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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Still More Ladies with Brass

27 February 2021


Four steely-eyed young women
dressed in military style band uniforms
stand in a line wielding four long natural trumpets.
They are a formidable quartet.
You would not want to get too close.
Better to sit at the back of the hall.

The name of their ensemble was the

Fanfaren Bläserinnen
vom Damen Trompeter Corps

The Fanfare Windplayers
of the Traviata Ladies Trumpeter Corps
director A. Reiss

Giuseppe Verdi certainly knew how to write a good trumpet fanfare, but I don't think he put one into La Traviata, his opera about the tragic life of a courtesan. Though perhaps if he had seen this attractive quartet he might have been inspired to do so. This postcard never had a stamp or postmark but it likely dates from around 1910 to 1915. The note on the front "Damen bedienung" means Ladies Service.

Two weeks ago in Two Wise Guys, I wrote that I believe humor to be one of the most ephemeral of human sentiments. Music, that is the sound we hear, is likewise the most transitory of arts. Until the invention of the gramophone, music really existed only to musicians who performed it and people who were present to hear it. The image of the Traviata Ladies Fanfare Trumpeters doesn't tell us very much about the actual tunes that they played, or how they presented it to their audiences. There are few reviews or programs of their performances preserved. All we can do is speculate.
Their instruments are simple bugle-like horns which have no valves. They are longer than a modern B-flat trumpet and similar to the type of trumpet that was played in the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Being without a mechanism to change the length of the instrument, a fanfare trumpet is limited to just a few pitches in a fixed key, about 8 notes, not in a scale, but spaced apart. 

All trumpets are meant to be played LOUD, which is the whole point of a fanfare. You don't announce the arrival of the Kaiser with a whisper. Usually a pair of tympani drums tuned to the trumpet key were included to add rhythmic interest. And if the drummer and trumpeters were on horseback, playing a processional piece in maestoso time with lots of double and triple tongued noise notes, you would hear the ultimate Grand Entrance.
That's what I imagine the Traviata Trompeters sounded like. But it's only my semi-educated guess. However, what I do know is that in the Germanic parts of Central Europe during the early 20th century, female trumpet ensembles were a hot thing in music. Whether in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, or Prague, any place where there was music, there was likely a brass band of young women playing fanfare trumpets. 
* * *
 Before I introduce more Fanfaren Bläserinnen,
I recommend starting this video
 played by the Deutsche Trompeter Korps
under director Hans Freese.
It will give you an idea
of the music they made.


_ _ _

One might easily mistake this quartet of trumpeters as the same group, but they are subtly different. Their military-style uniforms and hussar shakos came from a different costume catalog, I think. And their trumpets have tassels instead of banner flags. But these four women do share the same no-nonsense attitude that the Traviata quartet displayed. This group was called:
Elite Damen Trompeter u. Humor. Gesangs
La Paloma

Elite Ladies Trumpet and Humorous Song Ensemble
director A. Bohm

It's hard to imagine what kind of funny songs these four young ladies sang when they weren't blowing their trumpets. Like I said before, humor doesn't preserve very well. This postcard was sent from Halle in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany on the 25 April 1914.

* * *

Here is another female trumpet quartet, but dressed in a more fetching feminine fashion of matching frocks, white hose and shoes. This group has banners on their trumpets. They are the:

des Damen Trompeterkorps „Germania

Fanfare Windplayers
of the Germania Ladies Trumpet Corps
director J. Schnur

The similarity of the Germania trumpeters to the Traviata and La Palomo groups is not by accident. All three postcards were published by the same studio, Nordische Kunstanstalt Ernest Schmid & Co., of Lübeck in northeast Germany near the North Sea. Perhaps because they are not in military uniform, these young women do smile a bit, but their trumpets would have blared just as loud. This postcard was sent from Darmstadt by a soldier using the free military Feldpost on 30 January 1915. His recipient was Fraulein Clärchen Funk of Dillenburg in Hesse.

 * * *

My next trumpet quartet are also from the same Lübeck publisher but here the photographer has changed the backdrop to a more domestic set. The caption on the postcard reads:

des Damenorchester „Monopol
Fanfare Windplayers
of the Monopol Ladies Orchestra
director Frau Rich. J. Meiser

The women wear matching skirts and aprons in, what I suppose, is a traditional German folk manner. Their trumpets have banners in two patterns. This postcard was never mailed but probably dates to the same period 1905 to 1918.

This quartet belonged to a larger ensemble of twelve musicians, eight women and four men. On this postcard the men are dressed in formal evening suits while the women wear military style costumes. The shoulder epaulettes, called swallow nests, were a distinctive mark of a bandsman's uniform. The caption on this card reads:
Erstklassiges Damen Trompeter Corps „Monopol
First Class Monopol Ladies Trumpeter Corps
Kapellmeister Richard Meiser

This postcard has a short message, but no postmark. It was probably included in a letter. It dates from around 1905-1915. 

* * *

Sometimes four was not enough. Six was better. This trumpet sextet was called the:

Damen Trompeter Corps „Rhenania”
Rhenania Ladies Trumpeter Corps
director: F. P. Hartwig

The six young women, carefully arranged left to right—short to tall, wear matching white dresses in a nautical fashion with sailor caps and collars. Their trumpets sport cord-wrapped grips with tassels. Rhenania is Latin for the Rhineland, the central part of Germany.

Their postcard was never posted. But like the Monopol trumpeters, the Rhenania women were members of a large musical ensemble.

This postcard shows their full band. There are eleven musicians, seven women and four men. The leader/director sits on the right. The caption reads:

Damen Blas Orchester „Rhenania”
Erstklassige Musik u. Gesaneinlagen
Rhenania Ladies Wind Orchestra
First class music and singing
director: Paul Hartwig

In the center row, four women raise their trumpets in what presumably was the typical playing position. Here the women wear matching folk style skirts and vests. Possibly this was a style particular to a German vocal ensemble. A Tyrolean folk song rendered while dressed in a military band uniform would look strange. This postcard was also never mailed but comes from the same period as the others. 

* * *

My last postcard is another trumpet sextet of young women, also outfitted in matching maritime fashion. Unlike the other cards printed in half-tone, this is a real photo with a caption neatly written along the top.

Damen Trompeter Corps „Weserlust”
Weserlust Ladies Trumpeter Corps
director: A. Miericke

Here the Weserlust lasses wear large floppy caps with shirts that have a sailor collar and neckerchief. Their shoes match but not their stockings. But unlike the Rhenania women's costumes, the Weserlust trumpeters appear in short pants, which I don't believe was regulation navy issue. Their trumpets have fringed banners. Weserlust was the name of an Ausflugslokal, a garden restaurant park on the Weser River in Bremen, Germany. It was established in 1894 with outdoor seating, bowling lanes, and a concert stage. Bremen, together with the port of Bremerhaven at the mouth of the Weser, is the second largest port in Germany. 

It is also well known through the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale the "Town Musicians of Bremen". In the story, four old domestic animals - a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, after suffering a lifetime of hard work, feel neglected by their masters. The four animals decide to run away and become town musicians in the city of Bremen. I don't think fanfare trumpets or sailor suits feature in the tale. 

This postcard was sent from Wilhelmshaven, Germany on 2 June 1914. Wilhelmshaven is just a short distance on the coastland west of Bremerhaven. 

A trumpet with valves makes a fine melodic voice within a band or orchestra. The natural trumpet that was used in these ladies' bands makes a splendid, even heroic sound too, but without valves its limitation on notes and key center doesn't offer much musical variety. 

A century later it's very hard to appreciate what it was about Fanfaren Bläserinnen that appealed to German audiences. Was it the martial music they played? As far as I know, these female trumpeters never performed while marching in parades or mounted on horses. They were essentially just a pretty imitation of male military musicians. Their full brass bands no doubt played a wider repertoire, drawing from opera and symphonic composers, but the music would need to be arranged specifically for an individual band's instrumentation. Waltzes and polkas don't typically start with trumpet fanfares, but maybe these ensembles found a way to add that musical color. It's a curious puzzle why they were so popular in German culture at the time. 

For more evidence on this musical fad of German ladies' brass bands,
check out my previous stories on this peculiar subject.

I can promise you haven't heard the last of
of these brazen ladies of brass.

As one final musical treat,
here is the U.S. Army Historical Trumpets Fanfare
playing Guard À Vous by Henri Senée.

See if you can spot the woman.
_ _ _

_ _ _

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where three's company
and four is a party.


Kathy said...

I played the cornet - because my dad found a used one at a good price when I said I wanted to learn an instrument at school. It was not my chosen instrument, nor did I possess the proper embouchure to excel. I was able to make 2nd chair most of the time because I was good at sight reading and just good enough, but I struggled with the high notes. Girls who played cornet/trumpet were rare in my experience. We moved a few times and I was always the only girl in the trumpet section until I moved to Texas. My high school there did not have an orchestra, so maybe that encouraged more girls to be in the band and consider a horn. I rarely minded being the only girl in the section, but I often wished to play a different instrument.

Too bad we can never really know the music and sound of these trumpeters.

Liz Needle said...

Fascinating stuff. I had never heard of Ladies trumpet groups. These all appear to be German/Austrian. I wonder if such groups were as popular outside of Europe? Thanks for this post. I have learnt a lot from you amazing postcards.

Wendy said...

I must say, Der Pappenheimer Marsch was longer and more pleasant than I expected although rather monotonous. I began to wonder if it had looped around again. I thought a fanfare would be shorter, more like in the last video. Now it makes sense that these girl groups could develop a following.

Molly's Canopy said...

Another great selection of photos to illustrate your history of music and musicians. When I danced socially (before the pandemic), I was always pleased to see female members of the band -- so I am over the moon to see these photos of female horn players and a mainly female ensemble. Yet here we are, more than a century later, and female band members are still a rarity. Alas.

Barbara Rogers said...

Interesting post! As always. Which is the woman in the last band? I'm listening to it full screen and fourth time, and think she's second from right. But that was hard! I also enjoyed that one of your women's brass qquartets was led by a Frau.

ScotSue said...

What a collection of formidable groups of female musicians, with hardly a smile between them all. But I loved their elaborate costumes.


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