Though the term ‘camp meeting’ might be common knowledge for Americans we are not familiar with it. We tried to infer its meaning from the above English cover illustration by Banks. We see African Americans in a pastoral scene. Three couples are dancing a cakewalk accompanied by a banjo player. In the background a man is trying his luck with a girl. A front scene shows four card players in an animated game. The agitation of the man in his top hat is perhaps related to the razor lying nearby. Was it used by a cheater to mark the cards? Or is it the racist stereotype to symbolise the menace of violence in this idyllic spot? In the distance is an encampment: we see tents, wooden benches and the shelter or arbour as if for a leader or speaker. From this late 18th-century image we can suppose that a camp meeting was a festive gathering. The black community apparently met there, had fun and spent the night in the woods, right?
The Frenchman Léonce Burret gives us his interpretation of a Georgian camp meeting: he draws a cartoonish African-American wedding. The couple, smartly dressed, is dancing a cakewalk accompanied by an accordion player. Mhmmm could a camp meeting have something to do with weddings among black citizens? In this cover it was certainly represented in a condescending, European way. Or didn’t Léonce Burret have a clue as well?
Time to bring in the American original sheet music published by the composer Frederick Allen ‘Kerry’ Mills himself. Again we see a merry gathering of African Americans enjoying a cakewalk, and we also view a tent in the background. But this time, on the far left there is a preacher holding a bible. We get another clue from Kerry Mills’ foreword to his cakewalk, telling us that his march was not intended as part of a religious exercise.
All right, finally a camp meeting is something spiritual, a religious meeting held in the open air or in a tent‘ according to the Oxford Dictionaries.
The religious significance of a camp meeting, is confirmed by American illustrator André de Takacs in the above sheet music. A cleric is preaching so fiercely that he upsets his glass of water. The death chicken hidden behind the preachers coat is another early 20th century racist stereotype, associating stealing chickens with black people. Four worshippers consider the terrors of hell while a young couple imagines the glories of heaven.
We searched for the history of ‘camp meetings’. The spiritual practice seems to have its origin in the Second Great Awakening, an evangelical movement promoted by protestant preachers in the early 19th century in America. Originally camp meetings were held in sparsely populated frontier areas without churches and full-time ministers. So the solitary settlers would travel to a particular camping site. There they could listen to itinerant preachers, pray and sing hymns non stop for an entire week. Maybe due to exhaustion from the ceaseless services, some participants lost control of their emotions. Sinners would fall on the ground amid shrieks and cries for mercy (the falling exercise), shake their limbs and head violently (the jerks) or roll over the floor uncontrollably (the rolling exercise).
But a camp meeting was also a welcome reprieve for the farmers who had lonely and difficult lives. It was an opportunity to reunite with family and friends. And aside from spiritual support, a camp meeting also offered singing, music playing, and dances.
Camp meetings stayed popular with rural Americans around the Bible Belt. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia camp meetings were so popular in Georgia by the 1890s that the phrase ‘at a Georgia camp meeting’ became a common expression. Early on, camp meetings also attracted many African Americans. They came together with white people, staying in segregated quarters or went to their own camp meetings.
Today revival camp meetings are still used to reinvigorate churches.
In 1904 the modernist American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) gave his nostalgic Third Symphony the subtitle ‘The Camp Meeting’. He remembered the evangelical revival services from his childhood, and he used the hymn tunes as basic material for this composition. Ives’ music was considered radical for its day and it was largely ignored during his life (the symphony premiered not until 1946). Even today, his music isn’t frequently programmed either and that is a pity. Listen for yourself: here is the first movement, Old Folks Gatherin’. Spiritual power, full force!
The best part of this post is the short movie. If you haven’t got time, directly scroll to the end and have a good laugh with the dancing ‘horse’.
In 1917, almost a century ago, two big events happened that would affect the lives of millions of people: the United States entered the Great War and Russia held its October Revolution. It is hard to imagine that against this grim historical background the bizarre, eccentric and crazy ballet Parade was created in Paris, a few hundred miles away from the mud, misery and inferno of the WWI front lines.
Parade was a short ballet. It premiered, together with other more traditional ballets, at a war time charity gala to support the troops, in May 1917 at the Théâtre du Chatelet. Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) had set the whirling story somewhere at the fringe of a fairground. Cocteau imagined acrobats, clowns, a Chinese conjurer, a little American girl (based on the 1914 film serial The Perils of Pauline) and other strange characters parading on the stage to entice the passers-by to enter the show.
The music composed by Erik Satie (1866-1925) was mixed with many real-life sound effects, e.g. from typewriters and gunshots. The dances were choreographed by the young Leonide Massine, the successor of Nijinsky. Finally, none other than Picasso designed the decors and cubistic costumes.
Preparing the ballet in Rome, Sergei Diaghilev wanted to be part of the avant-garde art scene using a modernistic environment for his Ballets Russes. The Parade ballet caused a scandal. About time! It was from 1912 (L’ Après-midi d’un faune) and 1913 (Le Sacre du printemps) ago that the Ballets Russes had provoked public outrage and the scorn of the critics.
The ragtime from Parade was later adapted for piano solo and published in 1919 with its beautiful cover shown at the beginning. At the same time the editor also published an American intermezzo ‘La Diva de l’Empire’ by Satie with an equally striking cover.La Diva de l’Empire is a 1919 edition of a cabaret song with ragtime rhythms which Satie wrote in 1904. Obviously both covers were drawn by the same hand, but whose? Picasso, Natalia Goncharova, Fernand Léger, Charles Martin, ..? Or perhaps Satie himself who enjoyed typography and sketches?
“1917” is also the title of an exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou – Metz a few years ago. On that occasion the monumental theatre curtain (more than 16 m wide !), designed by Picasso for the ballet Parade, was unveiled. A few pictures tell about that enterprise.
With this giant scene Picasso refers to his previous more romantic rendering of street performers and artistic types, so distinctive for his earlier Rose Period. But at the same time the perspective and composition create a semi-realistic scene that is both upsetting and disturbing.
While working on Parade, Picasso met his future first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a dancer with the Ballets Russes. They married a year later in 1918.
Now as promised, the film, thanks to the dance performance of ‘Europa Danse’ who recreated Parade in 2008 (source: Numeridanse.tv).
Heinrich Strecker (1893-1981) is an Austrian composer. He was born in Vienna but was educated in Belgium in a Catholic school run by German brothers. Strecker would later remember his school years: “Given my extraordinary musical talent my teachers gave me free lessons in piano, cello, tenor horn, trumpet, flugelhorn, horn, trombone and organ. Besides I was trained to play the violin upon a master level. I was soon regarded not only as the best musician but also as the best singer of the school. No feast day went by without me singing Gregorian chants as a soloist in Church or performing before the highest ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries like the King of the Belgians for whom I played, as a climax, my own composition, a violin concerto.” Ahem…
In 1910 Strecker returned to Vienna and would become the self-proclaimed saviour of the Wienerlieder (Viennese Songs). Wienerlieder were critical, ironic, funny songs about life in and around Vienna, sung in the local dialect and blending humour with melancholy. These popular songs had known their heyday in the 19th century’s last quarter. According to Strecker the Wienerlied had little chance against the modern foxtrot: “Publishers had only a pitying smile for my futile struggle for the dying Wienerlied”. Still, Heinrich Strecker sensed the financial potential of its revival and in 1922 founded his own music publishing company, the Wiener Excelsior Verlag. He composed operettas and hundreds of songs which “glorified Vienna and began their triumphal march throughout the world”.
We are coming to the gist of our story. In 1933 Strecker became member of the NSDAP, the German Nazi party. At that time the Austrian government tried to suppressNational Socialism, and his Nazi affiliation cost Heinrich Strecker six months of detention in 1936. After his release he conveniently made an extended tour in Germany. Strecker returned to his homeland in 1938, right after the Anschluss. Our composer welcomed this annexation of Austria to the German Reich with two songs: Deutsch-Österreich ist frei! and Wach auf Deutsche Wachau. This last song became also known as the Ostmarklied, ‘Ostmark‘ being the new Nazi name for Austria. The words of the song allow little doubt as to Strecker’s sympathies:
Von Burg zu Burg die Frage geht, wann denn die Ostmark aufersteht, ob auch der Bruder endlich heimwärts fand, heim in das große Vaterland?
From castle to castle the question spreads, when will Ostmark rise again, whether the brother finally found home, back into the great fatherland?
No wonder that this Ostmarklied became a Nazi battle song. The same ‘honour’ also befell Heimat, another one of Strecker’s successes.
Tellingly, it was in Bremen (Germany) that his operetta The Eternal Waltz premiered in February 1938. Not until three months later, after the Anschluss, could Strecker triumph its premiere at the Vienna Volksoper. By that time Nazi rules already had started the persecution in the Austrian musical world. Jews were prohibited to own commercial enterprises. The work of Jewish composers and authors were banned: performances were prohibited as was the sale of their sheet music. Their printed scores were destroyed or marked as unavailable.
Barely three months after the annexation, Heinrich Strecker became vice president of AKM, the music copyright agency. It was then already fully compliant with Nazi rules. Earlier, in March 1938, AKM’s council had been dismissed and a Commissar Chairman appointed. Immediately a questionnaire had been sent to all members asking racial and religious questions. In June of the same year the AKM was replaced by STAGMA, the society for musical performing rights from Nazi Germany. STAGMA was administered by the Reichsmusikkammer directed by Joseph Goebbels.
In 1939, in a booklet containing an AKM membership directory someone deleted the names of Jewish members by hand with a neat red line. The legend written on the booklet reads: ‘- = Jüden’. These were to be blacklisted! A handwritten note inside this booklet chillingly explains that some members had not yet been crossed off because they had not submitted their completed questionnaires, asking them about their race.
Franz Sobotka, a Viennese music publisher owning several companies, was part of the list but his name was not deleted. Nonetheless in mid-May, the month in which Strecker was attending the premiere of his operetta, Sobotka fled Vienna with Hermine, his Jewish wife. He had heard that his family was at risk of imminent arrest by the Gestapo. They crossed the border to Czechoslovakia and reached the safety of Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary). Later Strecker will do away with the Sobotka’s refuge as a ‘health cure’.
From Karlsbad, the family emigrated to New York. Sobotka’s car was confiscated and he was expropriated of a great deal of his assets. In 1939 Heinrich Strecker acquired the publishing companies (Bristol Verlag, Sirius and Europaton) which belonged to his ‘long-time friend’ Franz Sobotka for a paltry sum. At that time the companies had 18 employees and totalled a significant revenue. Strecker merged Sobotka’s companies together with his own to form the ‘Am Schubertring Verlag’.
While Sobotka was forced to rebuild his life in New York, Strecker was successfully performing in Austria, with many sold-out evenings. In 1942 he was able to buy a castle-like villa.
At the end of the war Strecker fled from Vienna. In 1946 he was accused of high treason for illegal activity, abusive enrichment and insult to the dignity of the librettist Alfred Steinberg-Frank. Streckers publishing house was placed in the custody of the American Property Control: Franz Sobotka, now a US citizen, reclaimed his properties and accused Strecker of taking over his editions under the guise of aryanisation. Aryanisation meant confiscation or forced sale far below the real value. The exchange of letters between Strecker, Sobotka and the American Property Control is made public by Fold3, an online collection of original US military records. The scanned, typewritten letters make a fascinating read.
Strecker’s defence is a litany of self-pity, presenting himself as a victim of the German ‘occupation’ and of unfortunate circumstances. Like so many other Austrians he refused to acknowledge that he had participated in the persecution of Jews. He denied ever being a member of the Nazi Party: it was his father, conveniently also called Heinrich, who had been a member. He himself ‘was persecuted by the Nazis’. Strecker enumerated his countless successes as a composer and blamed slander by jealous people for his present situation: “Viennese art was my goal, glory my companion, and I was envied by the yapping pack of incompetents as is often the case for successful artists.” In his defence Strecker recounts how in 1944 he got into trouble with a Nazi rival and subsequently his business was closed down. He also argues that he worked closely together with Jewish artists. Which is true: he created for example several songs together with Alfred Steinberg-Frank, who would later accuse him in 1946. Strecker also argues that Goebbels wanted to destroy the Wienerlied. Thus Strecker having been its “pioneer, front runner and king, he also had to fall”.
Strecker declared that after hearing about the aryanisation by Goebbels of several music publishers (Universal Edition, Josef Blaha Verlag, Figaro Verlag, Josef Weinberger Verlag and Friedrich Hofmeister Verlag) he wanted to save at least one Viennese publishing house, namely Bristol Verlag. The perfidious argument of Strecker was that he couldn’t be accused of aryanisation because Sobotka wasn’t a Jew, but an ‘Aryan’. Also part of his defence was his allegation that due to Sobotka’s manipulations he had bought an almost worthless business. Or in Streckers words: “by being so magnanimous I had suffered a terrible ordeal”.
Never in all the letters and accounts did Strecker show a hint of empathy with the Sobotka family who had been forced to flee and had been stripped of its possessions. He was ultimately convicted for high treason. Heinrich Strecker asked for clemency, and in 1950 after a few years of being ostracised, he was reintegrated and rehabilitated. For three decades he continued his work, public activity and lived in the Villa Strecker with his third wife Erika, who is 45 years his junior.
Austria gradually comes to terms with its Nazi past. In 2013 Austrian president Fisher said: “the crimes of Hitler’s Third Reich could not have taken place without the help of the ‘countless perpetrators, accomplices, informants and Aryanisers’ who worked as cogs in the Nazi machine”.