Category Archives: Sheet Music Covers

Comments on some special, funny or beautiful covers

Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows (Leonard Cohen)

valerio-regenboog
Where’s that rainbow‘ by Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928). Illustration attributed to Roger de Valerio.

The song Where’s that Rainbow was originally written in 1928. Much later it was sung in the film Words and Music, a fictionalized story about the songwriting duo Rodgers and Lorenz. In this clip of the 1948 film, it is not the song but the rainbow-coloured petticoats that steal my attention!

Chasing rainbows in our collection, I found these two similarly inventive illustrations. The right one is by Würth for There’s a Rainbow round my Shoulder (1928). He may have been inspired by André de TaKacs‘ drawing of 1918 for the song I Found the End of the Rainbow.

regenbogen
Left: ‘I Found the End of the Rainbow‘ by Mears, Tierney & Mc Carthy, published by McCarthy & Fisher inc. (New York, 1918) and illustrated by André De TaKacs. Right: ‘There’s a Rainbow round my Shoulder‘ by Jolso, Rose & Dreyer, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Würth.

Another imaginative cover places the woman in a less glamorous role, although she seems content to knit her own fantasy.1

Celanese', by Howard Flynn and John P. Harrington
Celanese’, by Howard Flynn and John P. Harrington (The St. Giles Publishing Company, London, 1923). Illustration J. W.

All these rainbow images are but a preamble to share with you a gem of a short film by Len Lye.
In 1936 Lye, born in New Zealand, made an experimental film in England promoting a Post Office Savings Bank. It was called Rainbow Dance and ended with the words: “The Post Office Savings Bank puts a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you. No deposit too small for the Post Office Savings Bank.” The film is an experiment with colour and rhythm. In it Lye uses abstract backgrounds, collage effects, live footage and direct-to-film animation effects. The psychedelic film starts with purple rain avant la lettre. Then we see a city dweller morphing into coloured asterisks, a musician, a hiker and a tennis player. When the tennis player makes a leap, he leaves behind a trace of colourful silhouettes like a futuristic painting.

Be patient please, we’ ll show the film at the end. But first this.

Copyright Doncaster Museum Service
Left: Rupert Doone, woodcut by Edward Wadsworth (1921). Right: Rupert Doone, by Nina Hamnett, Copyright Doncaster Museum.

The silhouetted dancer in Lye’s Rainbow Dance is Rupert Doone, a one-time lover of Jean Cocteau. While Doone whirled his moves before a white screen, a gramophone played Tony’s Wife, a wonderful rumba by Burton Lane. Lane would later compose the score for the musical Finian’s Rainbow: a story about an Irishman who has stolen a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

finians-rainbow
When I’m not near the girl I love‘ from Finian’s rainbow by Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg, published by Chapell & C° (London, 1946) and illustrated by Don Freeman.

I’ll let you decide what to think of Francis Ford Coppola’s attempt to turn the musical into a film. In the clip Tommy Steele plays an obnoxious leprechaun and Barbara Hancock a dancing nymph. It was filmed in 1968, but even then must have looked outdated.

And now the long-promised Rainbow Dance, the phantasmagorical 1936 film by Len Lye. Feast your eyes !


  1. Actually the lady is knitting with celanese, a combination of ‘cellulose acetate’ and ‘ease of care’, referring to the easy wear of acetate fabrics, as promoted by the chemical company Celanese.

The Abstracts, part 2

'O Lady be Good' by George and Ira Gershwin. Sheet Music published by Editions Francis Salabert, Paris, 1925. Cover illustrated by Roger de Valerio.
O Lady be Good‘ by George and Ira Gershwin. Sheet Music published by Editions Francis Salabert, Paris, 1925. Cover illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

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.

Mountain Greenery: sheet music illustration by Roger de Valerio
Mountain Greenery‘ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (Salabert, Paris, 1926). Illustration by Roger de Valerio.
'Do I hear you saying?'. A cover design by Roger de Valerio (1928)
Do I hear you saying?‘ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, publisher Francis Salabert (Paris, 1928). Cover design: Roger de Valerio.
Illustration by R. de Valerio for sheet music 'Un cœur une Chaumière'.
Un cœur une Chaumière‘ by René Sylviano, Jacques-Charles & Léo Lelièvre (Salabert, Paris, 1929). Illustration R. de Valerio.

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.

Sheet music illustration by R. de Valerio for the revue Tig-zag
Will-o’-the Wisp‘ (Zig-zag revue), by Dave Stamper & Gene Buck. Publications Francis Salabert, Paris, 1915, illustration by R. de Valerio.

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.

Sheet music 'Perdon!' illustrated by Roger de Valerio., 1929.
Perdon!’ by José Sentis, published by Salabert (Paris, 1929), with a photo of femme fatale looking Rosita Barrios (photographer G. Marant), illustrated by Roger de Valerio.
'J'vous ferai voir', illustrated by de Valerio (1925).
J’vous ferai voir‘ by Henri Christiné and Albert Willemetz (from the revue ‘Paris en Fleurs’ with Maurice Chevalier and Yvonne Vallée). Publications Francis Salabert (Paris, 1925), probably illustrated by de Valerio.
'Frescuras'
Frescuras‘ and ‘Amargura‘, two tangos by the Brasilian-French composer José Lucchesi. Publisher: Salabert, Paris, 1929. Photography Sobol. The cover was probably designed by R. de Valerio, and printed in different colours (at the same time, as proven by the consecutive publisher numbers E.A.S. 5573 and 5574).

Some more of de Valerio’s abstract designs? Here they come.

'Le bout du nez', sheet music, designs attributed to R. de Valerio (1922 & 1928)
Le bout du nez‘, by Charles Cuvillier (Salabert, Paris, 1922) and ‘The Blue Room‘ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (Salabert, Paris, 1928). Both designs attributed to R. de Valerio.
Abstract sheet music covers illustrated by Roger de Valerio.
Le Charleston Blues‘ by Henderson, De Sylva and Brown. Right: ‘Get a Load of This‘ by Harry Archer & Harlan Thompson. Both published by Salabert (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by de Valerio.
Absteact designs by Roger de Valerio for sheet music (1929)
Left: ‘La Calinda‘ by Herman Hupfeld and Huntley Trevor. Right: ‘Judy‘ by Pierre Norman, Jacques Murray & Marc Hély. Both sheet music published by Salabert in Paris, 1929, and designed by Roger de Valerio (left one unsigned).
Sheet music covers signed R. de Valerio.
Por tu culpa‘ by Manuel Jovès and P. Maroni, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928), most likely illustrated by de Valerio. Right: ‘As it were‘ by Y. P. Mullow (Salabert, Paris, 1929), signed R. de Valerio.

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.

Cutie Kewpie

joujou
‘Ne brisez pas vos joujoux’ by Laurent Hallet & Telly, published by Telly et Halet (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Gaston Girbal.

‘Do not break your toys!’ cries the cute one-armed doll. A warning to children. Or is it a moral advice to adults, as in the 1944 Mills Brothers’ hit ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ ?
In fact I have been chasing this particular cover in our dolls collection of sheet music. I was intrigued, and wanted to know if the doll’s peculiar hairstyle would match that of Radja Nainggolan. He is a Belgian football international currently playing for AS Roma. Let me set his portrait side by side to a photograph of such a doll.

Nainggolan and Kewpie doll
Left: portrait of Radja Nainggolan. Right: a kewpie doll (© picture: The Mel Birnkrant Collection).

These dolls typically have big eyes, a tuft of blonde hair, a pot belly and splayed hands. They are called Kewpies and are inspired on the 1909 creations of writer and illustrator Rose O’Neill. She brought into being the little comic characters for her cartoons. The tiny creatures were always helping people out of trouble, battling injustice and making the readers laugh.

loves doll
‘Love’s Doll’ by William Romsberg, published by Edouard Andrieu (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Georges Desains.

The dolls were uber cute and resembled cupids, hence their phonetic name ‘Kewpie’. A few years later a German company manufactured them in porcelain, which made them very fragile as toys. Dressed in a wide satin ribbon with a large bow in the back, the dolls became very successful in America. Soon the popularity of the Kewpie Doll also spread over Europe.

my kewpie
‘My “Kewpie” Doll’ by Nat Goldstein & M.J. Gunsky, published by Nat Goldstein (San Francisco, 1914) and illustrated by Morgan. (not in our collection)

From the mid 1920’s on they were mass produced in celluloid and chalk. The small playthings were often given as a cheap present at fairs. This use continued even until 1958, as can be seen in the ‘Kewpie Doll’ song by the American crooning baritone, Perry Como.

The dolls also featured in advertising and were in 1925 the inspiration for a –still existing– brand of Japanese mayonnaise.

jello kewpies EN MAYONAISE

Rose O’Neill made a fortune from these first mass-produced dolls. She nearly sacrificed all of it in order to help out her family and friends. She was also an activist for women’s suffrage.

oneill_votes copy

To end our little post, and since you have been humming that tune from the beginning, here they are: The Mills Brothers !