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 Horn Section of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

20 November 2010


Of the many kinds of musician photographs, it is the action shot that is most rare. And photos of musicians as they perform in a symphony orchestra are even more unusual. So this photo naturally caught my attention as it shows an orchestra horn section at work. But there is another more interesting aspect of this photo. Each player holds a horn that is dramatically different, and represents an unusual variety of brass plumbing that would never be seen in an orchestra today.

The photo is a large press photo of the horn section of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on their first US tour in 1951. The horn players from left to right, with their respective instruments:
  • Wolf  Sprecher - Czech (F/Bb Lidl)
  • Zvi Wegman - American/German (F/Bb Kruspe/Conn)
  • Georges Durand (principal) - French (F/Bb ascending Selmer)
  • Wolfgang Levy - German (F/Bb Alexander)
  • Horst Salomon - British/German (Single Bb/A Paxman/Alexander)
Each instrument design is characteristic of horns that were popular in the major European and American orchestra traditions of the 1950's. The Czech horn on the left, with a 4th valve oddly placed in the center of the valve cluster, was played mainly in Eastern Europe. The next horn is a German Kruspe horn, that was popularized by the Philadelphia Orchestra and became the design for America's Conn 8D horns. The center horn uses piston valves instead of rotary valves, and also has an unusual ascending third valve that goes contrary to most brass instruments by raising the pitch instead of lowering it. It was popular in France for most of the early 20th century. The next horn is an Alexander double horn which has been an iconic German design for over 150 years. And the last horn on the right is a single Bb horn, which though it might be an Alexander, was the smaller instrument used by British horn players like Dennis Brain and Alan Civil.

This is not to say that these players necessarily came from these national traditions, but they play a mixture of horns that would be extremely unusual today. Each horn has a distinctive timbre that must have made an unusual collective horn sound. Some horns like the Selmer piston valve and Czech Lidl are almost never used anymore, and the single Bb is used mainly for solo and chamber music.

The photo has a clipping and annotations from the Denver Post dated February 11, 1951. Only Georges Durand name was listed. 
Finding a list of the IPO musicians from this tour proved to be a challenge and I must thank Diane Ota, the Curator of Music at the Music Department of the Boston Public Library for providing me a copy of the musicians roster from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's 1951 tour program. I attach it here in case one day, someone else does a similar internet search. 

But what made this really special were three additional pages from the same program that showed photographs and names of every musician. They might even be their passport photos too.

The orchestra arrived in New York at the end of December 1950 and traveled for 3 months of concerts. This was their first tour of North America and they went from one coast to another and back, playing under Serge Koussevitzky (who would die in June 1951), and his protegee, Leonard Bernstein. The program included Prokofiev's 5th Sym. and Tchaikovsky's 4th Sym. At one point there was a personnel crisis when several musicians came down with flu, but the concerts managed to continue. This photo was printed in a Denver newspaper.

According to news sources, Wolfgang Levy, and Horst Salomon immigrated to Palestine from Germany in 1936 and become members of the Palestine Orchestra, the precursor to the IPO. Georges Durand, the principal horn, was French and according to the flight manifest only 25 years old at the time of the tour.

Put this orchestra tour into the context of the time and it becomes an extraordinary set of concerts. 1951 was only two years after Israel had achieved statehood following the first Arab-Israeli war. It was only 6 years after the horrors of WWII had ended, but the world was still coming to terms with the enormity of the Holocaust. The Korean War was rapidly escalating and the mission of the new United Nations was being threatened by Cold War politics for the first time. These musicians of the Israel Philharmonic were ambassadors in every sense of the word. Perhaps they were a mixed-up horn section but they were introducing the world to a unique musical diplomacy.


1951 IPO Principal Musicians

1951 IPO Section Wind Musicians







      UPDATE:      

Since I posted this story about the Israel Philharmonic Horn Section of 1951, a wonderful documentary about the history of the orchestra has been released. It is called Orchestra of Exiles and tells the inspiring story of how Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) started the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in 1936 as a response to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party by creating an orchestra in Palestine for refugee Jewish musicians to escape German fascism. Two of the horn players were original members of that first orchestra. Horst Salomon was previously first horn of the Berlin Orchestra J├╝dische Kulturbund. and Wolf Sprecher played horn with the Saarbr├╝cken Opera and Municipal Orchestra. Salomon became the first principal horn of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra and according to this report, the sound of his horn began the orchestra's inaugural concert in 1936 under Arturo Toscanini with Carl Maria von Weber's magical horn call from the overture to "Oberon".

The film has many remarkable photos and film footage and even mentions the horn players too. Huberman was a leader of remarkable heroism to take a stand against such an unimaginable evil, but it is the courage and determination shown by all the musicians, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice that makes this orchestra's history a true inspiration. The film is available on Netflix.com. 

   NOTE: Google or Blogspot (or both) have made it very hard to embed PDF files onto a blog.  
Anyone interested in the Israel Philharmonic's musicians roster from their 1951 US tour
may download the PDF file by clicking the link below.
 There are 4 pages with full names and individual photos of the musicians.  


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Musical Instrument or Deadly Weapon?

15 November 2010

There are two musical instruments used in wind bands that can also double as weapons of war. One is  the piccolo and the other is the E-flat clarinet as shown here. It was the favored soprano woodwind instrument of the early military bands. A talented clarionetist can easily trim, comb, and part hair with the penetrating squeal of the E-flat while a less skilled player might slice off an ear.

From a postcard photo without markings, this young musician is identified only by the KB embroidered on his collar. So he is a member of the "K" City band which could be in almost any state in the US.

Note his high top shoes and his pince-nez glasses which were also worn by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). Therefore based on the fashion for those spectacles, I would date him from 1906 to 1915. But why did photographers of this era use a fur rug in so many studio portraits?

A Young Lady of Lakefield, MN

02 November 2010

A young lady poses in profile wearing a splendid band uniform and holding a cornet. This fine photo postcard from around 1912-15 was never posted and has no identification but the photographer, J.A. Bellinger has added his embossed logo on the front, so we know it came from Lakefield, Minnesota.

Born in New York 1859, Mr. Bellinger was active as a photographer in Lakefield from before 1900 to after 1920. His town in 1910 had a population around 924 and was typical of many places in the midwest, but I suspect that in 1910 Lakefield would not be a "small town" but a real center of community activity.

Judging by the uniform, the band must have had some class. It is unusual to see a woman dressed in a man's style jacket, but women  did turn up occasionally in more progressive bands of this period. Certainly she is wearing a skirt and not trousers.

The farming community around Lakefield, which is near the border of Iowa and just east of Sioux Falls. SD, was made up of immigrants and first generation people from places like Bohemia, Germany, Sweden, all with a rich tradition of music making. Lakefield had the usual occupations of this time - blacksmith, milliner, druggist, etc. but one entry caught my attention. In 1910 a Charley Rorebeck, age 28, was listed as Laborer, Frogcatcher. No doubt this was a specialist job for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

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