Songs of Silence

‘Chant funèbre pour un guerrier’ by Paul Arma & Claude Aveline, published by Heugel (Paris, 1953) and illustrated by Henri Matisse.

You had to be someone special to get Matisse, no less, to illustrate your song. Apparently Paul Arma was that special. The cover of his ‘Chant funèbre pour un guerrier‘ in our collection proves it. Paul Arma was born in Hungary in 1904 as Imre Weisshaus from a Jewish family. He studied with Bela Bartok and just like him, became fascinated by folk songs. After finishing his studies he led a successful career as a pianist, performing contemporary music across Europe and the USA, where he lived for a while.

In the early thirties Imre Weisshaus became convinced that only communism could overcome fascism. He returned to Hungary to mingle with the anti-fascist struggle. But he soon left for the more artistic scene in Germany and became an active supporter of the Communist Party. He started to distribute pamphlets at the entrance of factories. Before long he was invited to lead proletarian choirs. In Berlin Weisshaus became artistic and musical leader to one of the Party’s Agitprop Truppen. Those groups were mostly composed of working-class youngsters, singing revolutionary songs and playing propaganda sketches. While there, Weisshaus also worked together with Hanns Eisler and Bertold Brecht. In the forbidden 1932 film Kuhle Wampe, written by Bertold Brecht, we get a good impression of the class-struggling songs of the times. The Solidarity Song in the clip below was composed by Hanns Eisler.

Apart from his political activities in Berlin, Imre Weisshaus also led the musical activities at the Dessau-based Bauhaus, lecturing on modern music and experimenting with electronic music.

But the rehearsals and public performances of Imre’s choirs were constantly interrupted by increasingly violent hordes of SA and SS. The Bauhaus school was closed. In 1933 the Nazis blamed the Reichstag fire on communist agitators, and Imre’s connections with the intellectual and artistic avant-garde got him imprisoned. He was cruelly put through a mock execution, but later released thanks to his Hungarian passport. Imre fled to Paris where he was helped by the Secours Rouge International (International Red Aid) and the Comité d’aide aux réfugiés juifs.

Postcard sold in support of the German refugees in France after the Reichstag fire in 1933.

In France Imre changed his name to Paul Arma and he continued working with choirs. He composed and performed for French radio and wrote songs for the International Brigades in Spain.

Paul Arma clandestinely stayed in France during the war and surprisingly succeeded to keep out of trouble. Numerous friends and the family of Edmée, his wife, helped him. Together they secretly collected over 1,800 French songs, transcribing the melodies. Edmée Arma was not Jewish, and declared to the authorities that her husband was missing. She even managed to get the songs published under Paul Arma’s name, whom no one seemed to connect with Imre Weissmann. Paul Arma also collected the songs of the Maquis, of partisans and prisoners. This collection is now kept at the Resistance Museum of Thionville.

‘Civilisation’ by Paul Arma & René Maran, published by Heugel (Paris, 1953). Cover illustrated by Fernand Léger.

Between 1942 and 1945 Arma composed his set of eleven songs, Les chants du silence (Songs of Silence). He used texts by contemporary French authors that reflect on the ravages and mindlessness of war, on justice and man’s destiny. The lyrics of the first song ‘A la jeunesse’ were written by the French Nobel prize winner, Romain Rolland.

Left: ‘Chant du désespéré’ by Paul Arma & Charles Vildrac, illustrated by Raoul Duffy. Right: ‘Notre entente’ by Paul Arma & Marie Gevers, illustrated by Edouard Pignon. Both published by Heugel (Paris, 1953).

In 1953, the brothers Heugel wanted to publish the complete song cycle. For Paul Arma it became a prestigious project in which he wanted to combine poetry, music and fine arts through the work of eleven painters, eleven writers and one musician.

‘Fuero’ by Paul Arma & Vercors, published by Heugel (Paris, 1953) and illustrated by Marc Chagall.

He chose amongst France’s finest painters. The first artist he approached was who-else-but Picasso. In his memoirs Arma recounts how he went to Picasso’s studio with his song and the text by Rolland. A few days later he got a phone call that his drawing was ready. On arrival at the studio Arma saw thirteen drawings lined up against the wall. Picasso warned him: “Do not look at the first twelve, they are bad. Only the last one is good. I believe it will suit you, mon vieux“.

‘A la jeunesse’ by Paul Arma & Romain Rolland, published by Heugel (Paris, 1953) and illustrated by Pablo Picasso.

Paul Arma obtained ten more drawings, from Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, André Beaudin, Maurice Estève, Antoni Clavé, Edouard Pignon, Léon Gischia and Marc Chagall. He dedicated the songs ‘A la mémoire de ceux qui ne sont jamais revenus’ (To those who never came back).

Left: ‘Depuis toujours’ by Paul Arma & Jean Cassou, illustrated by Georges Braque. Right: ‘Le soleil ne se montrait pas’ by Paul Arma & C. F. Ramuz, illustrated by Léon Gischia. Both published by Heugel (Paris, 1953).

Short of Paul Arma’s original melodies, we know another famous song of silence, here in an unexpected interpretation. Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

The Man Who Loved Women

‘Ombre et Lumière’ by Pokrass, published by Salabert (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

This beautiful art deco cover by Roger de Valerio represents the Rowe Sisters. The twins Pauline & Betty Rowe started their career in France around 1924. They were one of the several twin-sister acts emulating the immensely successful Dolly Sisters.

Poster of the Rowe Sisters by Gesmar, 1925

They were known to their fans as ‘the Greyhounds of Paris’. But unlike the popular Dolly Sisters almost nothing is known about their personal lives, not even their nationality. According to newspapers of that time they were either American or English.

As stated by La Vie Parisienne in 1927, le tout Paris was “eagerly awaiting the return of the Rowe Sisters at the Casino de Paris after their success at the Alhambra in Brussels transformed them into stars.” But the leggy Rowe Sisters never became top of the bill and they stopped dancing when Betty married a hot actor and singer, Henri Garat in 1932. They met by chance in a train returning to Paris from the French Riviera and married shortly after. But she married the wrong guy.

‘C’est Malheureux d’être amoureux’, song from the ‘Rive Gauche’ Paramount film. Music by Ray Noble & lyrics by Marc Hély, sheet music published by Chappell (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Kramer. It prominently shows the picture of a smoking Henri Garat.

Henri Garrat was known as “France’s most glittering matinee idol and film star” and was according to a then newspaper “the coqueluche of France, meaning that all the midinettes got whooping cough over him”.

Mon Amour quand je danse avec toi‘ waltz by Werner R. Heymann with French words byJean Boyer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by H. Cerutti.

A leading film actor in light romances during the 1930’s, Garat became a big star as the partner of Lilian Harvey. The cinema made him rich, very rich. He got more money than sense and led an opulent life with a yacht, several cars, a castle and too many friends who ate caviar by the spoonful at his table.

Chicago Tribune, April 1933

In the 1934 film Prince de Minuit, Betty Rowe got to play a small part together with her husband. He plays the role of a clerk in a shop selling records.

Interestingly the clip above shows —apart from a few stupefying film montages— that these shops offered a technical studio where you could cut your own record. In the next fragment of the same film Henri Garat sings Caricouli, a foxtrot composed by Maurice Yvain.

We also see Betty Rowe’s cameo: she’s a customer in the shop listening to him crooning. The clip ends with both dancing together on top of a giant revolving 78 rpm.
Betty’s career in film was short. She only appeared in minor roles in two other films. It is thanks to two stills of these other films that I was able to recognise her in the clip above. Makes me feel a top-noch archival sleuth, ahum.

Left: Betty Rowe in ‘Le Messager’, 1937. Right: Betty Rowe in ‘La souris bleue’ with her husband Henry Garat and Monique Rolland, 1936.

Betty and Henri’s marital bliss was short-lived. Just as he sang in the film ‘Un Soir de Réveilllon‘:

J’aime les femmes, j’aime les femmes
Voilà mon vice, ma faiblesse et mon défaut.

in real life our handsome jeune premier also loved women.  And these in turn found it hard to resist his charms…

Even while Betty was pregnant there were continuous rumours of affairs with other women. No wonder that five years later their marriage was over.

Henri Garat would marry four times. And ultimately his extravagant lifestyle, his consumption of cocaine, his philandering, his marriages including one with a ‘Russian countess’, his divorces and also fraud brought him ruin. His stardom started to wane. As a result he suffered from depression and had to follow a detox. He opened a restaurant and a toy store, but it didn’t work out. At the end of his life he was discreetly assisted by La Rou Tourne, a charity for the unfortunates from the world of theatre. Supported by this association Henri Garat became a pathetic attraction in theatres. He even toured with a circus. Alas too often, the public didn’t recognise the big film star anymore. Henri Garat died in poverty aged 57.

Still from the film ‘Il est charmant’ with Henri Garat and Meg Lemonnier.