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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Three Talented Young Violinists

27 November 2021

 
 My favorite photographs of young musicians
contain a subtle quality that reveals
a musical talent that we may not hear,
but through the camera lens, we can see it.
 
We first notice a relaxed youthful posture
that exudes graceful poise and mature assurance.

 

 
 
 
 

There is no awkward stiffness in the hands and arms,
nothing inept in the control of the instrument.
The youth's eyes are direct and confident.


 
 
 
 
 
 

 The young musician displays no callow inhibitions,
no self-conscious immaturity. 
They seem read to perform with a certainty
that they are one with the music. 

 
 
 
Today I present three young boys,
all violinists with talent,
and all whose native language was French.

 
 
 
 * * *
 
 
 

My first violinist is a boy pictured on a postcard in an oval portrait. He is dressed in a light color shirt and short pants with a striped belt. He stands in front of a table on which there is music stand, a cornet and another violin. The lad looks to be about age 10 or 11. The reason I believe he speaks French is because the back of the postcard has his name, his awards, and a date written in French.

 

The postcard looks similar to others produced in France, but it is possible that the boy is from Quebec or Belgium. The quick cursive handwriting makes it challenging to read the letters. I think his name is Henri Norrisson or Vouisson. He won a Medaille de Cuorye (?) and a diploma in solfege and theory on 6 July 1913, or maybe 1915. Solfege is the technique of applying syllables, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti, to music. Despite using different spellings, I'm unable to extract the full meaning of the note, but clearly this boy was a prize winning violinist (and cornetist) and a student of music. Maybe one day I'll solve this mystery and discover his full name.


 
 * * *
 
 

My second violinist is a younger boy, perhaps 8 or 9 but with a very mature face. His photograph is on a small carte de visite produced by the photography studio of A. Machaberts in Franco-Belge, or Belgium. He stands in front of a doorway and is dressed in an all black, or maybe dark navy blue, shirt and short pants with high-top shoes that have a high polish. 
 
The cdv format remained popular in Europe until about 1910. Unfortunately there is nothing on the back of this boy's photograph to better identify the location or time. My best guess is that it was taken around 1898 to 1905. 



 
 * * *
 
 
 
 
 

My third young violinist is also on a cdv photograph. He sits on a photographer's studio chair with his feet barely touching the floor and his violin on his knee. His hair is long but cropped close on top, in the manner of a famous musical artist such as Franz Liszt or Niccolò Paganini. Like the other boys, he wears short pants buckled below the knee, but his outfit has a short formal jacket, white vest, and watch chain. His shoes are made of fine leather with a gleaming shine and laced above the ankle. 

 

The photographer was  A. Le Michel of 6-bis, Rue de Bel Air, in Rennes, France. The back is marked with an elaborate backstamp showing the studio was founded in1864 and present at the 1887 Rennes Exposition. The city of Rennes is the prefecture of the region of Brittany in northwestern France, about 220 miles west of Paris. In 1886 its population was 66,139. My estimate is that this boy's photo was likely produced some time around 1887 to 1892.     

 

 

* * *

 

 

 
 
 
The quality of talent is hard to measure, but I believe these three French/Belgian boys had musical talent far beyond what their young ages might suggest. Their portraits show a maturity and self-confidence that is not typical of boys this age, and I believe they were experienced entertainers, maybe even professional. Certainly the last boy from Rennes appears in a costume suitable for the music hall stage. My hunch is also based on their shoes, as ordinary boys of this era would be unlikely to be fitted with such expensive footgear.
 
The late 19th and early 20th century was a time when audiences in Europe and America would flock to hear a musical prodigy, a Wunderkind like Mozart, play the violin, the most difficult of instruments. I have featured other similar photos and postcards of young talented violinists in my stories:

 

 
 
 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the youth of yesterday are forever young.




7 comments:

Barbara Rogers said...

An interesting way of judging musical talent. And I would imagine you have experience in doing so! For me, I couldn't tell a thing by their posture related to their playing.

Monica T. said...

Somehow (to me) the boy at the top seems more relaxed than the other two. As if allowed to be still be a boy (in spite of his talent), while the other two look dressed up as little adults...

ScotSue said...

I enjoyed your customary close observation of the photographs - my favourite the third little lad - as you said he reminds us of earlier notable composers - and today for me he brought Andre Rieu to mind.

smkelly8 said...

I appreciate your observations about these boys. I wonder if they kept music in their lives as they matured.

kathy said...

I am always interested in the ways that you date and pull details from your photos. Last night my husband and I watched a concert on PBS: Il Volo - A Tribute to Ennio Morricone. One of the musicians who joined them on stage was a young saxophone player - I think he was eight years old - and quite good. Although I am always distracted by wind players who puff out their cheeks, which he did.

Molly's Canopy said...

The first photo has a modern look to it -- perhaps from the boy's hair cut. Also, his belt matches the pattern in the chair prompt this week. I agree with you about the footwear on the latter two photos. Boys grow out of shoes quickly, but an investment in footwear would make sense if they were musicians whose playing brought in income. They certainly have the confident look of seasoned entertainers.

La Nightingail said...

The eyes of the first boy are beautiful. I have to think he grew into a very handsome man! The second boy's expression seems to say (in regard to being photographed - probably yet again) "Whatever." And the third boy with legs positioned open with laced shoes matches the prompt well. I wonder if they all went on to play throughout their lives, or if an instrument or two wound up in a closet, never to be played again? That's where my father's clarinet wound up after high school, as well as my son's trombone and a daughter's flute (thank heaven we talked her out of playing the tuba!) Only one daughter continued on with her alto sax and plays in a community band. Then again, none of them were child prodigies. :)

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