band photo

Joe Lukey: Photographer

The original Sanftsprecher

Under duress from the USM (Unified Society of Milkmen), Joseph Daley, Blair Douglass, Paul Foreman and Nicholas Rocchio shut down their independent milk delivery service in 1929.  A smattering of unsuccessful endeavors followed, until they discovered an undeniable chemistry blending finger-picked guitars with lutes and clarinets.  Although initially less lucrative than the milk business, the quartet, who settled on the name Sanftsprecher (trans. “Soft Speaker”), were championed by Austria’s Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1932 and subsequently enjoyed a period of massive popularity in their newly-adopted home country.  The band split following Dollfuss’s assassination in 1934. Their only official recording, the 78rpm single, I’ll Tend Your Garden, is highly sought after by record collectors.  In 2008, enthusiasts of the band purchased sheet music for a number of unrecorded Sanftsprecher songs that were discovered in Rocchio’s safe deposit box in UniCredit Bankengruppe.  Austria’s Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich has been recording interpretations of these songs and releasing them for the public’s listening pleasure.  Separately, a ramshackle group of Chicago-based musicians has taken it upon themselves to perform and record these songs in a strikingly rudimentary manner with crude electric instruments, much to the dismay of purist fans that prefer the orchestral versions.

Dollfuss Writes Vortrobos

Prior to accepting the office of Chancellor of Austria, Englebert Dollfuss was a soldier with the Austro-Hungarian army, fighting on the Alpine Front in WWI.  Although he was highly decorated and well-regarded, his time in the battlefield had a significant effect on his psyche.  It did not help that his diminutive stature was the source of great amusement for his peers, who referred to him as “The Jockey.”  He grew insular and took to writing lengthy works of fiction, featuring eerie parallel realities inhabited by characters that were obviously based on himself.  Although his writing skills were limited, the stories were detailed and engaging.  These pieces of fiction inspired a large batch of songs written by Sanftsprecher between 1932 and 1933.  It is believed that the members of Sanftsprecher were among a very small audience with whom Dollfuss shared the stories.  The present-day Soft Speaker (Chicago) recorded a selection of these songs in 2011 and released them as the album, Vortrobos, which borrows it’s title from one of Dollfuss’s works.  The cover art was created by Chicago-based painter, Jason Brammer, and is his interpretation of one of Dollfuss’s parallel realities.