Category Archives: History

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.

Seadromes

‘Tout Là-bas’ by Allan Gray & Bernard Zimmer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1932) and illustrated by Ch. Roussel.

The sci-fi cover for the song Tout Là-bas – Chanson de Matelots  shows air planes taking off from an artificial floating island. The song comes from the 1932 film I.F. 1 ne réponds plus. This was the French version of a German UFA production F.P.1 antwortet nicht, by Erich Pommer the producer of Metropolis and Der blaue Engel.

During the early talkie period, before dubbing and subtitling became popular, films were produced in several languages for international markets, the so-called multiple-language version films. For F.P.1 antwortet nicht, the same plot, sets, crew and costumes were used to also make the French-spoken version and an English one, F.P.1 Doesn’t answer. Only the cast was changed.

The three lead actors with the same role, aviator Elissen. Left: the German Hans Albers, middle: the English-speaking Conrad Veidt and right: the Frenchman Charles Boyer. Source: http://www.virtual-history.com.

The film F.P.1 antwortet nicht was based on a novel written by science fiction writer Kurt Siodmak published the previous year. The F.P.1 from the title stands for Floating Platform Number One.

Edward R. Armstrong with a scale model of his seadrome. Source: Pinterest.

Siodmak got his idea of a floating platform from the ‘seadromes’ invented by Edward R. Armstrong. This DuPont engineer had worked for years on a scheme for building a string of floating airports across the Atlantic. Air planes would then make stops at the various points where the seadromes were anchored.

The Atlantic seadrome chain as shown in Popular Science, february 1934

In Popular Science from 1934 we find a clear description: it was Edward R. Armstrong’s plan to bridge the Atlantic with a string of artificial islands. Five of the seadromes would become anchored between America and Spain by way of the Azores. These would serve as refuelling stations each three hours of flight apart. Planes using these islands as steppingstones could thus transport heavier loads at greater speed since they carried less fuel. The platforms would have stabilizer legs to prevent the flight deck from pitching and rolling. Each seadrome would accommodate 100 travellers in addition to quarters for it’s own crew and hangars for 50 large planes. The seadrome would be run like a ship with a captain, officers, sailors, a physician and two meteorologists.

The design and construction of the Armstrong seadrome, illustrated in Popular Science, february 1934

Edward R. Armstrong had already been designing and experimenting with sea bases for more than a decade, when in 1927 Charles Lindbergh succeeded to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Within days songs were composed, and sheet music published, in order to pay tribute to Lindbergh’s Transatlantic Flight.

Left: ‘I fly to Paris!‘ by Helge Lindberg published by Reuter & Reuter (Stockholm, 1927). Right: ‘Aero-Marsch’ by Charles Nestor, published in Sweden (1927).

The most beautiful cover without doubt, was drawn by the Belgian illustrator Peter de Greef for the song De New York à Paris.

Sheet music illustration for Lindbergh's flight of the century
‘De New York à Paris’ by Langlois & Tutelier, published by L’Art Belge (Brussels, 1927) and illustrated by Peter De Greef.

Lindbergh’s flight of the century encouraged Armstrong to further develop his idea to use the seadromes as floating airport platforms for refuelling during transatlantic flights. However the Great Depression crossed the plans to effectively install the seadromes. After World War II the ambitious project became obsolete altogether because of the use of long-range aircraft that did not need such refuelling points. Later though, the idea of an anchored deep-sea platform would be set to use for floating oil rigs.

But back to the film… Not a great plot: the classical love triangle and some sabotage aboard the F.P.1. It has Peter Lorre in a supporting role. If your secret pleasure is to listen to deep male voices singing in choir to the tune of a melancholic far-way-from-home accordion, then the Song of the Sailors from the sheet music cover at the top is worth your attention: fast forward to 48:45.

Pilou-Pilou

‘Le Pilou-Pilou’ by Justin Clérice published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Clérice Frères.

The cover for ‘Le Pilou-Pilou‘ shows an elegant Parisienne in smart safari clothes complete with a pith helmet. She joyously dances face to face with a Kanak man in tribal attire. In the background they are cheered on by wildly moving warriors. The serpentine curve of their bodies emphasizes the movement of the dance. It also accentuates her round contours: shake your booty baby!
This 1907 cover is yet another cartoonish illustration by Clérice Frères, probably from the hand of Victor, one of the sons of Charles Clérice.

Maybe Clérice studied the publicity postcard of Pilou-Pilou dancers offered by Café Jouve from the Compagnie Française des Cafés Calédoniens. His drawing of the Kanak warrior’s costume is quite accurate including feathers and a casse-tête, a kind of war hammer. Judiciously or puritanically he omitted the penis gourd.

Postcard of the Exposition Coloniale near Paris in 1907, showing Kanak people from the Loyalty Islands (New Caledonia) in front of their hut.

On the other hand it is probable that in 1907, the same year the sheet music was published, Clérice joined the two million visitors of the Exposition Coloniale near Paris. There, in the Jardin Tropical of the Bois de Vincennes, exotic men and women from the former colonies were exhibited to the crowd. Many overseas natives were lured into joining the show, and among them also Kanak people from New Caledonia. Kanaks are the indigenous inhabitants of this Melanesian territory that was colonised by the French in 1853.

In the midst of the New Imperialism period these human zoo’s had become common. What an embarrassing and tragic chapter that was in Western history. Eighteen years earlier than the 1907 Exposition Coloniale, in 1889, the Parisian Exposition Universelle also had presented a Village Nègre (Negro Village) at the foot of the then brand-new Eiffel tower. The exhibition was visited by 28 million people.

Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889 – Kanak village.

As the major attraction it displayed 400 indigenous people from the French colonies. Ten Kanaks were ‘invited’ and put on display. In the Parisian show these men and women were directed to live ‘spontaneously’ all day long in a poor makeover of their huts. They  had to carry out their daily tasks under public scrutiny and perform ‘tribal rituals’.

‘Le Monde Illustré’, July 27, 1889. Kanak Village Esplanade des Invalides – illustrated by Louis Tinayre.

‘Civilised’ visitors, could get a glimpse of what was believed to be the true culture of these ‘savages’. One was even allowed to touch the Kanaks on display. Humiliatingly, these first Kanak people in France were considered as primitives, even cannibals — surely they were not French citizens.

As part of the show the Kanak men routinely performed the Pilou-Pilou, a traditional tribal dance. See the engraving on the cover of the exhibition’s weekly: the three man dance beneath banners and medallion of the French Republic. Colonial soldiers are standing guard to protect the sophisticated spectators against the barbarians who ferociously wave their war hammers. It is no surprise that popular imagery was soon invaded by the prejudice of cruel black warriors, gesticulating to the diabolic rhythm, whistles and strident cries of the Pilou-Pilou dance.

Have a look at this document, filmed by an amateur in 1943. 

The pilou-pilou dance has a deep-rooted ancestral tradition with a powerful symbolic significance. Each pilou-pilou tells a particular story, whether of a birth, marriage, great battle or even of the arrival of the French missionaries who are said to have given the dance its repetitive name. It traditionally involves many people moving together, sometimes for hours at a time so that the dancers occasionally reach a trance-like state. The French authorities and Catholic priests considered the dance as  indecent and at some point seemed fit to prohibit it.
Re-reading this, we somewhat fear that our attempt at sketching the original pilou dance and the complex history of the Kanak people is a simplified amalgam of what we’ve read, and probably also suffers from stereotype vision, but well, that is the price we pay when writing a blog instead of an ethnological essay.

In 1907, the Parisian Bal Tabarin created a white version of the Pilou-Pilou. At that time the Bal Tabarin was still owned by Auguste Bosc, yes the publisher of the sheet music above. He asked Justin Clérice, uncle of illustrator Victor, to write its music and a certain Eugenio to choreograph simple but cheery dance movements. Clérice’s music has nothing to do with the rhythm of the pilou percussion. It is a slow oom-pah march with a lot of brass. The dance also is but a feeble reflection from the original choreography. It has a risqué movement when the woman slaps the man slightly on the cheek (fig. 8) and a climax when all the dancers cry four times ‘Pilou Pilou‘ very fast and in unison (fig. 10). Great moment of merriment, indeed! However, Justin Clérice’s Pilou-Pilou is as far removed from the original as the Chicken Dance is disconnected from the Swan Lake.

Nowadays in New Caledonia, the pilou-pilou is danced to mark ceremonial occasions: births, weddings and funerals and mostly performed for tourists sake.

The Rugby Club from Toulon has its very own battle cry chanted by packed stadiums and also called Pilou-Pilou. The lyrics suggests that the song has its origin in the Kanak version: ‘The great white coconut trees’ hardly evokes a city in France, does it?

Ah! We the terrible warriors of Pilou-Pilou
Pilou-Pilou!
Who descend from the Mountain to the Sea
Pilou-Pilou!
With our dishevelled women nursing our children
In the shade of the great white coconut trees
Pilou-Pilou!
We terrible warriors push our terrible war cry
AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!
I said “OUR TERRIBLE CRY OF WAR”!
AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!
Because TOULON
RED!
Because TOULON
BLACK!
Because TOULON
RED AND BLACK ! 

Undoubtedly, you are now ready to hear the ceremonious singing battle between Haka and Pilou-Pilou.