by Alvard J. Moore
San Francisco Call, Volume 82, Number 139, 17 October 1897 [Article & Illustration] 


Kaiser Franz Josef's Magyar Hussaren Knaben Kapelle. or, in every-day English, The Hungarian Boys' Military Band. Forty little natural born musicians. Forty little Magyars, 6000 miles from home. Forty little romances, for there is a story, most interesting if it could be told in all its detail, with each of the forty little men in red and silver who have delighted so many at the Orpheum during the past ten weeks. But the romances we will pas?, for sometimes even the story of the innocent maid who flirts with royalty is best forgotten, and again there is enough that interests in the every-day life of these little chaps without going into family history. But mark you, every one of these forty little fellows is well born and bred, finch is the son of a Magyars, which, in the language of Hungary, means a man as far removed from the common people, or serfs, in culture and education, as Vanderbilt is above a brakeman on one of his railroads in wealth.

To brine the boys out of Austria it was necessary to secure royal consent and furloughs for two years for them and for Niklas Schilzonyi, their director, and for Michael Nussbaum, the teacher.

The salary which Mr. Walter has to pay for the band, director and teacher has to be paid every three months and in advance. It goes direct to the military authorities at Billed and is used as a fund for the support and improvement of the school. By the aid of this fund a number of poor children will be taken in hand and receive a military education. Not long ago Schilzonyi was a little Knaben Kapelle, but early developed a talent as a director. When only 10 years of age he directed a band in the Billed school and three years later, when Kaiser Franz Josef visited the school the genius of Niklas Schilzonyi attracted the attention, and a few weeks later Mr. Schilzonyi was ordered to Siedenburg to take the directorship of the Staats Kapelle. He was only 13 years of age. and directed the State military band, composed of men old enough to be his father, in some cases his grandfather. Five years later be was commissioned as lieutenant in the army and ordered back to Billed as a sort of general music director.

While in Vienna the lads gave a series of ten concerts at Dreher's Park, the great suburban park of the city. Here they appeared in competition with three other bands and were the sensation of the day. It was their first appearance in public outside of their own town. But their fame had gone before them and the big park with its accommodations for 30,000 people was filled to overflowing. No less than 50,000 persons attended their farewell concert. A driveway was cleared past the bandstand and the elite of Vienna and Milan circled past, the richly dressed ladies showering bouquets upon the little Knaben Kapelle, who sat with eyes wide open wondering what it was all about, for this was their first great experience. There were bouquets from Duchesses, Countesses and Baronesses galore. Their reception in musical Vienna, where military bands abound, was a gala day for the forty little marinates and it furnished them material to talk about and write about until they reached Bremen, where they gave another concert under the patronage of the Mayor. Forty little first-class passengers held a reception on board the steamer next day and half the ladies of Bremen were there to bid them bon voyage.

In San Francisco they reside at 437 Geary street. There they have grown fat until they are already swapping uniforms so as to keep the fit within the danger line of bursting. Their breakfast consists of fruit, eggs, coffee and that good old German standby, apple pancake. This is varied with ham, bacon, steak and chops, but the apple pancake must appear at every meal or there would be a little German riot. It takes 120 big loaves of rye bread each week to feed them along with 350 pounds of meat, 400 pounds of vegetables and no end of sundries. They eat no less than 300 cantaloupes each week, for this is one of the home fruits with which they are familiar. When they first started housekeeping Mr. Waiter sent out into the country and bought 100 pounds of best fresh country butter, but he still has it all on hand, for the little Magyars draw the line at smearing their rich rye bread with grease.

Instead of butter they sprinkle the bread with "paprika," or Hungarian peppers. To eat bread with hot pepper on would be as much of a novelty for American boys as it is to these boys to put butter on their bread. But they are rapidly learning American ways. They no longer attempt to break bananas in two instead of peeling them. They have learned that ice cream is cold instead of hot; that oranges are a delicious fruit and not toy balls; that candy and popcorn are pretty good eating alter a taste has been acquired.

None of the little fellows worry a bit about candy, but every day of their lives they anxiously inquire about the arrival of 500 pounds of sausage ordered from Germany. When it arrives there will be a feasting and stuffing at 437 Geary street.

Every little Knaben hits to be out of bed by 6 a.m. and at breakfast by 7 o'clock, and from 8 to 11 o'clock the schoolmaster, Michael Nussbaum, takes them in hand, I putting them through a course of reading, writing and mathematics- The system followed is exactly the same as though I they were back at Billed going through the school routine. Not for a moment is the military discipline relaxed, for the hand of the Emperor is still over the Knaben Kapelle. Recreation from 11 to , 12 o'clock and then lunch. Study from 1 to 2 o'clock. Then Schilzonyi, the musical director, takes them in hand and puts them through their ta-ras and pompoms, teaches them to improvise in case it should be necessary, and they rehearse their evening program, for they change every second night. There is not a boy in the whole band, from the little drummer of 7 years of age to the cornet player, aged 15 years, who cannot orchestrate his part of any piece of music handed him.

Their musical education is most thorough, else little tots of fellows whose feet stop short at the chair-round when they are sealed could not glide easily from popular like "A Hot Time" right into Wagner's masterpieces. When they arrived In San Francisco they knew of the popular airs not one. They were called together at 3 p.m. and handed the music of "A Hot Time," and in one hour they had it down pat. They can take any American air and master it at an hour's notice, orchestrating the parts in the meantime.

They rest from 3:30 to 6, then dinner and the theater, a change of uniforms and they are ready to entertain with popular airs. Italian operas or the weird love-song music of Hungary. At 10 o'clock every Knaben of the whole brood neatly folds his uniform, puts on his nightie and is in bed. Twice a week they go to the baths and rub and splash to their hearts' content. Twice a week they go for a ride, and there is hardly a point of interest in this city with which they are not as familiar as a native son. Twice a week a physician visits the house and inspects every member of the Little-boy Band, and if any are ailing ever to slightly the proper treatment is given right then and there.

Every two weeks the whole band is marched off to a barber-shop and their little towheads trimmed in the most approved style. The hair-cutting, lathing and laundry are all let out by contract, and the physician receives a weekly salary to keep them in physical trim.

Their mending? Oh. no! Did anyone ever bear of a soldier who could not attend to his own mending and darning? Every member of the Knaben Kapelle is today and will be for the rest of his life a soldier in the Austrian army. That's what they are being trained for, and nothing is neglected that will tend to make each and every one an active and useful soldier in his particular capacity.

It may be a shock to some folks to know the little Knabens are all wine-drinkers, but in Hungary people would le equally shocked to hear that they had developed into tea-drinkers, should such a thing come about. But this is not likely, for they don't take to tea. They are beer drinkers as well, but Hungarian wine is what they like best and are most accustomed to at home. They are allowed a half pint a day, which is only about half the amount dealt out to them with the rations at the school at Billed. To cut off their wine would be like depriving a baby of its milk. In fact these little chaps are much more accustomed to wine than milk, water, tea or coffee.

To say that they are enjoying themselves in San Francisco would be putting it mildly. They never had so much fun, saw so many strange sights, had so many strange and funny experiences, nor had so much to eat as since they have been established in the house at 437 Geary street. They are particularly delighted with California climate and fruits. The former in temperature is quite similar to that of Billed in summer, but they are hourly expecting it to rain. Of the fruits they cannot get enough. They spend much of their leisure time writing home of the good times they are having, all unconscious that these are the happiest days of their lives.

[Published at 06 Jan 2011 by Jody McKim Pharr]

437 Geary Street, San Francisco (today) American Conservatory Theater





© 2005-2011
Jody McKim Pharr.
Part of the Nicholas Schilzonyi Genealogical Dig Series.
Last updated: 10 Mar 2012 © 2003-2012 Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands, a Nonprofit Corporation
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2012
Keeping the Danube Swabian legacy alive