On our way back from Berlin we did not enjoy our rather bland breakfast. But the tea was lovely and its brand name Teekanne rang a musical bell.
Back home we searched our sheet music collection and sure enough we found the above stunning cover. It was probably designed by Heinrich Molge for the German tea company Teekanne, a firm founded in 1926 that still exists. Molge (1888 – ?) was a Dresden based artist of whom we know little but that he was half of the graphic artists couple Molge-Koch. The Asian red and white teapot however is still used as today’s logo of the Teekanne company.
To thank customers for their loyalty, Teekanne offered small silks. These promotional gifts, popular during the early 1900s, could be stitched on tablecloths or cushions to embellish them. In the tobacco industry these little textile gadgets were more common, as seen in our earlier posts about Dutch Cigarettes.
Teekanne engaged excellent illustrators for their advertising campaigns. Also, their tea blends were packaged in lovingly designed tin boxes.
Teekanne played an important role in the invention of the teabag, that ‘ordinary’ item that we are so used to. The history of the teabag starts in 1901 with two American ladies who obtained a patent for a tea-leaf holder. We do not know if they ever commercialised their invention. The first modern tea bags in the Western World were hand-sewn fabric bags. The story goes that the New Yorker Thomas Sullivan sent samples of his tea leaves in small silk bags to potential buyers as a sales gimmick. His customers wrongly supposed that these were meant to be popped into a teapot and loved the idea. So this Sullivan, and others, started selling tea in single-serve bags. However, customers started to complain because the glue used to seal the bags left a bad taste to their nice cup of tea.
During the First World War, Teekanne adapted the idea and started mass producing round cotton-gauze bags sewn by hand, and tied close with a piece of string. These tea bags —also filled with sugar to offer energy— were called Teebomben (tea bombs). The Teebomben were distributed to the German soldiers on the front line. Alas, soon they got the reputation among servicemen of only colouring hot water to a brown concoction.
After the war the German inventor and self-made engineer Adolf Rambold started to work for Teekanne. And in 1929 he invented the world’s first tea-bag-packing machine. Twenty years later he invented the double-chamber tea bag: the tea is filled in two chambers allowing an optimum flow of water around the tea which results in a fuller tea flavour. In the same year he proposed a new tea-bag-packing machine which produced these double-chamber tea bags. His machine sold all over the world and revolutionised the tea market. I never analysed my teabags before but indeed the double chamber is still used for today’s tea bags.
The two following ‘tea songs’ from our collection were very successful in their days. Apart from a hit, Tea for Two even became a standard.
Now, let’s start to bake a sugar cake and have a tea for two…
Possibly you would prefer Bourville’s version of the famous song in the film La Grande Vadrouille. Certainly a memorable hot scene!
For the aficionados of Teekanne, hereunder is the German publicity printed on the back of their sheet music. To be read with a nice cuppa, of course!
Yesterday was that dreadful date, September 21st, the start of the autumn season. For the occasion let’s listen to Charles Trenet’s jazzy version of Paul Verlaine’s famous Chanson d’automne (Autumn Song). In 1944, three years after Charles Trenet’s song was first recorded, the Allies used the first lines of Verlaine’s poem to warn the French Resistance that D-Day was imminent.
Les sanglots longs Des violons De l’automne Blessent (bercent) mon cœur D’une langueur Monotone. Tout suffocant Et blême, quand Sonne l’heure, Je me souviens Des jours anciens Et je pleure; Et je m’en vais Au vent mauvais Qui m’emporte Deçà, delà, Pareil à la Feuille morte.
What a perfect start to dig into our collection and unearth a few appropriate sheet music covers to illustrate the melancholic and languorous season.
The ultimate september song though was written (1946) by Jacques Prévert and it’s music composed by Joseph Kosma. The title was inspired by the last words of Verlaine’s poem: Les feuilles mortes. Originally, the tune was created for a ballet but later ‘remastered’ for the film of Marcel Carné Les Portes de la nuit.
Sung by many artists, the song became really notorious the moment that Yves Montand recorded it. We also know it as the worldwide jazz standard Autumn Leaves.
To close our post we selected a slightly more poppy version of the bewitching song that so bizarrely marries desolation and yearning. Bye-bye summer.
This drawing of a crucified owl illustrates a gruesome tradition. Not so long ago it was still practised in rural France. With a wingspan of nearly one meter and its nightly eerie shrieks (listen for yourself), the barn owl was thought to be a bad omen. To keep evil at bay superstitious farmers used to trap the bird and nail it, sometimes still alive, above their barn’s door.
The cover is by lithographer Georges Bellenger, the husband of Marie Krysinska who wrote the poem Le Hibou. As a young woman of the Polish upper middle class Marie Krysinska (1857-1908) entered the Parisian conservatoire where she studied composition and harmony. Soon however she would abandon her classes to follow a more offbeat course of life. Krysinska discarded the conventional musical forms in favour of a freer form of expression. She started to experiment with a new artistic form in which she would mix music, theatre and poetry.
She mingled with other free spirits and was the only female founding member of the literary circle Les Hydropathes (meaning those who are afraid of water and prefer alcohol). She participated in similar nonconformist gatherings: the Zutistes, Jemenfoutistes and Hirsutes. They all came together at Le Chat Noir, the famous cabaret in bohemian Montmartre that embodied the spirit of the Belle Epoque.
At Le Chat Noir Marie Krysinska became the house pianist for a while. It was an exciting place to be for a young artist. Moreover, as a woman her role was unique: she accompanied singers, composed songs, and also performed her own poetry on stage. At that time, interpreting romances by accompanying oneself was customary in intimate or mundane settings such as salons, but quite unusual in front of a large audience.
Le Chat Noir published a weekly magazine which would regularly print Marie Krysinska’s poems. Most of the poems of her poetry collections Les Rythmes Pittoresques were first published in Le Chat Noir. Many were dedicated to artists or personalities of the cabaret. Her verse would also appear in other literary magazines like Gil Blas, La Vie Moderne, and in the French feminist newspaper La Fronde.
Marie Krysinska was at the centre of the debate surrounding the birth of French vers libre or free-verse poetry in the 1880s. Free verse does not use the basic rhythmic structure, rhyme, nor any musical pattern but more or less follows the rhythm of natural speech. In the quarrels over the origin of free verse, Krysinska and Gustave Kahn, a male symbolist poet, vied for the title.
It was in fact Krysinska’s poem Le Hibou, published in La Vie Moderne in 1883, that triggered this debate. According to his own writings, Kahn came to see this poem, by accident, when he was serving his country in Tunisia. To his great surprise Le Hibou was written in free verse, looking precisely like his own try-outs. He claimed that it was signed by a person who knew him very well and who used his aesthetics during his forced absence. Thus Kahn christened himself father of the free verse while accusing Krysinska of plagiarism. Krysinska had to counter this if she wanted to stand up for her contribution to literature. She managed to prove that her free-verse poems had been published five years earlier than those of Kahn (*).
In the ensuing public debate it became bon ton to mock Krysinska. The French essayist Laurent Tailhade, attacked her and other female performers virulently:
“I never have encountered a more deplorable gathering of ugliness, or a more unpleasant version of feminine clothing. One or two pretty women, lost in the midst of these crooks, gave the eyes a needful rest. Meanwhile the other ones performed their show. Among these ladies was a poetess with some fame between Boulevard Saint-Michel and Montparnasse, the Polish Jew Marie Krysinska. She was seeking the attention of young men by childish airs and advances of an ape-like ingenuity. Big, fat and already far from morning glory, she undulated melodramas on a piano which had lost it sharps.”
The same writer further ridiculed Krysinska in a poem in which he named her Marpha Bableuska, making allusions to the Blue Stockings that had already become a pejorative term by the late eighteenth century.
Apart from this female gender bashing, Marie Krysinska had to endure criticism and rejection by the symbolist movement. At the time of her dead, an obituary didn’t even acknowledge her poetry. Only her heydays at Le Chat Noir were remembered. Because of her beautiful and musical poetry Marie Krysinska though —in my humble opinion— deserves a better place in literary history.
Il agonise, l’oiseau crucifié, l’oiseau crucifié sur la porte. Ses ailes ouvertes sont clouées, et de ses blessures, de grandes perles de sang tombent lentement comme des larmes. Il agonise, l’oiseau crucifié! Un paysan à l’oeil gai l’a pris ce matin, tout effaré de soleil cruel, et l’a cloué sur la porte. Il agonise, l’oiseau crucifié. Et maintenant, sur une flûte de bois, il joue, le paysan à l’oeil gai. Il joue assis sous la porte, sous la grande porte, où, les ailes ouvertes, agonise l’oiseau crucifié. Le soleil se couche, majestueux et mélancolique, – comme un martyr dans sa pourpre funèbre; Et la flûte chante le soleil qui se couche, majestueux et mélancolique. Les grands arbres balancent leurs têtes chevelues, chuchotant d’obscures paroles; Et la flûte chante les grands arbres qui balancent leurs têtes chevelues. La terre semble conter ses douleurs au ciel, qui la console avec une bleue et douce lumière, la douce lumière du crépuscule; Il lui porte d’un pays meilleur, sans ténèbres mortelles et sans soleils cruels, d’un pays bleu et doux comme la bleue et douce lumière du crépuscule; Et la flûte sanglote d’angoisse vers le ciel, – qui lui parle d’un pays meilleur. Et l’oiseau crucifié entend ce chant, Et oubliant sa torture et son agonie, Agrandissant ses blessures, –ses saignantes blessures,– Il se penche pour mieux entendre.
Ainsi es-tu crucifié, ô mon cœur! Et malgré les clous féroces qui te déchirent, Agrandissant tes blessures, tes saignantes blessures, Tu t’élances vers l’Idéal, A la fois ton bourreau et ton consolateur. Le soleil se couche majestueux et mélancolique. Sur la grande porte, les ailes ouvertes, agonise l’oiseau crucifié.
(*) The debate on the vers libre authenticity is still going on. While some scholars attribute its original creation to Marie Krysinska, according to other researchers the ‘real’ first free verse was not written by Krysinska nor by Kahn, but by Arthur Rimbaud.