Today’s post is not a usual story. Rather, it is a dreamy walk through enchanted sceneries of the kingdom of birds and a few fluttering bats. The very special songbook Chansons des Oiseaux was published in 1898 by the Société française d’éditions d’art L.-Henri May.
This monsieur Louis-Henry May may have given his venture a rather pompous title, but it well reflects the care and attention that was given to the book: the unusual oblong format, the peaceful cover image without room for names nor other text than the title, the decorative pastedown to finish the inside of the hardboard cover, and last but not least the delicate full-page illustrations by Georges Fraipont (1873-1912).
We have already written about ‘Recto Verso de Luxe‘ where sheet music is illustrated on both the front and back cover to form one large image when you fold open the sheet. This is one of these special covers.
The book collects 10 songs composed by Georges Fragerolles (1855-1920), who is famous for being the maestro of the Chat noir, having enlivened at the piano many shows of the Théatre d’ombres. The lyrics of four songs were written by Fragerolles himself.
In our collection the name Fraipont is familiar. Gustave Fraipont (1849-1923) created a few sheet music covers. It was however his son Georges who illustrated this book. It is rather hard to discern the work of Gustave from that of Georges, as they both use ‘G. Fraipont’ as signature, and their style is comparable. Besides, Georges was also a composer. On at least one sheet music cover both father (illustrator) and son (composer) appear together. Yes, also with birds.
But let us continue with the book. Here is the title page.
And here follows your oxygen, your antidote to nastiness, negativity and gloom: ten lithographs, so delightfully charming that it is hard to imagine that they are but the result of a combination of ink, brush and paper.
Savour and rejoice!
The book was printed by R. Engelmann, Imprimeur-lithographe
(16 rue Nansouty, Paris)
On our way back from Berlin we did not enjoy our rather bland breakfast. But the tea was lovely and its brand name Teekanne rang a musical bell.
Back home we searched our sheet music collection and sure enough we found the above stunning cover. It was probably designed by Heinrich Molge for the German tea company Teekanne, a firm founded in 1926 that still exists. Molge (1888 – ?) was a Dresden based artist of whom we know little but that he was half of the graphic artists couple Molge-Koch. The Asian red and white teapot however is still used as today’s logo of the Teekanne company.
To thank customers for their loyalty, Teekanne offered small silks. These promotional gifts, popular during the early 1900s, could be stitched on tablecloths or cushions to embellish them. In the tobacco industry these little textile gadgets were more common, as seen in our earlier posts about Dutch Cigarettes.
Teekanne engaged excellent illustrators for their advertising campaigns. Also, their tea blends were packaged in lovingly designed tin boxes.
Teekanne played an important role in the invention of the teabag, that ‘ordinary’ item that we are so used to. The history of the teabag starts in 1901 with two American ladies who obtained a patent for a tea-leaf holder. We do not know if they ever commercialised their invention. The first modern tea bags in the Western World were hand-sewn fabric bags. The story goes that the New Yorker Thomas Sullivan sent samples of his tea leaves in small silk bags to potential buyers as a sales gimmick. His customers wrongly supposed that these were meant to be popped into a teapot and loved the idea. So this Sullivan, and others, started selling tea in single-serve bags. However, customers started to complain because the glue used to seal the bags left a bad taste to their nice cup of tea.
During the First World War, Teekanne adapted the idea and started mass producing round cotton-gauze bags sewn by hand, and tied close with a piece of string. These tea bags —also filled with sugar to offer energy— were called Teebomben (tea bombs). The Teebomben were distributed to the German soldiers on the front line. Alas, soon they got the reputation among servicemen of only colouring hot water to a brown concoction.
After the war the German inventor and self-made engineer Adolf Rambold started to work for Teekanne. And in 1929 he invented the world’s first tea-bag-packing machine. Twenty years later he invented the double-chamber tea bag: the tea is filled in two chambers allowing an optimum flow of water around the tea which results in a fuller tea flavour. In the same year he proposed a new tea-bag-packing machine which produced these double-chamber tea bags. His machine sold all over the world and revolutionised the tea market. I never analysed my teabags before but indeed the double chamber is still used for today’s tea bags.
The two following ‘tea songs’ from our collection were very successful in their days. Apart from a hit, Tea for Two even became a standard.
Now, let’s start to bake a sugar cake and have a tea for two…
Possibly you would prefer Bourville’s version of the famous song in the film La Grande Vadrouille. Certainly a memorable hot scene!
For the aficionados of Teekanne, hereunder is the German publicity printed on the back of their sheet music. To be read with a nice cuppa, of course!
Yesterday was that dreadful date, September 21st, the start of the autumn season. For the occasion let’s listen to Charles Trenet’s jazzy version of Paul Verlaine’s famous Chanson d’automne (Autumn Song). In 1944, three years after Charles Trenet’s song was first recorded, the Allies used the first lines of Verlaine’s poem to warn the French Resistance that D-Day was imminent.
Les sanglots longs Des violons De l’automne Blessent (bercent) mon cœur D’une langueur Monotone. Tout suffocant Et blême, quand Sonne l’heure, Je me souviens Des jours anciens Et je pleure; Et je m’en vais Au vent mauvais Qui m’emporte Deçà, delà, Pareil à la Feuille morte.
What a perfect start to dig into our collection and unearth a few appropriate sheet music covers to illustrate the melancholic and languorous season.
The ultimate september song though was written (1946) by Jacques Prévert and it’s music composed by Joseph Kosma. The title was inspired by the last words of Verlaine’s poem: Les feuilles mortes. Originally, the tune was created for a ballet but later ‘remastered’ for the film of Marcel Carné Les Portes de la nuit.
Sung by many artists, the song became really notorious the moment that Yves Montand recorded it. We also know it as the worldwide jazz standard Autumn Leaves.
To close our post we selected a slightly more poppy version of the bewitching song that so bizarrely marries desolation and yearning. Bye-bye summer.