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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The Citizen's Band of South New Berlin, New York

01 May 2021

 


Childhood is the small town
everyone came from.
~ Garrison Keillor 

 
Small town life.
It's universal theme
shared by every culture
in every age.
 
This is a story
about the life in one small town band,
  the Citizen's Band of South New Berlin, New York.


 
 

 
We will start with a brief introduction to the 13½ bandsmen. At the back on left, was Lynn B. Parker on euphonium. He was a salesman at his cousin's dry goods store. Next to him on valve trombone was Jay Manwaring. He was just 19 years old and worked as a bartender at his father's hotel. The slide trombonist was Mr. Luther C. Gage the band's instructor and leader. L.C. kept a barbershop at a hotel and had a side job as a photographer. Standing at the right, Will Coy played the tuba. He worked at the creamery where every day between 35,000 and 40,000 lbs. of milk was churned into 1,400 lbs of butter.

Seated in the middle row on left, was the snare drummer, Mr. Linn Gage. He was the undertaker in South New Berlin, and he probably got to know most folks in town better than anyone. Moving right, George Coss and Arthur Hayes played alto horns. Sometimes Arthur played brass trios at the church with Lynn Parker and Will Coy. On the mellophone was Edwin Gage. In a few months he would go up to the Normal School in Oneonta to get his teaching degree. At the far right on bass drum was Ernest Tillapaugh. He worked as a fireman at the creamery.

Seated on the grass lawn at left, was Truman B. Parker. He was Lynn Parker's cousin and the proprietor of the T. B. Parker & Co. store in South New Berlin where he kept a large stock of clothing for children, ladies, and gentlemen. No doubt he helped the band get their fine uniforms at wholesale price. To his right is Mr. Frank G. Dixon on solo cornet. Mr. Dixon was the postmaster of South New Berlin, and for a time the leader of the band. Beside him on right were the two clarionets, Ed Ten Eyck on B-flat, and Walter J. McIntire on the little E-flat. Walter also worked at the creamery, but later went on to run his own green grocery in South New Berlin.
 
Hidden in the center is a young boy holding a drum major's baton. I believe this is Frank G. Dixon's son, Edwin Dixon, born February 1898. Several men were married, but only F. G. Dixon had a son that matched that lad's age.
 
This is not a photo postcard or even a cabinet card photo. It's very large format print, nearly 8" x 10", and Mr. L. C. Gage mounted it on an extra-size board. It's quite possible that he hides in his right hand a pneumatic squeeze bulb to operate the shutter.
 
 
 

It's a wonderful portrait of a small band typical of those found in thousands of communities in America at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Usually it might be called a "cornet band", a term for a brass instrument ensemble that often included a clarinet (or clarionet as it was then spelled) or maybe a piccolo for the high descant tunes. But here in South New Berlin, the boys in this band preferred a much more democratic term, a Citizen's Band. 

The photo's card mount shows that it was pinned to a wall for many years instead of being in a frame. Still it's survived without too much damage, though I have digitally fixed a scrape line in the center and corrected it's faded sepia tone. But unfortunately there are no notations on the back for a date or a  name. In fact, until this past week I did not know any of the names of these 13½ bandsmen.
 
But with a little detective work, I found them.

On the the front page of their local newspaper. 
 
The Saturday, March 1, 1902 edition of the South New Berlin Bee, of Chenango County, N.Y. gave a full report on the short history of the band. It included all their names and more.
 
 
South New Berlin Bee
1 March 1902
 
 The headline says it better than I can.

The Citizen's Band one of the
Leading Organizations in this
Community***A Factor in the
Life of the Village.

 
 
South New Berlin Bee
1 March 1902
The band was organized in May 1899 and the report lists its original membership of 17 men, several of whom were still with the group. Previously the village of South New Berlin had supported a band for its local post of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) for Union veterans. Over time this band changed its name to Citizen's Band, and the report gives their names too, with several musicians now members of the new Citizen's Band. The report adds:

Since its organization it has been ably managed, for, had it not been, it could not have existed so long. So much for those who have had the management of it, and the balance of the credit to the citizens for their liberal support. Many dollars have been expended for new instruments and handsome uniforms and today no band in any country village is better equipped than is this one; new music is also constantly being purchased. The band does not consist of a lage membership—14 or 15—but it is better to have collected together a small number of talented musicians than to have a large number who furnish volume, but no music. During the Summer months our Band has attracted many to the village by their evening concerts, which .proved to be very enjoyable.
 
We think we but truthfully state the matter when we say the Band has been a success all the way along, thus showing the public’s appreciation of a helpful and worthy organization. It is generally a hard matter to keep an organization of this kind together long at a time, owing to death among its number, removal of members to other villages and lastly by dissension and strife which too often plays an important part in causing a disbandment; although some of these features have entered into this organization, it has not materially interfered with it and today its outlook is bright.


* * *



As my readers know, I don't like to leave any stone unturned when researching a subject. But this contemporaneous identification in the South New Berlin Bee of the exact same photo is unlike anything I've encountered before. It was like a finding a lost key in the digital sands of the internet. A key that could open the lock binding the chains of history on this photo. I found it in the archive FultonHistory.com, a private collection of primarily New York historic newspapers that is free and open to anyone. If this was a photo of a brass band in Idaho, I'd likely never find this kind of information, but as fortune sometimes goes, because South New Berlin is in New York, (and not Germany) this wonderful archive has digitized its weekly newspaper for posterity.

 
 



Today, South New Berlin is unofficially classified in New York state as a hamlet, the smallest of its unincorporated communities. In 1902 the hamlet had a population estimated at 217 citizens. It was on the N.Y., Ontario & West Rail Road which linked it, 8 miles north, to New Berlin, NY, which then boasted a population nearly six times larger of 1,156. Both communities were located along the Unadilla River which winds its way southward through the hills and dales of central New York to join the Susquehanna River, eventually reaching the Chesapeake Bay. South New Berlin was, and remains, a crossroads in a region of farmlands mixed with forests. In this bird's eye view, which looks westward I think, we can't actually see the Unadilla, but it is beneath the bridge in the center of the photo. The bridge links the separate parts of the hamlet, the west in Chenango County, and the east in Otsego County.
 
This postcard photo was sent from South New Berlin to Mrs. Susie Root of New Berlin on 3 August 1931, but I suspect the photo is a decade older or more. It was published by the Eastern Illustrating Co. of Belfast, Maine, another small town on Maine's Atlantic coast. This company, established in 1909 by R. Herman Cassens, specialized in producing photo postcards of America's small towns for distribution to the thousands of small town shops. The Eastern Illustrating Co. became one of the largest publishers of postcards and at its peak printed over a million cards a year.
 
 



The short message reads:
Just got word
Otis was
worse so
dont see how
I can get
back until wednes-
day some time
Best Wishes
Sarah

 
 
 
In 1902 the South New Berlin Bee was one of several newspapers available to subscribers in the Unadilla valley. Six miles to the southeast, Gilbertsville, population 476, had the Otsego Journal. Eight miles east, the town of Morris, population 553, had the weekly Chronicle. To the north, New Berlin had the weekly Gazette. And nine miles west was Norwich, the county seat with a population of 5,766. This little city boasted of three newspapers, the Chenango Telegraph, (Republican), the Chenango Union, (Democrat), and the Morning Sun, (Independent). 

These papers were the social network hubs of their time, with news about everyone and everything. Alongside the band's report on the front page of the Bee were short paragraphs on events and people in the county and vicinity. "John Roban of Oxford winters 140 cows." – "The pay of the rural mail delivery carriers is to be increased from $500 to $600 a year." – "Miss Maggie Waldorf of Richmondville, has a lemon tree which is 14 years old, and has on its branches nearly 50 lemons." – "A piece of lead pencil an inch long was removed from the side of Frank Larkin a Cortland lad. He had fallen down and broke off a pencil in his pocket which pierced his side. It was thought for a time he had been shot." 
 
And most of the advertisements were for local business. Mr. L. C. Gage printed offers for photography studio. His brother Linn Gage advertised his funeral home. And Truman B. Parker placed ads for his clothing store.

Discovering the names of all the bandsmen in this small town paper opened up a rare opportunity to research their personal lives. I especially wanted to learn about one musician in particular, the euphonium player standing left in the photograph.

 
 
 
His full name is Lynn Bradley Parker. Like almost everyone in South New Berlin, he was born in New York, as were his parents. (It's amazing how carefully the census taker carefully repeated "New York" line after line, page after page. Not a single ditto " or abbreviation.) According to the report in the Bee, this photo of the band was taken in the summer of 1901, when Lynn would have then been living at the home of his cousin and employer, Truman Parker and his wife Harriet.  The couple were both nine years older than Lynn and, as recorded in the 1900 census, had been married for 5 years but without children. Curiously the marriage box for Lynn Parker had a W for widower. He was only 20 years old.

Census records do not reveal the drama of individual lives, merely the facts, and usually only a very few of those. But newspapers tell stories. According to the Bee, in June 1898 Lynn Parker married Miss Margaret Robinson of Garrattsville in a home ceremony in South New Berlin.  "The bride was very prettily gowned in a traveling dress of light tan cloth trimmed  with light bine sarin, while the maid of honor was tastily attired in white mulle. Mr. Parker is the genial and gentlemanly clerk in Mr. Babcock’s store and his friends are legion. Miss Robinson has been a teacher at the primary department of the school here for at least four years where she has given the best of satisfaction and is in every way an accomplished lady."
 
Tragically only a few months later, just before Christmas on 20 December 1898, Margaret Robinson Parker collapsed in the bedroom of her new home and died. For years she had suffered from a heart condition, but her end came suddenly without warning. The funeral service was conducted by the same pastor who had performed her marriage ceremony six months earlier. Her casket was carried by husband, brother and two cousins. Lynn Parker was only 18 years old.
 
The reason for my interest in this young man is that I have a companion photo to the South New Berlin Citizen's Band photograph. It is a large portrait of Mr. Lynn B. Parker in his band uniform and with his shiny double-bell euphonium.

 
 

This 8" x 10" print was also the work of Lynn's fellow trombonist, band leader, and probably his barber too, Mr. L. C. Gage. It's a handsome photo taken in a studio in front of a painted garden backdrop. According to the Bee, Lynn was one of the original members of the citizen's band when it was formed in May 1899. Lynn played tuba and was chosen to be the band's secretary and treasurer. The band met twice a week, on Monday and Friday nights, and aspired to become a first-class band. They were soon performing at county fairs, church socials, and giving regular summer concerts in the hamlet.
 
Less than a year later, on 28 April 1900, the Bee reported that, "Mr. Lynn Parker has just received a new $110 Euphonium horn. It is silver plated and a beautiful specimen, and the owner has a right to be proud of it ."
 
The double-bell euphonium is an odd novelty of the brass instrument family. It has a complicated plumbing with a separate valve, visible next to Lynn's left hand, that lets a player instantly change from the large baritone voice bell to the small tenor bell. It's an instrument intended for a soloist who can use this feature to create a dual vocal effect for a melody line. In 1900 it was a new fad to add one to a band, and a big investment for the citizen's band of South new Berlin. It also marks Lynn Parker as a talented and versatile musician.


 

 
Besides tuba and euphonium, Lynn also played trombone, and in February 1901, he played one in a sextet that they called an "orchestra". L.C. and Ernest Gage played violins, Walter McIntire was on clarionet, postmaster F. G. Dixon on cornet. and T. B. Parker played double bass. In this era it was very common for musicians to be proficient on multiple instruments, and many bands put together softer ensembles for fall and winter when it was too cold for outdoor concerts.


 
 
South New Berlin Bee
11 April 1901


In the 1902 report on the band, there is an unusual sentence that sticks out. "It is generally a hard matter to keep an organization of this kind together long at a time, owing to death among its number, removal of members to other villages and lastly by dissension and strife..." It's a very frank admission of the difficulties in keeping any volunteer organization going. Since Lynn Parker was the band's secretary, he might have been the author of this report. Was there some meaning between the lines that only fellow citizens of South New Berlin would recognize?

One local news item in the Bee from November 1900 said that Lynn Parker would be taking over as the band leader after the resignation of Mr. F. G. Dixon, the cornetist. Dixon was praised as an efficient leader since the organization had started two year before. "New music is being purchased and the boys propose to be in better shape than ever the coming year. Few villages of this size, or even larger, can boast of as good a band as we have right here in South New Berlin."

But this was a transition that many musical groups experienced. Was there another event that caused "dissension and strife"?

There was.
Something dark and never found in census records.

 
 
 
South New Berlin Bee
5 January 1901

In 1901, on the first Friday in January, there was a large party given in honor of Lynn Parker by his aunt, Mrs. Randolph J. Butts. Over 70 people were invited, including one young couple, Frank Follett and Miss Blanche Sargent who had been "keeping company" together for the past two years. The party was progressing nicely and everyone seemed to be having an enjoyable time, when Frank disappeared. When it was time for their turn at table, Blanche could not find him and Jay Manwaring, Lynn's fellow trombonist in the band, offered to escort her. 

Just then, Frank returned, acting oddly. When Blanche spoke to him, he asked her to go upstairs for a private conversation. Once alone, he accused her of changing her affection to Jay. When Blanche denied it, he pulled out a revolver and threatened her with it. Suddenly he turned the gun on himself, fired, and fell dead at her feet. Frank Follett was just a week short of his 19th birthday. He was also a member of the South New Berlin Citizen's Band.

 
I include the full sad story from the Bee to remind us of how newspapers once reported on all the aspects of life, from joy to sorrow. Even 120 years later we can recognize how shocking this tragedy was to the people of South New Berlin. But there was a detail missing in the Bee's account because everyone who lived there already knew it. Strangely enough it is found in the census records. 
 
On the same census page where Lynn Parker's name is listed living in his cousin's home, just six houses up the street is the residence of the Sargent family home where Blanch Sargent, age 20, is listed. Mr. and Mrs. Sargent had three children, but Blanche is not listed as a daughter but as a boarder, occupation - Servant. Two houses above is the Follett family, home to Frank Follett, occupation - Laborer, Creamery. And in between the two families is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Butts, Lynn Parker's aunt and uncle. It was on their lawn that Mr. Gage took the photograph of the Citizen's Band later that summer of 1901.
 
 
 

 
Here is a vintage postcard of N. Main St., South New Berlin, New York produced for T. B. Parker & Co. Though never posted, it has an undivided back for just the address which dates it to before 1907. The half-tone photo shows, I think, a horse watering fountain in the center of this little hamlet. The large building on the right is the F. Van Valkenburg Cash Store for Clothing and Dry Goods. I'm not certain but I think this may be where T. B. Parker and Lynn Parker worked. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Van Valkenburg were their next-door neighbors.
 
In the 21st century, the fountain at the crossroads of South New Berlin, NY has been replaced by traffic lights. Mr. Van Valkenburg's store still stands, though it's now called Toby's Auction Center. It's missing the tall roof pediment, but the window caps and fancy cornices are still there. In the postcard the smaller building between the trees is now the museum and library of South New Berlin. It appears that the hamlet's better days were in the 1900s.
 
 
* * *
 
 
 
* * *
 
 
 
 
 
South New Berlin Bee
23 December 1905
 
 
 
 
 
In 1902, Lynn Parker, the double-bell euphoniumist of the South New Berlin Citizen's Band was reported as having left the group for Albany to try out business school. It evidently didn't suit him and he soon returned to South New Berlin. In March 1903 he was playing brass trios at a church social with a Miss Ada Sherman on piano. By the end of September she and Lynn were wed. 
 

In December 1905, Mrs. Ada Parker and several women of South New Berlin formed a ladies musical ensemble, the Berlinian Symphony Orchestra. She was joined on violin by Mrs. Jay Manwaring, and on cornet by Mrs. F. G. Dixon. Mrs. T, B. Parker played bass. There was music, singing, and recitations so it sounds like a proper entertainment, but as it was Christmas time this  may have been a more farcical turn-about for the ladies and its humor does not translate a century later. 
 
 
_ _ _ 
 
 
 

 
In 1904, Lynn passed his federal service examination and was appointed postmaster of nearby Holmesville, 2 miles south. Soon afterwards in 1907 Lynn and Ada moved to the big city of Binghamton, New York, about 50 miles southwest of South New Berlin. Lynn had  secured a position there as a letter carrier. His fellow bandsman, Walter J. McIntire succeeded him as postmaster in Holmesville. 
 
In Binghamton, Lynn and Ada Parker settled into big city life there, though without children. Both were active in their Baptist church and Lynn transferred his membership in the International Order of Odd Fellows to the Binghamton I.O.O.F. lodge. Lynn's name shows up numerous times in the Binghamton papers as playing trombone in his church band. 
 
On 10 July 1931, Lynn Bradley Parker died in the city hospital. No cause of death was reported. He was age 51. Only a few month earlier in March he led a special program at his Baptist church entitled "The Life of Christ in Music."
 
  
Binghamton NY Press
14 July 1931

 

 
 

 
Most of the vintage photographs and postcards in my collection are of musicians whose names are unknown. And the greater portion come from small towns, with bands, just like the South New Berlin Citizen's Band, made up of amateur musicians, again without names. So when I found the newspaper's key to all their names it didn't feel right to pass over this rare chance to write about a more personal side to their lives in South New Berlin. 

The Citizen's Band serves as an example of how music making was once an important focal point for small town communities in America. These were close-knit places where everyone knew everyone else's business. Knew their families, their history, their skills and quirks. In a small town like South New Berlin, people shared joy and sorrow. And they shared music. In this time before radio and recorded music, it was a culture that required active participants, either playing music or listening to it. It created a bond of shared experience that is sadly not so common anymore.
 
There is another reason that I write this story of Lynn Parker. Over the past several years, and as recently as this past week, I've been contacted by someone who wishes to thank me for featuring their musical ancestor in my blog. It's a special privilege to be able to reconnect descendants with forgotten family stories and images. It's something I've learned to appreciate from my many blogging friends on Sepia Saturday, whose blogs are filled with wonderful family stories and beautiful photographs of their ancestors. It makes me proud to say after so many years, "Thank you for sharing!"


 

 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the band plays on,
and on, and on,
and on.






Horse Racing in Old Wien

23 April 2021


The horse is a beautiful creature.
Its great strength, nimble agility, and noble form
have inspired countless artists through the ages.

Once upon a time,
this appreciation for the horse
was shared by most people in the world
because horses were an ordinary part of everyday life.

Yet few artists today
could match the skill of this artist
in drawing the personality of a horse.

 

 
 

 
These horses were the work
of my favorite postcard artist,
Fritz Schönpflug ( 1873 – 1951),
an Austrian artist who created hundreds
of wonderfully witty caricatures
of his beloved Wien (Vienna).
And Fritz clearly loved
visiting the racetrack.



 
 

The first image shows horses in a near collision during a harness race.  I'm not absolutely certain, but I believe Fritz Schönpflug's medium was water colors. His composition captures all the horses' excited movements and the drivers' colorful racing silks.
 
Harness racing was once a very popular sport, especially because like with all racing, gambling was involved. The horses are harnessed to a sulky, a lightweight two-wheel cart with a single seat for the driver. The horses are trained to pull with a specific gait, either as trotters or pacers, and not at a full gallop. Drivers have a whip, but it is only used to signal the horse with a tap. In Schönpflug's drawing we can see the horse on the right has a trotting gait with its diagonal hoofs paired in step, i.e. right front with left hind leg. This is the style typical in European harness racing.
 
This postcard was mailed on 24/6/1922, but Schönpflug painted it in 1909, as notated after his signature as 909. The royal profile on the stamp is the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII (1886-1941) and the postmark is from Barcolona.

 
 

 
 
 

* * *

 

 
 

This second postcard by Fritz Schönpflug shows a group of horses and carts in a confused mix. From what I can understand of the older rules of harness racing, just before the start the drivers circle around each other striving to get the best position before the start call. I think that is what is happening here, and the horses are upset at the directions. In the olden days there was a starting tape across the track that could not be crossed until the judge released it. Today the sulkies line up behind a folding gate mounted on a motorized vehicle.
 
 
 
 

This last postcard of this series shows a rather portly driver being hoisted into his seat by two stable hands. His horse does not look happy. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was known for horsemanship, but that also included the kind that did not involve sitting on a saddle. I suspect that harness racing was a gentleman's sport in Schönpflug's era, and that older, less athletic men sometime indulged in it as a recreation.
 
One of the oldest racing tracks in Vienna is the Trabrennbahn Krieau which opened in 1878 in the Leopoldstadt district of old Wien. It's just next to the Prater, the famous public amusement park in Wien. Given its close proximity to the city center, I think this was the racetrack Fritz Schönpflug visited to find inspiration for this series on horse racing. 
 
Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is a photo of the racetrack at the Trabrennbahn Krieau showing some horse sulkies passing by the judges tower. The photo is from 2007 but today the track looks like it has fallen on hard times and the bleachers overlooking the track are in a state of decay.


Trabrennbahn Krieau, Wien, Austria
Source: Wikimedia




 
 
 

* * *


 
 

 
The second image that starts this post today shows a more traditional race of horse and rider. Or in this case one horse who has become riderless by bucking off its jockey. The poor fellow flies through the air as his horse gives him the snake eye. Other riders rush past at what I am guessing is the finish line post.
 
This postcard has a postmark from Karlsruhe, Germany and was posted on 2 November 1912. The writer sends Herrn Kürt Ziegler "warmest greetings to the donkey and the elephant."
 
 

 
 

* * *

 
 
 

This last postcard offers a scene from before the race with a jockey trying to mount his horse just as the animal takes exception to a man behind him. Perhaps this is the owner getting his horse's opinion about the merits of racing with this jockey. Fritz Schönpflug's signature dates this picture to 1909. 
 
This card was sent as a letter and the message is curiously in French. I believe the date is  31 Août or August 31, 1915. I say curious because in 1915 France was at war with Austria, but Schönpflug's postcards were sold in many countries and this was likely one purchased in France. 
 
 

 
Unlike the harness racing on dirt tracks, these horses are on turf. Following the Danube River, just a short distance walk east from the Trabrennbahn Krieau is the Rennbahn Freudenau, a racetrack for thoroughbred horse racing. This track opened in 1839 and was once the most prestigious venue for equestrian sports in Austria. Presently the racing seems to have moved, possibly because of a dispute over taxes. Horse racing is usually more about money than horses. 
 
 
Rennbahn Freudenau, Wien, Austria
Source: Wikimedia
 
I can't resist adding another image of horse racing at the Rennbahn Freudenau. This is a painting by  another Austrian artist, Carl Rudolf Huber, (1839-1896), entitled "Renntag in der Freudenau" which conveys a thrilling finish to a race at the Rennbahn Freudenau. I think Fritz's horses are better.
 
 
Renntag in der Freudenau
by Carl Rudolf Huber (1839-1896)
Source: Wikimedia


 
 
Here is a beautiful short video on the Rennstall Freudenau - Vienna/Austria.
It shows the horses and the grounds to better affect that still photos. 
 
 

 
 

 
I also found this video about a horse at the Trabrennbahn Krieau which one day decided to have his own race. The setup at the beginning is quick. How many times do you think this horse ran around the track?
 
 
 
 
 

Fritz Schönpflug artistry is apparent in his skillful rendering of horses. With quick brushstrokes he somehow manages to depict the character of an individual horse which helps us poor humans to understand  its great intelligence and virtue. I will have more of Schönpflug's equestrian work to feature in future posts. To see his artwork of Vienna's Fiaker coach horses, check out my story, Getting Around in Old Wien

 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone always places a bet
on the sepia horse to win.







Liszt at Home

17 April 2021


It's a room, perhaps a parlor or office in a residential house.
An old man with long white hair pauses
at his cluttered desk to turn towards the camera.
He wears slippers with
something like a dark dressing gown,
and has an expression of mild annoyance.
Papers and books are scattered around
on small tables and atop a piano.
Heavy drapes are drawn back from sunlit windows
to nourish numerous houseplants.
 
It's a curious photograph to see on a postcard.
Who is this?
Is he someone famous?
A writer? A cleric? A statesman?
 
 The caption on the back offers only the simplest description.
Weimar. Franz Liszt. Original-Aufnahme (original image).

It was sent in fact from Weimar, East Germany on 13 June 1961.
The writer, Otti, offers Frau Grimm
1000 thanks for the money from Hamburg.


 

 
 
By coincidence the postmark of 1961
was 150 years after the old man's birth in 1811,
and 77 years after the original photograph
was taken inside his home in 1884.
It was an office in a way.
It was his music room.
 
 
 
Liszt's Music Room at Weimar, 1884
Source: Wikimedia

He was the celebrated pianist, composer, and conductor,
Franz Liszt
, (22 October 1811 – 31 July 1886),
one of the greatest musicians of the 19th century. 

 
  
 
Franz Liszt, 1843
photograph by Herman Biow (1804–1850)
Source: Wikipedia

 
In this earliest known photograph from 1843, we can see Franz Liszt in his prime. It shows his distinctive profile, the one most familiar to anyone who heard him perform seated at a piano. He is clean-shaven with straight brown hair cut in a longer style then fashionable with artists. 
 
The next example shows Liszt in 1872 performing a recital in Budapest for the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I, who sits in the front row with Crown Prince Rudolf, Archduchess Gisela and other members of the royal family. The piano is positioned to allow us to see that is a Bösendorfer piano, made in Vienna. Since 1830, it had been the official piano of the Austrian Emperor, for whom nothing but the best would do.
 
Liszt giving a concert for Emperor Franz Joseph I,
on 18th March 1872 on a Bösendorfer piano.
Painting by Franz Schams (Austrian painter, 1823 - 1883)
Source: The Internet

Franz Liszt was born in 1811 in the village of Doborján, in the Kingdom of Hungary. However, today as a result of a treaty following WW1, the town is now called Raiding and is in eastern Austria. As a young child, Liszt demonstrated extraordinary musical gifts and was given his first instruction on the piano by his father, Adam Liszt (1776–1827). Adam played several musical instruments and had once been in service to the Hungarian Prince Esterházy, Nikolaus II.  At the court, Adam got to know the great composer, Franz Joseph Haydn, (1732–1809), who for many years was the Kapellmeister, or music director, of Prince Esterházy's court orchestra.
 
Franz Liszt rapidly acquired exceptional skill at the piano, and by age 9 was playing concerts. After the success of these first public performances, Adam took his son to Vienna where he arranged Franz to take lessons with Carl Czerny, a noted piano teacher who had studied with Ludwig van Beethoven. While there in 1822-23, young Franz also gave concerts and once met Beethoven, even though by this time Ludwig was too deaf to have heard anything Liszt played. For the rest of his life Liszt would be considered the successor to Beethoven's genius. Considering that Liszt's contemporaries included the great pianist/composers, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, (1809–1847); Frédéric Chopin, (1810–1849); and Robert Schumann, (1810–1856), this was a mark of how the public viewed his remarkable genius. 

Sharp-eyed readers may have spotted Beethoven's portrait on the wall of the music room hidden by the foliage. One of Liszt's biggest projects was making piano transcriptions of all of Beethoven's nine synphonies. These monumental works were not abridged and contained all of Beethoven's orchestral music, cleverly arranged by Liszt for 10 fingers. When published these transcriptions helped to further Beethoven's legacy at a time when his symphonies were not well known.
 
After some years presenting his son around Germany and Austria, Liszt's father Adam died in 1827, whereupon Liszt and his mother moved to Paris, which was then the center of musical culture in Europe. It was there that Liszt first heard Niccolò Paganini, the Italian violin virtuoso, and resolved to become his equal as a pianist. Readers may remember that Paganini had the same inspiring effect on the Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull, who I wrote about earlier this year in Ole Bull, Adventures in America, part 1. Ole and Liszt met in Paris and became lifelong friends and often performed together.
 
With hard work Liszt developed incredible new techniques and styles of playing the piano that transformed him into one of the most celebrated concert artists of his time, appearing at all the major centers of European musical culture. During the course of his life, as well as Ole Bull, Liszt also became the friend and benefactor of many notable musicians including Frédéric Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Grieg, Joachim Raff, Mikhail Glinka, and Alexander Borodin. Perhaps his closest connection was with the German opera composer Richard Wagner, (1813–1883), whose operas he promoted by conducting the overtures with his orchestra at Weimar. In 1864 Wagner began a scandalous affair with Liszt's daughter, Cosima, (1837–1930), who was then married to Hans von Bülow, (1830–1894), a conductor of Wagner's music and formerly one of Liszt's most talented piano students. Somehow Liszt continued a close relationship with Cosima, Wagner, and von Bülow, perhaps because his own life with Cosima's mother, Countess Marie d'Agoult, was just as unorthodox. Cosima had three children by Wagner and eventually they married, but needless to say, it was a very complicated era. 
 
On 31 July 1886,  Franz Liszt died at the age of 74 in Bayreuth, Germany. At the time, he was attending the Bayreuth Festival, hosted by his daughter , Cosima Wagner, who would continue the legacy of her late husband, Richard, for nearly 50 more years.

During his long career, Franz Liszt performed thousands of concerts, conducted some of the greatest orchestral music of the 19th century, and composed over 1,400 individual pieces of music, more than the combined works of Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms. His piano music took the instrument to new heights of virtuosity. His symphonic tone poems inspired countless composers to take up this dramatic orchestral form. To describe Liszt as a giant of music is not an exaggeration. Alan Walker, his most recent biographer, required three volumes to tell the life story of Franz Liszt.

What intrigues me about Franz Liszt is that decades after his death, his artistry was commemorated in a wide variety of picture postcards. A photograph of Liszt in his music room may be understandable in the 150th year of his birth, but there are a surprising number of postcards of Liszt that were produced long after his death. Let's start with another example of his famous profile.
 
 
 

This photo was taken late in his life and has the simple caption on the front.  Liszt. There is no other explanation of who he is, or why anyone would wish to share his photo. What is noticeable to those who knew him, is that he wears a simple clerical-like collar.
 
Throughout his life, despite several wayward transgressions, Franz Liszt was guided by a deep Catholic faith, especially during times of personal tragedy. In 1859 he suffered the loss of his son, Daniel, and then in 1862, his 26-year-old daughter Blandine also died. Liszt's reaction was to go into religious seclusion at the monastery Madonna del Rosario, near Rome. In 1865 he received the first four minor orders of the Roman Catholic church. Afterwards he was often referred to as Abbé Liszt.

This postcard was sent on 15 July 1910 to Frau O_? Händlemeier from someone with terrible handwriting.
 
 


 
 

 
Another portrait taken at about the same time has Franz Liszt's full name captioned on the front, but again there is no musical context. His collar is similar to what he wears in the previous photo, but I'm unsure if it really is a Catholic clerical collar. Perhaps Liszt preferred to dress in simple and humble attire to represent his devotion. The object hanging from a cord may be a set of pince-nez spectacles. This postcard was sent on 21 October 1911 with a Swiss postmark.
 
 
 

 
In both photographs the phrase, "warts and all" comes to mind, as one can not miss the warts on Liszt's face. The phrase is attributed to Oliver Cromwell, (1599–1658) when he was Lord Protector of England. Supposedly Cromwell instructed Sir Peter Lely, the artist commissioned to paint his portrait, "Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it."

It is interesting to compare these photos of an unvarnished Liszt to the portrait of him that I featured in my series last year on the Austrian artist, Hermann Torggler's Great Composers - part 2.  Torggler takes a sympathetic approach to draw out the personality of a revered old man, but also includes some of Liszt's facial roughness. I think all three portraits attempt to show Liszt more as a devout religious man, rather than the celebrated musician he was. 

This postcard was sent 21 November 1916 to Dr. Maria Grass of Innsbruck, Austria.
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

It is hard to imagine the young romantic artist from this postcard photo of an old man seated before an upright piano. It is one of the few photos of Franz Liszt actually looking as if he is playing the piano. His name is captioned on the front of the card, but again there is no context to explain who this musical genius is. He could easily be mistaken for a music hall performer from when this postcard was posted in Germany on 25 October 1911.
 
The period of Liszt's concert tours in Europe was surprisingly brief, roughly from 1839 to 1847. But his performances helped define the concepts of a solo piano recital, a word that Liszt himself first coined for this kind of solo concert. His virtuosic showmanship also made him one of the first internationally known celebrities. Liszt's concerts were renown for how he captivated audiences, especially women, in a kind of mystical ecstasy. At the peak of his touring career, his concert schedule often put him on stage three or four times a week, and it is estimated that he played over a thousand concerts over this period. His first concert tours established both his fame and his wealth, which he generously turned into a lifelong habit of philanthropy.
 

One of the many useful genres on YouTube are music videos that feature a performance overlaid with the sheet music. Franz Liszt is well represented in this kind of video, and I thought including one would help demonstrate his genius as a composer and pianist. Here is a video of Liszt's Transcendental Etude No.5, Feux Follets performed by the fantastic Russian pianist, Evgeny Kissin. According to one commentator, the great Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz, considered this short piece of Liszt's one of the most difficult to play. You do not have to read music to appreciate that each dot represents 1/10th of the fingers available to a pianist. Extra points if you can count the number of hemidemisemiquavers.
 


 

 
 
 

 

This next postcard is an unknown artist's impression of Franz Liszt playing the piano as he imagines ghostly horsemen galloping across the sky. It resembles the previous photo of Liszt, minus the ghosts. The artist's signature is in the top right corner but is unclear except for a date 1914. The portrait is certainly not as good as Hermann Torggler's but it does convey a romantic notion of Liszt as the creator of fantastical music. 

The back caption says, Fr. Liszt. Rhapsodie hongroise.  There is a handwritten date of 18/XI~916 and the stamps and postmark are from Hungary, which was an independent part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Liszt always identified as Hungarian, but the language spoken in his village and in his family was German. After he left his birthplace at age 9 he lost touch with native Hungarian speakers and never learned to speak or write Hungarian. As an expatriate who spent much of his life in Paris, he was most fluent in French. And of course, like any musician, he also knew Italian, and as a Catholic he understood Latin. 

 
 

 

 
 

 
This bizarre portrait of Liszt (NSFW) sketches his profile from a photograph and adds a collage of naked women writhing about his face. There is also a facsimile of Liszt's signature and three measures from his well-known composition, the Rhapsodie Hongroise. It's a style of grotesque art postcard that was popular at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. I have found more portraits like this of other composers, presumably by the same artist, which I will show another time. Surprisingly this postcard does give more context as to who Franz Liszt was. 

The postcard was sent from Belgrade, then the capital of the Kingdom of Serbia, on 24 May 1909.
 
 

 

 
 
 

After he retired from concert touring in 1847, Liszt lived in Weimar, Germany, where he had been appointed Kapellmeister Extraordinaire to the court. This was the period when he settled down and composed most of his orchestral and choral music. He lived in this modest house with the Polish Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, (1819–1887). She was influential in helping Liszt write many publications, and also making connections to several important musicians, notably the French composer Hector Berlioz. This photograph comes from a postcard sent through the East German Post in September 1967.




 
Weimar was an important center for the German Enlightenment and Liszt was just one of several cultural figures associated with the city. The German writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (1749–1832) and Friedrich Schiller, (1759–1805) also lived in Weimar. In this next Greetings from Weimar postcard the homes of Goethe, Liszt, Schiller, and the Goethe-Schiller Archive are all illustrated. It dates from 18 March 1899. The writer's atrocious handwriting is so obscure that I can't even guess what the language is. I looks more like shorthand code. The postman had a clearer address to read as it was sent Hier, meaning in the city of Weimar.
 
 
 



 
 

 
Another souvenir of Weimar has an illustraion of Franz von Liszt. Liszt was made a Ritter, or knight, by Emperor Francis Joseph I in 1859, which was intended to put him on a rank able to marry Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. However for complicated reasons involving her estranged husband, the Russian Tsar, and the Vatican it never happened, so Liszt never used this title of nobility in public.

This postcard was sent on 1 December 1899 from Laibach, now known as Ljubljana, the capital and largest city of Slovenia.
 
 

 

This last postcard uses the same colored engraving of Liszt without his house in Weimar. I bought it partly for the writer's beautiful cursive handwriting. 
 
 

                                        29 V. 1899                                                                 29 V. 1899
illkommen Du herziges Pärchen. Ihr                   Welcome you sweet couple. your
allerliebsten Küherkinder von Thunersee!              dearest cowschildren from Lake Thun!
Sie hat mich ungemein gefreut, Deine    
               She made me very happy, yours 
letze Karte, besonders, weil ich weiss, dass    
        last card, especially because I know that
ein lieber freund von mir sie gemacht hat.    
          a dear friend of mine made them.
Leider haben wir hier in unserin total    
                 Unfortunately we have here in our total
spiessbürgerlichen Ort nicht gross Ans-                 bourgeois place not big selection           
wahl in schönen Karten, und da muss     
               in beautiful cards, and there must
ich denn etwas Originelles wählen;     
                  something original when I choose;
hoffentlich kommt darm Abwechslung     
            hopefully there will be a change
da rin von unserer Reise, die wir in     
                  from our journey that we in
4 Hochen antreten. Hir Thuner     
                         4 highs complete(?). Hir(?) Thuner
werden natürlich am grossen Fest     
                    are of course at the big festival
Sonntags nicht fehlen dürfen; das wäre     
            Not to be missed on Sundays; that would
doch zu schade !? Henn möglich     
                      too bad!? Henn(?) possible
kommen wir Samstag Abend. Hoffent-     
           let's come Saturday evening. Hopefully
lich wird die Stadtmusik nicht ver-     
                    the town music does not get 
fehlen uns abguholen. - ?  Viele herzl. Grüsse     
    missed to pick us up, -? Many heartfelt regards
an Dich u. alle die Lieben Deinen von Stemainut    
to you and all the loved ones from Stemainut(?)    

 
The postcard was sent the next day, 30 May 1899, from Buchs, Switzerland to Fräulein Celine Fall of Thun, Switzerland.  Thun is a town on Lake Thun, in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region, with dramatic views of the Alps. Buchs, about 120 miles east of Thun, is near the tiny principality of Lichtenstein. In 1899 you could send postcard from your Swiss hotel in the morning and expect it arrive later that afternoon, 120 miles away. That's a model of an efficient postal service!

 

 
Back in February 2014, I wrote a story entitled Brahms & Liszt, about two postcards of Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt. These were the first postcards of composers that I acquired for my collection. At the time I was curious about how each man's likeness was depicted without reference to their music, even though both Brahms and Liszt were incredible pianists and famous composers. Those postcards, like these I've featured today, only showed the person and nothing of their musical art. It seemed amazing to me that decades after their deaths, images of great musicians were purchased as souvenir postcards.

When I discovered these postcards of Franz Liszt, I felt they were commemorating something different. Maybe not so much Liszt the musician as Liszt the genius, or Abbé Liszt the devout man of piety. They seem almost a kind of religious talisman, maybe an icon of reverence or even veneration. What seems odd is that Liszt's celebrity as a pianist really hit its peak in the era before photographs, roughly 1840 to 1850. His compositions are generally too difficult for amateur pianists, so his keyboard music would likely only be heard in concerts when played by very skilled musicians. Nonetheless 100 or 150 years after his birth, Franz Liszt's portrait profile, his house, even his music room, were still memorable enough to share with a friend or relation. Why is that? I don't know that I have an answer.

In the International Movie Database, the useful compendium of cinema facts and trivia, there is an entry for Franz Liszt, (1811–1886). Under his Filmography are 405 listings for Soundtrack, and 40 for Music Department, going back to 1917. It's a shame that his agent couldn't negotiate for better royalties than the Emperor of Austria.

 
 


For one final perspective on the genius of Franz Liszt, I offer a performance by a contemporary pianist who I think most exemplifies the style and virtuosity of Liszt. Here is the Chinese pianist Lang Lang playing Liszt's Réminiscences de Don Juan (S. 418) at Carnegie Hall in 2003. Based on themes from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, it is a tour de force that words alone can not describe. Stay at least until the theme at 3:50 and I think you will be hooked to hear the rest. The sound quality and the cameras on Lang Lang's face and hands are superb. I think even Franz would be impressed.
 
 

 

 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is
In the Hall of the Mountain King.





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