June 1885. On sandalwood. 11" long; blades 1.5" at widest end. Silk ties missing; otherwise excellent condition. (Signature of Richard Barth with water damage, but still legible). The signatures are in pen and pencil. Every blade bears at least one signature on each of its sides (excepting one with a caricature of Liszt, which takes up 3 blades). Almost all note the date and place. There are also a handful of autograph musical quotations and brief inscriptions (noted below). A copy of the Musikfest program, which we have reconstructed from a review in the Neue Musik-Zeitung, is included.
A remarkable fan signed by performers and attendees of the Bonn Musikfest 1885, including Johannes Brahms, Max Bruch, Eugen d’Albert, Amalie Joachim, George and Lillian Henschel, and Fritz Simrock.

This fan was assembled by American-born soprano Lillian Bailey Henschel. In the late Victorian era, it became fashionable to gather signatures on fans but one of the interesting things about this particular fan is that it has a singular focus: almost all the signatures were obtained at the Bonn Musikfest in 1885, where Lillian’s husband, pianist-baritone Sir George Henschel, figured prominently on the program.

The festival was held at Beethoven-Halle from June 28 to June 30. The first day saw the premiere of Max Bruch’s oratorio Achilleus; the second and third presented programs of a host of German composers ranging from Handel to Beethoven to Brahms. (A copy of the program, which we have reconstructed from a review in the Neue Musik-Zeitung, is included). More than 430 singers and 100 instrumentalists performed over the three days.

Nearly all of the soloists who performed at the festival have signed the fan: Achilleus premiere singers George Henschel (with AMQ), Amalie Joachim, Marie Schroeder-Haustaengl, and Emil Götze, as well as conductor Leonhardt Wolff; Max Bruch (with Achilleus AMQ), who conducted on the third day, and on the same blade, his wife, Clara Bruch, who sang a number of songs; and Eugen d’Albert, whose performance of one of Brahms’ piano concertos was a noted highlight.

Among the attendee signatures are: Johannes Brahms, a good friend of the Henschels and who attended at least the Achilleus premiere (based on the review, it seems he missed d’Albert’s memorable performance of his concerto); German violinists Richard Barth and Gustav Hollaender (with AMQ); Dutch violinist Henri Petri; publisher Fritz Simrock (with inscription); German cellist Alwin Schroeder; American soprano Lillian Henschel; German Lieder singer Julius Stockhausen; Norwegian hymnwriter Gustav Jensen; Portuguese pianist José Vianna da Motta (signed four years later, with brief inscription, on the same blade as Brahms); German composers Wilhelm Schauseil and Anton Krause; German music arranger August Grüters; German impresario Hermann Wolff; and German art collector Sulpiz Boisserée.

The festival was, evidently, a family affair, as several relations of the above-listed also signed the fan: Marie and Josefa Joachim (daughters of Joseph and Amalie; the girls were only 17 and 16 at the time); Mathilde Bruch (sister of Max); additional Simrocks (identified only as J. and A.); Adolphine and Else Tuczek (likely relations of Clara Bruch, née Tuczek); and Emilie Grüters (the wife of August). Sophia Hanslick also signed a blade; one presumes her husband, noted critic Eduard Hanslick, was at the festival even though his signature is not included.

There is also a delightful but unattributed penciled caricature of Liszt spanning across three of the blades (see images). Several additional signatures are present but difficult to identify.

A note about the signature of Brahms: although Brahms is well known to have used many signatures, this particular example does appear “different” and has been questioned by some. Given that it is on wood and was probably written while standing and in a hurry, it is not surprising to us that it appears somewhat different. We know that Brahms was present at the festival on June 28, the date written after the signature—in fact, that seems to have been the only day Brahms was there, as the review reports that he missed d’Albert’s performance of his concerto the following evening. We also know that Brahms was a close friend of the Henschels, and we obtained the fan directly from that family. Moreover, there does not appear to have been another musician present at the Musikfest with a similar name. We are therefore of the opinion that this signature is indeed that of Brahms. This opinion is shared by other experts with whom we have consulted.

The soprano Lilian Bailey Henschel was born in Ohio but moved to Boston where she gave her debut at age 16. She studied in Paris in 1877 with Pauline Viardot-Garcia and in 1879 she performed a duet in London with Henschel who became her teacher. They were married in 1881, the same year that Henschel was appointed first conductor of the Boston Symphony. They had a colorful life and often performed together.

Apparently, Lilian Henschel enjoyed getting signatures on fans because we know of another that sold in 2022 (for close to $6,000) and Hencshel refers to one of his wife’s fans (which would be the third-known fan of hers) on pp. 377-378 in his autobiography Musings and Memories of a Musician. He writes: “In the early ’eighties there prevailed among ladies a sort of craze for ‘autograph fans’, i.e, fans of sandalwood, each rib of which was intended for the signature of a famous or woman. My wife was the happy possessor of such a treasure and when, in Boston, she sent it for that purpose to Oliver Wendell Holmes, that dear old man returned it with the following lines: MY DEAR MRS. HENSCHEL – It delights me if I can in any way please you who have lent so much happiness to the air we breathe. I only fear that you will find it hard to get a cool breath from a fan which holds the names of so many warm friends.”

In examining the Musikfest fan as well as the one sold in 2022, it becomes obvious that these sandalwood fans were sold with ribbon threading attached. There are remains of the original ribbons in both fans, which were apparently removed in order to facilitate getting the signatures and enabling some to use the full length of the blade.

PROVENANCE: The Henschel family via the collection of the Polish singer Marya Freund (from her son the baritone Doda Conrad). Sir George Henschel was Freund’s uncle.

EPH-16037$5,000Share on Facebook