In appreciating things of beauty and loveliness we try not to be insular, meaning that we also have an eye for other things cultural than sheet music. Last week during clean-up we found a small pile of 45rpm records. We breathed a little sigh of nostalgia —those were the days…
We thought it would be a pleasant variation in our Images Musicales Stories to publish some of these covers. Mind, the cover designs are not masterworks but nonetheless charming, and in that way very similar to sheet music.
Next are two children fairy tale books. The record with the spoken story and accompanying music, is engraved on the cover of the booklet (the black tracks, on a thin plastic transparent film). Inside is the written story to read and to look at the illustrations. Of course, the booklet is entirely perforated in the center for the axis of the turntable. Does it bring back sentimental memories..?
The following illustrations are of Sint-Niklaas en Zwarte Piet (Saint-Nicolas and Black Pete). They are funny folkloristic characters who visit children’s homes in the Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium to bring presents and treats on the evening of December 5. Or better they were, because Black Pete is now seen as a blatantly racist stereotype. Black Pete is Saint-Nicolas’ loyal servant and he is usually portrayed in black face with a frizzy wig, golden earrings and painted large red lips. This gave rise to a divisive conflict: does a tradition that is experienced by some as offensive needs to be adapted or maintained?
Now sing along with us and Mary Hopkin, to bring back those days my friends…
At the beginning of the 20th century a lot of popular music genres were created, all over the world. Spain saw the birth of a characteristic genre, influenced by French cabaret songs: the cuplé, coming from the French word couplet.
Augusta Berges is said to have started this genre: with La Pulga (The Flea), in 1893 in Madrid. While singing, Augusta was looking for fleas in her clothes as an excuse for a bit of demure stripping. It was a huge success. Other singers followed suit with their own versions, frantically searching a flea, an ant or a spider under their frock, to the lascivious excitement of the whole male audience. Sara Montiel, a Spanish actress who achieved Hollywood-stardom, re-enacts such a Pulga song in the sixties film ‘La reina del Chantecler’. Chantecler being a Madrilenean theatre before the first World War.
La Pulga was the starting point for a profusion of more or less erotically explicit songs with simple, short and repetitive lyrics. But always with a lot of gesture. The performers, almost exclusively women and transvestites, told a story in three or four minutes with a large dose of theatricality and a load of double entendre and erotic allusions. An ample and voluptuous body was sometimes a better key to success than a good singing voice. Showing their ankles and clad in tulles that left little to the imagination, the cupletistas became sexual objects in seedy variety theatres.
The cuplé was part of the sicalipsis,a Spanish neologism of unclear origin to designate the trend of erotic manifestations in literature and the press, as well as in the visual arts, and in variety shows. Being part of this sicalipsis certainly added to the popularity of the cuplé, at least in its beginning.
The profession of cupletista was popular among women, many of them illiterate, trying to escape poverty. It was also frequently a stepping stone to the world of prostitution. A trigger to that was that the cupletista had to perform in ever smaller and cheaper salones, bringing the woman teasingly close to the male public.
While at first the cuplé was a frivolous, provocative and even erotic song with a lot of humour and spice, from 1910 on it became more ‘decent’ and sentimental. It became even considered as a higher quality art form. The cuplé reached a larger middle class public with an increasingly female audience. It became more of a sentimental love song. The singers abandoned their playful outfits and tended to dress in black and to wear a Mantilla.
The first one to bring this new kind of cuplé was La Goya (Aurora Jauffret, 1891-1950). She performed in well reputed theatres and changed her dress with each song to match the lyrics, taking care of the theatrical part of her performance.
In the Twenties, the cuplé had become a sentimental song mentioning contemporary social, cultural or political issues. Gone was the flea and the spider, no more bawdy undertones. The most famous cupletista was Raquel Meller, an international star who launched world hits like La Violetera and El relicario, both written by José Padilla Sánchez.
The cuplé was forbidden during Franco’s reign until it resurged in a nostalgic way, with the boom of SaraMontiel in the cinema. In the film El ultimo cuple, she plays the role of a cupletista struggling with her rise to fame and her subsequent downfall. Let’s listen to Sara Montiel —in real life a passionate cigar smoker— singing Fumando espero. This tantalizing cuplé by Joan Viladomat is the song we started with.
Now, enjoy Montiel reclining on her chaise longue, just like the lady on the sheet music cover.
Fumar es un placer
al hombre a quien yo quiero
Der tapfere Soldat is an operetta composed in 1908 by Oscar Straus. It was an adaptation or parody of George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play Arms and the Man. In this anti-war comedy the hero, a soldier who mocks war, uses his ammunition pouches to carry chocolates rather than cartridges. Therefore, the heroine of the play calls him her chocolate-cream soldier. This has inspired the pejorative use of the term ‘chocolate soldier’ for someone in the military who does not (want to) fight.
The English version of the operetta, The Chocolate Soldier, went on to international success on Broadway and in London.
The operetta was adapted for film in 1915 and in 1941. For the 1941 movie only the score by Oscar Straus was kept. The screenplay was based on another comedy because Bernard Shaw did not want to sell the rights, having disapproved of the first version of the operetta which he called “a putrid opéra bouffe in the worst taste of 1860″.
You can hear a medley from Straus’ songs in the fragment hereunder.
The cover for Kwatta soldaten suggests that the Dutch had their own term for chocolate soldiers. In the Netherlands, the first packaged chocolate bar was launched in 1891 under the brand name Kwatta. This bar was so popular among the soldiers that the army became its largest buyer.
The Netherlands had declared themselves neutral during World War I. Nevertheless the Dutch army mobilised its troops. Of course, the men under arms kept in their kitbag the oh-so nutritious and long-lasting Kwatta bars. From then on the bars were also called Manoeuvre Chocolaad.
The pink wrapper of the chocolate bar carried the pictures of a soldier and a sailor encouraging to collect the coupons which could be traded for a tin soldier or some other premium, like tableware. The bars were for sale in these beautiful carton boxes.
The Kwatta bars were not only popular with Dutch soldiers. Also Belgian soldiers must have loved the candy, as evidenced by this Belgian military booklet from the twenties, sponsored by Kwatta.
Godfried Bomans, a popular Dutch author, remembered in the late sixties that his father, a former captain in the Dutch army, filled the case of his binoculars with Kwatta bars during the First World War before returning home for the weekend leave (just like Shaw’s character). On one of these occasionshe received an unexpected visit from Queen Wilhelmina.At one point she requested his binoculars and realising that the case had been given an improper destination, she would have said: “Captain Bomans, I hope you realise that the country’s neutrality is not guaranteed by Kwatta soldiers.”
In the fifties Godfried Bomans would himself write a book commissioned by Kwatta. The illustrations with funny moving eyes were made by his friend Harry Prenen.
We end this post with a few politically incorrect covers. They illustrate that the term chocolate soldiers was also regularly used to refer to the soldier’s colour of skin.