Category Archives: Composers

Camille du Gast, the Valkyrie of Motorsports

Youyou‘ by Carlos de Mesquita published by R. Villeneuve (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by P. Sch.

The illustration for the piano music Youyou  is not the most captivating one. But its dedication “Au commandant du ‘Camille’ Madame Camille Du Gast” caught my attention.
A youyou is a small boat or a dinghy used to tender passengers between a ship and the shore. Here is a photograph of Mme Camille du Gast climbing from a youyou onto her motorboat, the Camille.

Cover picture from ‘La Vie au grand air: revue illustrée de tous les sports’ published by Pierre Lafitte, Paris, May 1905.

The adventurous Mme du Gast took part in the 1905 Algiers to Toulon race organised by the Paris newspaper Le Matin. Sadly, it would be the last time she boarded the Camille

Mme du Gast, wearing a southwester hat on board of the Camille.

To ensure the safety of the seven competing motorboats, each one was accompanied by a torpedo boat destroyer. Moreover, two cruisers followed the race. Sixteen hours after leaving Algiers the Camille arrived in second place at Port Mahon, a harbour on the Spanish island Minorca.

An artist’s impression of the crew of the Camille being saved by the Kléber.

In the second part of the race the participants tried to reach Toulon, but this ended in disaster. All competitors and their crew had to be saved from the fury of a storm-swept Mediterranean. The Camille was engulfed by the violent sea. In a perilous operation led by the cruiser Kléber, the crew of the Camille was pulled aboard. But not before an exhausted Mme du Gast fell into the sea and  was heroically rescued by a sailor. The Camille was left to the mercy of the waves.

Mme du Gast on board of the Kléber, the day after the shipwreck of the Camille. She must have found dry and presentable clothing in the captain’s trunk…

Two months later, Mme du Gast was declared the winner of the Algiers to Toulon race having come closest to finishing before sinking.

The 1905 Algier-Toulon race was not Mme du Gast’s first valiant exploit: she loved fencing, tobogganing, skiing, rifle and pistol shooting, ballooning, parachuting and horse training. She rode her first automobile around 1900 and participated in glamorous capital-to-capital car races, such as Paris-Berlin in 1901, Paris-Vienne in 1902 and Paris-Madrid in 1903.

Mme du Gast driving her first car, a Panhard-Levassor. Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand/Roger-Viollet

Mme du Gast’s sobriquet, the Valkyrie of motorsports, elegantly expressed her buxom figure, as seen on these photographs.

Camille du Gast posing in her leather duster and matching chauffeuse’s driver hat.

It is said that she had a very upright position when driving her motorised vehicles because of her corset. Looking at the picture with her at the rudder of her ‘canot‘, I find her silhouette mesmerizingly disturbing. I then imagine that she just donned a corset for official pictures, and immediately tucked the hindering girdle into a corner when going for action.

Mme du Gast dans son canot automobile à Juvisy, 25 septembre 1904; Wikipedia

Disappointingly, it seems that du Gast’s perfect hourglass shape is but the result of photographic retouching. Look at the telltale pencil corrections around her waist, belly and hips on these magnifications.

The composer of Youyou was Carlos de Mesquita, a Brazilian-born concert pianist and composer. In 1877, aged 13, he left Brazil to study piano and organ at the Conservatoire de Paris where he took lessons with Jules Massenet and César Franck. In the 1880s and 1890s he would introduce their work in Brazil, together with those of Delibes, Bizet, Gustave Charpentier and Saint-Saëns. Through his Concertos Populares, de Mesquita not only introduced a new repertoire in Brazil. He also tried to musically educate and appeal to a growing middle class. His noble intention was undoubtedly inspired by his colleague Gustave Charpentier, who founded in 1902 the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson for the musical schooling of working girls.

We found another Carlos de Mesquita’s sheet music in our Images Musicales collection. It is also dedicated to Camille du Gast and portrays her profile in a tangled Art nouveau floral design. A sign of respect, or was there also un peu d’amour..?

‘Un Peu d’Amour’ by Carlos de Mesquita and Charles Fuster, published by Henry Lemoine & Cie (Paris, sd) and illustrated by ED.

To prove her more artistic accomplishments, Mme du Gast who was a talented singer and piano player, gave charity recitals accompanied by Carlos de Mesquita. The newspaper La Presse describes one of her performances: “When Madame du Gast appeared, a flattering murmur ran through the audience. One was curious to hear Mme Du Gast, who yesterday was an intrepid automobile driver, who will be an aeronaut tomorrow, and who was revealed to us this evening as an excellent musician. Accompanied by M. Carlos de Mesquita, she has performed two pieces of this delicate composer. We celebrated both of them.”

Camille du Gast – publicity picture for a piano recital, presumed c. 1890s (source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Bain Collection).

The mondaine Camille du Gast got entangled in a scandal following the trial against her brother and father whom she had accused of embezzlement. Maître Barboux acting for her relatives, hit below the belt when he showed the court a picture of a painting of a naked lady. Barboux claimed that the lady, only clad in a mask, was Mme du Gast (as he had been told by Mme du Gast’s father and brother). Oh my god!

‘La Femme au Masque’ by Henri Gervex, 1885.

Mme du Gast’s libel action against Maître Barboux caused a sensation in Paris. Both the artist Henri Gervex and the girl who had stood model for the painting, Marie Renard, corroborated du Gast’s case. Still they were not given a hearing. Maître Barboux refused to apologise and moreover won the case on a legal technicality.

Post Card, mocking Mme du Gast and her supposed modelling for ‘La femme au masque’.

It is said that Madame du Gast who was present in the courtroom, had hidden a horsewhip in her parasol with the intention of administering correction to Maître Barboux. However, he prudently chose to leave the Palais de Justice by a private way, as he knew that Madame du Gast and her friends were in a very excited state after the decision of the Court.

But that is not the end of the story, as the prince de Sagan, a friend and admirer of Mme du Gast, followed the lawyer to his house with the firm determination to avenge the honour of Mme du Gast. He slapped Maître Barboux in the face calling him an insulter of women. An hour later, following impeccable manners, the prince sent his card to Barboux’s house. The Australian West Gippsland Gazette (september 1902) further reports: “Maître Barboux, as already noted, is no longer a young man, although very active, and he has, in any case, passed the fighting age, so he prefers the legal way of obtaining satisfaction.“ Another lawsuit followed. Although the court accepted that the prince had acted in good fate, he was condemned to pay a 500 francs fine.

Each sheet music tells its own story. But we also found another truth: one Youyou may conceal another…

‘Dans la Nuit tous le Chats sont Gris’ from the You-You opérette of Victor Alix, J. Ardot & J. Sirrah (Marcel Labé, Paris, 1922). Illustration by Choppy.

The Great Sousa

Sheet Music cover (The Washington Post, J. P. Sousa) ill. by J. Bahr
Washington Post‘ by John Philipp Sousa. Digitally retouched (IM-stories). Published by Tessaro Verlag (Berlin, s.d.) and illustrated by Johann Bahr.

I am not a lover of national hymns, military music or marches. They might hearten the troops but they seldom encourage the creation of attractive covers. At least one exception is this winsome image for John Philip Sousa’s The Washington Post. It inspires gallant courteousness and good manners, not blaring heroism. And indeed Sousa’s fierce marching music suitably accompanied the stylish ballroom two-step. At one point the two-step was so much identified with Sousa’s melody that it was often called The Washington Post. Nevertheless we find distinct entries for the two dances in a tiny ‘dance class’ notebook of that time.

Carnet de cours de danse, +/- 1900.
Two separate entries for The Washington Post and the Two-Step dance (Nouvelle Danse Anglaise) in a dance class notebook, ca. 1900. (source Images Musicales archives).

The two-step dance had been introduced in about 1890: a quick-quick-slow slide instead of the half-jump Polka step or an ein-zwei martial stride. The civilised dance definitely called for a more sophisticated music. Don’t take my word for it — listen to the delicate rendition of The Washington Post by the United States Army Field Band.

The creator of the dancing couple on the cover above is Johann Bahr (1859–1910), a German painter and caricaturist for the satirical magazine Lustige Blätter. We found one of his drawings for that magazine (a mocking self-portrait?) and also a merry carnivalesque aquarelle.

traum-eines-caricaturen-zeichners, Johann Bahr
Traum eines Caricaturen-Zeichners‘ (Dream of a caricaturist), illustration by Johann Bahr for the Lustige Blätter. [ © Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg; source: Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek ]
Lustiger Karneval. Aquarelle by Johann Bahr.
Lustiger Karneval‘. Aquarelle by Johann Bahr (source: eBay)

Bahr was not a prolific sheet music illustrator, still we count seven of his creations in our collection. One of them is again for a Sousa composition, the Kadetten-Marsch.

Sheet music cover (partition musicale) illustrated by Johann Bahr.
Kadetten-Marsch‘ (The High School Cadets March), by John Philipp Sousa. Published by Alfred Michow (Charlottenburg, s.d.) and illustrated by Johann Bahr.

Now John Philip Sousa, he was famous! Born in Washington, D.C. in 1854 he would forever be esteemed as the American ‘March King’. His father was a Spanish trombonist with Portuguese roots, his mother was German. Sousa started as an apprentice musician at the Marine Corps. He would become a member and later the youngest conductor of the United States Marine Band. At the end of that career, in 1892 he founded his own Sousa Band. With it he conquered the US and the world, touring multiple times.
Sousa made his mark on music history. Being a perfectionist —and also having a perfect pitch— he attracted the finest musicians in his band. He educated audiences by playing classics to perfection, and proved that America had quality music.

Photograph of John Philip Sousa standing with Camille Saint-Saëns
John Philip Sousa standing with Camille Saint-Saëns, ca 1915. [ source: Library of Congress ]
Apart from his noble musical career Sousa helped the development of the sousaphone, strongly defended the rights of musical authors, and was in his spare time an expert trap shooter.

Sousa at his favourite sport, trapshooting in 1916. { source: Pennsylvania State Sportsmen's Association ]
Sousa engaged in his favourite sport, trap shooting in 1916 [ source: Pennsylvania State Sportsmen’s Association ]
Sousa was not only a wildly popular director, a meticulous conductor, or an ingenious composer. He was also a shrewd entertainer, cleverly adapting his program to the sensitivity of the local audiences. European critics were surprised to hear him launch encores before the end of the concert, often in the middle of the enthusiastic applause that followed a piece. Sousa also introduced jazz sections, ragtime, cakewalks and coon songs in his gigs as early as 1900 at the Paris Exposition, giving some ideas to Claude Debussy.

John Philip Sousa, the Sousa, the "March King". [ ]
John Philip Sousa, the “March King”, ca 1915. [ source: Library of Congress ]
Sousa’s demeanour was always disciplined and his uniforms were meticulous (a valet accompanied him everywhere on tour). There were rumours that to direct he never wore his white gloves twice…

In 1876, as a young lad of 22, Sousa toured as the orchestra leader for the Living Pictures. For that show he also composed short descriptive pieces as accompaniment to scenes with barely-covered girls. The Living Pictures was a series of tableaux vivants that enlivened scenes of classical art and literature. Beautiful women in gauze scarves and flesh-coloured tights took artful poses in painted decors. In the shows announcement, the public was reassured: “The management begs to state that the entertainment will be strictly first-class in every respect, and nothing will be said or done that will offend the most fastidious.

'Cleopatra before Caesar' by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866.
Cleopatra before Caesar‘ by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866 [ source: wikipedia ]
‘Cleopatra before Caesar’, ‘The First Sin’, ‘Diana and her Nymphs Surprised’… Say no more!
The show was an entertaining enterprise of Matt Morgan. He was a British caricaturist, scene painter and theatre personality who defied the authorities and moral standards. It is said that his cartoons ‘… attacked the impropriety —actual or rumoured— of the Prince of Wales; and most shockingly, of Queen Victoria herself.‘

Photograph of Matt Morgan (1837-1890) [ source : Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. ]. On the right an article
Photograph of Matt Morgan (1837-1890) [ source : Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. ]. On the right an announcement in the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 2, Number 107, 26 June 1876.
The risqué Living Pictures spectacle might have been classy in Washington, it definitely was less welcome in Pittsburgh: Sousa and other staff members were called to court on charges of obscenity.

We close this small tribute to Sousa with an impromptu duel between the sousaphone and the Dodge.


Readings on Matt Morgan:

  • ‘Sex, Art, and the Victorian Cartoonist: Matthew Somerville Morgan in Victorian Britain and America’, Richard Scully, IJOCA, 2011 (www.academia.eu)
  • Matt Morgan on Broadway, blog
  • Matt Morgan of FUN – Yesterday’s Papers (blog)

Polnareff, père et fils

amarantina
‘Amarantina’ by Léo Poll, published by the composer (Paris, sd).

Léo Poll, the creator and publisher of the Argentinian tango ‘Amarantina’, was a Russian Jew. He was born in Odessa in 1899 as Leib Polnareff. In 1923 Leib Polnareff arrived in Paris where he became a pianiste-démonstrateur or a song plugger. A piano player was employed by music publishers and music stores to help sell new sheet music. In the office or shop, patrons could select any title, which was then delivered to the song plugger who started to play the tune so that the customer could decide whether to buy the sheet music.
Leib Polnareff chose the pseudonym Léo Poll and became a well-known piano player accompanying vedettes such as Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet. He also composed and arranged several songs and he even had his own orchestra ‘Léo Poll et son orchestre’. You can listen to his composition ‘Un jeune homme chantait’ performed by the legendary Edith Piaf:

un jeune homme chantait
‘Un jeune homme chantait’ by Léo Poll & Raymond Asso, published by Les Editions de Paris in 1937 and illustrated by Würth.

During the Second World War, Léo Poll and his wife fled Paris to the country side in the Zone Libre. They were very lucky to end up  in the small village Nérac. There, despite the presence of the Gestapo, a young girl of 16 who worked for the mayor forged identity papers for Jews. Thanks to her Léo Poll escaped deportation and extermination. Quite the heroine, Odile Perella-Dubergey! Still, she had to wait 70 years to be honoured for risking her life in the Resistance.

In 1944 the couple got a little boy: Michel Polnareff who would become a popular singer-songwriter in France from the mid-1960s on. After the war the family returned to Paris where Michel grew up in an artistic environment. He learned to play the piano when he was 4 years old and at 11 he won a premier prix at the Paris Conservatoire. He also learned the guitar and started busking in Montmartre in 1964.

In 1966 his first disc La poupée qui fait non was an unexpected but phenomenal success.

The androgynous Michel Polnareff was a non-conformist who liked to provoke. That caused him a lot of problems during his career. The most spectacular drawback happened in 1972. For his show ‘Polnarévolution‘ at the Olympia, six thousand posters showing the singer with naked buttocks hung across billboards all over France. Polnareff was found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ and was fined 10 francs per poster.

polnareff naakt
Poster for Polnarévolution at the Olympya in Paris, 1972, a collectors item!

Recently Michel Polnareff settled accounts with his father Leib in his autobiography Spèrme. Allegedly, Léo Poll was a tyrannical brute at home, forcing his son to practice the piano for hours on end and hitting him with his belt.

Love me please love me...