Pharaoh Fever: Tut-mania

‘Tutankhamen-Shimmy’ by Jára Beneš, published by Wiener Boheme Verlag (Wien, 1923).

Tutankhamen, aka Tutankhamun, was a pharaoh of minor historical importance. He reigned more than 3.000 years ago for fewer than ten years and died at a young age. Yet he is somewhat the celebrity of Ancient Egypt. That is largely because, when his tomb was found in 1922, it was almost intact: it still contained the magnificent treasures intended to accompany the boy-king into the afterlife. The antechambers were packed to the ceiling with more than 5.000 objects. And Tutankhamen’s portrait mask, made of solid gold laid with precious stones, is one of the most beautiful archaeological objects of Ancient Egypt.

‘Tutankhamon – Fox’ by William Rowers, published by Elkan & Schildknecht, Emil Carelius (Stockholm, sd) and Illustrated by Eric Rohman.

It was the British archaeologist Howard Carter, backed by his patron Lord Carnarvon, who discovered the tomb. He had searched the Valley of the Kings for Tutankhamen’s resting place for many years. To examine and clear the tomb it would take him and his team eight more years. The phenomenal discovery of the tomb and all these wonderful things, in Howard Carter’s own words, kicked off a worldwide ‘King Tut’ craze or Tut-mania in the 1920s that would  continue well into the Thirties.

Every stage of the excavations was chronicled by the press. To finance the dig, Lord Carnarvon had sold the exclusive rights to the Times for the then huge sum of £5.000. It gave the Times unique access to the tomb and the opportunity to publicise its fabulous contents. To compete with the Times’ success, other media created wilder stories, some of which were based on exaggerated claims and even falsehoods, rather than on actual events. So did Lord Carnarvon’s sudden death, within weeks of the tomb’s opening, lead to speculations of a curse.

‘Toet-Ankh-Amen’ by Jan von Lindern & Carlo Rombouts, published by Editions Liro (‘s Gravenhage, 1923) and Illustrated by Jan Hoek

Expert photographer Harry Burton, documented the eight-year-long uncovering of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. For that purpose Burton learned to operate a movie camera. With it he recorded the opening of Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus. His creative and technically advanced images and films contributed largely to the Tut-mania phenomenon.

Left: ‘On Nile Land’ by Vicente Pastelle, published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, sd). Right: ‘Egyptian Dream’ by Font Palmarola, published by the composer (Barcelona, sd).

Apart from being celebrated by the media, Tutankhamen also notably influenced the arts and culture in the 1920s. Egyptian motifs became an integral part of Art Deco. They decorated fabrics, jewellery, furniture, ceramics, and were ornamental in architecture. Even in society Egyptian hairstyles and costumes became fashionable.

As a result of this Tut-mania, Egypt blossomed as a tourist destination for rich people. Travels to it though, were time-consuming. Tourists could —as did the Belgian queen Elisabeth— travel first by train to Italy, and then board a passenger steamship in Genoa. After a stopover in Naples they would arrive in Alexandria or Port Said four days later.

Each Egyptian adventure started in Cairo where one could swarm the bazaars and curio shops.

Cairo‘ by Sherman Myers, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1927) and Illustrated by Fabien Loris.

From there one visited the obligatory sphinx and took a sightseeing camel ride around the pyramids.

‘Le Destin’ by Byron Gay, published by :Francis-Day (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

Then one took a wagon-lit to Luxor, or visited the famous ruins along the Nile by steamer.

‘La Légende du Nil’ by A. Roux, published by La Parisienne (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

In Luxor one checked in at the Winter Palace Hotel or one of the other luxury hotels. With a bumpy ride on a mule under the scorching sun one went to see the Karnak temple complex…

‘Sur la Route de Karnak’ by Harry Sing, published by Gallet & Fils (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

… to finally arrive at the high point: the Valley of the Kings and the grave of Tutankhamen.

‘La Valle dei Re’ by L. Baracchi, published by the author (Parma, sd) and illustrated by V. Bianchi.

And of course Tut-mania made its mark on the music world also. Soon after King Tut’s discovery, his effigy started to appear on sheet music covers.

Left: ‘Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut’ by Lucien Denni & Roger Lewis, published by J. W. Jenkins Sons Music Co. (1923). Right: ‘Old King Tut’ by Harry von Tilzer and William Jerome, published by Harry von Tilzer (1923).

One of the most popular songs was Old King Tut by Harry von Tilzer and William Jerome (1923). Another one (Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut) was published around the same time. Both depict Tutankhamen as an old man. No one knew at the time that when ‘Old King Tut’ died he was in fact a very young man.

Recently, the song by Harry von Tilzer has featured in the television show ‘Boardwalk Empire’:

The Tut-mania craze gave rise to a number of novelty dances, with poses one can see in the Ancient Egyptian reliefs. Not easy to twist your limbs this way. Known for his quirky illustrations, Peter Curt shows us the popular Swedish composer Gunnar Boberg trying out the ‘Egyptian walk’.

‘Aiba’ by Gunnar Boberg, published by A.B. Skandinaviska Musikförlaget (Stockholm, 1922) and Illustrated by Peter Curt.

The British vaudeville artists Jack Wilson and Joe Keppel show you how it is done. Easy enough, get Alexandre Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien on Spotify, throw some sand on the floor and start shuffling!


 

The Hen with the Golden Eggs, a Féerie

'La Poule aux oeufs d'or. Grand Quadrille Féerique' by Paul Henrion,sheet music published by Colombier (Paris, 1850) and illustrated by Victor Coindre.
La Poule aux oeufs d’or. Grand Quadrille Féerique‘ by Paul Henrion, published by Colombier (Paris, 1850) and illustrated by Victor Coindre.

17th century Jean de la Fontaine wrote the fable La Poule aux oeufs d’or (The Hen with the Golden Eggs). It tells about a farmer with a hen that lays an egg made of gold, every single day. To discover the source of his good luck —and hoping to increase his prosperity— he opens the hen thus killing the animal without finding anything. The moral conclusion is that greed can ruin one’s good fortune.

The sheet music above was composed for a play that diverges entirely from the original moral tale. This quadrille is part of a féerie, or fairy play. In a féerie the plot is subordinate and auxiliary to the spectacle and the stage effects.

This typical French theatrical genre was known for its fantasy plots and spectacular visual effects. Think smoke machines, stunning lightning and sound, and mechanical contraptions to magically change stage sets. Féeries combined captivating music, colourful ballet, pantomime and acrobatics. They developed in the early 1800s and became hugely popular in France throughout the nineteenth century. Their stories were melodramas borrowed from fables and fairy tales, with a penchant for the supernatural. A full-length féerie often ran for several hours.

People queuing at the opening of ‘La Poule aux oeufs d’or’ at the Theatre National in Paris. Source BNF.

The 1848 premiere of La Poule aux oeufs d’or was at the Théâtre National on the famous Boulevard du temple, now gone but at that time the Parisian Broadway. The Théâtre National was previously a circus, and therefore commonly called Cirque national. La Poule aux oeufs d’or was a great success, if we can rely on the drawing of the crowd on the opening night. And it was relaunched in 1859.

The actor René François Boutin as Cocorico in La Poule aux oeufs d’or. Circa 1859. Source: eBay.

I started reading the scenario but gave up after two pages. It was enough to realise that the play was rocambolesque: an absurd mix of ridiculous adventures, burlesque characters and the obligatory ingenue. In the mocking words of the French writer and critic Théophile Gautier: “The characters, brilliantly clothed, wander through a perpetually changing series of tableaux, panic-stricken, stunned, running after each other, searching to reclaim the action which goes who knows where; but what does it matter! This dazzling feast for the eyes is enough to make for an agreeable evening.”

L’empire des animaux‘, one of the 24 tableaux in La Poule aux oeufs d’or, at the Cirque national. Lithograph by Alexandre Lacauchie, 1848. (source BNF)

In La Poule aux oeufs d’or the characters were brilliantly clothed indeed as shown by the pretty costume drawings.

Costumes for ‘La Poule aux oeufs d’or’ by E. Bourdillat, 1848. Source: BNF.

An angel and Satan provided the essential magic in La Poule aux oeufs d’or. In a féerie such supernatural forces used to drive the characters through fantastic landscapes and amazing adventures, typically with magic totems (in this case the golden eggs) used to transform people, things, and places. Wow!

Améline, Satan, in ‘La Poule aux oeufs d’or’ at the Cirque national. Lithograph by Alexandre Lacauchie. Source BNF.

But in the first place the audience came to see and appreciate the tricks. For La Poule aux oeufs d’or 24 elaborate stage settings or tableaux were built. Each one created an enchanted universe of dazzling attractions, spectacular effects and sophisticated optical illusions. In full view of the audience a cottage would transform magically in a palace. In another scene windmills would turn into gondolas while a lake emerged from the ground. Of course a large crew in charge of design and stagecraft was needed.
The grand finale stage led to the apotheosis: all actors, dancers, musicians and extras were united on the Île de l’harmonie (the isle of harmony) with a musical flourish.

The grand finale: stage setting for the 21th scene, L’Île de l’Harmonie. Source: BNF.

A colourful drawing shows a detail of this tableau illustrating the clever design of the costumes and props.

Le royaume de la musique, ‘La Poule aux oeufs d’or’ at the Cirque national. Lithograph by Alexandre Lacauchie, 1848. (source BNF)

La Poule aux oeufs d’or was later staged in other productions. In the 1870s version, even the grande vedette and forcefull singer Mademoiselle Thérésa, played a role in La Poule aux oeufs d’or. This production was so successful that it would travel to London.

Left: ‘Couplets de l’effet’. Right: ‘La Boite à musique’. Both by Albert Vizentini, Ennery & Clairville and sung by Thérèsa. Published by Choudens (Paris, 1873). Source: Gallica.fr.

Ten years later La Poule aux oeufs d’or was restaged at the Théâtre du Chatelet.

Poster for La Poule aux oeufs d’or, Theâtre du Chatelet, 1882. Source: BNF.

An Italian journalist reviewing that performance reported that his jaw dropped when he saw a hundred and fifty bricklayers and carpenters, all played by children between six and twelve years, constructing a house. But what most impressed him was a house on fire extinguished by a regiment of firefighters acted by persons of short stature and he was overwhelmed by the indescribable effects of the electric light. A real nouveauté at that time. He wrote: “Just take a look at our illustration to understand how much enticement it provided to the spectator.”

Front page of ‘Il Teatro Illustrato’ – November 1884. Source: BNF.

In the 1890s La Poule aux oeufs d’or became a pretext to bring a little bit of nudity at the Folies Bergère. Yes, the end of the live feérie was in sight

Left: Bonnet. Right: Couralet. In ‘La Poule aux oeufs d’or’ at the Folies Bergère. Photographs by Nadar, 1900. Source: BNF.

It fell out of popularity by the end of the 19th century, by which time it was largely seen as entertainment for children and disappeared from French stages.

The féerie quickly reincarnated as a popular cinema genre in the 1900s. The forerunner in the genre, was Méliès but the French Gaston Velle was also a prominent pioneer of special effects. He began his career as a travelling magician, before applying his illusionist skills to the cinema.

Poster for Velle’s film ‘La Poule aux oeufs d’or’ by Faria (1905). Source: Wikipedia – EYE Film Instituut Nederland.

Velle’s silent short La Poule aux œufs d’or (16 min) was produced by Pathé Frères in 1905. The scenario of the film is much simpler than for the theatrical féeries and it goes back to the roots of the story. You can watch the complete film on YouTube, but we start at the apotheosis. If you haven’t time to watch the complete sequence, may we suggest to at least watch the strange 3:40 scene? Though at 7:55 (and at 8:48) you will not be less baffled…

The Slow, Slower, Slowest… Boston Waltz

Valse Lente‘ by Clifton Worsley published by Alphonse Leduc (Paris, 1920) and illustrated by Georges Dola.
The valse lente was very fashionable in the early 20th century. It was a slow, sentimental waltz, also called a Boston waltz. I am still confused over the precise technical moves of the valse lente or Boston Waltz. What makes it so ‘lente’ or ‘Boston’, still eludes me, though I’ve read more than a few instruction texts. I even dared a few hesitating steps in my boudoir.
I also tried hard, but found no reliable explanation for its name or origin. Different Western regions or continents claim to be the cradle of this wildly popular dance. Some say the Boston waltz is an American, slower and gliding variant of the traditional Viennese waltz. The oldest reference that I could find is a composition by Marie Félicie Clémence de Reiset, Vicomtesse de Grandval. She composed Prélude et Valse Lente in 1885.
According to the composer Clifton Worsley it was he who coined the term Boston waltz.
Clifton Worsley is the pseudonym of the Catalan musician Pere Astort i Ribas. A trained pianist, Pere Astort started working as a clerk at a popular sheet music shop located on the most emblematic street, La Rambla, in Barcelona. This shop then called Can Guàrdia still exists as Casa Beethoven.
In the sheet music shop Pere Astort worked as a song demonstrator (or song plugger) to help sell the sheet music. Patrons could select a title of a song for him to play on the piano, thus getting a first listen before buying.
Beloved‘ by Pere Astort (aka Clifton Worsley), published by Casa Dotesio (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by M. De Lohn.
The story goes that while Astort was playing one of his own compositions, an American musician walked into the shop. Stunned by Astort’s song the visitor told him that the music reminded him of fashionable waltzes from his home town, Boston. The American also suggested to adopt a pseudonym with a more ‘artistic‘ and international resonance. Pere Astort went for the dignified sounding Clifton Worsley nom de plume.
'Vision' by Clifton Worsley, sheet music cover
Vision‘ by Pere Astort (aka Clifton Worsley). Published by himself in Barcelona (1902) with an art nouveau cover designed by Llorenc Brunet.

Clifton Worsley had a rival in Theodor Pinet who also claimed to be the Bostonkungen or the Boston King. Pinet was a Swedish composer, with a Belgian father, who used to play at the royal court of Sweden. He introduced the Boston waltz in Sweden around 1902. Clifton Worsley had then already composed his first Boston walz in the late 1890’s. Anyway, Theodor Pinet became a big name in Sweden thanks to the Boston Walz. In 1910 he launched his own music hall: the Boston Palace! According to Sweden’s state archives, the rush to Pinet’s Boston Palace was huge: “Ladies in exquisite toilets, gentlemen in coats and tuxedos, students, little shop girls in blouses and skirts, jacket-clad office workers and demi-mondaines in rustling silk with or without cavalier, all bitten by the Boston fly […]

‘Papillons’ by Theodor Pinet, published by Lundquist (Stockholm, sd).
In 1900 the French Roi de la Valse Rodolphe Berger composed a valse très lente (a very slow waltz), the hugely successful Amoureuse.
Amoureuse‘ by Rodolphe Berger. Published by Enoch & Cie (Paris, 1900) with the cover illustrated by Léonce Burret
And after Massenet also having written a Valse très lente, Debussy created La plus que lente or ‘the even slower waltz’ in 1910. It was his tongue-in-cheek riposte to the the countless lightweight valses lentes that were so successful in the Parisian salons and dance halls. La plus que lente is a charming sentimental waltz with a lot of rubato written for solo piano and arranged for strings.
Debussy mentioned in an interview that he had written La plus que lente for the Hungarian violinist/leader of a gypsy orchestra. He had discovered the ensemble in the newly opened Parisian Carlton Hotel where he regularly went with his wife and friends for the afternoon tea. Who better then, than the Hungarian Antal Zalai to perform La plus que lente

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