The song Where’s that Rainbow wasoriginally 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.
Another imaginative cover places the woman in a less glamorous role, although she seems content to knit her own fantasy.1
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.
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.
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 It was filmed in 1968, but even then must have looked outdated.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 !
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.
‘Gabor Steiner!Ilike this man. How grateful all Wiener should be to him! He alonesaves Vienna’s reputation as a theatre town, as the city of music, dance and joy of life’. Adolf Loos, 1903.
Gabor Steiner (1858-1944), the publisher of ‘Morgen Vielleicht!’ (Maybe Tomorrow!) was born with entertainment in his veins. Since early childhood he was spiritually nourished by artists and composers. His father was a famous Viennese theatre manager. His son’s godfather was the leading Austrian composer Richard Strauss. Amongst the friends of the family were Jacques Offenbach and Johann Strauss, Jr. Well, that is to say, until Johann Strauss’ second wife —thirty years his junior— left her middle-aged husband for Gabor’s brother.
Gabor was a busy bee, always on the lookout for new ways to entertain people. He started working in theatres in Germany before ending back up in Vienna where he founded a concert and theatre agency In 1887. Two years later he began a publishing house to bring out plays and a theatre newspaper. But in 1890 Gabor Steiner had to stop all these enterprises because they proved not profitable.
During a visit to London Gabor witnessed Venice in London, a unique and dazzling spectacle. It was produced by Imre Kiralfy and staged at the Olympia Theatre. Kiralfy replicated the bridges and canals of Venice using machinery, water and electricity. On the gigantic stage no less than 1,400 persons were busy creating an enchanting illusion. Inspired by this splendour Gabor leased part of the Wiener Prater, to build his own theatre and entertainment city: Venedig im Wien, which opened in 1895.
This Viennese version was an ‘artful’ imitation of Venetian buildings and gondolas with navigable channels constructed on an area of the Prater park, roughly half the size of a soccer field. More than 2,000 employees were catering for the visitors. There were shops, restaurants, cafes, a champagne pavilion, a wine tavern and a beer garden. Various stages offered a variety of concerts, Viennese farces, French comedies, operettas, revues, ballets, cabaret and wrestling events. Woo-hoo! Venedig im Wien became a huge triumph and the extravaganza attracted crowds of people of all classes. The complete Who’s Who of the Viennese operetta performed there for many years.
The success of his theme park didn’t stop Gabor Steiner from following his business impulses. On the contrary, after the Lumières had held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895, he bought their only other available cinématographe and opened the first cinemain Vienna.Unfortunately, the device was very poor. The viewers complained of headachesbecause of the strongflicker. At times the device failed completely and the public had to be refunded. Gabor Steiner didn’t wait the end of the season to close his cinema.
Around the same time Gabor envisioned another commercial opportunity when in 1895 the first buffet vending machines were built. Needless to say Gabor also had to acquire such an Automaten-Buffet which he imported from Naples. The novelty allowed customers to obtain beverages and sandwiches by inserting coins into the rather monumental machine chests.
These entrepreneurial excursions didn’t make Gabor lose sight of his golden goose in the Prater park. For fear that the visitors would lose interest, every year Gabor Steiner frantically renewed, expanded or completely remodelled the Venedig theme park. In 1897 he instigated the construction of the iconic giant Riesenradthat you’ve seen in the film The Third Man. Or didn’t you?
It was near this Ferris wheel that in 1987 a lane in the Prater was named in honour of Gabor Steiner. The wheel inspired the fox-trot song Das Lied vom Riesenrad, for which Marcel Vertès —like Gabor Steiner a Hungarian— designed the twirling sheet music cover.
In his constant quest to improve the entertainment park, Gabor filled up a ‘Venetian laguna’ in order to build an open-air theatre for 4,000 spectators. There he treated his public to typical ‘Prater-operettas’ presenting up to 200 dancers in huge balletscenes.
Later still, in 1901 Steiner demolished the Venetian buildings altogether. In its place he established a new International City, the year after he created a Flower City and in 1903 it became the Electric City.
Meanwhile in 1900 Gabor Steiner had acquired the Danzers Orpheum, a theatre in the centre of Vienna. He completely redecorated the place in glitzy neo-Baroque style. The theatre was used as a winter venue (when the park closed) for the Venedig im Wien spectacles. The grand opening was with the operetta Venus auf Erden (Venus on Earth) from Paul Lincke, father of the Berlin operetta.
In 1908 Steiner got into financial difficulties and went bankrupt. For a few years he then tried his luck in managing the Viennese Ronacher theatre. But megalomaniac habits die hard and in 1911, the enormous cost of the theatre’s lavish refurbishing brought him into financial troubles again.
It is now time to focus on Max, the son of Gabor Steiner. Max was a child prodigy, conducting operettas when he was only twelve and composing his first operetta aged fifteen. He would later become known in Hollywood as the father of film music writing the scores for more than 300 films. To mention just a few: Casablanca,King Kong, The Caine Mutiny and Gone with the Wind.
The first time his father went bankrupt, Max moved to live and work in London. But in 1911, when Gabor again run into trouble, he returned to Vienna to help. He took over his father’s theatre and tried to stem the losses, but to no avail. The Ronacher was closed. Max was even imprisoned for a short period. His father had pre-sold a whole-year advertisement in the Ronacher theatre program. As managing director Max was sued for breach of contract.
At the end of that same year 1911 Gabor regained the management of his former amusement Park in the Prater. There he opened an exhibit called the Lilliputstadt (midget city) together with his sister’s son, Leo Singer who had assembled a troupe of performing little people. Lamentably, in the shortest of times, Gabor accumulated more debts and went bankrupt once more. In 1913 he separated from his wife and fled Vienna and his financial problems and he lived for eight years in London, Switzerland and New York.
Abroad, Gabor probably met again with his nephew Leo Singer, who had moved to the United States at the outbreak of the First World War. Years later, in 1938, Singer would provide 124 little people for the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.
In 1921, after his voluntary exile, Gabor Steiner returned to Vienna. He was now sixty-three and hoped to become a theatre director once more. But it didn’t work out. Instead he started a music publishing house, the Gabor Steiner Verlag, together with Leo Singer who held office in New York and with the financial help of his son Max.
From what we can deduce the publishing venture didn’t last long: the only known sheet music is copyrighted 1923 and early 1924. So far for Gabor’s triumphant comeback!
In 1938 Gabor Steiner, like so many Jewish artists, had to flee from Austria at the age of eighty-one. All his possessions had been taken by the Nazis and he went to live with his son Max, in Hollywood. In Tinseltown he promptly married his son’s secretary. He died in 1944. Perhaps he was more a creator than a businessman but he certainly had led a full life: Nur zu Bald wird man Alt! (*)
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.