All posts by ImagesMusicales

All Quiet on the Western Front

…geen nieuws van het westelijk front” by Henri Theunisse, published by N.V. Algemene Muziekhandel en Uitgeversmaatschappij van Esso en Co (Rotterdam, 1929) and illustrated by Haas.

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” – Carl Maria Remarque

In 1929 the German novelist Carl Maria Remarque wrote his anti-war masterpiece Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). This book about war’s physical horror was the inspiration for a Dutch song by Henri Theunisse. You can hear his wife Jeanne Horsten sing the song together with Louis Noiret.

The book follows a young German, barely nineteen, and his fellow German classmates who fight in the Great War. They joined the army voluntarily after listening to the patriotic speeches of their teacher. After weeks of fighting Paul Baumer realizes that war is not glorious nor honourable, and that it makes enemies of people who have no grudge against one another. Amidst the ravages of poison gas, artillery bombs, destroyed horses and lost limbs Paul faces sorrowful disillusionment.

Left: ‘Kriegers los‘ by Fritz Redl & Hermann Frey, published by Fülnhorn Verlag (Berlin) Right: ‘Vision…‘ by P. Jullien, published by Schott Frères (Brussels) and illustrated by Amedée Lynen (1917).

The book became an international bestseller. A year later, in 1930, it was adapted as an American film. It became one of the first talkies to win the Oscar for best picture. Because of the defeatist view on war’s meaningless slaughter the book and film were vilified by the emerging National Socialists In Germany. Goebbels led some Brownshirts into tossing stink bombs from the balcony of a Berlin theatre, throwing sneezing powder in the air and releasing white mice. These obnoxious pranks however went further by shouting insults to Jews and even beating people thought to be Jewish. The show was stopped. The next evenings rallies were organised against the film and similar riots erupted across Germany. The film was banned.

When I was in my early teens All Quiet on the Western Front was required reading at school. It moved me so much though that I couldn’t sleep for nights in a row. Since then I’ve been a committed pacifist.

My language teacher —who was responsible for the class’ reading list— was quite an appearance! She was a short, matronly lady with a heavily made-up face: white powder and ruby lips. Her hair was painted raven-black, which she wore in an imposing chignon. A heavy bosom completed her formidable look. At the time I thought her to be at least 100 years old. She held her husband, a now long forgotten poet and writer, in adulation. Her boundless admiration for him led her to tell us interminable stories about him and his works. Boring, but sometimes surprisingly interesting… Contrary to her old-fashioned demeanour, she was a feminist, a pacifist and atheist.

On the right my language teacher next to her husband, the poet and writer Paul Rogghé. Picture taken in 1948, some 20 years before I became one of her pupils. (source: AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerpen)


She not only taught us to appreciate literature but told us all about  Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe and the role of Bernadette Devlin in the student-led civil rights movement in 1968. At the same time, as she found us an unruly bunch of young teenage girls, she taught us about etiquette, which magazines were appropriate for young women, and how to decorate our future homes. After all, you wouldn’t want to live in a petty-bourgeois interior, now would you?

Speaking for myself, I’m inclined to say: mission accomplished Mrs R.! Except maybe for the etiquette thing.
This song is for you.

Debussy’s Controversial Golliwog

‘The Golliwogg’s Dance’ by Alexandre Duval published by Enoch & C° (Paris, 1906) and illustrated by Moriss.

The colourful cover for Alexandre Duval‘s The Golliwogg’s Dance (1906) was drawn by illustrator, cartoonist and comedian Maurice Boyer, aka Moriss (1874 – 1963).  The music and cover clearly wanted to build on the success of the series of children’s picture book illustrated by Florence Upton.

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Illustration from the book ‘The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg’ by Florence Kate Upton, 1895

This series around a ‘Golliwogg‘ character started in 1895 when the American-born English illustrator Florence Kate Upton drew the pictures for The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. Her mother Bertha wrote the verse. The two ‘dutch dolls’ referred to in the story’s title were peg wooden dolls, that thanked their name to their Dutch and German toymakers. These inexpensive and very popular dolls were sold undressed. Children would use scraps of fabric to make their clothing. For the third doll, the striking Golliwog, Florence sought inspiration from an old rag doll from her childhood.

Left and middle: peg wooden dolls, late 19th century. Right: Golliwog doll by Steiff (1908-1918).

Unluckily, Florence and Bertha did not trademark the Golliwog and soon, following the success of the children’s books, all kinds of doll manufacturers began producing Golliwog dolls. They were stuffed black figures, with a friendly look but having a bad hair day, wearing red pants and a bow tie. In England during the first half of the twentieth century, the Golliwog became almost as popular as the Teddy Bear.

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Golliwog’s Cakewalk‘ by Claude Debussy. Published by Durand (Paris, 1908).

In France the Golliwog inspired Claude Debussy. Golliwog’s Cakewalk is the sixth and final piece in his piano solo suite Children’s Corner (1908). Debussy dedicated this suite, about toys coming to life, to his much beloved daughter Emma, nicknamed Chouchou. The cover with a small elephant holding a gigantic Golliwog balloon is rather surrealistic, and was drawn by Debussy himself. The Golliwog’s cakewalk is clearly influenced by Afro-American ragtime and jazz.

The doll created by Florence Upton had everything of the blackface minstrel tradition: black skin, big mouth, frizzy hair, a festive dress with bow tie and tailcoat jacket. In 1913, the always wayward ballet dancer Alexander Sacharoff made his own ‘white’ interpretation of Debussy’s Golliwog. In it he patently declared his love for outrageous costumes and wigs.

Alexander Sacharoff as Golliwog. Photo by By Hans Holdt.

While Florence’s original Golliwog character was jovial and friendly some later specimens were sinister or menacing. This is also true in Marcel L’Herbier’s short phantasy film from 1936.  A little girl, together with her toys, watch the fearful dance of a Gollywog-Jack-in-the-box. The world-famous Alfred Cortot is at the piano, playing three pieces from Debussy’s Children’s Corner. The Golliwog’s Cakewalk starts at 5:32. That scene is preceded by a message —now considered overtly racist— warning the audience to certainly applaud the ‘terrible nègre‘ who can otherwise become very mean.

Even the famous Enid Blython also incorporated a rather evil Golliwog in her books. But it was later banished from revised editions.The popularity of the Gollywog contributed to the spread of the blackface iconography in Europe. Unaffected by a few fearsome embodiments, European children adored their doll. Like their parents they were racially insensitive and not aware that the blackface itself represents a demeaning image of black people. The prolific illustrator Clérice even paired a gentle ‘Gollyvog‘ (yes, the difficult double-U for the French ) with his characteristic cupid.

‘Monsieur Gollyvog’ by P. Codini & Richter published by P. Codini (Paris, 1919) and illustrated by Clérice frères. The song is dedicated to the Blue Cross, an animal welfare organisation that cared for sick and injured horses during World War One.

And of course the Golliwog was also used for marketing other things than sheet music.

De Vigny created a spicy, floral, oriental perfume for ladies. The fragrance was launched in France in 1919 as ‘Golliwogg’. Its bottle was designed by Michel de Brunhoff, who worked for Vogue France. He was the brother of Jean de Brunhoff, creator of Babar. The top of the stopper was fitted with real seal fur. These flasks were sold until the late 1960s. Robertson & Sons, a British manufacturer of jams and preserves, began using the Golliwog —or Gollie as the British lovingly called him— as the company’s mascot in 1910.

The advert above was distributed as late as 1984 when it became muddled by protests, indignation and outcry against its racism. 

The Golliwog was also known as a classic contortionist act. A sketch by the Florida Trio from the early fifties gives an idea of the torturous feat. An  extremely double-jointed figure in a golliwog costume is doing amazing foldings and bendings. Don’t try this at home!

Let’s end with a quiz question. Into what name did the Golliwogs change their name in 1967, the year in which they recorded their single Tell Me? Not too difficult, if you ask me. Just listen to the first two singing notes and you’ll know the answer.

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.