Amusing double items, over the years we have grown to cherish these lucky finds. All of the graceful flavours of print and design become apparent: subtle similitudes, minor mistakes, lost details, delicate varieties in shade, colour or contrasts. However sometimes a duplicate is nothing but a gross replication. Take for instance the small Czech songbook, that would like to be an exact copy of the over-the-top incorrect but oh so cute Vertès illustration. A mediocre but bleak reproduction if you ask me.
Here is another example of how an ingenious and expressive design of Marcel Vertès is muddled, wasted and ruined. It is obvious that in the French version of the Passion waltz the red and green colour plates have ineptly been aligned…
Have a look at a similar debacle, this one from the workshop of Hawkes in London. What happened, was the red ink too thick or too thin? Shouldn’t the gold have been printed first? It may be that the red ‘Gold and Silver’ waltz was an ordinary printing press reject. Which we now ironically give the status of ‘collection item’. Anyway what a shame for the beautiful drawing by W. George.
Some ‘duplicate’ sheet music are just different. Having both versions in the collection is worthwhile, and brings on a few moments of delight. As does the gliding sound of the great-grandmother of all waltzes ‘Sobre las Olas’ (Uber den Wellen, Sur les vagues, Over the Waves) composed by Mexican Juventino Rosas in 1888.
Time now for a musical intermezzo: float and twirl over the ocean waves!
All the duplicates above show essentially the same drawing. It is more fun when the same theme is drawn differently, as with this chucklesome waiter.
A last surprising duplicate which brings joy is The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
The UK branch of American publisher Witmark resolutely chose for an extra row of bears.
German publisher Roehr on the other hand preferred chubby Teddies for its Baby-Bären Parade.
Strangely The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, copyrighted in 1907 by American composer John Bratton, was for many years just an instrumental number. Twenty-five years later, in 1932, Irishmen Jimmy Kennedy wrote the lyrics that beautifully accompany the two-step rhythm:
If you go down to the woods today You’re sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today You’d better go in disguise!
For every bear that ever there was Will gather there for certain, Because today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.
Now comes the special moment: a scene from the Eighty’s serial drama The Singing Detective, wherein Michael Gambon plays crooner, detective, and psoriatic patient. Thank you Dennis Potter.
This cover shows a rare and original form of illustration. It bears no title nor composer’s name. Both (‘Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen) are printed on the inside together with the piano notation. The sheet music was commissioned by the Robinson d’Anjou, the retail store of a large umbrella factory in Angers, France. We admit that it is a rather campy collection item. But the storyline behind this unusual design deserves to be explored. As per usual, we cheerfully oblige.
We discovered that the cover was created by Domenico Mastroianni, an Italian sculptor living in Paris. He became famous for his sculpture éphémère also known as sculptobromure or sculptogravure. Thanks to an advertising postcard from the prolific Parisian publisher Armand Noyer, we can have a glimpse of Mastroianni’s amazing technique.
Firstly, and with astonishing speed and skill, Mastroianni modelled realistic reliefs on clay plates of about 50 cm x 70 cm. Then the plates where photographed, and these clichés were reproduced as postcards. As soon as a plate had been photographed, it was destroyed to prepare for the next scenes. Alas, not one of his plates survived.
With this method Domenico Mastroianni was incredibly productive. His printed kitsch makings flooded the French and international postcard market. Often his creations illustrated the lives of the most famous historical, literary, religious and mythological characters. But he didn’t shrink from fabricating risqué scenes in Art Nouveau style, sometimes taking bad taste to the limit.
Just before the first World War Mastroianni returned to Italy where he continued his production of postcards. In 1935 our sculptor illustrated a propaganda postcard against the sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations. These sanctions targeted Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in that same year, when Mussolini was in search of a new Roman Empire.
At that time a famous marching song accompanied Italy’s colonial adventure: Faccetta Nera (Little Black Face). The catching quickstep became very popular with the Italian armed Fascist militia, the Camicie Nere (Blackshirts) fighting in Ethiopia. The song describes an Ethiopian girl taken back to Rome by Italian troops after their invasion of Ethiopia. The young woman is paraded in front of Mussolini, herself also wearing the black shirt.
Although the song was written as a liberation song supporting the abolishment of slavery in Ethiopia (Mussolini’s explanation for his territorial expansion), it was without doubt a sexist and racist song and still is. In Italy, singing it today invokes controversy and its name is sometimes used as the N-word, to insult black women or girls. Even now on Youtube, there are Italian fascist aficionado’s who advocate their love for the song. It was beautifully illustrated by Gino Gonni though.
Mussolini despised the jovial tone of the text which called for a swift and painless integration of a young Ethiopian woman in Italian fascist society: “you will be Roman, your flag will be the Italian one”.
And Mussolini abhorred even more the implicit reference to interracial sex.However, to forbid the song would have been too drastic in view of its immense popularity among the colonial legionnaires.
Instead, publisher Bixio came up with a more appropriate cover design, boasting suitable flags and the emblematic Roman fasces.
If the song could not completely be banished, at least it could be conveniently redacted. The initial text of Faccetta nera made a reference to the First Italo-Ethiopian War in 1896, a year when the Italian forces suffered great losses and Italy had to accept Ethiopian independence. This passage in the lyrics was censured because Mussolini didn’t want any reminders of defeat.
On the other hand, the reference to that humiliating year is very explicit on the cover of the song Macallè (published somewhat later than Faccetta nera). The central inscription ‘1896’ is carved on the door lintel. The explanation is that in 1935 on November 8th the Italian forces captured Mek’ele (Macallè): the previous defeat was now revenged.
With these fascist songs we’re a bit off topic now. So back to Domenico Mastroianni with a last lingering question: was he related to the great Marcello? Yes indeed! He was Marcello’s uncle’s uncle. Finally an excuse to slip Marcello Mastroianni in our blog.