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Agamemnon: a Local Family Affair

Cover of the sheet music 'Laiss' tomber', one step by L. Aga
Cover of the sheet music ‘Laiss’ tomber’, one step by L. Aga and H. Valle.

Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae. When Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaus, ran off with Paris, Agamemnon started the Trojan War. Thus he had a major impact on the turn of events in Greek mythology. The homonymous hero of our story, the publisher Gaston Agamemnon, does not share this renown.
We knew nothing about this man but for two other sheet music in our collection (see our previous posts on ‘Eventide‘ and ‘Le Rajah‘). All three pieces were published, composed and illustrated by the same three persons. All in the year 1923. Intriguing… We investigated this mere detail of French music publishing. Please follow our footsteps in history.

'Eventide' and 'Le Rajah' sheet music covers (partition de musique)
‘Eventide’ and ‘Le Rajah’ sheet music published by G. Agamemnon in 1923.

Gaston Agamemnon held shop in Mantes-la-Jolie, a middle-sized city along the Seine, 60 kilometres west from Paris. He started in 1903 as a manufacturer of piano’s and other musical instruments. We believe to have found an image of Mr. Agamemnon on an early postcard of the Rue de la Mercerie. On the doorstep of his rather large boutique he looks curiously at the photographer.

Postcard Rue de la Mercerie, Mantes-la-Jolie (ca. 1910).
Rue de la Mercerie, Mantes-la-Jolie (ca. 1910). On the left is probably Mr. Agamemnon on the doorstep of his musical shop. (source: “Mantes histoire“)

At his front window Mr. Agamemnon advertises ‘Cours et Leçons‘, ‘Violon & Solfège‘ and ‘Vente-Location‘. Apart from teaching and selling instruments, he also sells sheet music: we see many chansons prominently on display in his shop window.

A small article in Le Petit Parisien of 1909 relates how Gaston narrowly escaped from a fire accident: apparently a window had acted as a magnifying glass for the sun rays that set alight wood shavings in his workshop, leaving him half asphyxiated.

Information on Agamemnon in various archives.
Left: a small article in Le Petit Parisien of 1909. On the right Agamemnon’s advertisement in the Annuaire des Artistes of 1905.

More significant is the advertisement in the Annuaire des Artistes of 1905 in which Agamemnon promotes his services as Editeur de Musique (publisher) and Chef d’Orchestre (director). He also specialises in teaching modern techniques for the violin and the piano. We also learn from dusty archives that Agamemnon was married to Claire Fenayrol. Aha, we found his Clytemnestra!

From the 1893 registry of Mantes-la-Jolie: the marriage between Gaston Achilles Agamemnon and Claire Amélie Fenayrol. (source: online archives of the Département Yvelines)

The rue de la Mercerie is no more. It vanished together with large parts of the city centre of Mantes-la-Jolie in 1944, during Allied air raids. The enormous damage was documented by the Vichy regime in newsreels. This video is an excerpt from Ina.fr video archives.

Almost all of Mantes-la-Jolie’s city centre was rebuilt after the war, as illustrated by the two ‘before-and-after’ postcard views.

Mantes-vue-avant-apres
One of the city architects who helped rebuild the town centre was Raymond Marabout (born 1886). We found early pictures of him as aerostatier during the First World War. He was wounded when he had to jump from his airship.

Airship, WWI. Pilot is Raymond Marabout
Raymond Marabout in action with his airship during WWI. (View more pages from this photo album at Europeana 1914-1918.)

Raymond Marabout was not only an airship pilot and architect, but also an illustrator: he signed the three ‘Agamemnon’ covers above. He was also a rather good painter. We found this lovely post-impressionistic landscape on an auction site.

Painting by R. Marabout
Landscape, oil painting (60X81cm) by Raymond Marabout. (source: http://www.anticstore.com/tableau-ancien-paysage-24269P)
Signature of painter-illustrator Raymond Marabout
Raymond Marabout’s signature on a sheet music cover (left) and on the oil canvas (right).

Le Rajah‘ sheet music is jokingly dedicated à mon ami Sidi-Ben-Marabout suggesting that Gaston Agamemnon and Raymond Marabout were friends. Agamemnon probably also befriended the painter Maximilien Luce, to whom he sold his house of Rolleboise.

'Rolleboise, la baignade', oil on canvas by Maximilien Luce
‘Rolleboise, la baignade’, oil on canvas (135x148cm) by Maximilien Luce.

Gaston Agamemnon had at least one son: Lucien. Having learned the violin, Lucien became director of the Conservatoire in Mantes-la-Jolie. The BnF lists him as the author of a handbook on music theory and also as a composer until the 1960’s. Using the pseudonym L. Aga he created in 1923 the three ‘lighter’ compositions (one step and fox-trot shimmies) that his father published. These three items in our collection are thus traces of a brief family cooperation. Strangely, we also found reference to a painter Lucien Agamemnon around 1950. Is it the same person? Probably, as he also signed his work L. Aga.

Huile sur carton du peintre Lucien Agamemnon.
Oil on cardboard (40x50cm) offered on ebay for 30€. Signed below-left L. Aga (Lucien Agamemnon?).

We discovered a portrait of Lucien Agamemnon, not drawn by our illustrator Raymond Marabout, but painted by Frédéric Luce (son of Maximilien).

Lucien-Aga-violoniste_OgerBlanchet
‘Le violoniste Lucien AGA’ by Frédéric Luce. Oil on canvas (33 x 54 cm), probably from 1959. (source: auction house Oger Blanchet)

On Lucien Agamemnon we also discovered an odd newspaper fait divers, recounting that Lucien was a victim of road rage.

Lucien Agamemnon being victim of road rage (Le Matin, 18-09-1937).
Our composer L. Aga being assaulted by a motorcyclist, which resulted in a work incapacity of 25 days (Le Matin, 18-09-1937).

Digging deeper into the family history we discover Jean Agamemnon (1921-2003), grandson of Gaston and son of Lucien. Poet, artist and friend of the Luce family he became conservator of the Maximilien Luce museum in Mantes-la-Jolie (later musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu) until 1996. It fits to conclude this article on the Agamemnon-Marabout-Luce families with a sheet music cover illustrated by the anarchistic painter Maximilien Luce…

Sheet music cover by Maximiline Luce (partition de musique).
‘Les Pieds devant’, by Marcel Legay and Maurice Boukay. Published by Ondet (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Maximilien Luce.

… and comfortingly sung by George Brassens. For all who seek solace: come on, sing along!

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Ainsi que tout ceux de ta race,
Grand homme qu’un souffle terrasse.
Comme le pauvre fou qui passe,
Et sous la lune va rêvant,
De beauté, de gloire éternelle,
Du ciel cherché dans les prunelles,
Au rythme pur des villanelles,
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Duchesse aux titres authentiques,
Catin qui cherches les pratiques,
Orpheline au navrant cantique.
Vous aurez même appris du vent,
Sous la neige, en la terre grise,
Même blason, même chemise,
Console toi fille soumise,
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Oh toi qui mens quand tu te signes,
Maîtresse qui liras ces lignes,
En buvant le vin de mes vignes,
À la santé d’un autre amant,
Brune ou blonde, être dont la grâce,
Sourit comme un masque grimace,
Voici la camarde qui passe.
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Grave docteur qui me dissèques,
Prêtre qui chantes mes obsèques.
Bourgeois, prince des hypothèques,
Riche ou pauvre, ignorant, savant,
Camarade au grand phalanstère,
Vers la justice égalitaire,
Nous aurons tous six pieds de terre.
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.


 

Le Rajah-teur

'Le Rajah', 1923
‘Le Rajah’, 1923

Sorry for the French jeu de mots in the title, a phonetic but silly link with a radiator… We try everything to catch your worthy attention, for sure! Similarly, the humorous image of Le Rajah was intended to promote the cheerful foxtrot-shimmy composed by the mysterious L. Aga. Le Rajah is one of those Orientalist sheet music covers caricaturing the South Asian world. It was published in 1923. We uncovered a photograph of what a Rajah looked like in the 1870s.

Majaraja of Benares and Suite,1870s (source: Sothebys)
Majaraja of Benares and Suite,1870s (author: Bourne & Sheperd; source: Sothebys)

The Orientalist iconography at that time shows a lot of uniformity. What with the resemblance between our cover and the following gentlemen?

Two old images of Rajah's
Old images of Rajah’s (left: s.d., source: allposters.com – right: Illustrated London News, 1857)

On the Lahore-based Chugtai’s Art Blog we found this exquisite drawing or print of a rajah.

Image of Raja Sansar Chand
Portrait of Raja Sansar Chand (source: http://blog.chughtaimuseum.com).

The term rajah is often used synonymously with raja and maharaja, although there exist geographical and historical differences, and also distinction in rank. The rajah in Western culture is understood to be an Indian ruler or monarch. On the sheet music cover above he is represented as a bon vivant, perhaps powerful but still a genuine fatso. Probably unintentionally the cartoonish illustration also suggests that during more than a century Indian society hasn’t budged. The few hundred thousand inhabitants of the Établissements français dans l’Inde (the French colonies in India between 1769 and 1954) were thus supposed to never become part of the modern world. For a very long time, the Orientalist representation in Western culture gave the impression that all would be well if South Asia kept its culture and traditions unchanged, never to evolve.

Here is a collectible card of a series ‘Comptoir des indes‘ that seems to confirm this point of view.

'Comptoir des Indes', collectible card
‘Comptoir des Indes’, collectible card from Lion Noir, 1920s.

On the reverse of the card, it says:

Pondichery ‘Pondichéry, Karikal, Chandernagor, Yanaon and Mahé, together with a few small neighbouring villages, that’s all that remains of France’s great colonial empire it had created in India and that was seized by
England at the end of the 18th century.
Lost in the vast British domain, these ports are of little use. They are for France rather a matter of self-esteem and have only a sentimental value.’

Having learned all that, let’s savour a cup of coffee!

Publicity poster for Rajah coffee (Henri Meunier, 1897).
Publicity poster for Rajah coffee (Henri Meunier, 1897).

Fin de Cycle

fare you well
‘Fare you well Daisy Bell’ by Harry Dacre, published by Francis, Day & Hunter, London in 1894 and illustrated by H. G. Banks.

The proud man on the bicycle of this cover is Harry Dacre writer of the timeless classic Daisy Bell. He was also the owner of the Frank Dean & C° publishing house. Born as Frank Dean (1857–1922) on the Isle of Man he started writing songs in 1882. After some minor successes he emigrated to Australia and later moved to America. He arrived there in 1892, with a song in his pocket that would become a mega hit. Daisy Bell (also known as ‘A bicycle built for two’) would conquer the world with an annoying earworm chorus:

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
I’m half crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’d look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

daisybellaustralia copy
Left, the sheet music cover of ‘Daisy Bell’ by Harry Dacre, not in our collection. Right, English couple on a tandem in 1900.

Allegedly Harry Dacre had brought with him his bicycle, for which he had to pay import duty. A friend of his remarked: ‘You’re lucky that you didn’t bring a bicycle built for two, or you would have to pay double’. This witticism inspired Dacre to write a song about the pleasures of riding a tandem.

portrait of Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick (1889)
Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick, 1889, National Portrait Gallery London

However, the source of inspiration for Daisy Bell could also have been Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick.  She was a celebrated society cyclist, feminist and socialist. But she is best remembered for her extramarital affairs, including her liaison with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

daisybell duits copy
Left Daisy by Harry Dacre, published by Bosworth & C°, Leipzig (not in our collection). Right Isabella (Daisy Bell) by Harry Dacre published by Carl John, Stockholm.

After a lukewarm start Daisy Bell went on to become a worldwide success. It was translated in different languages, and strangely in Sweden it was renamed Isabella. The song spawned numerous sequels, parodies and imitations.

daisybell kaps
‘Daisy Bell’ waltz arranged by Karl Kaps, published by Francis, Day & Hunter, London in 1893.

We gladly entertain you with the following contemporary version by the English rock band Blur. But know that the band members themselves consider it to be one of the worst moments in their career…

In 1894 Harry Dacre himself wrote the sequel Fare you well Daisy Bell, the cover shown at the beginning. Its success however was as disappointing as the relation between Daisy and her beau: she became bored of the tandem and he rode away on a bicycle built for one. The author signed this cover with a pun: ‘yours-fin-de-cycle-ly, Harry Dacre’.

IBM704
A state of the art computer in 1957, IBM model 704 at NASA.

Stanley Kubrick immortalised the song in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the final act the computer HAL-9000 sings the Daisy Bell chorus. This was a tribute to HAL’s great ancestor, an IBM model 704, the first computer to ever sing. It happened in the Bell Labs in 1961 and they recreated the song Daisy Bell for obvious reasons. You can hear the recording of this earliest known computer-synthesized voice singing.

The science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke witnessed this first ‘artificial singing’ demonstration. He was so impressed that he incorporated it in his 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the film, we witness near the end of the movie that HAL is deactivated. After the famous lines ‘I’m afraid Dave… Dave my mind is going, I can feel it…’ (2:43) he, she or it sings Daisy Bell increasingly slow and distorted, before finally shutting down (5:03).