Category Archives: Composers

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...

Agamemnon: a Local Family Affair

Cover of the sheet music 'Laiss' tomber', one step by L. Aga
Cover of the sheet music ‘Laiss’ tomber‘, one step by L. Aga and H. Valle. Published by G. Agamemnon (Mantes, 1923). Illustrated by R. Marabout.

Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae. When Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaus, ran off with Paris, Agamemnon started the Trojan War. Thus he had a major impact on the turn of events in Greek mythology. The homonymous hero of our story, the publisher Gaston Agamemnon, does not share this renown.
We knew nothing about this man but for two other sheet music in our collection (see our previous posts on ‘Eventide‘ and ‘Le Rajah‘). All three pieces were published, composed and illustrated by the same three persons. All in the year 1923. Intriguing… We investigated this mere detail of French music publishing. Please follow our footsteps in history.

'Eventide' and 'Le Rajah' sheet music covers (partition de musique)
Eventide‘ and ‘Le Rajah‘ sheet music by L. Aga and published by G. Agamemnon in 1923. Both also illustrated by R. Marabout.

Gaston Agamemnon held shop in Mantes-la-Jolie, a middle-sized city along the Seine, 60 kilometres west from Paris. He started in 1903 as a manufacturer of piano’s and other musical instruments. We believe to have found an image of Mr. Agamemnon on an early postcard of the Rue de la Mercerie. On the doorstep of his rather large boutique he looks curiously at the photographer.

Postcard Rue de la Mercerie, Mantes-la-Jolie (ca. 1910).
Rue de la Mercerie, Mantes-la-Jolie (ca. 1910). On the left is probably Mr. Agamemnon on the doorstep of his musical shop. (source: “Mantes histoire“)

At his front window Mr. Agamemnon advertises ‘Cours et Leçons‘, ‘Violon & Solfège‘ and ‘Vente-Location‘. Apart from teaching and selling instruments, he also sells sheet music: we see many chansons prominently on display in his shop window.

A small article in Le Petit Parisien of 1909 relates how Gaston narrowly escaped from a fire accident: apparently a window had acted as a magnifying glass for the sun rays that set alight wood shavings in his workshop, leaving him half asphyxiated.

Information on Agamemnon in various archives.
Left: a small article in Le Petit Parisien of 1909. On the right Agamemnon’s advertisement in the Annuaire des Artistes of 1905.

More significant is the advertisement in the Annuaire des Artistes of 1905 in which Agamemnon promotes his services as Editeur de Musique (publisher) and Chef d’Orchestre (director). He also specialises in teaching modern techniques for the violin and the piano. We also learn from dusty archives that Agamemnon was married to Claire Fenayrol. Aha, we found his Clytemnestra!

From the 1893 registry of Mantes-la-Jolie: the marriage between Gaston Achilles Agamemnon and Claire Amélie Fenayrol. (source: online archives of the Département Yvelines)

The rue de la Mercerie is no more. It vanished together with large parts of the city centre of Mantes-la-Jolie in 1944, during Allied air raids. The enormous damage was documented by the Vichy regime in newsreels. This video is an excerpt from video archives.

Almost all of Mantes-la-Jolie’s city centre was rebuilt after the war, as illustrated by the two ‘before-and-after’ postcard views.

One of the city architects who helped rebuild the town centre was Raymond Marabout (born 1886). We found early pictures of him as aerostatier during the First World War. He was wounded when he had to jump from his airship.

Airship, WWI. Pilot is Raymond Marabout
Raymond Marabout in action with his airship during WWI. (View more pages from this photo album at Europeana 1914-1918.)

Raymond Marabout was not only an airship pilot and architect, but also an illustrator: he signed the three ‘Agamemnon’ covers above. He was also a rather good painter. We found this lovely post-impressionistic landscape on an auction site.

Painting by R. Marabout
Landscape, oil painting (60X81cm) by Raymond Marabout. (source:
Signature of painter-illustrator Raymond Marabout
Raymond Marabout’s signature on a sheet music cover (left) and on the oil canvas (right).

Le Rajah‘ sheet music is jokingly dedicated à mon ami Sidi-Ben-Marabout suggesting that Gaston Agamemnon and Raymond Marabout were friends. Agamemnon probably also befriended the painter Maximilien Luce, to whom he sold his house of Rolleboise.

'Rolleboise, la baignade', oil on canvas by Maximilien Luce
‘Rolleboise, la baignade’, oil on canvas (135x148cm) by Maximilien Luce.

Gaston Agamemnon had at least one son: Lucien. Having learned the violin, Lucien became director of the Conservatoire in Mantes-la-Jolie. The BnF lists him as the author of a handbook on music theory and also as a composer until the 1960’s. Using the pseudonym L. Aga he created in 1923 the three ‘lighter’ compositions (one step and fox-trot shimmies) that his father published. These three items in our collection are thus traces of a brief family cooperation. Strangely, we also found reference to a painter Lucien Agamemnon around 1950. Is it the same person? Probably, as he also signed his work L. Aga.

Huile sur carton du peintre Lucien Agamemnon.
Oil on cardboard (40x50cm) offered on ebay for 30€. Signed below-left L. Aga (Lucien Agamemnon?).

We discovered a portrait of Lucien Agamemnon, not drawn by our illustrator Raymond Marabout, but painted by Frédéric Luce (son of Maximilien).

‘Le violoniste Lucien Aga’ by Frédéric Luce. Oil on canvas (33 x 54 cm), probably from 1959. (source: auction house Oger Blanchet)

On Lucien Agamemnon we also discovered an odd newspaper fait divers, recounting that Lucien was a victim of road rage.

Lucien Agamemnon being victim of road rage (Le Matin, 18-09-1937).
Our composer L. Aga being assaulted by a motorcyclist, which resulted in a work incapacity of 25 days (Le Matin, 18-09-1937).

Digging deeper into the family history we discover Jean Agamemnon (1921-2003), grandson of Gaston and son of Lucien. Poet, artist and friend of the Luce family he became conservator of the Maximilien Luce museum in Mantes-la-Jolie (later musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu) until 1996. It fits to conclude this article on the Agamemnon-Marabout-Luce families with a sheet music cover illustrated by the anarchistic painter Maximilien Luce…

Sheet music cover by Maximiline Luce (partition de musique).
Les Pieds devant‘, by Marcel Legay and Maurice Boukay. Published by Ondet (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Maximilien Luce.

… and comfortingly sung by George Brassens. For all who seek solace: come on, sing along!

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Ainsi que tout ceux de ta race,
Grand homme qu’un souffle terrasse.
Comme le pauvre fou qui passe,
Et sous la lune va rêvant,
De beauté, de gloire éternelle,
Du ciel cherché dans les prunelles,
Au rythme pur des villanelles,
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Duchesse aux titres authentiques,
Catin qui cherches les pratiques,
Orpheline au navrant cantique.
Vous aurez même appris du vent,
Sous la neige, en la terre grise,
Même blason, même chemise,
Console toi fille soumise,
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Oh toi qui mens quand tu te signes,
Maîtresse qui liras ces lignes,
En buvant le vin de mes vignes,
À la santé d’un autre amant,
Brune ou blonde, être dont la grâce,
Sourit comme un masque grimace,
Voici la camarde qui passe.
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.

Tu t’en iras les pieds devant,
Grave docteur qui me dissèques,
Prêtre qui chantes mes obsèques.
Bourgeois, prince des hypothèques,
Riche ou pauvre, ignorant, savant,
Camarade au grand phalanstère,
Vers la justice égalitaire,
Nous aurons tous six pieds de terre.
Tu t’en iras les pieds devant.


I’m Looking For…

'Ich suche Dich Titine (Je cherche après Titine)', by Léo Daniderff and German text by Friedrich Hollaender.
Ich suche Dich Titine’, music by Léo Daniderff and German text by Friedrich Hollaender (Victor Alberti Musikalienhandlung, Berlin, 1922).

This gorgeous sheet music cover was created by Katerina (Käte) Wilczynski. Born in Poznan (1894) she studied and worked in Leipzig and Berlin where she illustrated books. She travelled a lot in Europe, especially to Greece. In 1939 she definitely moved to London where she died (1978). She was known for her portraits and street scenes, later also for her landscape drawings.

A drawing of a street scene in Paris (1928) by Katerina Wilczynski.
Katerina Wilczynski: a street scene in Paris (1928).
Left: illustration for 'Kyrie Eleison' by Waldemar Bonsels (1922). Right: portrait of Joyce Cary by Katerina Wilczynski, pen and ink, 1954 (National Portrait Gallery, London, 4822).
Left: illustration for ‘Kyrie Eleison’ by Waldemar Bonsels (1922). Right: portrait of Joyce Cary by Katerina Wilczynski, pen and ink, 1954 (National Portrait Gallery, London, 4822).

Strangely, having discovered that she was ambidextrous she let each hand play its own part in the creation of the drawing. I love this greeting card that she made for a friend in 1974. Perhaps because travelling by memory is what we also do in this blog with many hands.

Wilczynski's good wishes for 1975, drawn when she was eighty.
Wilczynski’s good wishes for 1975, drawn when she was eighty.

The sheet music above is the German version of the original French song that was sung by so many poilus, as the infantrymen were called during the First World War. The tune of Je cherche après Titine’ had been written by Leo Daniderff (1878-1943), presumably in 1917 for his loved one, the physically disconcerting Gaby Montbreuse. Daniderff had ‘russianised’ his first name (he was born Ferdinand Niquet), which earned him the nickname faux Russe (‘false russian’). This (or his talent) also earned him success: he became the composer of hundreds of popular songs and helped the career of many celebrities.

We haven’t yet found a French copy of Je cherche après Titine’ with a worthy illustrated cover. Here and there you may find a petit format, a small and cheap publication of the song written by Marcel Bertal, Louis Maubon and Emile Ronn.

Petits formats (small sheet music) of 'Je cherche après Titine'.
Je cherche après Titine‘, two ‘petits formats’ or small sheet music found on Du temps des cerises aux feuilles mortes.

In 1922, the same year as the German publication, Carisch launched the Italian version of the song: Io cerco Titina. The flapper on the cover for this ‘ultimo successo internazionale‘ is by Roveroni.

'Io cerca Titina'
Io cerca Titina‘, with Italian lyrics by Guido di Napoli (Casa Editrice Carisch, Milano, 1922).

Not at a viral speed but still in a steady pace, the song conquered the world. In 1924 we find this beautiful American Titina sheet music cover.

Titina sheet music cover by Harms Inc. 1924.
Titina‘, published by Harms Incorporated (New York, unknown illustrator, 1924).

Jack Hylton‘s orchestra popularised Titina as a hyper danceable foxtrot. But we’ll listen instead to a Billy Murray 1925 recording of Titina, and sing along its refrain:

I’m looking for Titina – Titina, my Titina,
I’ve searched from Palistina, to London and Peru.
I’ll die without Titina, I can’t eat my farina,
I don’t want Rose or Lena, Titina I want you.

Warning: the following old label has nothing to do whatsoever with our story, except the brand name and its roaring looks. We couldn’t resist…

Tinned tomatoes.
Titina label for a brand of tinned tomatoes.

There is no better way to conclude this article than by viewing the ultimate Titine dance and singing act by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936).  How very ironic that for his first ‘talkie’ Chaplin uses nonsense words, or what do you make out of “La spinash o la bouchon Cigaretto Portabello Si rakish spaghaletto Ti la tu la ti la twah” ?

And while for many years the whole world was looking for Titine, at last someone found her:

‘Titine’ by Jacques Brel, 1964.