This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Well-dressed Trombonist - Valve and Plume Edition

27 April 2019

The trombone has the simplest design for brass instruments.
Just by sliding two parallel metal tubes
you can change the length of the instrument
and get all the good notes of a musical scale.
(And unfortunately all the bad ones in between.)

Locating those various positions of the trombone slide
requires skill and a good ear in order to play in tune.
And if that precision tubing is bent
the instrument is effectively disabled.

Marching with a slide trombone can also be problematic
especially when poking the bandsman in front
who's a step too close.

And in the era when mounted cavalry bands were common,
riding a horse and playing the trombone at the same time
was not easy for either man or horse.

So it was for all these musical frustrations
that the valve trombone was invented to solve.
At the end of the 19th century
tenor trombones equipped with three valves
were once very popular in American bands,
yet by the 21st century they have disappeared
in favor of the traditional slide trombone.

The preceding four trombonists are excellent examples
of low brass musical plumbing

but this esoteric history is not really the reason
their photos are in my collection.

It's their dazzling uniforms
and splendid plumed hats.

The first young man stares directly into the camera lens as he shows off his piston valve trombone. He doesn't look more than 18 years old, maybe less, and yet he is dressed in a fine military uniform with gold epaulets, braid, and dozens of shiny brass buttons. He is bare-headed but on the photographer's studio column next to him, competing for space with a forlorn flowerpot, is the bandsman's tall feathered custodian helmet, with a large badge of the U.S. Army eagle emblem.

The photographer was Keagey, of no. 112 West Coal Street, Shenandoah, PA. His full name was William A. Keagey and he operated a photography 'art studio' in Shenandoah from about 1866 to 1901. His business address was different in the early years and his Shenandoah location on West Coal Street began about 1887. A few years later in June 1894, Keagey and his family moved to Newport, PA, a small town north of Harrisburg.and 75 southwest of Shenandoah. He sold his studio in 1901 and died in October 1910.

An interesting connection to his photo of a trombonist, is that William A. Keagey served in the 11th regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers and was wounded in the summer of 1862. Born in 1840, Keagey, like many young men from the northern states who fought in  the Civil War, became a proud member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the G.A.R. This Union Army veterans association provided aid and assistance to former soldiers with post chapters all around the country. Keagey was an officer in the Shenandoah and Newport posts and his name appeared in the local newspapers more frequently in connection to the G.A.R. than to his photographer business.

As the G.A.R. was one of the first major advocacy groups in American politics it understandably had a prominent role in Pennsylvania's big cities and small towns. If there was a reason to have a parade, the G. A. R. veterans would march in it. And if there was marching there had to be a band, preferably a proper military band. So I believe this trombonist is a member of a regimental band from the Pennsylvania National Guard, and that Keagey took his photo at some patriotic event held between 1887 and 1894. Perhaps it was for the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg which occurred in July 1888. Gettysburg is only 100 miles southwest of Shenandoah, PA. 

_ _ _

* * *

The second valve trombonist is also quite young with a uniform similar to the first bandsman with maybe a little less braid but just as many buttons. His headgear is a shako, instead of the Pennsylvanian's custodian helmet, and with a two-color feathered plume. The young lad has adopted the classic Napoleonic gesture of a hand tucked into his jacket. Though the emblem on his hat is a standard musical lyre and not an eagle, his fancy jacket, trousers, and uniform accessories are hallmarks of a professional band probably hired out to a regiment of the New York National Guard.

The photographer was W. Russell of Albion, New York so we must assume this bandsman was also from somewhere near there. However Albion. is a small village in Orleans County, NY on the Erie Canal about half way between Rochester and Buffalo. It's more likely that his band came from one of those big cities centers. Unfortunately I could not find any information on this photographer but the style of W. Russell's initialed back stamp, with chemist bottle and artist palette, is similar to cabinets from 1878 to 1888. To judge by the pathetic houseplants in his studio, the photo's green cardstock is probably as close to a green thumb Mr. Russell ever got.

* * *

My third valve trombonist offers a relaxed pose, almost a modern casual stance by leaning on a faux plinth and crossing his legs. His uniform has wonderful embroidery along with epaulets, buttons, and braid. He wears a French style military cap that above the brim has four initials too faint to read except the last one, B for Band. On the plinth is his marching helmet with a very tall plume and a lyre motif emblem. Like the musician from Albion, I think this kind of uniform was too expensive for any amateur small town band.

This cabinet photo is very clear with nice sepia tones, but the photographer and his location is unknown as there are no marks on the front or back. My estimate is that the photo dates from the 1890s.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that this trombone does not have piston valves. Instead is has rotary valves with an arrangement of three keys atop the valve covers that is a characteristic of an American-made instrument. The rotary valves of German and Austrian brass instruments have a different design for the key mechanism. Pistons valves are fairly easy to mass produce and assemble, while rotary valves must be individually machined. These valves don't actually rotate 360° but only move back-and forth a quarter turn, directing the musician's air/lip vibration into a length of tubing that changes the pitch. Both piston and rotary valves give the valve trombone the same range and sound as a slide trombone.

_ _ _

* * *

My final valve trombonist is one of my favorites as the print quality and the lens focus on his cabinet card is superb. He wears a full dress uniform coat instead of short jacket and has a white diagonal shoulder and waist belt. It's similar to a military officer's Sam Browne belt except that those are typically worn over the right shoulder. Attached to the belt on his right side is a white pocket case for his sheet music. His hat is a tall custodian style with extra thick braid and instead of feathers he sports a white horsehair plume. But most noticeable is the eagle on the helmet badge. He is surely a trombonist with a professional military band. It is not unlike the uniforms worn by the United States Marine Band in the 1890s but still dissimilar enough to belong to another band. But which one I have yet to discover. In any case his trombone is a high quality instrument with silver plate and an elaborately engraved bell, the mark of a professional and possibly a soloist too.

His photo was taken by Clow, Photo Artist of Lisbon, La Moure and Edgerley (Edgely), North Dakota. I could not find a photographer named Clow anywhere in North Dakota. Of the three towns, roughly arranged east to west in a straight line 55 miles long, Lisbon is the largest now with a population of 2,100, but in 1890 it had only 935 citizens. LaMoure had 309, and Edgely was even smaller. These are very small towns on the vast American prairie that seem unlikely to support a skilled photographer, much less a band dressed as extravagantly as this trombonist. One small clue is that N.D. shows that Mr. Clow was working after North Dakota became a state in November 1889. Prior to that photos would have D.T. for Dakota Territory.

I suspect this trombonist was a member of a military style band that was on a concert tour in the late 1890s. As travel back then was by train, I also suspect Mr. Clow was a traveling photographer with either a railroad photo car or a portable studio tent. Maybe one day I'll find more musicians from the same band.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes the themes go
from pillar to post.

The Merry Brothers

20 April 2019

Johann: You look very glum, Hans. Why so?

Hans: I've lost my milk cow. 

Johann: That's terrible. Where did you last see her? 

Hans: She was in the barn last night, but this morning she is not there. 

Johann: You should place a notice in the newspaper. 

Hans: That won't do any good. She can't read! 

Johann: But you could offer a reward. 

Hans: How does that help? A cow doesn't need money. Grass is free! Besides she can count. She knows how much money I have.

 * * *

Karl:  Funny things have happened in this war. The other day I heard of a corporal who lost his right hand and did not know it was gone until he tried to take a package of cigarettes out of his pocket!

Walter:  That's not so bad. Someone told me about a Lieutenant what got his head shot off but didn't know it until he tried to scratch it!

* * *

Josef:  It's a very hot day and we've been walking on this road a long time. Want to make a bet that I'm dirtier than you are?

Franzl:  Why not? That's an easy win. You got to be filthier, you are three years older than me. 

Josef:  Did you know a man could get drunk on water?

Franzl:  That's impossible! Water can't make you drunk!

Josef:  Sure thing. If a sailor can get drunk on land, he can get just as drunk on the water!

* * *

The first postcard is a photo of two comical men, one an older gentleman looking a bit down in his cups, and the second a country yokel with big nose, small cap, and a soup bowl haircut. The card was sent from Augsburg  through the German soldiers' free Feldpost on 2 September 1917. The comedians' names are unknown, but a caption on the backside may be the name of their theatrical agency.

Münchner Singspielgesellschaft
Munich Singing Company
Gustav Weinschenk

* * *

The second postcard is two merry fellows dressed liked tramps and poking a thumb at each other. One wears a derby and the other a top hat. This card has a German caption that is difficult to read without flipping the white to black.

Die lustigen Brüder
The funny Brothers
Verpflegungstrain IV Div. 1917
Meal Train IV Division 1917

It's unclear if the pair of men are soldiers or entertainers, but I think they have the look of music hall comics. On the back of the card is written Januar 1917, with  two other words that are less clear. Maybe Aesch, Vichdepot (?)

* * *

The third postcard shows two characters dressed as country bumpkins. They are Die G'scheerf'n a Germanic dialect slang phrase that doesn't show up in any German dictionaries. Perhaps an occupational title like "sheep shearers", though I don't think I'd trust them to run with scissors without hurting someone. In two vignettes are the sober faces of the G'scheert'n character actors, G. Finn and K. Warter. The postmark is faint but the handwriting seems to indicate it was sent from Leipzig on 23 October 1913.

The short bits of comedic dialogue were borrowed from vintage joke books and rewritten to fit skits that I imagine these characters might have played. The German people, both then and now, have a reputation with other nationalities as having collectively a poor sense of humor. As stereotypes go that might have some very broad justification, but the number of postcards of comic entertainers I have collected argues that Germans and Austrians enjoyed laughter as much as anyone. And in Germanic culture the comedy of the rustic rube, the village bumpkin, or the foolish country boy as pictured by these duos had a long history in German fables, literature, plays, and opera.

I think every language creates its own style of ironic story telling that can easily get lost in translation. And certainly the variation in regional dialects adds a layer of fun that is hard to discern for foreigners not in on the joke. But even a funny face will always be recognized as laughable no matter what the native language is.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where laughter is contagious!

Music Before the Storm

13 April 2019

With a sunny smile for a sunny day
a young man's cheerful face
links with the camera lens.

His mates seem more sober
but their eyes look forward
to a relaxing beer at the Gasthof 
after their performance.
That is if their bandmaster,
who always keeps a firm hold on his sword,
will let them. 

Our affable friend is an army bandsman,
hiding his clarinet behind a very large tuba.
He belongs to one of the Kaiser's bands
and each man proudly wears the distinctive Pickelhaube,
the helmet of a soldier in the Imperial German army.

The gleaming helmet plate attached to
the front of the Pickelhaube
is called the Helmewappen,
and it indicates a soldier's regiment.
In this case the eagle and center star
are the insignia of a Garde zu Fuß regiment,
an infantry unit that descends from the Royal Prussian Army,
and hence is an elite force in the army of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

For some of the bandsmen
a concert in the park on a summer day
is more play than real soldier's work.

As the 13 musicians of this military band
pose for the photographer,
their audience sits nearby admiring their uniforms
and awaiting some hearty music.
Perhaps the program will have a few stalwart marches
interspersed with a romantic waltz or sprightly polka.
Surely the band will conclude with a patriotic song
as every loyal citizen will want to join in on the chorus.

This postcard photo of a Garde zu Fuß regiment
was sent from Berlin to the family of Fritz Müller.
I wish I could say where they lived,
but I am defeated by the writer's handwriting
and the German language too.

Was the writer one of the bandsmen?
I think it quite possible
but his name is obscure.

However one thing is very clear,
both in the message date and the postmark.

6.8.14. ~ 6 August 1914

That is one week after Germany mobilized its armed forces
and declared war on Russia.
Just 4 days after Germany invaded Luxembourg
and 3 days after it declared war with France.
Two days before, the German army rolled into Belgium
and lay siege to the city of Liege.
And tomorrow, on August 7, 1914
the 68 divisions of the
Kaiser's army will defeat
the British Expeditionary Force and France's Fifth Army
in the first major battle of the Great War 1914–1918.

The band's music was only a prelude to an acutely tragic conflict
that very soon will seem an opera without end.
Scene after scene, countless characters will take the stage,
but all will fail to be heard over the thunderous storm of war.
Here in the future we know the complicated storyline,
remember the long cast list,
and cherish the stunning themes
of this grand but frighteningly grotesque opera.
We know it well because we've seen it
performed many times since August 1914.

The ending is always too sad to bear.


Thanks to a friend of a friend
from a comment below
we have a partial translation of the message
written on the back of the postcard. 

Liebe Schwaegerin (Dear sister-in-law)
Wie du weisst, ist jetzt der Krieg ausgebrochen und ich den letzten Tag in Berlin bin.

As you know, war has broken out and it is my last day in Berlin.

Wir muessen morgen Freitag fort an die franzoesische Grenze.
We have to leave tomorrow Friday for the French border.

Hoffentlich kommt Fritz wieder zurueck, wir wollen das beste hoffen.
 I hope Fritz will come back, we hope for the best.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you never know what you might find on market day.

Name That Opera

06 April 2019

The artistic depiction of the female body
hasn't changed much since ancient times.
It's all about arranging arms and torso
for the most graceful and curvaceous effect.
Of course the woman's costume is important too,
or in this case the near absence of one.

This young lady wears a kind of light color bathing suit
that today would be considered very modest attire,
but a century ago such a revealing garment
was regarded as shocking to some
or very risque by others.
Nudge, nudge. Know what I mean?

It's an outfit only a theatrical or circus entertainer
might wear,
which in fact was her occupation.
Her name was

Fionetta Adler
Sensationeller Luftakt


Sensational aerial act

The studio photo used on this postcard doesn't provide many clues as to just what Fionetta Adler performed in her Luftakt routine. It may have involved swinging on a trapeze, or balancing on a tight rope, or maybe being shot from a cannon. All we can know is that it was sensational to see.

Lately I have been adding more photos of music hall acts to my collection, but Fionetta's coy undergarment pose is not something I'd be inclined to acquire. However when I saw the writing on the back of her card, I had to buy it. 

1. Albert   Tiefland

2. Blech   Alpenkg. + Mensc

3. Flotow   Martha

4. Gluck   Orpheus

5. Goldmark Wintermärche

6. Gounod   Margarete

7. Herold   Zumpa

8. Kretschmer   Folkunger

9. Lortzing  Zer + Zimmerman

10. Mascagni   Canalleria Rus.

11. Méhul   Joseph i Égyptein

12. Mozart   Don Juan

13. Nicolai   Lustigen Weiber

14. Puccini   Madame Butterfly

15. Sibelius(?)   Pfeiferterg(?)

* * *

Written in a heavy cursive hand with a coarse blue pencil is a list in alphabetic order of 15 composers with the title of one of their operas. By itself a list or operas is not particularly unusual, but it's a very odd musical thing to put on the back of a postcard of a circus aerialist. There is no postmark or other identification, but there is still a lot to learn from the list if you like opera trivia. I've added numbers to help follow the account, if readers wish to try the puzzle before reading the answers.

 * * *

  1. The first name refers to Eugen d'Albert (1864 – 1932) a Scottish-born German pianist and composer who in his youth studied piano first in Glasgow and then in London. In 1881 he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship to study in Vienna where he met both Brahms and Liszt. Initially he made a successful career as a concert pianist, but later devoted more time to composing. Between 1893 and his death in 1932 d'Albert produced 21 operas. His seventh opera was called Tiefland (The Lowlands) set in the Catalonia region of Spain, and first performed in 1903 in Prague, and then in 1907 in Hamburg and Berlin. It's considered his most successful work and is still occasionally programed.  His personal life bears a mention too, as d'Albert was married six times. In 1932 at the time of his death, he was in Riga, Latvia seeking his sixth divorce, presumably to marry a seventh wife.
  2. The second name is more obscure, Leo Blech (1871 – 1958) who was a German composer and conductor, principally at the Berlin State Opera house. He composed seven operas, and the fifth one was entitled Alpenkönig und Menschenfeind (Alpine King and Misanthrope) which had its premier at Dresden's Opera House in 1903.  Blech was Jewish and in the 1930s he was forced to leave Berlin for Riga, Latvia because of Hitler's antisemitic laws. Yet his international reputation as a conductor gave him just enough protection so that in 1941 Hermann Göring ordered a special exit visa for Blech that allowed him to escape to Sweden. He lived there until 1949 conducting the Stockholm Royal Opera.
  3. The third name is Friedrich von Flotow (1812 – 1883) another very prolific German opera composer. Flotow studied in Paris and wrote 32 operas between 1835 and 1876. His 16th was Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond (Martha, or The Market at Richmond) which had its premier in 1847 in Vienna. The story is curiously set in Richmond, England, but some of the music was used for an 1844 Paris ballet entitled Harriette, ou la servante de Greenwiche. Martha is considered his best work and is still programed.
  4. The fourth name is Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787) who is usually labelled an Austrian or German composer although he was born in Bohemia and likely raised as a Czech. Even so, most of his 49 operas are sung in Italian and French. Orfeo ed Euridice based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus was first performed in Italian in 1762 in Vienna, and later in 1774 it was reworked in French for the Paris opera. 
  5. Karl Goldmark (1830 – 1915) was a Hungarian-born Viennese composer who was also Jewish. He wrote seven operas and Ein Wintermärchen, adapted from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, was his last opera and first performed in 1908. 
  6. Charles-François Gounod (1818 – 1893) was a French composer who wrote 13 operas between 1851 and 1881. His well known opera Faust which premiered in Paris in 1859 using a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré which is based on Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, which loosely follows Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragedy Faust, Part One. In an old German opera house tradition, the opera is called Margarethe to distinguish it from another opera called Faust by Louis Spohr.
  7. Ferdinand Hérold (1791 – 1833) was a French composer who wrote 22 operas. His opera Zampa was written for a production in Paris in 1831. It was his most successful work and by 1877 it had been performed 500 times around Europe. However over the next century Zampa lost popularity until today it is only the overture that is ever programmed.  
  8. Edmund Kretschmer (1830-1908) was a German musician and composer who was Hoforganist (Court Organist) of the Dresden Cathedral.   Die Folkunger was his first opera of four that he wrote and his first published work. It was premiered in 1874 at the Dresden Hofoper
  9. Albert Lortzing (1801 – 1851) was a German composer, actor, and singer from Berlin.  Zar und Zimmermann (Tsar and Carpenter) was Lortzing's first comic opera and it premiered in Leipzig in 1837 but did not have real critical success until it was staged in Berlin in 1839. In the first production Lortzing, a tenor,  sang the role of a ship carpenter named Peter, while a baritone handled the role of Tsar Peter the Great. The opera remains in the standard repertoire of German opera houses.
  10. Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945) was an Italian opera composer and conductor who wrote 15 operas and one operetta. Cavalleria rusticana was his first opera and has only one act. It was written in less than two months in 1890 for a music competition and first performed  in Rome to great acclaim. It is Mascagni's most successful opera, (often paired with Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci) and by the time of Mascagni's death in 1945 had been performed over 14,000 times in Italy alone .
  11. Étienne Méhul (1763 – 1817) was a French composer celebrated for his many operas written during the French Revolution and supposedly for being the first "Romantic" composer. He composed 32 operas and  Joseph, also called Joseph en Égypte, written in 1807, was number 27. Based on the Biblical story of how Joseph the Israelite, favorite son of Jacob, was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, the opera has no female roles, though one part is usually sung by a soprano.
  12. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) is easily the most recognizable name on this list. Mozart wrote 22 operas, and Don Giovanni, based on the legend of Don Juan, is one of his three finest operas which always place in the list of top 10 popular operas. It premiered in 1787 in Prague.
  13. Otto Nicolai (1810 – 1849) was a German composer, conductor, and one of the founders of the Vienna Philharmonic. He also wrote some very fine duets for my instrument, the horn. Nicolai wrote 8 operas and his last one, written in 1849, is his most famous and is still frequently performed. Its German title is Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) based on the play of Shakespeare. Unlike his other operas which are in Italian, this opera has spoken dialogue in German. Tragically, Nicolai died of a stroke just two months after Die lustigen Weiber opened and only two days after his appointment to Hofkapellmeister at the Berlin Staatsoper,
  14. Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) is arguably the most famous Italian opera composer of any century with three operas in the top ten list. His Madama Butterfly premiered in Milan at La Scala in 1904, and its beautiful music and tragic story make it one of the most influential operas ever written.
  15. Max von Schillings (1868 – 1933) was a German conductor, composer and theatre director. He was chief conductor at the Berlin State Opera from 1919 to 1925. He wrote four operas and Der Pfeifertag (The Piper's Day) is his second opera written in 1896-99. After WW1 he opposed the Wiemar Republic and became an antisemitic supporter of the Nazi party, using his position on the  Prussian Academy of the Arts to expel and exclude Jewish artists, writers, and musicians.

This was a challenging puzzle for me, both because of the German handwriting style, and because I did not recognize some of the composer's names or the opera titles. Blech, Kretschmer, Méhul, and Schillings were four composers I knew nothing about, but whose biographies were fascinating to read. Of the 15 operas listed on the postcard, I've only played four, and that's not counting the Overture to Zampa overture which I have played but which is not the same as the full opera. I'm impressed with this anonymous writer's list because its diversity show they had a passion for musical drama which a century ago could only come from attending live performances.

Of all the operas on the list, the 1908 premier of Goldmark's Ein Wintermärchen has the most recent date, so Fionetta Adler's postcard was not printed any earlier than that year. Its yellow card paper and dull sepia ink are characteristic of postcards produced during the war years of 1914 to 1918, so I think this list was made during the Great War. It's intriguing to think some German soldier used a free moment to remember a list of operas he had seen. I say soldier because the scrawl looks too masculine to be a woman's handwriting. On the other hand maybe Fionetta, because of all that trapeze work, clutched her pencils with a really strong grip and enjoyed spending a night at the opera when she wasn't up in the air working. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more swimming


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