The Furlana: a Blessed Dance Craze

La vraie Furlana papale‘ by Théo Noletty, published by Philippo, Paris 1914, illustrated by Clérice Frères.

Traditionally the furlana was an Italian folk dance from Friuli, a region between Trieste and Venice. Dating back to the 17th century it became popular on the European continent in the first half of the 18th century, thanks to Couperin and Rameau. Pietro Longhi the painter of Venetian 18th century everyday life immortalized the furlana in one of his typical genre scenes.

la biu bella furlana
Left, Peasants dancing the Furlana by Pietro Longhi (1702-1785). Right, ‘La piu bella Furlana‘ by Alfredo Barbirolli, published by Au Ménestrel Paris in 1914, illustrated by René Péan.

By the end of the 18th century the furlana was passé. Apart from an opera or two in which the furlana was staged, nobody cared about the dance anymore, let alone knew how to dance it. It was a rather cheerful tune though if the version from Amilcare Ponchielli‘s opera La Gioconda is anything to go by.

And then all of a sudden at the eve of the Great War, in the spring of 1914, the furlana became the dance craze! It was extremely short-lived and lasted but a few months. But in that fleeting period it had the ambition to replace the tango which had invaded Europe around 1912. As the story goes we have to thank Pope Pius X for this fad. Pius X was strongly opposed to modernist interpretations of Catholic doctrine. He advocated traditional devotional practices, and of course abhorred the sensual and shocking tango.

pope furlana2
Left, Pope Pius X carefully watches a couple dancing the Tango. From L’Illustration.Right, ‘Friuli‘ by Bonincontro, published by Bornemann Paris in 1914, illustrated by Pousthomis.

Allegedly Pope Pius X, in a reaction to the dangerous vogue of the tango, had invited two young members of the Pontifical aristocracy to perform the notorious tango in a strictly private audience. Having witnessed these ‘ridiculous barbarian contortions’, Pope Pius X advised young people to adopt the delightful Venetian dance instead of the devilish tango. It was a (chaste) dance that he had often seen in his youth, where physical contact went no further than clasped hands. This papal advise was repeated in Rome’s Il Tempo newspaper.  And before long the furlana became the vogue in Rome, soon to be followed in Paris.

furlana venetie
Left, ‘La Giocosa Furlana‘ by L. Durand, published by Dupuis, Paris in 1914, illustrated by Léon Pousthomis. Right, ‘La Furlana‘ by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel, Paris in 1914, illustrated by Clérice Frères.

It is in that very short period of time, between the spring of 1914 and the outbreak of WWI, that every self-respecting dance teacher, every composer and every publishing house had to quickly concoct ‘the real’ furlana. A Venetian dance teacher claimed he had succeeded in recreating the original furlana after an interview with an octogenarian. It looked like this:

forlan gedanst2
The Furlana, reconstructed by the Venetian Professor Galante. La Revue Musicale S.I.M. april 1914.

At the same time a Roman dance teacher was quick to tell of his good fortune to discover an ancient dance manual explaining all the original movements of the furlana.

furlana X
Left, ‘La Furlana‘ by Paul Fauchey, published by Adolph Furstner in 1914, illustrated by Hippolyte Fournier. Right, ‘La Furlana‘ by Attic, published by E. Joullot, illustrated by Pousthomis.

In Paris as well, all in the music business were frantically claiming their importance in the furlanamania. One publisher tried to lure his potential clientèle reassuring them that the furlana could be danced everywhere: ‘La Furlana, nouvelle danse Vénitienne approuvée par sa sainteté le Pape Pie X, et pour cette raison adoptée dans les salons aristocratiques et mondains’. Another one boldly retraced the origins of the furlana to an ancient gondolier dance.

furlana bloem
Left, ‘Célèbre Furlana Venitienne‘ by Saratosga, published by Bons Auteurs, Paris, illustrated by Paul Dubois. Right, ‘Furlana Jolie‘ by Maria Rosset, published by Rosset, Paris 1914, illustrated by Clérice frères.

Parisian stylish dance teachers hurried to scrape together some movements in order to create a new choreography. Some of these teachers succeeded in attaching their name and theory to the published music. The best known of them was the elegant Duque (Antonio Lopes de Amorim Diniz) a Brazilian who abandoned a career in dentistry to become a dancer and dance teacher in Paris.  Duque was responsable for another dance craze: the maxixe. But this is for a later post. For now we’re off to Venice, going to dance with a gondolier!

La vrai Furlana‘, published by Edouard Salabert, Paris 1914. Photograph of L. Duque by Henri Manuel.

Ellebasi, a Jewel of a Composer

A la Tourterelle‘, ballad by Ellebasi, Cannes 1893, dedicated to Madame Antonio dei Conti Cioja.

Some years ago in Paris we found a small bundle of handmade sheet music. Although the illustrations and music seemed rather naive and overly romantic we couldn’t resist buying it. Sometimes people craftily copied expensive printed sheet music, but in this case they were handwritten by the composer herself. She signed as ‘Ellebasi‘, clearly the reverse of Isabelle.

A bit of sleuthing on our part turned up her real name: Isabelle-Marie-Henriette Mellerio who became Isabelle Charpentier after her marriage to Lucien Charpentier, a not so gifted composer. Composers often dedicate their work to family or friends and so did Ellebassi. This enabled us to reconstruct her family story, which is rather interesting. We’ll even add a bit of scandal at the end.

Rêve d’amour‘, berceuse by Ellebasi, dedicated to Madame François Mellerio, her sister in law Suzanne Bonardi who also painted the illustration.

Ellebasi belonged to the famous jeweller family Mellerio dits Meller with roots in Italy. Being jewellers to kings and queens the family earned a large fortune. Isabelle Mellerio, born in 1866, was the youngest of seven children. Her family lived above their boutique in Paris. She was only 16 years old when her father Jean-Antoine, also a jeweller, passed away.

Left, a drawing for a diamond and ruby set, and on the right design sketches for tiaras. Circa 1860, by Mellerio dits Meller.

Ellebasi composed the pieces as a young adult, between 1892 and 1896, some of them while living in Cannes. We can only guess if she lived there permanently or if it was her winter place of residence. Apart from the music for Les Courtisans de Flore we haven’t found any of Ellebasi’s compositions in print. In fact, Les Courtisans de Flore probably got printed because lyricist Alfred Gounin-Ghidone himself was a publisher.

Les Courtisans de Flore‘ by Ellebasi, dedicated to and illustrated in India ink by Madame Pauline Tollet (probably her niece).

And now for the scandal. The son of Isabelle’s great-uncle, Antonio Mellerio, was a misfit. Already at the age of seventeen he plunged into the mid-19th century Parisian society, neglecting his work for gambling and orgies. He was a big spender, misbehaved scandalously and had countless mistresses until at the age of 25 he ‘fell prey’ to Anna de Beaupré. Her name, suggesting an aristocratic background, was an embellishment invented by Anna Trayer. She was the separated wife of a tailor Achille Debacker. Antonio, no doubt madly in love, paid Anna’s old debts and treated her lavishly. His parents disapproved when they moved in together. After the dead of his father in 1860 Antonio left the running of the jewellery store to his cousins, restored his father’s Tailleville castle near Caen in Normandy and the couple changed house.

A postcard of the Tailleville castle.

When his mother died in 1868, Antonio was eaten alive by guilt for all the pains he had caused her. At the funeral he literally plunged into her grave. Later he acted more and more strangely, often seeming incoherent to his family. Nonetheless the family convinced him to sell his inherited share of the jewellery business to Isabelle’s uncle Joseph Mellerio. Antonio was also persuaded to make a will in favour of his cousins. Isabelle’s father was named executor. Furthermore Antonio promised to finish his relation with Mme Debacker and he burned her letters in the fireplace. And in an effort to redeem himself he mutilated both his hands by keeping them in the fire chanting ‘Burn! Burn! Burn! Purify my past!’ He lost all his fingers and parts of his hands. Later he would learn to write and also draw with his stumps and even, with great perseverance, with his mouth.

Left, ‘Entre-nous‘, polka by Ellebasi & Charluc (her husband Lucien Charpentier), illustrated by Louis (possibly her brother) and dedicated to Madame Antoine Mellerio (her mother). Right, Hand-painted cover of L’Hirondelle by Ellebassi, undated.

But Antonio reconciled with Mme Debacker and became, according to his family, religiously obsessed, seeing angels and devils. Alas, he didn’t profit long from his immense inherited fortune. One day in 1870, he was then 43 years old, he climbed the stairs of his castle and fell (or threw himself) from the top of its belvedere dying instantly. Isabelle’s father who had never visited his cousin before, rushed to Tailleville with the intention of executing Antonio’s will, only to be told that a new will had been found!

Left, ‘Mélancolie‘, waltz by Ellebasi and dedicated to Madame Henri Cosson (her sister Marie), 1892. RIght, ‘Souvenir‘ by Ellebassi and dedicated to Madame Gustave Mellerio , her sister in law Hélène Get, who illustrated the cover, 1896

In that new will Antonio had left his complete fortune to Mme Debacker. Moreover he had indicated that after her dead, Tailleville castle and some money should go to a local convent. The family was horrified. Ten of his cousins, including Isabelle’s father, contested this last will on two grounds: Antonio was too unsound of mind to make a valid testament and the beneficiaries had exerted undue influence over Antonio, coercing him into making a testament in their favour. In addition they wanted an annulment of all his previous substantial gifts to Mme Debacker. The trial was a cause célèbre. It scandalized Paris, gossip swirled around and it provided ample material for legal journals. In the end –meanwhile the 1870 franco prussian war had ended– the cousins lost the trial and all the subsequent appeals. Mme Debacker was finally allowed to take possession of her inheritance.

In 1873 this sordid story was made into a poem Red Cotton Night-Cap Country by Robert Browning, the famous English Victorian poet. He had researched the facts reading newspaper reports and transcripts of the legal documents and interviewing residents of Tailleville.

sais tu
Sais-tu‘ by Ellebasi, 1892

The family Mellerio dits Meller still have their boutique in Paris, 9 rue de la Paix, right next to Cartier. Mellerio dits Meller is the world’s oldest jeweller existing just over 400 years. Today they are the last important jeweller company to be independent and family owned.

Mellerio dit Meller 9 rue de la Paix in Paris next to Cartier.
Mellerio dit Meller boutique in the rue de la Paix in Paris next to Cartier.

Next time we visit the Place Vendôme in Paris we’ll try to exchange these unique sheet music covers for a tiara. Wouldn’t that be nice!

Maxima Queen of the Netherlands is happy to wear the Mellerio Ruby Parure, a Christmas gift from King Willem III to his second wife, Queen Emma, in 1889.

Yours truly, Enivid

Further reading:

  • Rough in Brutal Print: The Legal Sources of Browning’s Red Cotton Night-Cap Country by Mark Siegrist.
  • Mellerio dit Meller, joaillier des reines by Vincent Meylan

The other side of sheet music: illustrated catalogues

Publicity for Salabert records by Roger de Valerio
Publicity for Editions Francis Salabert by Roger de Valerio on the back of a 1924 sheet music album.

Publishers often use the back cover of sheet music to make their own publicity. But on this last page they also promote their music catalogue or the next hits. We have tried to bring together the different approaches to these catalogue advertisements. Our selection has become a long list, take your time and browse at your ease. But don’t hesitate to click here and there: some advertisements are precious gems in all their details… Feast your eyes!

Catalog publicity for publisher Mascheroni. Illustrated by Gilbàs
Example of a back cover with publicity for the music catalogue. Here illustrator Gilbàs uses modernistic typography to create a dynamic and attractive layout for the Mascheroni music catalogue (Milano, ca. 1925).
Illustration of back cover by Barabandy and H. Viollet.
Two back covers in Art Nouveau style showing the readers the first bars of the songs. Illustrated by Ricardo Barabandy (left) and H. Viollet (right) ca. 1900. Click images to enlarge.
Illustration by Eugene Grasset and Adolphe Giraldon (sheet music; partitions musicales)
Two illustrated catalogues for publisher Lemoine in Paris. The symbolist ornaments and foliage pattern on the left is from Eugène Grasset, the one on the right with thistles and lyre is from Adolphe Giraldon (ca. 1900). Have a look at the title of the first work of Emile Pessard in the right catalogue. Circassian beauties really must have fascinated more than one composer!
Late 19th-century illustrated catalogs from Musikalische Volksbibliothek (Berlin) and from Emile Benoit (Paris)
Late 19th-century illustrated catalogues. These are from the back covers of sheet music published by Alfred Michow (Berlin, on the left) and Au Métronome (Paris, on the right).
Left: the German illustrator worked out a very narrative view of the catalog.
Left: the German illustrator detailed a very narrative view of the catalogue of his client. On the right, the music catalogue (Costallat) is inventively shown as sheet music richly decorating the walls of a bourgeois interior. Two ladies of the house prepare themselves at the piano, setting the tone for a cosy atmosphere. Both illustrator and printer achieved an amazing level of detail!
Back covers of sheet music illustrated by P. Schumann and J. Vals
On both back covers,musicians are supposed to enliven the advertised catalogue. On the left, a ballroom illustration for Bosworth & Co by P. Schumann (s.d.). Right, a fine Barcelonese jester drawn by J. Vals (1925).
Two decorative back covers for publishers Maillochon in Paris (illustrated in Art Deco style by Choppy) and
Decorated back covers for publishers Maillochon in Paris (illustrated in Art Deco style by Choppy, on the left) and Stöppler in Wiesbaden (on the right, with a butterfly fairy drawn by the Australian children book illustrator Ida Rentoul Outhwaite).
Also the Italian publisher Carisch & C. and the French Max Eschig used to promote their offer of sheet music on the back cover. On the left a lively jazzband drawn by Ruolinari (s.d.), on the right another jazzband with stereotyped black musicians (illustrator and date unknown).
Also the Italian publisher Carisch and the French Max Eschig used to promote new songs on their back covers. On the left, a lively jazzband drawn by Ruolinari (s.d.), on the right another jazzband with stereotyped black musicians (illustrator and date unknown).
Sheet Music from Roehr (illustrator unknown) and Charles Brüll (illustrated by Michaelis)
More back covers with a musical theme to ornate the music catalogue. Left, sheet music from Roehr Edition (unknown illustrator) and, right, publicity for Charles Brüll (illustrated by H. Michaelis, s.d.).
Two very similar back covers using a stage announcer (or singer?). Figaro Verlag on the left, and Wiener Excelsior Verlag on the right (both unsigned, s.d.)
Plagiarism? Two very similar Austrian back covers, both using the caricature of a master of ceremony. Figaro Verlag on the left, and Wiener Excelsior Verlag on the right (unsigned, s.d.).
Two back covers illustrated by cartoonist Pol Rab, for publishers Pêle-Mêle (left) and Maillochon (right).
Two cheerful back covers illustrated by cartoonist Pol Rab, for publishers Pêle-Mêle (left) and Maillochon (right).
On both these back covers women in festive dress are charming us in viewing the music catalogs of publishers Jack Mills (left, illustrated by the Starmer brothers) and Les Editions du Music-Hall (right, illustrated by Pol Rab)
On both these back covers women in festive dress are charming us into buying the music catalogues of publishers Jack Mills (left, illustrated by the Starmer brothers) and Les Editions du Music-Hall (right, illustrated by Pol Rab).
Two similar announcements on the back covers of Edizioni Curci (on the left, unknown illustrator) and UFATON Verlag (right, illustrated by Herzig, s.d.).
Two similar announcements of the latest hits on the back covers of Edizioni Curci (on the left, unknown illustrator) and UFATON Verlag (right, illustrated by Herzig, s.d.).
Both these accordeon music publishers keep their advertisement rather simple with a typed list of titles.
Both these accordeon music publishers in the North of France (Candson and Marceau) keep their advertisement rather simple with a typed list of titles.
These back covers show a litteral swinging and dynamic music catalog.
For these back covers the illustrators Bonfanti on the left, and Cerutti on the right, chose for a swinging layout and a dynamic photo montage to advertise the musical successes of Carisch and Salabert respectively.
Arturo Bonfanti is too much of an artist not to find creative solutions for promoting the music catalogue of his client (Carish, 1928 and 1930).
We close this post about ‘the other side of sheet music’ with two more of Bonfanti’s merry and inventive illustrations for the back covers of Carisch & Jänischen (1929).

Part of a catalog from publisher Aromando
Detail on the back cover catalogue for publisher Aromando (Milano). Illustrated by Sandro Properzi (s.d.).