Sobre the Vagues – Sur las Wellen – Uber le Olas

Sheet music 'Sobre las Olas' by Juventino Rosas
Sobre las Olas‘ by Juventino Rosas. Published by Friedrich Hofmeister (Leipzig, s.d.)

It is not our collector’s goal, but we have many duplicates of the sheet music ‘Over the Waves’ (Sobre las Olas in Spanish, Über den Wellen in German, Sur les Vagues in French, Sopra le Onde in Italian).

Not surprisingly the waltz, Sobre las olas, has sometimes been incorrectly attributed to Johann Strauss. But is was composed by a Mexican, Juventino Rosas (1868-1894). His life has been documented and filmed. Beware though, because many lies and fantasies have been written about him.  What is true —and sad—  is that he died too young at the age of 26.

Juventino Rosas in 1894 (source: wikipedia:en)

We want to concentrate on the iconic representation of Sobre las Olas on all the above covers. Where does it come from? Why did the music publishers all over Europe apparently follow the convention to represent a young nymph, fairy or woman floating above foaming water, always with bare arms, twirling and undulating, wrapped in lots of light fabric? Send us a postcard if you know the answer, please.

At that time Art Nouveau is in full bloom, and the flowing gowns echo the characteristic whiplash curves employed by many fin-de-siècle artists.

Sopra le Onde‘ by Juventino Rosas. Published by Carisch & Jänichen (Milano, s.d.)

What strikes us, is the graphical similarity with the representation of the famous Serpentine Dance created by Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère, as seen on posters around 1900.

Loïe Fuller, left: by PAL (Jean de Paleologue); middle: by BAC (Ferdinand Sigismond Bach),1892; right: by Jules Chéret, 1897.

Of course, seeing Loïe Fuller in action is another thing. Here she is, metamorphosing from a bat, in an original silent film by Segundo de Chomon. He was a brilliant Spanish film pioneer who worked in Paris and is often compared to Georges Méliès, due to his frequent camera tricks and optical illusions. The film is from 1902 (and not 1905 as indicated on YouTube). Although Segundo de Chomon hand painted some copies, this one is recently stencil-coloured.

In another Segundo de Chomon film The creation of the Serpentine (1908) Mephistopheles interrupts a peaceful evening of dancing in a French salon. Showing his real face, the demon creates a woman who multiplies in numerous Serpentine dancers, all twisting their robes until they finally explode into flames. Wow!

And here is an excerpt from La Danseuse a 2017 biopic of Loïe Fuller, played and danced by none other than I’ll Kill Her Soko. Perhaps not really a must-see, but it gives a good impression of the colour effects that were originally used and designed by Fuller herself.

Now back to our Sobre las Olas with an Uzbek interpretation. It surely beats kittens on Facebook.

Table of six ‘Sobre las Olas’ sheet music above: (clockwise starting top left) (1) published by Ernst & Paul Fischer (Berlin, s.d.); (2)published by Alfred Michow (Berlin, s.d.); (3) published by Adolf Kunz (Berlin, s.d.); (4) published by Otto June, Leipzig, s.d., illustration signed G.B; (5) published by Anton J. Benjamin (Hamburg, s.d.); (6) unknown publication.

Le Voyage à Robinson

Le Voyage à Robinson‘ by Lucien Collin, lyrics by Gaston Villemer and Lucien Delormel. Published by C. Joubert Editeur, Paris (s.d.) and illustrated by Adrien Barrère.

For Le voyage à Robinson the illustrator of the sheet music imagined a girl with puckered lips waiting to be kissed by an artistic young man. The gifted caricaturist Adrien Barrère must have been inspired by the flirtatious liaison described by the lyricists Villemer and Delormel.  Their song —first performed in 1884— became a belle-époque classic. It tells the story of an innocent girl taken advantage of during an outing to a village resort called Robinson. Oh no, and the trip started so well though!

Te rappelles-tu le jour de ma fête
Où tu m’emmenas rire à Robinson ?
Nous avions alors de l’amour en tête
Car nos cœurs chantaient la même chanson.

[ Do you remember when on my birthday
you gaily took me for a ride to Robinson?
Both our heads were then filled with love
As our hearts were humming the same song. ]

A few rhymes later the story unbridles a little:

Dans l’arbre fameux je grimpais bien vite
Le vent souleva ma jupe un peu trop
Et toi, curieux, montant à ma suite
En voyant cela, tu crias “Plus haut !”

[ Into the famous tree I quickly climbed
The wind lifted my skirt a bit
And curious you, following behind,
Seeing that cried “Higher up!” ]

Let us hear Annie Girardot sing about the Voyage à Robinson, and how it ends in woeful memories.

In the 19th and early 20th century guinguettes were a popular destination for Parisian day trippers. A guinguette was an establishment for ample drinking, simple eating and lively dancing. Traditionally it was located next to a river or to a lake in the Parisian suburbs.

The Robinson guinguettes were situated not along the water but in a forest near Paris. For over a century they attracted a crowd of Parisians who came to relax in the forest on Sunday. It all started with an innkeeper who in 1848 built a suite of interconnected tree houses in a majestic chestnut tree. He named his guinguette Au Grand Robinson. He had confused Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe who lived in a cave and ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ who lived in a tree house as described by Johann Wyss in his book from 1813.

Entrance of the ‘Vrai arbre Robinson’ with a statue of Robinson Crusoe.

The romantic tree houses high up in the gnarled branches of giant chestnuts were decorated as dining rooms with wooden furniture.  They were surrounded by a rustic railing and covered with a thatched roof. Some of them could accommodate up to ten patrons. The waiter hoisted the dishes and drinks up in large baskets using a rope and pulley system.

Le voyage à Robinson‘ by Lucien Collin, Gaston Villemer and Lucien Delormel, published by Bathlot-Joubert (Paris, [1885]) and illustrated by Gustave Donjean.
The tree houses were in high demand. Young couples in search of privacy needed a lot of money and luck to reserve one of these intimate spots. Love is in the air. To protect one’s self even more from prying eyes, one could draw the curtains that surrounded the hut…  Why do I keep thinking about the Mile High Club?

Parisians relax en masse. Left the Vrai Arbre and right the Grand Arbre.

Soon copycats seeing the success of Au Grand Robinson were on the lookout for big trees in the surrounding area. As soon as they found one they started to build tree houses in it. At the beginning of the 20th century there were up to 30 establishments that had thus created their small hamlet of restaurants and taverns. Each claimed to have the most beautiful or the biggest tree. Hence, for authenticity’s sake Au Grand Robinson was renamed Le Vrai Arbre Robinson (The Real Robinson Tree).

Apart from its tree houses the Robinson guinguettes were known for donkey rides…

ezeltjes robinson
Left: ‘Taking turns’. Upper right: ‘A real tumble’. Lower right: ‘The fall of the horse rider’.

…swings,

Swings at Robinson, 1921 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

… frolicsome bigophone parades,

Bigophone band at Le Vrai Arbre Robinson, 1921 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

…and wedding parties.

La Mariée de Robinson’ by Emile Spencer & Léo Lelièvre published by A Repos (Paris, s.d.).

By the 1950s people had gotten tired of the Robinson guinguettes which started to close down one after the other. In 1966 the French rock singer Johnny Halliday together with a friend bought the original guinguette Le Vrai Arbre Robinson. Johnny (no need for his last name in France!) and his copain transformed the guinguette into a ranch and baptized it Robinson Village. The spirit of Robinson Crusoe was abandoned in favour of that of the American Wild West.

Johnny Hallyday performing at Robinson Village in 1966.

The small theme park boasted a mitraillette saloon, an Indian village, a Western Show, a disco and a Jerkium (where one could dance the Jerk).

Unfortunately the hope of the entrepreneurs to revive the spirit of the guinguette was smothered: Robinson Village had to close soon after it had opened.

Travelling back in time to 1966, Johnny sings his version of Black is blackGo Johnny go!


Further reading: “Mémoire de guingettes” by Francis Bauby, Sophie Orivel and Martin Pénet (Omnibus, 2003)

Why We Wonder at Woyty-Wimmer’s Work

Wunder Bar (Come rosa sboccia amore)’, an operetta by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Edizioni Suvini Zerboni (EVZ) in Milano, 1930. Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

The cover of a cocktail-sipping flapper for the song Wunder Bar is signed HWW. We already had stumbled upon permutations of the letters W, T and/or H, forming a variety of remarkable monograms. But we couldn’t make heads nor tails of these signatures. What a hard life we have!

Variations of the W H W monogram, signature of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

About a hundred clicks later we came across an obituary telling us more about our illustrator. The information came from the world of stamp collectors. The signatures proved to be those of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. He was the son of a rittmeister (cavalry officer) and born in Romania (1901), in the Bukovina region which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the empire fell apart at the end of WWI, Woyty-Wimmer moved to Vienna, where he studied graphic design, and became an illustrator and excellent engraver. In 1925 he started his own studio and worked for book publishers and publicity agencies. You can still find his work for sale on eBay, especially post cards and bookplates (ex-libris). Here are a few to illustrate his craftsmanship.

A postcard (1938) and an Ex Libris for A. Kaufmann, designed by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex Libris for Dr. Richard Donin, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex libris for Franz Slatner, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer (1936).

From the Woyty-Wimmer sheet music covers in our collection, we know that his professional path in Vienna during the Thirties must have crossed the grim story of the Jewish publisher Franz Sobotka and his nemesis, the Wiener Lied composer and publisher Heinrich Strecker (read our post ‘Heinrich Strecker vs Franz Sobotka’). Woyty-Wimmer worked for both of them. His designs decorate the sheet music for the publishers Wiener Excelsior Verlag, Edition Bristol and later Strecker’s rather infamous Musikverlag am Schubertring.

‘Ich bin ein kleiner, armer Strassensänger’ by Bruno Uher, Paul Reif & Beda. Published by Bristol (Vienna, 1933) and illustrated by Woyty-Wimmer.

There must also have been a link during that period with the Milanese publisher Suvini-Zerboni (EVZ), but we haven’t found out which. The illustrations are rather sweet though.

Anuscka tu m’hai rubato il cuore…‘ by Jerzy Petersburski and P. M. Arese (published by Edizioni Suvini-Zerboni, Milano, s.d.).
Rosen blühen wieder‘ by Emil Berté and Alfred Steinberg-Frank. Tango published by Edition Scala (Wien, 1930).

In contrast to the Jewish authors of the Wunder Bar operette (Katscher, Farkas and Herczeg) who all three had to flee Austria after the Anschluss, Hubert Woyty-Wimmer continued to work in Vienna. In 1941 Woyty-Wimmer even became member of the Wiener Künstlerhaus. The Künstlerhaus was one of the two Austrian artists’ associations approved by the National Socialists. A year later Woyty-Wimmer compiled an exhibition for it.

In 1950 Woyty-Wimmer found employment in London as an engraver for a famous security paper manufacturer, working on banknotes and stamps.

Postage Stamps engraved by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. Thanks to Jon Eboy (source: www.stampboards.com)
King George II and Constantine I of Greece, postage stamps engraved by Woyty-Wimmer, 1956. (source: Michael Chambers on the Stamp Magazine Forum)

The decorative value of postages stamps was very well known by sheet music designers, especially to put some spirit into a Polka, Walz or Galop.

Postage Polka‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
Postage-Valse‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
The Stamp Galop‘ by Arthur O’Leary. Published by Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston, 1864. (Courtesy of the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University)

Hubert Woyty-Wimmer returned to Vienna around 1965. His bad health together with harsh family disputes troubled the end of his life. He died in 1972 and was buried in Graz.

Back in 1930, Woyty-Wimmer made another clever Wunder Bar cover, this one for the Viennese publisher Doblinger.

Die Wunder Bar, ein Spiel im Nachtleben‘ by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Ludwig Doblinger (Wien, 1930). Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

We apologize for the slight chance to have bored you with our philatelic digression. To make good, we offer you a peek at the 1934 Wonder Bar film, based on the operetta, featuring Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Dolores del Rio and 250 of the world’s most beautiful girls.

Interestingly, Wonder Bar was one of the last pre-Code movies. And so, although the Code office asked Warners to get rid of the gay sequence, they refused and this wunderbarliche scene survived: “Boys will be boys! Woo!”


Edgar Lewy’s 1972 Woyty-Wimmer obituary (source: stamp magazine).