The Nota’s from America is a Dutch song written in pidgin English. The title sarcastically refers to the notes (nota’s in Dutch) which U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent to the German government in 1915 to criticise their sinking of the Lusitania.
The Lusitania was an ocean liner owned by the famous British Cunard Line. When the Lusitania came into service in 1907, she was an extraordinary ship in every way. With a length of 240 meters the vessel was not only the largest, but also the fastest passenger ship up to that time. The ocean liner sailed regularly from Liverpool to New York and back.
On 17 April 1915, the Lusitania left Liverpool on her 201st transatlantic voyage, arriving a week later in New York. Before her return to Liverpool, the German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including those in New York. This warning was printed adjacent to an advertisement for Lusitania’s return voyage on May 1. Two months before, Germany had declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone and warned that its U-boats would sink any ship entering the zone without notice.
On May 7, 1915, the German submarine U20 hit the Lusitania with one torpedo. The ship sank in less than twenty minutes about 18 km off the coast of Ireland. Nearly 1,200 people were killed including 114 Americans.
At the start of the war, President Woodrow Wilson had declared that the United States would be neutral. That neutrality however was challenged and fiercely debated in the U.S. after the sinking of the Lusitania.
But president Wilson decided to remain neutral and to keep out of the war. Instead he issued a first note to the German government urging it to abandon its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against commercial ships of any nation, and to pay reparations.
Wilson then issued a second note rejecting Germany’s accusation that the Lusitania had been carrying munitions.
The third Wilson note was a warning that the United States would consider any subsequent sinking of merchant vessels with Americans aboard as deliberately unfriendly.
In 1916 the Dutch painter and illustratorJan Sluijters created the cartoon Slachterij “der Hochkultur“ (Slaughterhouse “High Culture“): Woodrow Wilson, his gun at the ready, shows his notes to Emperor Wilhelm dressed as a butcher. What seems a human torso hangs by the door.
In January 1917, German U-boats resumed attacking ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the British disclosedthe Zimmermann telegram to the American government. This telegram revealed a German proposal for a military alliance with Mexico against the United States. After the American press published the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson got enough public and political support for a declaration of war on Germany on April 6, 1917. This inspired a series of patriotic and belligerent sheet music covers…
Olivier Castel is one of our long-time readers. He teaches medicine at the university of Poitiers (France) and has been for many years a passionate collector of books and sheet music about Venice. It pleases us very much to publish his interesting findings on the iconography of gondolas. We hope that our translation does justice to Dr Castel’s fine observations. Happy reading!
The image of Venice is closely associated with its gondolas, slowly and gracefully gliding through the shallow, narrow canals of the lagoon. With their elegant, easily recognisable profile and black colour they have become a key symbol of the city. It is therefore not surprising that they have been a source of inspiration for many artists to illustrate sheet music depicting Venice. The city’s captivating charm has spawned a remarkable number of at least 350 scores with a French title or published in Paris— a third of them illustrated with a gondola.
Very early in its history, the bow of the gondola was adorned with a characteristic fero da prova. This iron prow head forms a comb with six teeth rising forward. It was originally used to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier. During the XVIIth century, each element acquired a precise meaning: the curvature represents the Grand Canal, the 6 parallel horizontal teeth at the front represent the 6 sestieri or districts of Venice and the only tooth opposite the upper tooth, represents the island of Giudecca. Finally, the empty space formed by the converging of the upper curved figure (calledthe Doge’s hat) towards the first tooth represents the Rialto Bridge.
French sheet music seldom gives an accurate representation of the gondola’s bow and iron. The Italians knew better of course, as proven by the opening image of ‘Carnaval vénitien‘ published by Ricordi, and richly illustrated by the Italian artist Giovanni Maria Mataloni (1889-1944). Mataloni is best known as a poster artist, and one of the precursors of the Stile Liberty, the Italian variant of Art Nouveau.
Marie-Alexandre Alophe (1812-1883), aka Adolphe Menut, is a painter and a lithographer. His work is characterised by a gentle sensitivity. Although also a photographer, he does not care about an accurate depiction, only the general appearance matters for him in order to evoke Venice. Let’s look at his 1829 drawing for Le Doux Air de Venise, a typical illustration for early 19th century scores. The prow iron is absent, its shape is ‘integrated’ in the wood of the gondola, the proportions are wrong, the front teeth are too thick and there are only three of them with no rear one. The result is a heavy, coarse bow.
The same applies to the cover illustration of ‘La plainte du Gondolier‘ by Gustave Fraipont half a century later. Fraipont (1843-1923), a French illustrator and poster artist of Belgian origin, here at the beginning of his career, gives us an airy stereotypical vision of Venice and its Grand Canal but with a rather unrefined gondola.
During the 1914 Furlana dance craze Paul Dubois (1886-1949) illustrated two covers of La Célèbre Furlana Venitienne. The illustrator, identified by the monogram PD, creates one of the most curious representations of the Venetian gondola, with an unrealistic prow-head where the artist didn’t respect the Grand-Canal curvature, nor the number of teeth both at the front and at the rear. He even placed the gondolier opposite his usual place. Besides,knowing that the gondola has an asymmetrical shape, it would be impossible to move it through the water.
Leon Pousthomis (1881-1916) created many sheet music covers during his short life (he died in the Battle of Verdun at the age of 35). The 12 illustrated scores depicting Venice are evidence of his prolificacy. What characterises his vision of Venice perhaps the most is the distortion of the bow of the gondolas which he stretches to the extreme.
Roger de Valério (1886-1951) created his first cover for the publisher Salabert in 1917, for whom he allegedly produced more than 2000. In 1926 Emile Chéronnet wrote: “I had this collection in my hands. This is a set of such a baffling variety that you can hardly believe it is not made by an entire studio. However Valério works alone indeed, and for these musical illustrations he has an imagination that is nearly miraculous” (L’Art Vivant, October 1926). It is therefore not surprising to find no less than 11 of his covers depicting Venice, including 5 with a gondola.
But it is Würth who illustrated the most scores with Venice on the cover: 16 between 1920 and 1961. He gave the gondolas a simple shape with an elongated, stylised bow and a marked Rialto Bridge. He purified his design over the years as we can see on these two sheet music covers made 25 years apart. Würth was an ubiquitous illustrator in French music publishing in the mid-twentieth century. He has worked for a large number of publishing houses (the 16 recorded scores were published by 15 different publishing houses). Despite a plethora of work, nothing is known about his life, which is rather surprising but not unusual in the world of music publishing.
To conclude this post on the ornamental prow iron we emphasise its importance as an icon for Venice, a simplified version of it being enough to evoke the city. For the 1957 song ‘Venise‘ Raymond Erny replaced a bar of the V by the highly stylised prow of a gondola. He also uses a Palina, another symbol of the city. For the 1961 song Chanson de Venise, he simplifies the prow even more by merely adding three horizontal crossbars to the front of the V. Erny, a contemporary of Würth, also remains to this day almost unknown, despite an equally significant production. Fortunately, we still have their illustrations as reminders of their work.
Isn’t it ironic? Composing a march to celebrate another form of locomotion, really! The lady reading a book in her automobile has no intention at all to set foot on the ground, let alone to walk. Her chauffeur seems to question her attitude. Thank you Léonce Burret for this quizzical image.
A marche that wasn’t composed to accompany a brisk walk or hike. We found this same kind of contradiction for ‘marches‘ that praise cycling,…
or cheer the enjoyment of gliding on ice…
or over snow.
We recognise a good old-fashioned march when we hear or see one. Something that encourages a fast pace in a military spirit, and that goes a long way, on foot of course! Here it is, the Marche du Matin strongly illustrated by Lucien Faure-Dujarric.
I mistakenly assumed that the Marche du Matin was composed to hearten the soldiers during their daily early morning exercise. No, the title of the march refers to Le Matin, one of the four big French newspapers before WWI.
On the 29th of May in 1904 Le Matin organised a promotional stunt: with the encouragement of the Minister of War and the cooperation of the Army top, each French regiment selected 10 of its men to participate in the big Marche de l’Armée. The walking contest started at the Place de la Concorde at 7 am, with the playing of a military march. Then the 2000 men in battle dress and heavy boots assembled in two long columns and charged up the Champs-Elysées to commence the 45 km (!) long itinerary that would bring them through Paris as far as St-Germain-en-Laye and back. Large crowds, cheers and flags accompanied the men.
France’s Bibliothèque nationale is a real treasure trove. After some digging we were lucky to find interesting pictures of this arduous march by the photographic agency Rol.
I won’t recount the whole day, nor the numerous incidents and accidents. After more than 5 hours the first contestant arrived at the finish. That day the weather was abnormally hot, and the men suffered. Many abandoned the march. Some soldiers were taken to hospital, at least one died. What should have been a festive day became a painful spectacle. The next day L’Humanité, the communist newspaper would report: “The sight of Gerard, the winner, had made the crowd cry out in pity. The unhappy boy could not even, at the end, lift his painful feet swollen with fatigue. The sight of the last groups deeply moved the spectators. The sturdy lads, who had left so happily in the morning, returned broken with fatigue, devastated, drenched in sweat, haggard eyes, clenched hands, clenched jaws, stumbling at every step, threatening continually to fall on the pavement.
A small marine infantry soldier, seized by a dizzy spell, takes two steps back. An officer holds him and shakes him. Another one shouts at him: “Hold on, no more than 25 meters left!”. Hardly recovered, the poor child, he is not yet twenty, continues on his way staggering. A hundred meters from the checkpoint, he stops again and brings his clenched hands to his throat. But an officer motions him forward, giving him a word of encouragement. He stiffens then, and feeling his strength completely abandon him, he rushes in a last effort towards the finish post near which he comes crashing down. And these sorrowful scenes went on and on …“
Hm… I think that white fatigue trousers will forever remind me of the deplorable scenes above.