Sir Roger de Coverly is an intriguing name for a dance. Some say its name refers to a fox. Surely, the wiggly dance steps suggest the jumpy flight of a hunted fox. As early as 1685 John Playford included the instructions for the country dance in his manual TheDancing Master.
The subsequent popularity of the dance gave rise to the creation of a fictitious character, the debonair country squire Sir Roger de Coverley. In 1711 The Spectator started to daily publish the gentleman’s hapless adventures. These short pieces were entertaining portrayals of early 18th-century English life: “The first of our society is a gentleman of Worcestershire, of ancient descent, a baronet, his name is Sir Roger de Coverley. His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous country-dance which is called after him.” (The Spectator of March 2, 1711)
Fiction of course, but it led to ‘Sir’ being added to the dance previously simply named the Roger of Coverley. Moreover the Spectator articles described the gentleman as a philanthropist who always kept open house at Christmas and sent “a string of hog’s puddings to every poor family in the Parish“. Sir Roger de Coverley was thus a paragon of Christmas benevolence and charity. Possibly by association the homonymous dance became a typical Christmas dance. Often it was the closing dance of the ball: “this dance should be the finishing one, as it is calculated from the sociality of its construction, to promote the good humour of the company, and causing them to separate in evincing a pleasing satisfaction with each other.“
The Sir Roger de Coverley knew a revival in the 19th century and also became a success in the French ballrooms.
Perhaps it is this print in The Graphic that inspired Hyacinthe Royet to draw the sheet music cover that started this post. A polite image of country gents and ladies who stiffly move around under the mistletoe, wearing bored expressions. No foxy ladies and no fun at all, if you ask me.
We found a more lively rendition of the dance in a cover drawn by Barbizet. An annotation in this copy indicates that the French preferred a more vibrant dance: “In England, the jig is concluded by a lady’s chain, but the length of the dance in that case renders it monotonous and for this reason, the finale has been suppressed in France.” Strangely, the Sir Roger de Coverley was in this case sold as a Danse Américaine.
Did you wonder how to dance the Sir Roger de Coverley? The 1951 film Scrooge might give you a good idea. It is an adaptation from A Christmas Carol, the book that Charles Dickens wrote 175 years ago. The fragment begins with the spirit showing to Ebenezer Scrooge the annual Christmas party thrown by his former employer, old Mr. Fezziwig.
Just tap your feet in time to the music and enjoy the Yuletide dance. Beware, this version is danced at a very swift pace.
Interestingly, in 1922 the English composer Frank Bridge arranged the folk song for a string quartet. To enhance the Christmas mood the composer mixed in the Auld Lang Syne melody (at around 3’50”).
I, for my part, will blithely put on my skates and dance the Sir Roger de Coverley on Ice. Merry Christmas!
This German cover lusciously portrays the infamous Salome, femme fatale par excellence. Salome is the title of an opera by Richard Strauss, based on Oscar Wilde’s play. Wilde wrote the play in French in 1891, and it was thus published in France two years later. An English translation was published in 1894, with iconic illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.
The London premiere of Salomé, with Sarah Bernhardt as the lead, was banned on the pretext that it was legally not allowed to put biblical stories on stage. As a result Salomé was first performed in Paris in 1896. Oscar Wilde was then in London serving his two-year prison sentence for gross indecency.
For his play Wilde elaborated on a bible story: Salome is the teenage stepdaughter of king Herod. All the men at the court —including Herod himself— are overwhelmed by lust for her. However Salome only has eyes for Jochanaan (John the Baptist) who is kept captive in Herod’s prison. John the Baptist, a denouncer of sin who has committed his life to God, obviously rejects her and starts to preach about the Son of God. Salome is so furious about his prudery that she plots to get him killed. It is with an erotic dance (the Dance of the Seven Veils) that the deranged teen plans to make her stepfather promise to fulfil her most outrageous desire.
Whatsoever thou shalt desire I will give it thee, even to the half of my kingdom,
if thou wilt but dance for me.
O Salome, Salome, dance for me!
Indeed, after Salome’s dance Herod is in ecstasy and makes his foolish promise. Salome asks for only one thing:
I would that they presently bring me in a silver charger . . .
the head of Jochanaan.”
Such a salacious play, with its shocking representation of female lust, of course caused an enormous scandal all over Europe. And it caught the attention of Richard Strauss. He wrote the libretto himself based on a German translation of Wilde’s play. Strauss completed his opera in 1905. Both the operas of Berlin and Vienna refused to show Strauss’s scandalous work so he had to premiere it in the more progressive Dresden.
The first interpreter of Salome at Dresden, the matronly Frau Wittich, a singer with Wagnerian power, refused to perform the Dance of the Seven Veils. As Strauss understood that a ten-minute striptease would boost the ticket sales, he hired a body double for the scene. Kaiser Wilhelm remarked at the time: “I really like this fellow Strauss, but Salome will do him a lot of damage.” In his Recollections and Reflections published in the year of his death, Strauss dryly retorted: “The damage enabled me to build me my villa.” The Finnish Aino Ackté was the first Salome singer to dance the Dance of the Seven Veils herself. That was in 1907.
Listen to Strauss’ hauntingly beautiful Ich habe deinen Mund geküsst. In this necrophiliac scene the obsessed teenage girl Salome passionately makes love to the death body of John the Baptist and kisses his cold lips: “You wouldn’t give your lips to me, well I will kiss them now.”
Ah! Ich habe deinen Mund geküsst, Jochanaan. Ah! Ich habe ihn geküsst, deinen Mund. Es war ein bitterer Geschmack auf deinen Lippen. Hat es nach Blut geschmeckt? Nein! Doch es schmeckte vielleicht nach Liebe. . . Sie sagen, dass die Liebe bitter schmecke. . .
Oscar Wilde’s play and Strauss’ opera and Wilde’s play fuelled a Salome craze. The rage spread throughout Europe and America at the beginning of the 20th century.
These two sheet music of Vision of Salomé by Archibald Joyce, both show us Maud Allen, a dancer who stunned (or unsettled) the audiences with her erotic dancing. She became a controversial sensation with the performance of her own production Vision of Salome in London in 1908 (loosely based on Wilde’ original play). She is drawn here in her typical risqué costume consisting of a beaded bustier and jewel-encrusted transparent skirt.
But the pictures of Maud Allan on these covers are misleading. Archibald Joyce, known as the English Waltz King, wrote for a bourgeois clientele: popular dance orchestras and amateur pianists. His Vision of Salome was a popular simple waltz published in 1909, triggered by Maud Allen’s success but absolutely not composed for her titillating performance, which was already launched in Vienna three years earlier.
The American publisher of Archibald Joyce’s Salome almost copy-pasted the original drawing by Max Tilke for Richard Strauss’ opera, perhaps to give the popular waltz a more highbrow character.
The (real) music for Maud Allan’s performance was composed by the Belgian bohemian and anarchist Marcel Rémy, a journalist, composer and amateur of the ancient arts. Rémy was introduced to Maud Allan in Berlin and quickly became her agent-manager. During some years they created dances based on poses found on ancient Greek amphorae. He played the piano while she practised her dancing. Just before he died of syphilis, Rémy wrote Vision of Salome for Maud, the work that would make her world-famous. He did not live long enough to attend its premiere nor to participate in its success.
Another Vision of Salome, this time a Fantasie Characteristique by Bodewalt Lampe, found its way in our story. The indefinite article ‘A’ in the title A Vision of Salome confirmed our suspicion that the dancer on the cover is not Allan Maud. Instead it is a somewhat naive rendition of the copy-cat dance by Gertrude Hoffmann.
Gertrude was an American chorus girl who went to London to study Maud Allan and came back to offend the public decency with her version of the Salome dance (she threw in a bit of cancan) in an identical outfit.
In 1912 Archibald Joyce was financially inspired to compose a sequel: The Passing of Salome. Although Maud Allan was still hot at that time, Roger de Valerio did not need her lascivious pose to draw this striking cover for the Salabert publication.
It would be the last song from the Salomania which had started in 1908. The rage would revive for a short while when Robert Stolz, the celebrated and prolific Austrian composer, created Salome, together with lyricist Arthur Rebner in 1922.
The Stolz fox-trot was published in the States as Sal-O-May to promote the German pronunciation. I’m sure everyone will know this song.
A song that Petula Clark took into the charts in 1961 as Romeo.
And now the frivolous sexy dance! In a silent film version from the 1920s, Alla Nazimova performs the Dance of the Seven Veils. The film uses minimalist sets and elaborate stylised costumes. It might look a little bit tame by today’s standards but at that time it must have been raunchy and shocking.
The naive drawing for The Lambeth Walk is a unicum in our collection. It’s the only one of our sheet music to have been published in Shanghai, which illustrates the song’s worldwide success. In 1937 the cheerful cockney Lambeth Walk started as an instant hit in England and soon rocketed to planetary triumph.
The Lambeth Walk was composed by Noel Gay for the musical Me and My Girl about a Cockney boy who in order to inherit a fortune must abandon his working-class ways. The musical was turned into a film in 1939. In the clip we see the leading character, played by Lupino Lane, telling all the snooty aristocrats: you should come to my working-class neighbourhood, and do this little dance we do. This dance starts with a strutting gait, thumbs cheerfully up in the air. Add to that some kicks, knee-slapping, risqué pelvis motion, turning around and shouting “Oi” all seemingly without end. Earworm alert: code red!
The strutting gait is the way London costermongers used to walk. Costermongers, or costers, were street sellers of fruit and vegetables for the labouring classes. They used melodic sales patter, poems and chants to attract attention. The distinctive culture of costers inspired many comedians and made them prime targets for songwriters.
The Lambeth Walk takes its name from a street in central London, once notable for its street market and working class culture. An article in the 1938 Picture Post wrote about Lambeth Walk: “In spite of its severe poverty it has a racy and vigorous life of its own.”
In 1942, Charles A. Ridley of the Ministry of Information manipulated parts from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will to ridicule Hitler and Nazi soldiers as if they were dancing the Lambeth Walk. The newsreel companies gave their own credits to the propaganda film. This copy is titled ‘Schichlegruber doing the Lambeth Walk’ referring to Adolf Hitler’s father who was born as Alois Schicklgruber.
Felix Nussbaum was a German Jewish painter who lived in hiding in Brussels during the war. His last known painting, Triumph of Death, shows skeletal figures making music in an apocalyptic world. It reads as an anticipation of the painter’s own doom. We see the despair on the face of the organ grinder, a self-portrait of Nussbaum. A few weeks after finishing this work in 1944, Nussbaum was arrested and shipped to Auschwitz where he died one week later. He had been betrayed by a neighbour.
In the left bottom of the painting, amid a pile of debris of the painter’s everyday life, lies a torn and crumpled piece of sheet music: it is the score from the Lambeth Walk. The detail tragically illustrates that for Nussbaum there was no more place for the simple tunes that can make people happy.
Doin’ the Lambeth walk
Ev’rything free and easy
Do as you darn well pleasey