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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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.





The Little Band on the Prairie

09 April 2021


They called themselves a Ladies Band, the Russell.Ladies Band, as written in bold letters on their bass drum. The word Ladies, sometimes with or without apostrophe, was a descriptive term that would never be used in 2021 for a musical ensemble like this. Today it might be a women's band, or a girls' band, even an all-female band, but not a ladies' band which now imparts a quaint, if not archaic, connotation of secondary status.  
 
Technically this group of 12 women is not entirely all female anyway, as there are two men standing at the back, one with a trombone. The Russell.Ladies Band (the period stop, instead of an apostrophe s, after Russell is a punctuation curiosity I'll leave alone) is a typical brass band for the era, male or female, with four cornets, a mellophone, a tenorhorn, two trombones, and two tubas, with snare and bass drum. When I acquired this many years ago I thought they were just another example of an early 20th century small town band in the United States. However there are 23 towns or counties in America with the name Russell. And of course, it's also possible that the name referred to the surname of the band's leader.
 
The faded postcard photo was cracked and had once been glued onto the coarse black paper of a scrapbook. Fortunately old glue is water soluble and with a little scraping I was able to reveal the name of the photographer stamped on the edge of the un-mailed  postcard. It reads:
 
Photo by Lawrence and Meeres,
Russell, Rossburn, Binscarth, Birtle, Man.

 

A more accurate name for this musical ensemble would be the Ladies Band of Russell, Manitoba, with postcode MB if you were wondering. There is a great deal more of North American geography than what we see in the little newspaper weather maps of the United States, which usually show the lower 48 as an isolated continent next to the small island of Alaska and the giant Hawaiian archipelago that seem to be floating offshore below Arizona.
 
Manitoba, along with the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, is part of a region, the great Canadian Prairies, that many Americans often overlook. Russell, Manitoba, a small community due north of Minot, North Dakota, is on the eastern edge of this vast area known as the North American Great Plains.

This part of Manitoba with its flat grasslands, pockmarked with a surprisingly large number of small lakes, was prime agriculture land when central Canada was developed in the late 1800s. It apparently was good for breeding very large horses.
 
Winnipeg Tribune
7 July 1913

In July 1913, the Russell Ladies' Band (with apostrophe) performed at the Canadian Industrial Exhibition in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, about 220 miles east of Russell. The exhibition's newspaper advertisement was illustrated with an enormous draft horse being held in check by a man as most industry and agriculture in this era still relied on real horsepower. The nine-day event featured a live stock show, a blue ribbon race, a man in a balloon, a carnival midway, and concerts by the Russell Ladies' Band, the Portage Kilties' Band, and Regimental and City Bands.
 
 
 
Brandon MB Weekly
31 July 1913

Later that month, the Brandon, Manitoba Weekly ran a small report on another local fair where the Russell's Ladies' Band had performed. (again with more apostrophes!) It had just been organized a year and half earlier by Mr. W. J. Calvert who was conductor and manager. It was a self-supporting ensemble of 16 musicians that played for hire at other events and was expected to travel to Regina, Saskatchewan in August. The band owned a complete set of silver plated instruments and had uniforms in maroon and green. "It is a live wire organization and is one of Russell's big boosters."
 
 

This second postcard of the Russell Ladies Band is a better photo, but the photographer left no mark. Perhaps is was taken in Regina. Here the women are in uniform, though with the sepia tone image it's hard to know what color the material is. My guess is that their skirts and jackets are of green worsted wool with maroon trim. Standing on the right is the band leader, William J. Calvert, the trombonist in the first photo. Here Mr. Calvert is holding a stout white baton and wears an ornate band master's uniform.

 
 
The University of Alberta Library collection at Archive.org has a copy of this postcard as well as a postcard of Russell's Main Street in 1905. Other than the dirt/mud road surface, the town looks pretty prosperous for a small farming community.
 
 
Main Street, Russell, Manitoba 1905
Source: Archive.org

 
In fact the population of Russell in 1911 was about 562, and currently it has around 1400 residents. It was obviously a community large enough to have schools and people who placed a value on music education.  [As an aside, it's interesting that the Canadian national statistical agency keeps census records on the language spoken by Canadian citizens, including over 70 different aboriginal languages of Canada's indigenous people.]
 
 
 

Most of the 12 women in the second photo are different than those in the first postcard. However, I think the tuba and cornet players standing left in the first one are standing in the second group, though the cornetist has changed to a mellophone. The bass drummer also might be the same young woman. But the instrumentation has changed too. There are now three reed instruments, a clarinet and two saxophones. One can't miss the big baritone sax as it's main purpose in any band is to draw attention to itself. It would have given the Russell.Ladies Band a very dominant bass sound, and it's unusual to see a baritone sax in such a small group. The lighting has enough contrast to show a glimmer of ornate engraving on the bell, so this was an expensive instrument. Perhaps it was purchased after the band earned some success and wanted to distinguish itself by adding an instrument not typical for a woman to play.

 
 

There is a second instrument that is very rare to see in brass bands. It's an Echo Cornet held by the woman seated right. This instrument has an extra valve that lets the player instantly change the sound quality from brilliant brass to a muted "echo" for solo effect. The cornet's engraving and its extra coiled muffler are clearly visible, as, I might add, is the wedding band on the woman's left hand. There was a similar echo cornet in my 2020 story about A Scottish Orchestra. It's a solo instrument more often played by British musicians, and given Canada's position within the British Empire, perhaps it's not surprising to see one in a band from Manitoba. It does suggest that the woman was the lead cornetist and a musician of some talent.

Amazingly the Russell, Manitoba Banner newspaper is included in one of the internet archives I use. In October 2013, the paper celebrated Russell's centennial of incorporation with a special edition that included a timeline of the town's history. In 1912, thirty-one years after Russell's town site was laid out, the Russell Ladies Band was formed.
 
 
Russell MB Banner
8 October 2013

 
The original 16 members included: Clara McRostie, Laura McRostie, Carrie McDonagh, Mildred
Richardson, Mrs. Wm. Calvert, Hazel Callin, Mr. J. Rendall, Myrtle Burke, Wm. Calvert (band master), Ethel McDonagh, Emma Lyon, Babe Maher, Minnie Lyon, Hazel Madill and Corah Sherlock. The band leader, William J. Calvert is clear, and the other man in the first photo is surely Mr. J. Rendall. The other names will have to stay unconnected with the faces, but it was a nice surprise to read them in so recent a publication and be able to include them in this story. It's very likely that descendants of the ladies in the band are still in the Russell, Manitoba area. 

 
  
 
 
Satellite View of Russell, Manitoba
Source: Google Maps

 

The newspaper archives did not produce many articles on the Russell.Ladies Band. They started in 1912 and were mentioned into 1915, but after that nothing until the 2013 Russell centennial.  Unlike the United States, Canada joined the Great War in 1914 in loyal support of Britain. Thousands of young men volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, including, I expect, many from Manitoba. With so many men away from the farms and small towns, the women of the Russell Ladies Band were likely too occupied with other family obligations and extra responsibilities to keep the band going. But for a few years, they were a "live wire organization."  I wish I could have heard them. 
 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one sweeps anything under a rug.



I don't know much about farming but I like draft horses. In 1914-18 Canada made many important contributions to the war effort supplying Britain with everything from soldiers and sailors to raw materials and food stuff. But one of the most valuable components was horses. Thousands of heavy draft horses and lighter cavalry horses were assembled from the central provinces like Manitoba and shipped from Canadian ports to France. But unlike the soldiers who survived the war and returned home to Canada, the horses never came back. The illustration of the noble draft horse for the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition reminded me of how livestock, in particular horses, played a critical part in sustaining the war and helping the Allied forces defeat Germany. 


So for extra credit, here is a short 5 minute history
on the War Horses, Canada's Percherons, in the First World War. 
 
 




Dining Out in Old Wien

02 April 2021

  
It's a situation that everyone
has probably experienced at least once.
You attend a grand banquet,
in this case a special occasion
for a group of Austrian army officers,
and you notice that the server, here an orderly,
displays rather slovenly habits of personal hygiene.

As the poor fellow wipes his nose with his hand,
some of the generals take notice with a look of disgust.
 
 Ha, welche Lust, Soldat zu sein!
~
What a pleasure to be a soldier!

 
 
 
 
 

The common soldier of Austria however,
does not dine on white linen
with fancy plates and silverware.
His idea of a good meal involves
every man for himself 
making an assault on a food wagon,
grabbing a stein of beer
and a couple handfuls of bread and wurst.


 
 
 
 
These lighthearted postcards were produced
by the
Viennese artist Fritz Schönpflug (1873 – 1951),
whose artwork has become a favorite of mine.
He had a great talent to see the humor in a situation
and compose a painting of it
that needed no translation
to get the laugh.
 
 Unlike the photographers of his time,
an artist like Schönpflug worked in a world of color.
And his caricatures give us a better idea
of the colorful uniforms and dresses
of old Wien during the first decades of the 20th century.



 * * *
 
Wien, or Vienna, was the capital of a vast empire
and the center of a sophisticated culture.
In this postcard, Schönpflug shows us
a typical quartet of two young officers
with two attractive ladies
seated
together under an umbrella
outside a café enjoying a morning coffee.
The caption describes it as a military tactic.

 
In gedeckter position
~
In covered position

 
 
 
 
This postcard was sent from Graz, Austria on 27 October 1912.
The message to Herrn Hans Maresch is difficult to read,
but I think is comes from a woman named RoseAnna.
In my collection of Austrian and German postcards from this era
the majority, maybe 95%, were sent by men.
This may explain why Schönpflug's postcards
often have masculine subjects like soldiers, horses, and athletes.


 

 
* * *
 
 
 

 This next postcard has nearly the same café setting,
but this time the table for four is a family group.
A father dressed in an army officer's uniform
reads the daily newspaper,
while his august wife
oversees her two sons.
The older one, a junior officer,
affects a nonchalant attitude smoking a cigarette.
His younger brother, a small boy who also wears
a military uniform, attacks a frothy chocolatey drink with zeal.

 
Die ärarische Familie.
~
The Aryan family.

 
The caption doesn't quite explain the amusing scene
as there is an Austrian sub-text that hides the joke from us.

This postcard was sent in a letter
and dated 13 February 1909
 
 
 

 
* * *
 
 
 
As I've written before in Two Wise Guys,
humor, like comedy, is a very ephemeral art.
Schönpflug's cartoon style
tells us that his scenes are funny.
And we can still enjoy most of his delightful wit,
and admire the charm of his characters.
But lost in time are layers of subtle satire,
waggish teasing, and sharp mocking
that his Viennese society of 1910 recognized
but we in the 21st century can only guess at.


 
 
 
 As it happens to be Easter this weekend,
I'll finish with another postcard by Fritz Schönpflug,
an example of his seasonal holiday themes.

 
 
 

There are no Easter bunnies or Easter eggs,
but there is some kind of symbolism going on here.
A young woman brandishes some springtime shrubbery cuttings
that are festooned with six small gentlemen seeking her attention.
 I suppose it's about love and springtime in old Wien.

 
 
Fröhliche Ostern!
~
Happy Easter!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every mealtime is fun time.





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