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
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Hermann Torggler's Great Composers - part 1

28 November 2020

This portrait is identified by a simple caption,
J. Brahms.

With his direct gaze and long grey beard
he might be mistaken for some biblical patriarch.
Yet those whiskers are undoubtedly
the most recognizable beard in classical music.
He is, of course, Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897),
one of the titans of music.


The artist's full name was Hermann Torggler, (1878-1939) and he was born in Graz, Austria. If you follow that link, you can see another version of Brahms by Torggler that is nearly identical but with subtle differences in the hair and eyes that give Brahms a more serious, even somber, visage. The dimensions of that oil painting are 50 x 37 cm , which was probably a postcard standard required by Torggler's publisher, F. A. Ackermann's Kunstverlag of München.

Over the past few years, I've featured a number of Torggler's charming postcard etchings on my blog. I first discovered his work when I was attracted to several of his pictures that depicted women playing musical instruments. But today I wish to showcase Hermann Torggler's formal portraiture of six great composers, which I am dividing into a two part series. I've chosen to begin with his painting of Brahms because it happens that Brahms is my favorite composer. 

There is no need to give a lengthy biography of Johannes Brahms. He was born in Hamburg in north Germany but made most of his professional career as a pianist and composer in Vienna, Austria. In the 19th century, Vienna was not only the capital of the immense Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but also the center of art and music for central Europe. There is speculation that when he was a young art student, Torggler may have met Johannes Brahms in Vienna and could have sketched him before Brahms' death in 1897. There are a good number of photographs of Brahms with his beard, but it is not known if he ever sat for an artist's brush.

Johannes Brahms, photo with signature, 1889
Source: Wikimedia

I'm unsure when Torggler first produced his portraits of Brahms and the other composers in this series. The postcards have only the publisher's print numbers and no date. I suspect they were made before WW1, but it's difficult to confirm using only postmarks. However these great composers remained popular postcards for many decades and were sold throughout central Europe. This card has a German postmark dated 13 February 1939. 

Torggler's choice of composers in this series is surely taken from his own love of their music, and part of the reason I have collected his artwork is because I share his admiration for these same six composers. Brahms' music was a particular influence for me wanting to take up music, even before I learned who he was. It started because of the notes he wrote for my instrument, the horn.
Our home always had music. My mother played the piano and both my parents enjoyed listening to the radio and recorded music. In the late 1950s by dad became fascinated with audio technology. It was helpful that the military post exchanges where he was stationed in the U.S. Army offered all the latest hi-fi gear at a tax-free discount, and he soon acquired a large library of jazz and classical music records. When I was six, my mom subscribed to a supermarket promotion for a huge album of stereo LPs (i.e. "long plays" for those unfamiliar with the term) of great masterpieces of orchestral music. Every record came with detailed commentary about the music and the composer. It was my first introduction to a symphony orchestra, and I can distinctly remember being captivated by the sound of the French horn even though I had not yet seen a horn, much less tried to play one.

Eventually I acquired my own library of music and learned to love Brahms' music as both performer and listener. Of all his music, his Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op.68, was the piece that sparked my desire to play the horn. There are brilliant horn parts in all four movements of this symphony, but it is in the last movement where Brahms gives the horn a truly noble tune. It was inspired by a holiday Brahms took in the alps where he heard the call of a shepherd's horn echoing off the mountainside. A dark and menacing slow introduction swells into a frightening storm. Suddenly the alpine wind clears the air and the alphorn is heard, restoring calm. 
Here is the solo that follows the thunder of timpani. The  two horn players are Stefan Dohr and Fergus McWilliam of the Berliner Philharmoniker under its then music director Sir Simon Rattle.

I've had a chance several times in my career to play this solo in Brahms 1st Symphony. The most memorable was many years ago in South Carolina with the Hilton Head Orchestra. During the concert a thunderstorm blew in from the Atlantic. As the orchestra began the introduction to the last movement, a deafening torrent of rain pelted the church building's roof. The conductor had no choice but to pause and hope the storm would soon pass. After a moment the noise subsided and we resumed, giving my horn solo a very special character of peace. 

In 2012 I got another opportunity to play it with my Asheville Symphony Orchestra. By this time I had acquired my own alphorn, and our conductor invited me to demonstrate Brahms' famous tune to the audience before we played the symphony. At twelve feet long the alphorn took up a good part of the stage and caused some concern for our concertmaster who didn't get the memo that I would play this instrument at the front. For technical reasons I had to transposed the tune up to the key of F. In Brahms's score, the part is in the key of C major, which would require a longer 15 foot alphorn!

* * *

The next composer
is another giant of music.
L. Van Beethoven

He has no beard
but with his dark eyes and scowl
it can only be Ludwig van Beethoven, (1770 – 1827). 

Beethoven was a native of Bonn, Germany on the banks of the Rhine River, but for most of his life he lived in Vienna on the Danube. As he died before the invention of the camera there are no photographs of Beethoven, but Torrgler, who lived for a time in Vienna, likely modeled his rendition of Beethoven from other Viennese paintings and sculpture of the composer. The best one that matches Torggler's portrait is a bust carved in 1812 by Austrian sculptor Franz Klein, (1779 – 1840). It was commissioned by Johann Andreas Streicher, a pianist and piano-maker, who was a friend of Beethoven. Streicher had a private concert hall in Vienna which he wanted to decorate with statues of composers. He arranged for Klein to make a life mask of Beethoven. This method required spreading plaster on the face to make a casting mold. Klein's first attempt failed, as Beethoven feared he was about to suffocate. However he permitted a second attempt which was successful and it produced the most realistic documentation of Beethoven's face. In Torggle's portrait the artist has changed the Beethoven's hair and age, but the chin and mouth are shaped very similarly.

Ludwig von Beethoven
bust by Franz Klein, 1812, Wien
Source: Wikimedia

This postcard was sent on 10 March 1919 by Berta Schober to Fräulein Cäcilia Pfleger in Graz, Torggler's birthplace. By coincidence Fräulein Pfleger lived on a Haydngasse, named for another great composer, Franz Joseph Haydn, (1732 – 1809), a contemporary of Beethoven. The stamp is a leftover from the Hapsburg monarchy which ended in November 1918.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, is at the top of my list for the greatest symphonic music of all time. It was scheduled for our season here in Asheville until the Covid19 shut everything down. That happened a lot around the world, as many orchestras in 2020 had programed Beethoven's symphonies in celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Beethoven assigned several grand themes to the horns in his score to the 7th Symphony, but my favorite music is actually the 2nd movement. This section, marked Allegretto, conveys the tremendous pathos of death and life that words can not adequately describe. To me it is a perfect example of how music transcends national boundaries by speaking to all people in a universal language. Here is a video of the entire movement of Beethoven's Symphony No 7 with the Wiener Philharmoniker under the conductor Christian Thielemann. At 2:40 the full woodwind and brass sections take up the principal motif in a collective cry of anguish that seems most appropriate for our troubled time.

* * *

The third composer's portrait
is entitled
F. Schubert.
He may lack a frown or face brush
but those spectacles mark him as
the singular composer, Franz Schubert, (1797 – 1828)

Schubert was a true born native of Vienna. He was a child prodigy who produced an astounding amount of music. Like Beethoven, there are no photographs of Schubert, who died in 1828 at the age of 31. Torggler's portrait borrows on the work of other artists who knew Schubert and painted him from a life study. This painting by Austrian painter Wilhelm August Rieder (1875) was said to be the best likeness of the composer.

Oil painting of Franz Schubert
by Wilhelm August Rieder (1875),
made from his own 1825 watercolor portrait
Source: Wikimedia

I think Torggler painted Schubert in a reverse profile of Rieder's painting, and perhaps used a lithograph by Josef Kriehuber (1846), another Austrian artist who produced over 3000 engraved portraits of notable people of his era. Schubert's spectacles are correctly drawn in all three portraits.

Lithograph of Franz Schubert
by Josef Kriehuber (1846)
Source: Wikimedia

Torggler's postcard was mailed in a letter so it has no postmark, but the German writer neatly dates it to 6 August 1924. I can't work out enough of the words, but I sense that there may be some musical references in the note.

Schubert's music is a link between Beethoven and Brahms. Schubert takes the orchestral colors of Beethoven's classical era and adds an intensity that leads to Brahms' romantic drama. Over the past several seasons I've not played much Schubert as his music is not programmed as often as it once was. His later symphonies still have power though, and I found my inspiration in his last work, the Symphony No. 9 in C major.
It has a nickname: the so-called Great C Major to distinguish it from Schubert's Symphony No. 6, the Little C major. But the music makes it worthy of that title for other reasons. It was never performed in Schubert's lifetime. It might have been lost forever except that by a quirk of fate the German composer Robert Schumann visited Vienna in 1838, ten years after Schubert's death, and was shown the manuscript of the symphony. Schumann returned to his home in Leipzig with a copy of the score and arranged to have the entire Symphony No. 9 performed publicly for the first time in 1839 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with the orchestra led by Felix Mendelssohn. 
The opening to Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C major begins with a simple solo phrase for two horns. Schubert then spins it out into a march that pays homage to his idol Beethoven. This video of the entire movement is performed by Deutsche Radiophilharmonie under conductor Christoph Poppen. The opening horn tune returns at the end (14:30) when the whole orchestra proclaims a glorious song of hope and faith.

Click this link to see my collection of other postcards created by Herman Torggler.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where warm and fuzzy
can take on a different meaning.


smkelly8 said...

I love these portraits Torggler's.

Kathy said...

Thank you for including the music! Lovely.
Too bad we couldn't hear you play the alphorn! How long is your alphorn? How does one even carry a fifteen foot horn?

Barbara Rogers said...

Thanks for the combination of art and music...and I loved seeing you with your alphorn. And it was great listening to the composers!

Barbara Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ScotSue said...

As a classical music enthusiast, your post was right up my street - powerful portraits, fascinating biographies and wonderful musical excerpts. I loved the photograph of you playing the alphorn in the orchestra - what an experience! Thank you.

Molly's Canopy said...

An excellent set of linked biographies of the three composers, which you have enlivened with the musical video clips. Also love the photo of you with the alphorn! Mine was also a musical household growing up as my mother was a pianist, singer, choir leader and career music educator. I believe she signed up for the same record subscription, as we had a full set of classical music albums in dark green folio cases with gold embossed lettering on them -- along with various jazz records, Broadway musical scores and old 78s that had belonged to my maternal grandparents. Indeed, music soothes the soul and that Beethoven 7th Symphony would work well as the soundtrack of my Uncle Albert series.

Virginia Allain said...

As always, you have such a wonderful selection of postcards and photos.


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