standing third from left in the second postcard.  I think there are also some sister pairs in both photos.

This postcard was mailed from Mannheim on 7 September 1911. The writer added some detailed annotations on the front of the card which may be the individual names of the women.

Groups of female brass players were very popular in Germany and Austria in the early 20th century. These Damen-Orchesters, Damen-Trompetercorps, Damen-Blasskappelles, were pictured on thousands of souvenir postcards produced predominantly from around 1898 to 1918, with fewer examples dating from between the great wars. Thousands of women, German, Austrian, Bohemian, Hungarian, etc., worked as professional musicians performing on the many musical venues of Central Europe. Most of the postcards are like the second one of the Elite Damen-Orchester and the women are posed in costumes or elegant gowns but without instruments. Though many of these women played string and woodwind instruments, it is the brass players that I'm most interested in. So much so, that they now constitute the largest genre of musical images in my collection.


The Trompeter Corps with the long valveless trumpets and fringed banners were a common feature on a lot of these postcards. I've posted several stories about them before: More Ladies of BrassLadies with Brass - part 2Ladies with Brass.  These instruments are similar to bugles in that they play only a very limited number of notes. They are descended from the Natural Trumpets used for  fanfare music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. 

The Damen-Trompeter-Korps „Stradella“, directed by Osw. Roscher who stands center,  used four fanfare trumpets shown here leaning on the knees of two young women who also hold rotary valve brass instruments. The group is basically seven brass instrumentalists with one versatile drummer.  The costumes of the five women in this octet are not nautical, though they do have flotation sashes around their shoulders. They also wear enormous white hair bows tied atop their heads that must have gleamed in the stage spotlights. 

The Stradella Damen-Trompeter-Korps postcard was sent from Dresden on 28 June 1926 and is an example of women's musical ensemble that performed in Germany's postwar period. As Germany did not suffer as much destruction in the First World War as it would in the Second, many of the entertainment venues probably continued operations much as they had in the prewar years. But the changes in popular music, especially from the European interpretation of American jazz music, must have made groups like this a very old fashioned musical style.


The sound of brass instruments
are all about attracting attention.
If four blaring fanfare trumpets
can make a fearsome noise,
then eight will be awesome!

The 22 brass musicians, all female, of H. Brandt's Damen Blas & Streichorchester must have made a stunning blast of sound when they started their show.  Dressed in long white gowns with a mixture of hip sashes and shoulder sashes for the eight fanfare trumpeters at the rear, they hold a full range of bass, tenor, alto, and soprano brass instruments. They may have played outside on occasion but I doubt they were ever a marching band. These were refined musicians who could play both brass and string instruments.

The postmark on their postcard is from Coblenz, Germany on 23-9-06. 

Herr Herman Brandt marketed his group with a number of postcards which I've featured before on Postcards of German Ladies Orchestras in 2011.  Here's a variation which shows Herr Brandt seated in the center with four young ladies blowing natural trumpets behind him and four more on either side with rotary valve trumpets and bass and tenor helicon tubas.  Standing at the back are three men with two clarinets and an upright tuba.

This postcard was mailed to Berlin from Magdeburg, Germany on 7 September 1904.


Sometimes a photographer would have the ensembles pose outdoors for better light. The Damentrompetercorps „Westfalia“, directed by C. Rehfeldt, stood on a courtyard pavement in front of a small copse of potted trees. There are twelve musicians, seven of whom are women holding various brass instruments. Placed before them are more brass instruments including four natural trumpets and two long fanfare trumpets with valves.

This postcard came from Cöln, now spelt Köln, on 5 December 1906 .

The Damen-Trompetercorps „Westfalia“ also produced a postcard in color which shows off the golden brass of course, but really gives the ensemble more visual appeal with the women in green vests and dresses. The one exception in a yellow dress is likely Frau Rehfeldt seated next to her husband Herr C. Rehfeldt, the band leader.I suspect that this may be a family band made up of several daughters and brothers, augmented with a  cousin or two.

The group is again outdoors in a park, and at the back are four women playing fanfare trumpets which have flags attached in red fabric and gold fringe.

This postcard dates from 27 March 1913.

The hardest question to answer is what did these Damen Trompeters sound like? Programs of their music are impossible to find in my usual sources of online archives. These female bands/orchestras are rarely a subject for musicologists and I've found only a few references which are understandably written in German. So uncovering the full history of this interesting cultural trend will prove very difficult.

However we can always use our imagination. So courtesy of YouTube here are the London Fanfare Trumpets performing a 7 piece fanfare on the long valved trumpets. They were filmed at Salters' Hall, a modern building that is the home of the Worshipful Company of Salters, one of the Livery Companies of the City of London.



The natural trumpets make the same splendid sound as the valved instruments but require much more skill. Here the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets perform a military fanfare of David Buhl, composed around 1829, but used as one of familiar themes in the Olympic Fanfare.



Now imagine that same magnificent music played by young women in a German beer garden.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone's in the market for a good photo story.


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