Category Archives: Composers

Sympathy For The Devil

Sheet music cover for "Four Conceits" by Eugène Goossens
Four Conceits‘ by Eugène Goossens, published by J. & W. Chester (London, 1918) and illustrated by M. Tempo.

In 1893 the English composer Eugène Goossens was born into a musically gifted family. His parents and his siblings were all renown musicians. His grandfather, from Bruges in Belgium, was a famous conductor and had moved to England in 1873.

The first movement of Eugène Goossens’ Four Conceits is The Gargoyle. Eugène’s younger sister the harpist Sidonie remembers that “When he was 11 years old … he always loved to draw pictures with gargoyles. He had a sort of mania about gargoyles.” He did not draw this nice cover though, it is by M. Tempo, an illustrator we know nothing about.

His brother Leon Goossens was considered among the premier oboists in the world and although not known as a composer he wrote a march dedicated to Brussels boaters.

Sheet Music Cover for 'Marche des Canotiers' by Léon Goosens
Marche des Canotiers‘ by Léon Goossens. Published by Jeanne Moens (Bruxelles, s.d.), unknown illustrator.

After conducting US orchestras for nearly a quarter of a century, Eugène Goossens became the conductor of the Sydney Symphony in 1947. In Australia he established himself as a distinguished celebrity, earning even more than the prime minister. He also initiated the founding of the famous Sydney Opera House.

In his private live he had a lifelong interest in pantheism and the occult. Sadly this would become his downfall when in the early fifties he met the Australian artist Rosaleen Norton who had achieved scandalous notoriety as ‘the Witch of Kings Cross’. Kings Cross was Sydney’s seedy night entertainment and red-light district. There Rosaleen led a bohemian lifestyle together with her younger boyfriend, the poet Gavin Greenlees. Their small flat, in a derelict house, was decorated with occult drawings and a clumsy altar embellished with a painting of Pan and a set of stag’s antlers.

Rosaleen Norton 1943, by Ivan, for PIX Magazine, from photographic negative, State Library of New South Wales. Source: Wikipedia.

In 1952 The Art of Rosaleen Norton was published combining her (erotic) drawings of pagan gods and demons with the poetry of her lover Greenlees. The book was banned in New South Wales on the grounds of obscenity, import in the US was forbidden, and an Australian court ordered that two of the drawings had to be removed from all existing copies. This brought the book extensive media coverage. After reading it Eugène Goossens thought he had found kindred spirits and he wrote to Rosaleen. They met for tea at her sleazy flat and soon began to see each other regularly.

At that time, Eugène Goossens lived in a stylish house in Sidney with his third and much younger wife. She was a concert pianist and often away on tour, leaving Eugène —now nearing sixty— alone at home. Perhaps on the lookout for some excitement in his life, he started to take part in Rosaleen’s occult rituals. For these she was naked apart from a skimpy apron, a shawl and a mask, or she wore a robe. She and her coven members shared a ritual meal of cakes and drunk wine from a horn, which was passed round the circle.

In some private rituals Goossens, Rosaleen and Greenlees went further: they were practitioners of Aleister Crowley’s “sex magick” in the hope of reaching higher states of consciousness by performing sex rituals. Crowley —or ‘Great Beast 666‘ as he called himself— was an English occultist and ceremonial magician, and had the reputation of being the wickedest man on earth.

Sheet music 'Elle avait un p'tit cad'nas'
Elle avait un p’tit cad’nas‘ by Valentin Pannetier & M. Désautés. Published by V. Pannetier (Paris, s.d.), cover illustrated by Leon Pousthomis.

Eugène Goossens and the occult couple corresponded excitedly about their magical erotic experiences. The threesome was into bondage, flagellation, cunnilingus, same-gender sex and taking erotic photographs.

The osculum infame illustrated in Francesco Maria Guazzo’s Compendium maleficarum, 1608. Source: Wikipedia.

In one of his letters Goossens talked about the osculum infame that he administered to Asmodeus, the demon of lust. The osculum infame or the kiss of shame is a ritual kiss given by a witch to a devil’s behind.

Sheet music cover for 'Asmodeus'
Asmodeus‘ by Julius Einödshofer. Published by Carl Gehrmans Musikförlag (Stockholm, s.d.), unknown illustrator.

Being aware that these letters were dangerous Goossens had instructed Rosaleen to destroy them. But she didn’t and hid them under a cushion of her settee. Together with bondage photographs showing Rosaleen and her lovers, the letters were stolen by a member of her coven. He tried to sell them to the tabloids whereupon a reporter of The Sun reported the theft to the police.

The police placed the unsuspecting Goossens under surveillance, even while he was abroad in England. When Goossens returned to Australia in March 1956, he was detained at the airport. Customs officials already knew they would find a large amount of ‘pornographic’ material which included 800 erotic photographs, books and rubber masks. Humiliated and in shock, Goossens instantly and naively pleaded guilty thus jeopardising his legal defence. A major scandal broke loose in puritanical and narrow-minded Australia of the fifties. The story was fodder for the tabloids. In disgrace, Eugène Goossens returned to Britain — his international career was ruined.

Please allow me to introduce myself…

Lalla Rookh

Sheet music cover 'Lalla Rookh' by George L'Estrange, illustrated by W. George
Lalla Rookh‘ by George L’Estrange, published by Cramer & C° Ltd (London, 1913) and illustrated by W. George.

In 1817 the Irish writer Thomas Moore published his bestselling epic book: Lalla Rookh. Hundred years later George L’Estrange —a now totally forgotten composer wrote a sentimental and unremarkable waltz of the same name. This L’Estrange was not the first who got inspired by Moore’s Oriental romance. From the start Lalla Rookh roused the romantic imaginations of several artists.

Illustration by John Tenniel, from the book ‘Lalla Rookh, An Oriental Romance’ by Thomas Moore, published by Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green (London, 1862).

Moore’s tale narrates how the beautiful Lalla Rookh, daughter of the Mughal Emperor, travels from Delhi to meet —for the first time— her fiancé, the king of Bukhara (in what is now Uzbekistan). She is accompanied by Fadladeen, a self-righteous, obnoxious chamberlain and also by the handsome minstrel Feramorz, who distracts her from the long journey by telling her charming stories. Predictably, the princess falls in love with the young poet and dreads the moment she will have to face her royal betrothed. In the end the amiable storyteller appears to be none other than the king who had wanted to know if Lalla Rookh would love him for his own merit rather than for his wealth. All’s well that ends well.

Sheet music cover for 'Maid of Athens'
Maid of Athens‘ by Edward J. Loder & Lord Byron, published by Jefferys & C° (London, s.d.)

It was Lord Byron who had advised his very good friend and literary rival Thomas Moore to try Orientalism. He in turn was tipped off by Madame de Staël, a French-Swiss writer and influencer avant la lettre. Byron wrote to Moore in 1813: “Stick to the East. The oracle, Staël, told me it was the only poetic policy. The North, South, and West have all been exhausted…”.

Moore had never travelled to the East and thus spent six years of extensive research to come up with his armchair traveller’s view of the Orient. But it was time well spent —and sound advice from Byron— that earned Moore a princely sum of money.
Byron also had orientalist ambitions and had by then already travelled to the east. In 1810, while in Greece, Byron wrote the poem Maid of Athens, which has been set to music by numerous composers. On the cover above we recognise Byron and Theresa Makri, the daughter of his landlord in Athens. Theresa was twelve years old when Byron (he was twenty-two at the time) fell head over heels in love with her. Reportedly he offered £500 for her hand in marriage. The offer was rejected. Byron wrote the girl a poem, and set to his new destination, Constantinople.

Lalla-Roukh‘ by Félicien David, arranged by H. Marx, published by F. Girod (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Célestin Nanteuil.

Félicien David, a French pioneer of musical Orientalism, was another composer excited by Lalla Rookh‘s fairy-tale plot. In his opéra comique Lalla Roukh the heroin kept her phonetic name, but the poet/king Feramorz became Noureddin. Lalla-Roukh is also accompanied by her servant Mirza and by Baskir (Fadladeen in Moore’s version), the pompous, critical and conniving chamberlain.

Emma Calvé, Eustase Thomas-Salignac and Hippolyte Belhomme in the opéra comique ‘Lalla-Roukh’. Photographs by Nadar. source: / BnF

Contrary to Thomas Moore, Félicien David did travel to the Orient. He even had a specially reinforced piano built to withstand the heat and long journeys. With this small piano that could almost be slung over the shoulder, he travelled to the Middle-East, Algeria and Egypt. He stayed for two years in Cairo where he gave music lessons and explored the desert. These years were decisive for the Orientalist character of his musical work.

Felicien David by A. Lemot. source: / BnF

David returned to France where his Lalla Roukh was first performed to huge acclaim in 1862 and would remain popular till the end of the century. It was the catalyst for an explosion of operas set in the ‘Exotic East’.

David’s Lalla Roukh was almost forgotten, but was revived in 2014 by Opera Lafayette in Washington DC. Enjoy an excerpt of their production with a classical Indian dance.

The story of Lalla Rookh also found its way in popular culture. Kate Vaughan, allegedly the first woman to flash her petticoats, also inventor of the skirt dance, had a vaudeville act as Lalla Rookh in the London Novelty Theatre during the 1880s.

Kate Vaughan als Lalla Rookh, Novelty Theatre London

In the United States showman Adam Forepaugh presented in 1880 a street pageant Lalla Rookh’s departure from Delhi. Atop of an elephant sat the most beautiful woman in the world, for which title she had been awarded ten thousand dollars. Curiously, it was not the beauty queen who was named Lalla Rookh but the elephant.

The Slow, Slower, Slowest… Boston Waltz

Valse Lente‘ by Clifton Worsley published by Alphonse Leduc (Paris, 1920) and illustrated by Georges Dola.

The valse lente was very fashionable in the early 20th century. It was a slow, sentimental waltz, also called a Boston waltz. I am still confused over the precise technical moves of the valse lente or Boston Waltz. What makes it so ‘lente’ or ‘Boston’, still eludes me, though I’ve read more than a few instruction texts. I even dared a few hesitating steps in my boudoir.
I also tried hard, but found no reliable explanation for its name or origin. Different Western regions or continents claim to be the cradle of this wildly popular dance. Some say the Boston waltz is an American, slower and gliding variant of the traditional Viennese waltz. The oldest reference that I could find is a composition by Marie Félicie Clémence de Reiset, Vicomtesse de Grandval. She composed Prélude et Valse Lente in 1885.
According to the composer Clifton Worsley it was he who coined the term Boston waltz.
Clifton Worsley is the pseudonym of the Catalan musician Pere Astort i Ribas. A trained pianist, Pere Astort started working as a clerk at a popular sheet music shop located on the most emblematic street, La Rambla, in Barcelona. This shop then called Can Guàrdia still exists as Casa Beethoven.
In the sheet music shop Pere Astort worked as a song demonstrator (or song plugger) to help sell the sheet music. Patrons could select a title of a song for him to play on the piano, thus getting a first listen before buying.

Beloved‘ by Pere Astort (aka Clifton Worsley), published by Casa Dotesio (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by M. De Lohn.

The story goes that while Astort was playing one of his own compositions, an American musician walked into the shop. Stunned by Astort’s song the visitor told him that the music reminded him of fashionable waltzes from his home town, Boston. The American also suggested to adopt a pseudonym with a more ‘artistic‘ and international resonance. Pere Astort went for the dignified sounding Clifton Worsley nom de plume.

'Vision' by Clifton Worsley, sheet music cover
Vision‘ by Pere Astort (aka Clifton Worsley). Published by himself in Barcelona (1902) with an art nouveau cover designed by Llorenc Brunet.

Clifton Worsley had a rival in Theodor Pinet who also claimed to be the Bostonkungen or the Boston King. Pinet was a Swedish composer, with a Belgian father, who used to play at the royal court of Sweden. He introduced the Boston waltz in Sweden around 1902. Clifton Worsley had then already composed his first Boston walz in the late 1890’s. Anyway, Theodor Pinet became a big name in Sweden thanks to the Boston Walz. In 1910 he launched his own music hall: the Boston Palace! According to Sweden’s state archives, the rush to Pinet’s Boston Palace was huge: “Ladies in exquisite toilets, gentlemen in coats and tuxedos, students, little shop girls in blouses and skirts, jacket-clad office workers and demi-mondaines in rustling silk with or without cavalier, all bitten by the Boston fly […]

‘Papillons’ by Theodor Pinet, published by Lundquist (Stockholm, sd).

In 1900 the French Roi de la Valse Rodolphe Berger composed a valse très lente (a very slow waltz), the hugely successful Amoureuse.

Amoureuse‘ by Rodolphe Berger. Published by Enoch & Cie (Paris, 1900) with the cover illustrated by Léonce Burret

And after Massenet also having written a Valse très lente, Debussy created La plus que lente or ‘the even slower waltz’ in 1910. It was his tongue-in-cheek riposte to the countless lightweight valses lentes that were so successful in the Parisian salons and dance halls. La plus que lente is a charming sentimental waltz with a lot of rubato written for solo piano and arranged for strings.
Debussy mentioned in an interview that he had written La plus que lente for the Hungarian violinist/leader of a gypsy orchestra. He had discovered the ensemble in the newly opened Parisian Carlton Hotel where he regularly went with his wife and friends for the afternoon tea. Who better then, than the Hungarian Antal Zalai to perform La plus que lente