Category Archives: Sheet Music Covers

Comments on some special, funny or beautiful covers

Bauhaus and Gigolettes

'Gigolette Fox-Trot'
‘Gigolette Fox’ by Franz Léhar, published by Smyth (Paris, 1922) and probably illustrated by Robert Laroche.

It took awhile before I pinpointed this cover in the haystack of our collection. It is a drawing for the Gigolette-Fox in Franz Léhars opérette La danza delle libellule from 1922. The image, a thick spiralling red line on a black background, had been lingering in the back of my mind since I saw Das Triadisch Ballet. Or better said,  the video of that ballet produced by the Bavaria Atelier in 1977. I saw this baffling dance piece in the exhibition Paul Klee – Pictures in Motion in Bern. Happily it is also on YouTube and we’ve extracted  the one-minute ‘spiral scene’.

The ballet is a major work of Oskar Schlemmer, who was a German painter, sculptor and choreographer, and also a member of Bauhaus (a school and modernistic movement in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin between 1909 and 1933). In it he presents “his ideas of choreographed geometry, man as dancer, transformed by costume, moving in space”. It is no wonder that the ‘figurines’ (the name he used for the extravagant costumes that abstracted the form of the human body into artificial and geometrical forms) were exhibited at the Société des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, in 1930.

Now, rewind to 1922 and the success of Franz Léhars Gigolette-Fox. We found French, Italian, and Portuguese covers of it in our sheet music collection,  which proves the success of the operetta and its Gigolette theme.

Another cover of 'Gigolette-Fox'
Another cover of ‘Gigolette-Fox’ from La danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar (published by Smyth Editeur, Paris, 1922). Illustrated by Robert Laroche.
An Italian version of 'Gigolette' (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
An Italian version of ‘Gigolette’ (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
The Portugese version for Léhars 'Gigolette'. Sheet music cover; partition musicale illustrée
The Portuguese version for Léhars ‘Gigolette’, published by Sassetti & Ca Editores, Lisboa, 1922. Illustrated by Stuart (José Stuart Carvalhais).

The Gigolette in Léhars operetta refers to a liberated girl, a flapper who isn’t afraid of a little amorous adventure… No wonder that the ‘Danse des Libellules’ was also produced by Madame Rasimi of the Ba-Ta-Clan: the perfect story to show lavish costumes and nudity at the same time. My Larousse explains gigolette as a ‘jeune femme délurée’ (a young smart/brazen/cheeky woman). One might think it is the feminine form for gigolo, but that term seems to be more recent.
Thirty years earlier, at the fin de siècle and start of the Belle Epoque, the gigolette was the female equivalent of that romanticised and proud male rascal, a member of the urban criminal canaille: the Apache. As in: I will be your Apache, will you be my Gigolette? But we’ll discuss the phenomenon of the Parisian Apaches in another story soon…

Left: 'La Marche des Gigolettes'
Left: ‘La Marche des Gigolettes – marche réaliste’ by Emile Spencer and René Esse, published Repos Editeur (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘Nini la Gigolette’ by Victor Thiels and V. Damien, published by Gross (Paris, s.d.), cover by Léon Pousthomis.
Left: illustration by Steinlen for 'J'ai perdu ma Gigolette'
Left: illustration by Steinlen for ‘J’ai perdu ma Gigolette’ by Mortreuil, Esse & Delormel, published by Maurel (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘La Valse des Gigolettes’ by Spencer, Lelièvre &Damien, published by Brondert (Paris, s.d.), drawing by O’Varély.

Marche des cubistes

marche des cubistes031
‘Marche des Cubistes’ by Eugène Reynaud, published by Hachette (Paris) and illustrated by Clérice Frères in 1914.

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso pioneered the cubist style from 1907 on. By the time that Clérice created this ‘cubist’ sheet music cover in 1914, just before the outbreak of the Great War, the revolutionary trend was already past its prime. But apparently it was still bon ton to mock the avant-garde artists. It puzzles me that for his drawing Clérice chose the stereotype of the Belle-Epoque artist. During the late nineteenth century the archetypical French male bohemian sported a van Dyck beard. It was named for the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck who portrayed numerous men having shaven cheeks but wearing sharply pointed beards with curled moustaches. The points and the curls were achieved through intense hair brushing and twirling with wax or pomade.

l'aveu
‘L’ Aveu’ by Henri Natif and Villemer, published by C. Joubert in Paris (sd) and illustrated by Faria.

Also part of the outfit of the fin-de-siècle artist was the lavallière, a large floppy bow worn around the neck like a pussycat bow. The lavallière got its name from one of the chief mistresses of Louis XIV, Louise de La Vallière who allegedly was the first woman to wear a tie. In the late nineteenth century the lavallière was cherished not only by artists but also by students, anarchists and leftist intellectuals. Even Picasso was still wearing one in 1904.

picasso lavalliere
Picasso in 1904 wearing a lavallière and his Spanish corduroy jacket.

A large felt hat à la Rembrandt, a chequered or striped garment and occasionally a cloak completed the artist’s apparel, a distinct attire against bourgeois stiffness.

j'ai reve
‘J’ai rêvé de t’aimer’ by Gustave Goublier & Charles Fallot. Published by Enoch (Paris) and illustrated by Leonce Burret (sd).

It is often useful for an illustrator to resort to stereotypes. For example, one immediately understood from the cover above that the man being lovingly tickled on the nose was either an artist or a left-wing egghead. On the cover below, the message was also quick and clear: the man unable to pay for his meal is obviously a bohemian artist, taking pride in his precarious financial situation and defying the establishment.

dejeuner pas cher
‘Un déjeuner pas cher’ by Will & Plébus published by Marcel Labbé (Paris) and illustrated by Clérice Frères in 1912.
Like the cubists, Clérice naively breaks up his subjects geometrically. But there it stops. It’s a far cry from the way Juan Gris painted his fellow artist Picasso.
Juan_Gris_-_Portrait_of_Pablo_Picasso_-_Google_Art_Project
‘Portrait of Pablo Picasso’ by Juan Gris (1912).
As for Clérice’s stereotype of the artist: the cubists definitely weren’t wearing the Belle Epoque outfit anymore. During the decade preceding the outbreak of World War I, artists from all over the world formed a vibrant, international avant-garde group in Paris. They were ‘modern’ and dumped the pointed beards and the lavallière. They were defiant all right, but with their art and not particularly with the way they dressed.
kubben
Upper left: Francis Picabia. Upper right: Marcel Duchamp. Lower left: Georges Braque. Lower right: Pablo Picasso. All pictures 1910-1916.

Nonetheless, the cliché of the bohemian artist was used well into the twentieth century as can be seen on the photographs below and on our sheet music cover illustrated by Pol Rab in 1921.

marcel en rodolphe
Left: French baritone René Lits, as Marcel in Puccini’s La Bohème (1948). Right: the famous Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème (1903).
rab peintre
‘Avec un peu d’peinture’ by René Mercier, Clément Vautel & Max Eddy, published by Pêle-Mêle (Paris) and illustrated by Pol Rab in 1921.

Some artists even became a larger than life French stereotype, like the Danish painter (and sheet music designer) Sven Brash who lived in Paris between 1906 and 1914. Speaking for him, Brash was an exquisite cartoonist and he may well have made fun of himself in this pose…

Brash_Sven-portrait

Oh! Asta, you hot thing!

'Oh! Asta!',
‘Oh! Asta!’, by Herre De Vos, published by De Nieuwe Muziekhandel (Amsterdam, 1917) and illustrated by H. Meyn.

Asta Nielsen is the first actress who became an international star. It’s true. The Deutsches Filminstitut hosted the 2011 conference Importing Asta Nielsen – Cinema-going and the Making of the Star System in the Early 1910s, at the Film Museum in Frankfurt. A result of this international gathering is the Importing Asta Nielsen Database accessible for cultural researchers all over the world.

Photographic portrait of Asta Nielsen, s.d.
Portrait of Asta Nielsen (German postcard, s.d.).

According to this database ‘Asta Nielsen was the first international film star who made her name a brand, nearly unrivalled in many countries in the years 1911 and 1912’.

The sheet music cover we started with (Oh! Asta!) is from 1917. It tells, no it sings about a young man who –in the darkness of a cinema– falls for the wild charms of Asta. And who wouldn’t? Look at how charming and natural Asta is in the 30-seconds opening scene of the 1910 silent film The Abyss (Afgrunden in Danish) filmed by Urban Gad, who she would marry two years later.

Nielsen was born in 1881 in Copenhagen. At eighteen she followed classes at the Royal Danish Theatre and… got pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, Jesta, who would in the 1960’s, when her mother was already 83 years old, commit suicide. Asta Nielsen never revealed the identity of the father. She graduated when she was twenty-two, and became a stage actress in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In 1909 she started her film career with ‘Afgrunden’, in which she wisely adapted her acting to the demands of the film media: she performed naturally and avoided theatrical dramatization.

But above all her undisguised and shameless sexuality must have propelled her films and her career. Oh my! She’s really hot in what must have been the first ‘Gaucho Dance’ in cinematography (it heralds the craze of the Argentine tango that would offend Europe right before WWI). Look how she wriggles in her tightly stretched dress. See her wiggling her hips and pushing her bottom against that poor cowboy. Please, stop the torture!

We have added the music of the great Martha Argerich playing the Danza Del Gaucho Matrero by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. For the unedited, 37-minute silent movie Abgrunden, click here. While researching we found a different iconographic representation of the Gaucho dance, somewhat less erotic, uh…

Liebig chromo 'La danse des Gauchos'
‘La danse des Gauchos’ – Dans la République argentine, Liebig chromo, s.d. (source www.alamy.com).

The dancing Argentine cowboys and girls conquered the covers of many European sheet music. Here are two examples from our collection.

The Argentinian cowboys and girls conquered many sheet music covers.
Left: ‘El Gauchito’ by Emile Köhler, illustrated by Clérice frères (published by Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1915). Right: ‘Gaucha flor’ by Pedro Palau, unknown illustrator (published by Ildefonso Alier, Madrid, s.d.).

Asta Nielsen developed most of her film career in Germany until the mid-Thirties, when sound took over the silent era. The success of what was known as ‘Asta Nielsen films’ was immense, from Russia to the United States, where her films were heavily censored. Called the first international movie star, Nielsen earned a staggering salary. In 1925 she co-starred in the Pabst film Die freudlose Gasse with the next Scandinavian diva, Greta Garbo. Nielsen was portrayed on many film posters by artists (such as Ernst Deutsch-Dryden and Robert Leonard) who we also know as designers of sheet music covers.

Poster by Ernst Deutsch-Dryden
Poster by Ernst Deutsch-Dryden for the Asta Nielsen film ‘Komödianten’ (1913).
Poster illustrated by Leonard
Poster illustrated by Robert L. Leonard for the Asta Nielsen film ‘Hamlet’ (1921).

In 1935 Nielsen returned to Denmark where she continued acting on stage, wrote her biography, had a creative hand in visual arts, and travelled a lot with her third husband. She died in 1972.

Oh, Asta! You’re still hot and beautiful.

Photo of Asta Nielsen in 1966.
Asta Nielsen in 1966 (photography Tage Nielsen-Scanpix).