It is not our collector’s goal, but we have many duplicates of the sheet music ‘Over the Waves’ (Sobre las Olas in Spanish, Über den Wellen in German, Sur les Vagues in French, Sopra le Onde in Italian).
Not surprisingly the waltz, Sobre las olas, has sometimes been incorrectly attributed to Johann Strauss. But is was composed by a Mexican, Juventino Rosas (1868-1894). His life has been documented and filmed. Beware though, because many lies and fantasies have been written about him. What is true —and sad— is that he died too young at the age of 26.
We want to concentrate on the iconic representation of Sobre las Olas on all the above covers. Where does it come from? Why did the music publishers all over Europe apparently follow the convention to represent a young nymph, fairy or woman floating above foaming water, always with bare arms, twirling and undulating, wrapped in lots of light fabric? Send us a postcard if you know the answer, please.
At that time Art Nouveau is in full bloom, and the flowing gowns echo the characteristic whiplash curves employed by many fin-de-siècle artists.
What strikes us, is the graphical similarity with the representation of the famous Serpentine Dance created by Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère, as seen on posters around 1900.
Of course, seeing Loïe Fuller in action is another thing. Here she is, metamorphosing from a bat, in an original silent film by Segundo de Chomon. He was a brilliant Spanish film pioneer who worked in Paris and is often compared to Georges Méliès, due to his frequent camera tricks and optical illusions. The film is from 1902 (and not 1905 as indicated on YouTube). Although Segundo de Chomon hand painted some copies, this one is recently stencil-coloured.
In another Segundo de Chomon film The creation of the Serpentine (1908) Mephistopheles interrupts a peaceful evening of dancing in a French salon. Showing his real face, the demon creates a woman who multiplies in numerous Serpentine dancers, all twisting their robes until they finally explode into flames. Wow!
And here is an excerpt from La Danseuse a 2017 biopic of Loïe Fuller, played and danced by none other than I’ll Kill Her Soko. Perhaps not really a must-see, but it gives a good impression of the colour effects that were originally used and designed by Fuller herself.
Now back to our Sobre las Olas with an Uzbek interpretation. It surely beats kittens on Facebook.
The illustration for the piano music Youyou is not the most captivating one. But its dedication “Au commandant du ‘Camille’ Madame Camille Du Gast” caught my attention. A youyou is a small boat or a dinghy used to tender passengers between a ship and the shore. Here is a photograph of Mme Camille du Gast climbing from a youyou onto her motorboat, the Camille.
The adventurous Mme du Gast took part in the 1905 Algiers to Toulon race organised by the Paris newspaper Le Matin. Sadly, it would be the last time she boarded the Camille.
To ensure the safety of the seven competing motorboats, each one was accompanied by a torpedo boat destroyer. Moreover, two cruisers followed the race. Sixteen hours after leaving Algiers the Camille arrived in second place at Port Mahon, a harbour on the Spanish island Minorca.
In the second part of the race the participants tried to reach Toulon, but this ended in disaster. All competitors and their crew had to be saved from the fury of a storm-swept Mediterranean. The Camille was engulfed by the violent sea. In a perilous operation led by the cruiser Kléber, the crew of the Camille was pulled aboard. But not before an exhausted Mme du Gast fell into the sea and was heroically rescued by a sailor. The Camille was left to the mercy of the waves.
Two months later, Mme du Gast was declared the winner of the Algiers to Toulon race having come closest to finishing before sinking.
The 1905 Algier-Toulon race was not Mme du Gast’s first valiant exploit: she loved fencing, tobogganing, skiing, rifle and pistol shooting, ballooning, parachuting and horse training. She rode her first automobile around 1900 and participated in glamorous capital-to-capital car races, such as Paris-Berlin in 1901, Paris-Vienne in 1902 and Paris-Madrid in 1903.
Mme du Gast’s sobriquet, the Valkyrie of motorsports, elegantly expressed her buxom figure, as seen on these photographs.
It is said that she had a very upright position when driving her motorised vehicles because of her corset. Looking at the picture with her at the rudder of her ‘canot‘, I find her silhouette mesmerizingly disturbing. I then imagine that she just donned a corset for official pictures, and immediately tucked the hindering girdle into a corner when going for action.
Disappointingly, it seems that du Gast’s perfect hourglass shape is but the result of photographic retouching. Look at the telltale pencil corrections around her waist, belly and hips on these magnifications.
The composer of Youyou was Carlos de Mesquita, a Brazilian-born concert pianist and composer. In 1877, aged 13, he left Brazil to study piano and organ at the Conservatoire de Paris where he took lessons with Jules Massenet and César Franck. In the 1880s and 1890s he would introduce their work in Brazil, together with those of Delibes, Bizet, Gustave Charpentier and Saint-Saëns. Through his Concertos Populares, de Mesquita not only introduced a new repertoire in Brazil. He also tried to musically educate and appeal to a growing middle class. His noble intention was undoubtedly inspired by his colleague Gustave Charpentier, who founded in 1902 the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson for the musical schooling of working girls.
We found another Carlos de Mesquita’s sheet music in our Images Musicales collection. It is also dedicated to Camille du Gast and portrays her profile in a tangled Art nouveau floral design. A sign of respect, or was there also un peu d’amour..?
To prove her more artistic accomplishments, Mme du Gast who was a talented singer and piano player, gave charity recitals accompanied by Carlos de Mesquita. The newspaper La Presse describes one of her performances: “When Madame du Gast appeared, a flattering murmur ran through the audience. One was curious to hear Mme Du Gast, who yesterday was an intrepid automobile driver, who will be an aeronaut tomorrow, and who was revealed to us this evening as an excellent musician. Accompanied by M. Carlos de Mesquita, she has performed two pieces of this delicate composer. We celebrated both of them.”
The mondaine Camille du Gast got entangled in a scandal following the trial against her brother and father whom she had accused of embezzlement. Maître Barboux acting for her relatives, hit below the belt when he showed the court a picture of a painting of a naked lady. Barboux claimed that the lady, only clad in a mask, was Mme du Gast (as he had been told by Mme du Gast’s father and brother). Oh my god!
Mme du Gast’s libel action against Maître Barboux caused a sensation in Paris. Both the artist Henri Gervex and the girl who had stood model for the painting, Marie Renard, corroborated du Gast’s case. Still they were not given a hearing. Maître Barboux refused to apologise and moreover won the case on a legal technicality.
It is said that Madame du Gast who was present in the courtroom, had hidden a horsewhip in her parasol with the intention of administering correction to Maître Barboux. However, he prudently chose to leave the Palais de Justice by a private way, as he knew that Madame du Gast and her friends were in a very excited state after the decision of the Court.
But that is not the end of the story, as the prince de Sagan, a friend and admirer of Mme du Gast, followed the lawyer to his house with the firm determination to avenge the honour of Mme du Gast. He slapped Maître Barboux in the face calling him an insulter of women. An hour later, following impeccable manners, the prince sent his card to Barboux’s house. The Australian West Gippsland Gazette (september 1902) further reports: “Maître Barboux, as already noted, is no longer a young man, although very active, and he has, in any case, passed the fighting age, so he prefers the legal way of obtaining satisfaction.“ Another lawsuit followed. Although the court accepted that the prince had acted in good fate, he was condemned to pay a 500 francs fine.
Each sheet music tells its own story. But we also found another truth: one Youyou may conceal another…
I am not a lover of national hymns, military music or marches. They might hearten the troops but they seldom encourage the creation of attractive covers. At least one exception is this winsome image for John Philip Sousa’s The Washington Post. It inspires gallant courteousness and good manners, not blaring heroism. And indeed Sousa’s fierce marching music suitably accompanied the stylish ballroom two-step. At one point the two-step was so much identified with Sousa’s melody that it was often called The Washington Post. Nevertheless we find distinct entries for the two dances in a tiny ‘dance class’ notebook of that time.
The two-step dance had been introduced in about 1890: a quick-quick-slow slide instead of the half-jump Polka step or an ein-zwei martial stride. The civilised dance definitely called for a more sophisticated music. Don’t take my word for it — listen to the delicate rendition of The Washington Post by the United States Army Field Band.
The creator of the dancing couple on the cover above is Johann Bahr (1859–1910), a German painter and caricaturist for the satirical magazine Lustige Blätter. We found one of his drawings for that magazine (a mocking self-portrait?) and also a merry carnivalesque aquarelle.
Bahr was not a prolific sheet music illustrator, still we count seven of his creations in our collection. One of them is again for a Sousa composition, the Kadetten-Marsch.
Now John Philip Sousa, he was famous! Born in Washington, D.C. in 1854 he would forever be esteemed as the American ‘March King’. His father was a Spanish trombonist with Portuguese roots, his mother was German. Sousa started as an apprentice musician at the Marine Corps. He would become a member and later the youngest conductor of the United States Marine Band. At the end of that career, in 1892 he founded his own Sousa Band. With it he conquered the US and the world, touring multiple times.
Sousa made his mark on music history. Being a perfectionist —and also having a perfect pitch— he attracted the finest musicians in his band. He educated audiences by playing classics to perfection, and proved that America had quality music.
Apart from his noble musical career Sousa helped the development of the sousaphone, strongly defended the rights of musical authors, and was in his spare time an expert trap shooter.
Sousa was not only a wildly popular director, a meticulous conductor, or an ingenious composer. He was also a shrewd entertainer, cleverly adapting his program to the sensitivity of the local audiences. European critics were surprised to hear him launch encores before the end of the concert, often in the middle of the enthusiastic applause that followed a piece. Sousa also introduced jazz sections, ragtime, cakewalks and coon songs in his gigs as early as 1900 at the Paris Exposition, giving some ideas to Claude Debussy.
Sousa’s demeanour was always disciplined and his uniforms were meticulous (a valet accompanied him everywhere on tour). There were rumours that to direct he never wore his white gloves twice…
In 1876, as a young lad of 22, Sousa toured as the orchestra leader for the Living Pictures. For that show he also composed short descriptive pieces as accompaniment to scenes with barely-covered girls. The Living Pictures was a series of tableaux vivants that enlivened scenes of classical art and literature. Beautiful women in gauze scarves and flesh-coloured tights took artful poses in painted decors. In the shows announcement, the public was reassured: “The management begs to state that the entertainment will be strictly first-class in every respect, and nothing will be said or done that will offend the most fastidious.”
‘Cleopatra before Caesar’, ‘The First Sin’, ‘Diana and her Nymphs Surprised’… Say no more!
The show was an entertaining enterprise of Matt Morgan. He was a British caricaturist, scene painter and theatre personality who defied the authorities and moral standards. It is said that his cartoons ‘… attacked the impropriety —actual or rumoured— of the Prince of Wales; and most shockingly, of Queen Victoria herself.‘
The risqué Living Pictures spectacle might have been classy in Washington, it definitely was less welcome in Pittsburgh: Sousa and other staff members were called to court on charges of obscenity.
We close this small tribute to Sousa with an impromptu duel between the sousaphone and the Dodge.
Readings on Matt Morgan:
‘Sex, Art, and the Victorian Cartoonist: Matthew Somerville Morgan in Victorian Britain and America’, Richard Scully, IJOCA, 2011 (www.academia.eu)