A one minute silence. Is there a worthy substitute for written blogs?
This short post is dedicated to our friend Bram Huijser who passed away last week at the age of 94. He was a follower of these pages and an enthusiastic collector of books. Bram, born and raised in Amsterdam, was gentle and broad-minded. He kept his wonderful library, especially of children’s literature, in his house in Musselkanaal in the province of Groningen, The Netherlands. Wherever you looked: books and books and books!
Bram particularly liked —and fervently told us about— the illustrations of Fré Cohen, a Dutch female designer and member of the Workers’ Youth Association. She became one of the favourite designers of the socialist movement. Her life ended tragically in 1943 when she took a lethal pill escaping imprisonment by the Dutch SS who had tracked her down when in hiding.
Bram revealed us he met his wife during the war while he secretly delivered the resistance newspaper of the Communist Party De Waarheid (literally The Truth). One of the subscribers was her brother, and that’s how he met Mies. They fell in love and got married after the Liberation.
I remember that Bram liked cats, the bandoneon and traditional music. I thought it a bit odd that he so admired the Flemish television crime drama series Witse. Apart from our love for well-done illustration work, we shared a long-time closeness to the music of The Dubliners and the melancholic folk songs of Wannes Van de Velde, a hippy bard who is world famous in Antwerp.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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’, ‘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.‘
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)
Roger de Valerio, the king of sheet music illustration, often used abstract forms and patterns. In his cover for Gershwin’s ‘O Lady Be Good‘, de Valerio accentuates the intimacy and tender affection of an enamoured couple in contrast to the fiery and exuberant world around it. Fabien Loris (see The Abstracts, part 1) and Roger de Valerio were inventive and humorous in their figurative drawing. But both had also the resourcefulness to apply geometrical forms, shapes and planes of colour in a refreshing, original style. As in these catchy de Valerio’s designs.
Roger de Valerio used colours and patterns very functionally to obtain his primary goal: pull the attention to the music title, and sell it! Here is a vibrant example of how he succeeded for a song from the Zig-Zag revue, played at the Folie Bergères at the time the armistice was signed in November 1918.
Because a publisher like Francis Salabert not only distributed music, but also was involved in financially managing the shows, he was often insistent that the cover showed an image of the vedettes. His favourite illustrator De Valerio knew how to deal with it, and skilfully arranged photographs, combining them with graphics.
Some more of de Valerio’s abstract designs? Here they come.
While in the 1920’s Loris and de Valerio were applying abstract art in their music covers to create movement, other artists (especially in Germany) were exploring motion and timing of abstract images, in an effort to equal the expressiveness of musical compositions. One such avant-gardist was Walter Ruttmann, who made his first short film Lichtspiel (Game of Light) in 1921.
The music for string quartet was specially composed by Max Butting for the eleven minutes of film. In the original score Ruttman inserted drawings and other indications on how to precisely synchronise the music to the motion. The lightly-hypnotic effect of the film is remarkable in the finale (starting at 10′). And wake up… when I snap my fingers.