Polnareff, père et fils

Amarantina‘ by Léo Poll, published by the composer (Paris, sd).

Léo Poll, the creator and publisher of the Argentinian tango ‘Amarantina’, was a Russian Jew. He was born in Odessa in 1899 as Leib Polnareff. In 1923 Leib Polnareff arrived in Paris where he became a pianiste-démonstrateur or a song plugger. A piano player was employed by music publishers and music stores to help sell new sheet music. In the office or shop, patrons could select any title, which was then delivered to the song plugger who started to play the tune so that the customer could decide whether to buy the sheet music.
Leib Polnareff chose the pseudonym Léo Poll and became a well-known piano player accompanying vedettes such as Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet. He also composed and arranged several songs and he even had his own orchestra ‘Léo Poll et son orchestre’. You can listen to his composition ‘Un jeune homme chantait’ performed by the legendary Edith Piaf:

un jeune homme chantait
Un jeune homme chantait‘ by Léo Poll & Raymond Asso, published by Les Editions de Paris in 1937 and illustrated by Würth.

During the Second World War, Léo Poll and his wife fled Paris to the country side in the Zone Libre. They were very lucky to end up  in the small village Nérac. There, despite the presence of the Gestapo, a young girl of 16 who worked for the mayor forged identity papers for Jews. Thanks to her Léo Poll escaped deportation and extermination. Quite the heroine, Odile Perella-Dubergey! Still, she had to wait 70 years to be honoured for risking her life in the Resistance.

In 1944 the couple got a little boy: Michel Polnareff who would become a popular singer-songwriter in France from the mid-1960s on. After the war the family returned to Paris where Michel grew up in an artistic environment. He learned to play the piano when he was 4 years old and at 11 he won a premier prix at the Paris Conservatoire. He also learned the guitar and started busking in Montmartre in 1964.

In 1966 his first disc La poupée qui fait non was an unexpected but phenomenal success.

The androgynous Michel Polnareff was a non-conformist who liked to provoke. That caused him a lot of problems during his career. The most spectacular drawback happened in 1972. For his show ‘Polnarévolution‘ at the Olympia, six thousand posters showing the singer with naked buttocks hung across billboards all over France. Polnareff was found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ and was fined 10 francs per poster.

polnareff naakt
Poster for Polnarévolution at the Olympya in Paris, 1972, a collectors item!

Recently Michel Polnareff settled accounts with his father Leib in his autobiography Spèrme. Allegedly, Léo Poll was a tyrannical brute at home, forcing his son to practice the piano for hours on end and hitting him with his belt.

Love me please love me...

The Abstracts, part 1

'Sweet Child', Cover illustration by Fabien Loris (1925)
Sweet Child‘ by Richard A. Whiting; Al. Lewis & Howard Simon (published by Francis-Day, Paris, 1925). Cover illustration by Fabien Loris.

Isn’t she a beauty? What a Sweet Child, I’m wild about her! The cover is by Fabien Loris, an underestimated (and often unknown) French illustrator. One of these days we want to tell you about his venturesome life and work.  But today we dwell on his skilfulness to apply geometrical patterns, lines and planes in order to achieve powerful designs. The work of Loris is strong because not only does he elegantly stylise his subject (in a wild art-deco or cubistic fashion), he also continues his abstraction in the decor, the lettering and the creative layout of the sheet music cover. His images stand out from the sometimes dreary crowd of printed music.

The cover ‘For My Sweetheart’ is another example in which Loris boldly uses stark shapes, straight lines and coloured planes to attract attention. It is as if Loris wants to use the few seconds that someone pays attention, to conjure up an atmospheric image about the song, and fling at that persons eye the mood and the intensity of the music.

'For My Sweetheart', sheet music cover llustrated by Fabien Loris (1926)
For My Sweetheart‘, by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1926). Illustrated by Fabien Loris.

For other sheet music designs, Loris fearlessly went further into abstraction, letting go almost all figurative representation. We can only thank whoever was in charge at the Francis-Day publishing house, to have let the young Fabien Loris have his artistic audacity…

'Only For You', illustrated by Fabien Loris in 1926.
Only For You‘, by Mark Strong and Graham John (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1925), illustrated by Loris.
'Don't Sing Aloha when I Go', Illustration attributed to Fabien Loris.
Don’t Sing Aloha when I Go‘, by Ben Black; Walter Smith & Neil Moret (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1926). Cover illustration attributed to Fabien Loris.
'Don't Wake Me Up', sheet music illustrated by Fabien Loris
Don’t Wake Me Up‘, by M. Vayne & Abel Baer (published by Francis-Day, Paris, 1926). Cover most likely illustrated by Fabien Loris.
Sheet music cover designed by Fabien Loris. (1925)
Want a little loving‘, by Harry Warren and Benny Davis, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1925). Sheet music cover designed by Fabien Loris.
Partition illustrée par Fabien Loris (1927).
Calling‘, Music by Ernie Golden and lyrics by Raymond Klages. Published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Loris.

The abstract covers of Loris are vibrant and dynamic. They are of course physically static images. A decade later in 1938, the German scissor-and-paper magician Oskar Fischinger brings the playful relation between animated abstract form and music to the summum bonum. Take delight in what he created for Franz Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody !

(source: http://www.openculture.com)

Bauhaus and Gigolettes

'Gigolette Fox-Trot'
‘Gigolette Fox’ by Franz Léhar, published by Smyth (Paris, 1922) and probably illustrated by Robert Laroche.

It took awhile before I pinpointed this cover in the haystack of our collection. It is a drawing for the Gigolette-Fox in Franz Léhars opérette La danza delle libellule from 1922. The image, a thick spiralling red line on a black background, had been lingering in the back of my mind since I saw Das Triadisch Ballet. Or better said,  the video of that ballet produced by the Bavaria Atelier in 1977. I saw this baffling dance piece in the exhibition Paul Klee – Pictures in Motion in Bern. Happily it is also on YouTube and we’ve extracted  the one-minute ‘spiral scene’.

The ballet is a major work of Oskar Schlemmer, who was a German painter, sculptor and choreographer, and also a member of Bauhaus (a school and modernistic movement in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin between 1909 and 1933). In it he presents “his ideas of choreographed geometry, man as dancer, transformed by costume, moving in space”. It is no wonder that the ‘figurines’ (the name he used for the extravagant costumes that abstracted the form of the human body into artificial and geometrical forms) were exhibited at the Société des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, in 1930.

Now, rewind to 1922 and the success of Franz Léhars Gigolette-Fox. We found French, Italian, and Portuguese covers of it in our sheet music collection,  which proves the success of the operetta and its Gigolette theme.

Another cover of 'Gigolette-Fox'
Another cover of ‘Gigolette-Fox’ from La danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar (published by Smyth Editeur, Paris, 1922). Illustrated by Robert Laroche.
An Italian version of 'Gigolette' (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
An Italian version of ‘Gigolette’ (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
The Portugese version for Léhars 'Gigolette'. Sheet music cover; partition musicale illustrée
The Portuguese version for Léhars ‘Gigolette’, published by Sassetti & Ca Editores, Lisboa, 1922. Illustrated by Stuart (José Stuart Carvalhais).

The Gigolette in Léhars operetta refers to a liberated girl, a flapper who isn’t afraid of a little amorous adventure… No wonder that the ‘Danse des Libellules’ was also produced by Madame Rasimi of the Ba-Ta-Clan: the perfect story to show lavish costumes and nudity at the same time. My Larousse explains gigolette as a ‘jeune femme délurée’ (a young smart/brazen/cheeky woman). One might think it is the feminine form for gigolo, but that term seems to be more recent.
Thirty years earlier, at the fin de siècle and start of the Belle Epoque, the gigolette was the female equivalent of that romanticised and proud male rascal, a member of the urban criminal canaille: the Apache. As in: I will be your Apache, will you be my Gigolette? But we’ll discuss the phenomenon of the Parisian Apaches in another story soon…

Left: 'La Marche des Gigolettes'
Left: ‘La Marche des Gigolettes – marche réaliste’ by Emile Spencer and René Esse, published Repos Editeur (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘Nini la Gigolette’ by Victor Thiels and V. Damien, published by Gross (Paris, s.d.), cover by Léon Pousthomis.
Left: illustration by Steinlen for 'J'ai perdu ma Gigolette'
Left: illustration by Steinlen for ‘J’ai perdu ma Gigolette’ by Mortreuil, Esse & Delormel, published by Maurel (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘La Valse des Gigolettes’ by Spencer, Lelièvre &Damien, published by Brondert (Paris, s.d.), drawing by O’Varély.