Raskopf Family Scrapbook
George Jacob Clemenz Raskopf (1819-1887) was a bandmaster who conducted himself remarkably well. Born in Germany, he lived much of his life in Ireland where he played for royalty, adjudicated internationally, and composed catchy dance tunes. Now, all that’s left of him is a family scrapbook and the silver-mounted ivory baton presented on his departure from the cavalry regiment, the 15th Kings Hussars, in 1869. Both these items are coming up for auction in Sheppard’s Pouldrew House sale on 9 – 12 May. Dating from a time when the military was the largest employer of musicians on these islands, they tell a seldom-told chapter of Irish musical history.
The scrapbook is a hefty quarto album, around A4 in size, with a leather spine and marbled boards. It carries the name Augusta Raskopf, dated 21 October 1942. It’s likely that she was a descendent of George, who was married to Charlotte Wurz, with whom he had six children. The first item in the scrapbook is a letter of recommendation from his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Pole of the 63rd Regiment. It was written in Dublin on 27 December 1853. The regiment was about to depart to serve in the Crimean War. The bandmaster, as was common practice, would stay behind and seek further employment. Pole gave an excellent report of Raskopf who had served under his command for three and a half years: “during which time he conducted himself remarkably well. He had his band in excellent order and is a first rate musician.” Raskopf’s band had played for Queen Victoria during her second visit to Ireland. She came to see the Exhibition of Art and Art Industry at the Leinster Lawn in Dublin in 1853 and the band was “ordered to attend”. Pole writes that “on the following day I received a note conveying Her Majesty’s special approbation of the performance of the band under his superintendence.” He concludes that “he is a very sober and respectful band master.”
The album includes eight other letters of recommendation but there seems to have been a bond, or at least a mutual appreciation, between Raskopf and Pole. An undated newspaper cutting, later in the scrapbook, reviews a piece of new music – The Limerick Castle Polka. The composer was G. Raskopf and the tune “for the Piano-forte” is dedicated to Lieutenant-Colonel Pole of the 63rd Regiment. The reviewer describes it as: “an exceedingly clever and novel piece of writing with a very original melody, coupled with that buoyancy and exciting character which music for this charming dance requires to win popularity for a writer. We feel assured that this polka will become a general favourite.” This is an interesting insight into the role of military bands and bandmasters. They were employed by regiments, but also expected to play for the entertainment of the officers. Sober and respectful as he was, Raskopf was not above publishing a polka as a side-hustle.
Late-nineteenth century bandsmen were highly competent performers – most could play at least one wind instrument and an additional string instrument – and there is evidence that Raskopf was highly regarded within his profession. In 1864 he was in Glasgow, one of three judges in a contest between 25 brass bands held at College Green on 25 June. At the time, he was bandmaster of the 15th (The King’s) Hussars, possibly joined the regiment when it was transferred to Ireland in 1859, moving with them to Scotland in 1864, and ultimately leaving when the regiment departed for India in 1869. This was the year when Raskopf was presented with his ceremonial conductor’s baton. It came in a case inscribed with his name and was clearly both a treasured possession and an indication that the bandmaster was held in high regard.
George Raskopf died on 4 September 1887 and is buried in Newbridge, County Kildare.