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 }

Gingerbread Children

19 December 2019

It's not exactly a photograph
or a watercolor,
but a hybrid illustration
for a well known children's story.
Two youngsters,
a little girl and boy
sit at low worktables
assembling bundles of tree switches.

Do you know the tale?

The same two children are next pictured
in a misty forest kneeling in prayer.

Recognize the story?

One more clue
as the boy and girl stand in front
of an old woman outside a curious small hut.

It's a grim old yarn
that everyone knows.
Did you guess it yet?

This classic fable
was set to music
and became a popular opera.
Perhaps you know the composer,
Herr Humperdinck?

He is best known
by his mellifluous full name,
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921),
He is the original artist whose work deserves
more credit than the British pop singer Arnold Dorsey
who borrowed the name in 1965.

The preceding images
depict scenes from Humperdinck's famous opera
Hänsel und Gretel.

They were used on
a series of nine souvenir German postcards.

Ach, käm doch die Mutter nun endlich nach Haus!

Ah, I hope Mother will not be too long!

Here is a clip of the music
that goes along with this scene
in the first act of Hänsel und Gretel
from a 1981 film directed by August Everding
with Edita Gruberova as Gretel,
and Brigitte Fassbaender as Hänsel.

* * *

* * *

Kuckuck, Kuckuck. Erbelschluck!

Cuckoo, cuckoo. Strawberry stealer!

Abends will ich schlafen gehn,
Vierzehn Englein um mich stehn!

When I lay me down to sleep,
fourteen angels watch do keep!

This next video clip plays this fearful scene in the forest,
perhaps the most well-known music in the opera.
Again it's from the same 1981 film of
Hänsel und Gretel
with Edita Gruberova as Gretel,
and Brigitte Fassbaender as Hänsel.

* * *

* * *

Hänsel und Gretel schlafend im Wald.
Hansel and Gretel sleeping in the forest.

Knusper, knusper, Knäuschen.
Wer knuspert mir am Häuschen?

Nibble, nibble, mousy,
who’s nibbling at my housy?

Hei, wie das schmeckt, 's ist gar zu lecker

Ha, what a taste! It’s simply scrumptious

Was willst Du meinem Bruder thun?

What do you want with my brother?

Kinder, schaut den Zauberknopf,
Äuglein stehet still im Kopf!

Children, watch the magic knob,
your eyes of movement I do rob!

Here is another clip
of Humperdinck's fantastic music for
the Witch's aria
this time in a concert version with full orchestra
sung by the American mezzo-soprano, Jamie Barton.
It's in German but with English subtitles.

* * *

* * *

Und bist Du dann drin, schwaps!
Geht die Thür, klaps!

And when you're in there, slam!
The door goes wham!

So the wicked witch
meets with her dreadful demise.
The other stolen children
that she turned into gingerbread
are restored to life.
And Hansel and Gretel's parents rescue them
bringing the story
and the opera to a happy end.

The English translations are by Avril Bardoni
from a libretto prepared for
a 2016 Live Recording
of the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
under Marek Janowski.

* * *

This set of nine postcards were sent from Augsburg, Bavaria
beginning on the 20th September, 1899
and finishing on the 25th.
Hänsel und Gretel premiered
    23 December 1893 at the Hoftheater in Weimar
under the direction
of the composer/conductor Richard Strauss.

All the postcards were sent
to a
Fräulein Gerty Hefselberger
of ?somewhere? in Germany.
The address script on each postcard,
neatly written in beautiful calligraphy,
is in an antique German cursive
that is too difficult
for this American to decipher,
so the location of Gerty's hometown is a mystery.
Postcard #6 above has the best postmark.
The name "Gerty" is more clear on postcard #7
but I'm still uncertain if I have the spelling correct.

On the right border of each postcard is the publisher's name:
Verl. v. C. Seyd, Boppard
Gesetzlich geschütz ~ Protected by law

Boppard is a small city
in the Rhineland-Palatinate district of Germany
and it was where Engelbert Humperdinck
built a grand house in 1896 after Hansel and Gretel
proved to be a runaway hit.
Earlier in his career Humperdinck met Richard Wagner,
who invited him to assist in the Bayreuth production of Parsifal,
and serve as a music tutor to Wagner's son, Siegfried. 
So it's not surprising that Humperdinck
composed the music for Hansel and Gretel
in a Wagnerian style with full orchestra 
and with the two principal voices, Gretel and Hansel,
sung by a soprano and mezzo-soprano respectively.
Obviously the children on this postcard set
are not depicting the actual opera characters
but only the Brothers Grimm story line.

But on the left border is a long caption.

Nach Originalaufnahmen der Kinder des Komponisten
mit dessen gütiger Erlaubniss

Based on original recordings of the composer's children
with his kind permission

I interpret this to mean
that the two children used
in this charming hybrid illustration
were the son and daughter of Engelbert Humperdinck
and his wife,  Louise Hedwig Taxer Humperdinck (1862-1916).
Hansel was portrayed
by Wolfram Humperdinck (1893-1985) their only son.
and Gretel was his sister,  Edith Humperdinck,
later Edith Hötzendorfer, (1894-?).

Wolfram first studied painting and sculpture in Berlin
before going to Leipzig to take up music.
He went on to become a successful opera conductor
and in 1921 was appointed director
of the Landestheater in Neustrelitz.
It was while attending Wolfram's
premiere production
of Der Freischütz that his father Engelbert
suffered a heart attack and died following the performance

This postcard caricature of Engelbert Humperdinck
holding hands with two little children
likely dates from 1910-1920
and demonstrates the affection
and popularity he gained with this one opera.

Engelbert Humperdinck wrote seven more operas,
several using children's stories like
Die sieben Geißlein (The Seven Little Kids), 1895;
Königskinder (King's Children), 1897, 1910;
and Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty), 1902.
But none matched the international success
of his first work, Hänsel und Gretel,
which is now a favorite musical for the holiday season
in opera houses around the world.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday No. 500
for which I am ever grateful
for its weekly inspiration
and am honored to participate
with so many fine enthusiasts of  old photographs.

Men with Sticks

06 December 2019

An orchestra conductor's baton
seems to have special powers.
With a wave of his hand,
like a magician he flourishes it
to conjure up a bevy of musical rabbits.

But it's an illusion.
The baton is really just a stick.

For a bandleader
a baton acquires a more military bearing
as he wields a stout staff
in rigorous beats.
But it's still a stick.

Some conductors
prefer a longer baton
to slash the air like a pirate's cutlass
fending off an onslaught of menacing notes.

Yet despite the sharp point,
it's a thin wooden stick.

For other conductors
a baton is a scepter of musical authority
embellished in silver and gilt
commanding the attention of both musicians and audience.

But notwithstanding the tap on the podium stand,
a baton is incapable of making music by itself.
It's just a stick
 pointing at invisible sounds
and directing the traffic of musical noises.

* * *

The first image shows an orchestra conductor dressed in classic formal white tie and tailcoat. He is wearing white gloves with a baton that is no slender switch but a short cane, not unlike a percussionist's drumstick. This cabinet card photo was produced in the studio of Vernon in London, at 28 Jubilee St., off of Commercial Rd., about halfway between Limehouse and Whitechapel in east London. The gentleman's wonderful handlebar mustache and the photograph's style date it to around 1895.

* * *

The second conductor is a bandleader who wears a military frock coat and forage hat typical of a British bandmaster. The style of coat is identical to the formal uniform of a member of the British Royal Household Cavalry, the Blues & Royals.

1900 Tunic and Frock Coat, Household Cavalry
Source: Two Nerdy History

This photo was also made in London by one of the studios of Hellis & Sons, probably at their head studio at 160 High Street, Camden Town, NW, London. This location is a short walk northeast from Regent's Park which features a popular bandstand near the boating lake in the south corner of the park.  

On 20 July 1982 the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated two bombs during  pubic events in Hyde Park and Regent's Park. The first explosion came from a car bomb set off along the route into Hyde Park by the daily changing of the guard procession going from their barracks in Knightsbridge to Horse Guards Parade. Four soldiers of the Blues & Royals died and several other soldiers and a number of civilians were severely injured. Seven horses were also killed.

The second bomb exploded beneath the bandstand in Regent's Park while the band of the Royal Green Jackets was performing for a crowd of 120 people. Of the 30 bandsmen, seven were killed while the rest were wounded. Eight civilians were also injured. These horrific acts of terrorism happened shortly after my first arrival in London, and only the day before I had walked along with the cavalry procession near Hyde Park.

I estimate this bandmaster's photo dates a few years later than the previous cabinet card, perhaps around 1905. The print now has a dark green cast rather than a faded sepia tone. But through the magic of digital processing I was able to restore the contrast to bring out the shiny black satin of the bandmaster's ribbon festooned coat.

* * *

The third conductor is another unknown orchestra director dressed in white tie and tailcoat. His baton is about 28"-30" long, a style no longer in fashion as a conductor's instrument. Maneuvering a long baton needs plenty of free airspace. Conductors can accidentally clip a baton on a music stand, or worse on a soloist, losing control of the stick and sending it flying into the air. It's also been known for a conductor, while passionately gesturing their hands in counter motion, to stab themselves in the left hand with the sharp point of the baton.

This photo is a small 4"x6" sepia tone print that I believe dates from around the 1920s-30s. He is a young man, in his twenties I think, with an American face, but his mustache may make him British.

Another curious thing about "baton" is that the word has two pronunciations in English. Americans say "bah-Ton" with the accent on the second syllable, but in Britain it "Batt-on" with the stress on the first, similar to the French pronunciation of "baton" which ironically translates as "stick". In German it is called a "Taktstock", or "clock stick".

* * *

The fourth conductor is another band director. He is dressed in a quasi-military uniform with fancy brocade and shoulder bars in gold braid, but he is a civilian and not a member of a service band. He also wears white gloves holding a wooden, or maybe ivory, baton with ornamental silver grip and tip.

He is seated in large chair at the Knrapp photography studio of 32 North Pearl St., Albany, New York. This is a slightly over large cabinet photo that I think dates from around 1905 to 1915.

Besides the absence of a mustache, what makes this man different from the other conductors, is that he does have a musical instrument with him. On the table next to him is an unusual cornet with what looks like a muffler attached to one side. It is an Echo Cornet, a novelty brass instrument that combined a regular cornet with a plumbing extension for a muted effect. Using an extra valve depressed by a finger on the left hand, the sound is diverted from the bell into a can with a small exit hole, essentially a muffler, that lets the musician instantly play in "echo" mode. It's a musical effect that horn players regularly do using just their right hand in the bell, but evidently cornet players are less adept and need mechanical help.

Here's short video of the "Echo Cornet" as demonstrated by the great trumpet/cornet virtuoso, Crispian Steele-Perkins. The piece is the  'Tit Willow' song, from The Mikado (1884-85) composed by Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900). 



In America during the 19th and early 20th century, many band directors, self-titled "Professor", also played a solo instrument like the cornet. In photographs such doubling conductors felt a need to display both their baton and their instrument. Because of this man's unusual cornet, I'm hopeful I might one day discover his name in a newspaper review.

For more youthful variations
on this theme of conductors see:

Boys with Sticks

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where good photos are always available over-the-counter.


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