Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Esme Lee: one more Cartesian prima donna pinned down!

I'm pouring a nice big gin with fresh-squeezed lime. And it's only 2.30pm. I deserve it. Today has been an unexpectedly successful double whammy day.

This morning, at 7am, I conquered in my battle with 'Kate Talby'. 7am is too early for gin, even for me. So, I dove instead into a plate of chicken breast, chorizo and lovely yellow eggs, and set myself another 'impossible' task, to start on, once my appointment with my tax accountant was done. I was heading back to the world of the Cartesian prima donna -- we've pinned down Ethel Pierson, Duglas Gordon, Ethel McAlpine, Pauline Rita, so now on to another flower of the species: Miss Esme Lee.

I've always rather 'liked' Esme Lee, as she toured for ages in the title-role of the sadly neglected but fondly loved (by me) Erminie, but I'd never before thought of investigating her. Esme? Hmmm. But I looked, and blow me down there she is in the 1881 census, touring in the title-role of Olivette, Esme Lee, aged 19. But, strangely, she didn't seem to exist before or after. Maybe she was glorifying in her first job, her new name, or maybe her landlady just did a bit of guessing. For she wasn't 19 (she was 25) and she wasn't an Esme or a Lee ... yes, here we go again.

But, first, the career. Briefly. Much of it was spent with the manager of this, her first show. Mr D'Oyly Carte. Over the fifteen years that followed she appeared as leading lady in what seems to have been the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon in the British provinces, plus such pieces as The Vicar of Bray, Rip van WinkleHaddon Hall or His Majesty, interspersed with lengthy stints in the title-roles of Olivette, Erminie, Nanon, Dorothy et al. Occasionally, she ventured into London where she appeared for Carl Rosa in Paul Jones (Malaguena), and for Carte as Lady Rowena (and cover to Esther Palliser) in Ivanhoe and Jeanette in La Basoche. A full and fine career of little but leading roles, in which she was ever praised for both her clear, attractive, well-trained soprano and her charming appearance and jeu. 

In 1887, she was touted as engaged to play Rose Maybud in Boston, but I don't think she did. Instead she went down to Brighton and got married. Her husband was named Robert Redford, and he was the general manager of Carte's touring companies. Robert Redford? I snorted! Another pseudonym to sort out. But it wasn't. And he had a brother who was a theatrical manager too: Hubert Arthur Oswald Redford of the Theatre Royal, Cheltenham. And others with even posher names. One became Examiner of Plays! Another seems to have become a Sir for services to the Scottish Post Office.

Anyway, with Hubert as my guide, everything unravelled. Robert was Robert Hamilton Burgoyne Redford (perleeease! daddy was a simple surgeon!), born Weymouth 1855, and married at Brighton 1887 to ... Grace Pallant. Hello, Esme!

So here we go:

LEE, Esme [PALLANT, Grace] (b St Martin in the Fields 4 August 1856; d Southerndown, Glamorgan 23 July 1910)

Father, Henry Pallant, coach trimmer (1816-1880), mother Eliza Tiddy née Soares.  Siblings Samuel, Henry, Emily, Maria, Eliza and ... Walter.

Yes, the same Walter Pallant (d near Margate, 2 August 1904) who would become a wealthy stockbroker on the South African market, an amateur musician, bachelor buddy of 'Mons' Marius, chairman of the board at London's Gaiety Theatre, and a more or less acknowledged contributor to the libretto of the successful musical The Circus Girl. 

Children: George Henry Pallant Redford ('Hubert') 1888 and Robert Douglas Redford ('Douglas').

To finish the story: in 1898, just as a decidedly good racehorse called 'Esme Lee' arrived on the British tracks, Redford became proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Cardiff. The family subsequently moved to Penarth, and Redford did well enough that he doubled by taking a 10-year lease on the Cheltenham Theatre, where brother Hubert was general manager. Both theatres appear to have prospered under his management, but Grace-Esme didn't last the distance. She died, in Wales, in 1910. Brother Hubert died 19 May 1924, and Robert, who retrenched to Penarth, not until 1936.

Sadly, some dumb actress then took on the name of 'Esme Lee' to play bits in a handful of London and touring plays. It couldn't be she, could it? She was dead.

And that is the tale of Esme Lee, her brothers, her husband, and whole fami-lee ...

I really didn't expect it would fall into place like that! But the odd 'Burgoyne' does help!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Chasing Kate: From kitchenmaid to Cartesian contralto?

Now that Victorian Vocalists is published, and the 1,000 biographical articles, under that heading, stored away in the vastness of my dropbox, I’ve made it a bit of a mission, this winter, to sort out the stories and the real identities of members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Companies. I’m really chuffed at what I’ve managed to achieve – Fred Clifton, Emilie Petrelli, Lillian La Rue, Duglas Gordon, Edward Clowes, Augusta Roche, Clara Merivale, Kate Forster – so many mysteries, now mysteries no more.

But, of course, I’ve only told you about the successes. There has been the odd … harrumph! ... let’s call it ‘non-success’. I mean, Geraldine St Maur is still a total mystery to me. And to everyone else. I haven’t got past the start line with her! And then there are Kate Talby and her partner Percy Charles. That annoys me, because Miss Talby was an important lady: right up there with Rosina Brandram as one of the best Cartesian komische alte contraltos ever. Oh, there’s no worry about her career, that’s minutely recorded, from 1882 to the twentieth century. But … who was she? Where did she come from? Where did she go? Did she have husband, children, parents … why did she spring from Jupiter’s head in 1882, spend 20-plus years in the limelight, and seemingly leave no trace of a fore and afterlife?

Well, I spent not one, but two whole days digging, fiddling, guessing … and, yes, I’m going to tell you all about it … and came out with, only, some maybes.

So. What ‘information’ did we have on Kate to start from. Shiplists to and from America (1894), and entries in the 1901 and 1911 censi, in all of which she is Mrs Kate Charles, wife (or 'wife'?) of Carte comprimario tenor Percy Charles. Or ‘Percy Charles’. To whom, in the 1911 census, she says she has been married for 28 years. One child (his, hers, theirs?) dead. 1882-1884 shows very few Percys marrying a Kate in Britain. Maybe they wed in Ireland or Bulgaria or Never-Never-Land. If that were, of course, their name(s).

Where to next? I have established Kate as an actress from 20 March 1882. When she can be seen playing with Alfred Hemming and the Walton family in touring comedy. In 1885, she is on the road with a pantomime company, playing Abdallah in The Forty Thieves… and guess who joins the company! Percy. OK, did he join because they were already a number, or did they meet here? Had Kate been chorusing with Carte? I don’t think so ... she’s pretty visible in the first years of her career. But ‘twenty eight years’ is such a precise number…

Right. Into the censi. 1891 should be helpful. But … where are they? And the rest of the company with whom they’ve just been playing for Carte in Birmingham … sigh ... they must have spent census night on a train. Or Concorde.

Well, I wasn't getting anywhere going forward, so … I tried back. Yes, all this takes HOURS!

Oh. Found. Death registration for Kate L Talby. 1935. L? Is it she? The age is more or less right. Well, the ‘L’ led me off on a wild kookaburra chase. One of which was a hopeful identification of our girl as ‘Kate Lynne’, from whom she took over in the 1881 Hemming/Walton show. I’ve rejected that now, after wasted hours…

OK. Kate was born in Westminster. So she said, and I see no reason thereupon to lie. Surely, she has to be the ‘Kate Taleby’ registered there as the daughter of Thomas Tailby, stableman, of Wilton Mews, and his wife Catherine née Newton. I’ve no proof, but … we have addresses for this Kate and her sister Maria in the school registers for the 1860s (St Paul’s, Westminster )… 8 Lowndes Mews, 5a Lower North Street … nice addresses! But daddy was a groom for grand families …

So, assuming (how dare I!) that this is she, she thus is (dubiously) the Kate in Leicester as an infant in 1861 … and if she is, in 1881, she seems to be a kitchen-maid in the home of Richard Campbell MP. Mother, born Leicester, is a housekeeper in another grand house in Belgravia. Maria, her elder sister, is also working as a domestic servant… Father, apparently, drove his cab through the pearly gates in 1865.

And from 1882 … actress. Alfred Hemming’s company, William Sidney’s Queen’s Evidence, in pants for the Preston panto Gulliver’s Travels, Frederick Neebe’s southern tour, John Shine’s Three Hats, panto at Birmingham as a very tall singing fairy, The Forty Thieves, before she joined the Carte organization. She played not only the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, during her dozen years with Carte, but the contralto roles in such as Billee Taylor, The Vicar of Bray, The Chieftain, Mirette.

From Carte, she moved which notable success to musical comedy, appearing as the heavy ladies of The French Maid, The Circus Girl, The Runaway Girl et al, and even returned to the dramatic stage to play in such as Sappho with Olga Nethersole.

And there they are, living at 44 Battersea Rise in the 1901 census. And in 1911 at 33 Edithna Street, Stockwell, both listed as ‘opera singer’. And then ..

Well, it all sort of fitted. But I had three ‘pieces’. I had no decisive proof that the kitchenmaid and the contralto were the same Kate Taleby-Tailby-Talby. Nor that the 1935 death certificate went with the kitchenmaid and/or the contralto. That ‘L’ worries me. And I’ve no idea of the veritable name of Mr Percy Charles.
So, Kate. I had still got you classed as a ‘maybe’. Why? Only sopranos lie, usually!

And then ......

RED ALERT: 24 hours after I published this, Betsy Miller, the best theatrical researcher I know in the US of A, and who has helped me hugely over the years, came back with a death notice. Dateline 2 January 1936. Annie Stanyon Ley chased the reference and came up with the clipping ..

So, she IS Kate L(****) Talby. And she died 28 December 1935 at Baker Street. But ... isn't there always a 'but'? She is Kate L Talby ... and Kate L Venell. What? How? Mrs or Miss? Sigh. A new search begins ... not such a difficult one, this time .. Charles Vennell married Kate Louisa Finlayson in 1884 ... I am at last getting warm. Married 28 years. Yes ...

Bullseye! (on day four). Kate, I apologise for even thinking that a lady of your ilk could have been a kitchenmaid and daughter of a cabbie. I apologise for querying the maybeness of your marriage. I apologise for casting doubtful glance at your sister Lilian ... but it's your own fault. You and your husband would invent phony names. But, in the end, I got you!

Here are the facts...

TALBY, Kate [FINLAYSON, Kate Louisa] (b Trigon Terrace, Kennington 4 March 1861; d Baker Street, Marylebone 28 December 1935).

Daughter of Alfred Finlayson, architect, and his wife Sarah-Jane née Howse. Sister to Alfred Henry Macleod Finlayson, Alice Jane Finlayson, Marion Eleanor Finlayson, Lilian Mary Finlayson (yes!, Mrs Arthur Webb b 26 March 1866), Emilie Herbert Finlayson, Hamilton Edward Finlayson.

Married 16 June 1884 at St James's Lambeth to Charles Ven(n)ell ('Percy Charles') (b Kent Road, Newington 1855; d Lambeth 1914) son of Charles Vennell, iron merchant and his wife, Sarah née Adams ...

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Oh! Oh! Finette: La Belle Finette Raymur

A smidgin of curiosity can lead to a whole day of delving.

Over the years, I’ve skipped past this lady’s name uncountable times. Acrobat, dancer and mother (?) of a heap more of the same. Finally, today, the wheel of fortune stopped at her, and I thought: why not? Of course, circus and music-hall folk are even more opaque, when it comes to names and facts, than actors and singers, so finding out who this Finette was, was clearly going to be a difficult task. But, tiens! A clue. My 30 year-old notes record that Finette Raymur was Mrs Frederick de Castro, and that she had a daughter, 4 February 1874, at Southampton.

Of course, there is no de Castro in the records. But there is a Fredericka. Murray. Of course: Raymur. It’s an anagram of Murray. This is going well. So ‘Finette’ is Mrs Murray. Don’t worry, it’s not all going to be that easy. So who is de Castro?

The Brothers de Castro, or les frères de Castro on posh days, were a gymnastic, contortion and acrobatic act, active from 1867 to 1873, when each went his own way ‘owing to the increase in the size of their families’. All quite amicable, and anyway they weren’t brothers, any more than they were de Castros. ‘Frederick’ was John Murray and ‘Alfred’ was John Williams. Both from Manchester. Luckily, after the split, Alfred went off to Australia where overseas celebrities had the sort of interviews they didn’t get at home, and as a result, Charlie Holland has been able to give this tale of the act’s early life as told by Mr Williams. (With additions by me).

Williams (b 27 May 1846) was employed as a printer’s devil, Murray (b 1842), seemingly, as a fitter in their home town. The younger man went into physical training, brought his friend in as a partner, and they developed a trapeze act. Thomas Burton had established a circus at what he called ‘The Casino’, and was advertising for acts – any sort of acts – and the boys obviously responded. Apparently they made their first appearance 9 March 1862. But not for long. A month or so later Mr Burton was advertising the ‘Royal Alhambra Circus’ to let. So it was back to the drawing board for ‘the Brothers Williams’.

I next see them out at the People’s Concert Hall and the Victoria Music Hall in early 1865. They are still the Brothers Williams (Alfred gets his dates wrong here), but by December they had joined Sanger’s Circus under the name of ‘les Frères de Castro’ and, for the next two years travelled with the Sanger organization. In December 1866, they appeared at Islington’s Agricultural Hall, in 1867 I see them described as ‘the boneless grotesques’ and performing at Woolwich, and by August 1868 they could advertise that they had fulfilled engagements at Weston’s, the Pavilion, the Middlesex, the Raglan, the Holborn Amphitheatre and Cremorne.

Now it gets tricky. ‘We introduced our wives into the show and were known as the De Castro Troupe, which was the first male and female troupe’. The year: 1869. It was actually 1868 but, never mind. The troupe comprised the Brothers, Mdlles Finette and Clarisse, ‘Young England’ and ‘Le petit Tom’. Clarisse was Mrs Williams née Caroline Harrop (m 1863) daughter of a fustian cutter in Tickle Street (!) and formerly a cotton weaver, ‘Young England’ (‘the tiny acrobat’) was her eldest son, Edward, and I suppose Little Tom ‘the posturer’ was another. Or not. Which leaves Finette. Who is supposed to be Mrs Murray. And I suppose the mother of his daughters Rosina (26 October 1869) and Lucie (1 February 1872). After which John Murray got married to one Hannah Roberts and … but we’ll leave all that till later.

The ‘Family’ with its two ‘infant wonders’ performing on the trapeze, to mostly splendid reviews, toured through till 15 February 1873. Edward and Tom were now ‘the Young England brothers’ 11 and 8 years old. And then the company, as it existed, called it a day. For family reasons. I think the family in question may have been Murray’s. Ten months later, he married, and 16 year-old Hannah began rather too quickly to breed: Fredericka (February 1874), Alice Maud (1877), Frederick Mark (1878), Hannah Elizabeth (3 December 1881), George Henry (22 October 1883), Melinda (25 September 1885), Florence (1 February 1887), Thomas (1894!) …

Probably Frederick, Maud, Hannah and George ... but ..?
Begin? I think so. Even for an acrobat, Rosina’s birth is rather too early for comfort. So, is the ‘Finette’ of 1867 (clearly ‘christened’ for the reigning queen of the can-can) not the same person as the ‘Belle Finette Raymur’ of 1873? I very much suspect not. And my suspicions have been confirmed. A tiny notice in an American paper tipped me off. Mrs Lucy Murray otherwise La Belle Finette died in Norwich aged 33, 9 September 1880. She left a will, in which her executor was named as John Murray, acrobat, of 30 West Square, Southwark. Our John's address. And the 1872 daughter was named Lucie … I wonder how the Americans knew … wife? De facto wife? Passing fling? Hardly. It would help if I could find them in London for the 1871 census: the Williamses are there, but not the Murrays.

 So in 1873, when the new troupe was set up, was La Belle Finette Lucy? Or was it Hannah? When did Lucy drop out of the picture, and who was she anyway? And why did she write a will, at thirty-three years of age? And Hannah. In the 1881 census she and the three oldest girls are all listed as ‘acrobat’. But by that stage, she isn’t being billed in the act, even though the troupe is still the Finette Raymur troupe. Many questions. Which a few documents would, I suppose, solve.

But back to 1873, where the team is father, Finette, Thomas de Castro, Rosina and Ana. I have no idea who Ana is, and she isn’t around for long, Rosina is four years old, and Thomas … is this ‘le petit Tom’? Seemingly it is, for in 1880 he is ‘contortionist and posturer’. But he’s supposed to belong to the other half of the organization! Phew!

The new Raymur troupe toured and voyaged – I spot them at the Folies-Bergère in 1875, and a little Alice Maud was born in 1877 at Leipzig. By 1880 Rosina, Lucie and Frederic(k)a are billed in the act, along with ... what! … Fräulein Maude Raymur ‘the most graceful and daring lady acrobat of the day’. No, no! Maud was three years old! And what is this? Mr Albert and Miss Frederica in music-hall sketches. But Frederica is six! But the two of them are with the Raymur troupe at the Marylebone Music Hall … In 1882 she is ‘the funny female clown’!

In 1885 a Finette Raymur troupe is still performing, both in Britain and on the Continent, but in the 1890s Rosa (sic) and Lucy have struck out as a singing, dancing act on the music halls under the name of the sisters de Castro. Latterly they joined up with actress [Mary] Maud Stoneham (b 10 March 1862) playing sketches with song and dance (and the occasional skirted somersault), and they were still visible until 1900, when the three unmarried ladies retired to 37 Babington Road, Wandsworth together, as dressmakers, for the next four decades. Rosina died at 70, in 1940, Lucy 31 July 1951 and Maud lived to the age of 97 and died in 1959.

John Murray died in 1896. In 1901 Hannah is running a boarding house in Chorlton-on-Medlock, in 1911, now 55, she is working as a cook in an hotel. La Belle Finette (mark 2) died in 1914.

I have lost Fredericka, Tom 'de Castro' gets muddled up with the Tichborne claimant, and I haven’t followed up the non-acrobatic children, but a descendant of Hannah Elizabeth (Mrs Herbert Walsh) has put some of the family tree on And with it, this photo. It’s Hannah Murray née Roberts. La Belle Finette Raymur. Mark 2. Thank you so much, Mr Walsh.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The charge of the extremely light brigade

Lovely day out today. The ferryboat to Iluka, opposite Yamba on the coastline, goes from the bottom of my hill, so we piled aboard the 11am for a half-hour chug across the hugely blue river.

What is the attraction at Iluka? Quite simply, the best fish'n'chips in this area. There is a courtesy bus from the landing stage up to the dilapidated old pub, and the adjacent headquarters of the local fishing co-op, where the freshest fish imaginable is to be found, but we chose to walk the 1.3km, the last part along the waterfront where we ran into an extraordinary spectacle. A huge troop of soldier crabs on manoeuvres. This picture shows only a small part of the army ...

The whole thing (which Paulie videoed) looked like the March of the Amazons from La Biche au bois, choreographed by Ralph Reader and performed at triple speed ...

The Crab Tattoo over, we scoffed our fish'n'chips in the sunshine then wandered back to the ferry ... a total of 2.6km without my stick, I shall suffer! ... a little suntanned, a little fresh-air tired ... for a wee nap before dinner.

I reckon those little fellers will still be rehearsing ...

Monday, August 20, 2018

Ta-ra-ra-boom-de ... oy?

On my wanderings in Blois, I happened on another splendidly fun musical item in the shape of an 1890s French music-sheet of that favourite music-hall song known to turn-of-the-century lovers of great music as 'Ta ra ra boom de ay' (spelling, as you can see, varies).

It is clearly a cheap edition, but the song was highly popular, as an adjunct to the performances of the saucier songstresses of the Paris halls, for some years, going on as far as to become the title of a successful revue at the Ambassadeurs, so I guess a cheap edition was in order. I don't think any of the four ladies named above would have liked to think that they had legs like that.

Marguerite Duclerc (?1869-1902) is usually stated to have been the first to perform the song in France. A dark, frenetically energetic dancer and chanteuse, she had half a dozen years of high popularity but it was this song that 'a definitivement classée cette artiste parmi nos étoiles parisiennes'.

The lass who called herself Valentine Valti (Amélie Valentine MESTRE, 1868-1940) was another of the same kind of performer, if rather less smoulderingly earthy than Duclerc. She lasted longer in public favour, and much longer on this earth.


Less celebrated was the lady known as 'Mlle Genève', whom I must admit to not having heard of. However, she is spoken of in the press in the warmest of terms as a revue actress, singer and dancer ... there she is featured at the Alcazar d'Été, the Horloge, the Moulin Rouge ... so I shall have to look into her sometime ...

And Polaire? Well, I don't need to tell you about Polaire. Fifty thousand Frenchman have done it already!

The sheet music also proclaims that the words are by 'Fabrice Lemon' (Gabriel Lemoine), a practised provider of music-hall words

and the music by Édouard Deransart (d 1905), a prolific musician: composer, arranger, songwriter and revueist. Really? I grant Monsieur Lemon his paroles, but the music ...? Ah. If you go back to an earlier edition the music is credited as 'arranged by' Deransart. Not the first time in musical history that those important words have just ... slipped out of a credit.

So, 'Tarara' had its years of French glory, but the title will remain forever connected to the name of British music-hall performer, Lottie Collins, who turned it from an American nothing-or-other into a world-wide hit by her performances of what became the definitive version (lyrics Richard Morton, arrangement Angelo Asher) of the song, in the music halls of England.

So, moving backwards ...

Lottie seems to have first performed her made-over version of the song in the London music-halls in December of 1891, and she introduced it, just weeks later, into her pantomime, Dick Whittington, at the Islington Grand, with decided success. ('It is not exactly what she does, it's the way in which she does it'). Her agent, 'Hugh Didcott' (Morris Josephs) quickly handed it out to his other clients -- 'George Beauchamp', Marie Loftus, Marie Lloyd, Millie Steele -- and the ripoffs began ..

Well, Lottie made the song, and the song made Lottie ... and I was happy to leave it at that, until today, when I chanced on an article entitled 'The black origins of Ta-ra-ra- (etc)'. Black? Well, the article is all taken from secondary sources and those 'memoirs' of folk who want to be 'sexy' ('St Louis brothel', creole danseuses with no underclothes, some mythical big mammy singing songs in 1891 that weren't published till 1896) and posits a rather laughable 'theory' that the song came out of the dives of Missouri. Ms Bellanta, the article's writer, inquires no further (as she, straightforwardly, says) than these secondary sources, and tacks them together under her misleading title. 'Black'? Prove it.

So. Let's go back further. Yes. A song called 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ré' was sung in the popular little musical comedy Tuxedo. Tuxedo was a novel show. A rather original 'farce comedy'. A 'Farce comedy' of this kind consisted of a comedy with songs which dissolved, after setting up a tiny frame of plot, into a concert for its second 'act'. But Tuxedo was a touch different: it dissolved into a real, American, minstrel show, performed, in this case, by the well-known George Thatcher and his troupe. All male. And white face. 'Ta-ra-ra' was, however, not sung in the minstrel show portion  of the entertainment, nor by 'a woman of the company', it was sung, in whatever form, by all the girls, as a song-and-dance finale to the piece's first half. This version became credited to Harry J Sayers, the manager for Rich and Harris, the producers of the show, who -- like Deransart and Asher -- had apparently more or less 'arranged' the tune, in the usual fashion, for its use in Tuxedo. Tuxedo was produced at Lincoln, Nebraska on 23 July 1891, and, after a tour of mainly 1-2 night stands, opened at New York's Park Theatre 5 October. Which was allegedly when Lottie Collins's then husband, Cooney, who was a part of the producing management, picked it up, and the rest is history. From Lincoln to London in just five months.

So, can we go back further than Tuxedo? A little. Beyond the maybe-mammy in St Louis anyway. When the song became a hit in England there were, of course, attempts to 'pilfer' it. And so it came to court, and there the law was presented with an affadavit from star American singer and actress, Flora Moore, which affirmed that she had sung the song in the early 1880s. Around this time, Flora had been starring in the loosely-musicked hit shows A Bunch of Keys and A Rag Baby, so maybe our song had even been heard in a theatre before Tuxedo.

Well, I don't suppose we'll ever know how much further back the tune (which has a distinct German ring to it, to my ear) and ever-changing words go. Like Topsy it seems not to have been born, but just growed up. But to attribute it to Mammy in St Louis, merely to fit an agenda, or to dub it 'blackface' (which it wasn't), is not on. So, any sightings before c1884, please report. Especially if you were there in person.

Result: a note from the well-known musicologist and historian, Andrew Lamb which confirms my doubts and puts final rout to the theory of a 'black' song:

'Well, I'm afraid I wasn't there, but it's perhaps worth making the point that the song went much
further internationally than America, Britain and France. I'm sure you're very well aware of that. [I was :-]. It was such a hit in German-speaking countries, for instance, that various composers arranged the song into vocal marches. In his monumental Carl Michael Ziehrer: Sein Werk, Sein Leben, Seine Zeit, Max Schönherr cites examples by Karl Komzák, Dominik Ertl, Theodor F. Schild and Paul Lincke as well as by Ziehrer himself. Schönherr also quotes Sigmund Spaeth's A History of Popular Music in America as stating that Henry J Sayers had arranged the music from themes that "coloured girls had picked up in Babe Connors' notorious Saint Louis resort". But perhaps that's one of the secondary sources to which you refer. [Yes, it is :-)]

Actually, Max Schönherr pretty clearly got his information from James J. Fuld's The Book of World-Famous Music. Again quoting Spaeth, Fuld states that, "Sayers wrote the song after having visited Babe Connors' notorious St. Louis cabaret, but the song was not successful in this country [the USA] until after Lottie Collins had introduced it in England. Fuld goes on to state that Judge F. Patterson later held that the music and words were not original, citing possible sources as Deutschlands Liederschatz, published by Alfred Michow, Berlin, a booklet by Von R. Forster containing a composition entitled Tarara Bumtara (but without music) and a collection of Tyrolean songs for zither and voice, dated 1809, and with music entitled Ta rada Boom di e. As we know, there's nothing ever really new.'

We do indeed. I can add to that list of 'versions' too! Karl Kaps's Tararaboomderé Polka was published by Francis, Day and Hunter, another was put out by Josef Meissler, a Tarara-boom-de-ay March was arranged by Theo Bonheur ... And Henry Sayers was not, to my knowledge, a musician, in any case. He was a highly efficient company manager.

Anyway. Sorry, Ms Bellanta. You are way off beam with your 'black' story. 'Casta diva' isn't a 'black song' just because Leontyne Price once sang it. Wikipedia, please take note. Error alert.

PS2 I love my feedbackers....

Pretty item .. the songs of the year, Paris 1893 ... Tra la la Boum! ça y'est! 

And look at this! Published 1892 in New Hampshire

 ... not quite a Mammy.

And this ...

Years later. I come upon this pretty thing. Mr Sayers billing himself as 'composer of' ..

I guess more bits will surface!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Pretty Polish girl who sat astride her virtue..

My last post and its original five pictures, borrowed from the gold mines of Blois, included four taken from the great-opéras-bouffes, and one that wasn't. So why, then, was I interested in 'La Belle Polonaise'. Well, apart from the fact that it was a great sheet-music cover, it was Joseph Kelm.

Joseph Kelm (né Kahenn, 1805-1882) was the son of a Jewish shopkeeper, who began his career as a  serious tenor vocalist. In that capacity he even took a tiny part in Paris's first Lucia di Lammermoor. But after a while, the 'short fat' performer shifted his efforts to the straight theatre, and there he walked into musical-theatre history. Rightly or wrongly, he is credited with being in at the birth of opéra-bouffe. Those folk who like to label 'the first' this and 'the first' that, posit Hervé's little 2-hander sketch, Don Quichotte et Sâncho Pança, written to be played at Kelm' Benefit, as the white stone show.

Kelm subsequently played in a goodly number of the early musical playlets produced by Hervé and Offenbach before they went their separate way, all to memorable success. Hervé and Offenbach, we of course, know about, but Kelm? He headed to the great music halls of Paris and the provinces, there to find enormous success with his comic songs and scenas

He introduced many pieces which became favourites

To the delight of audiences and critics

'La Belle Polonaise', in case you were wondering, was sung by Kelm in the character of a saucy circus lass from Krrrrrrrracow:

Je suis née à Cracovie
De parents inconnus
Les details de ma vie
N’vous sont point parvenus
A l’exemple de Joconde
J’ai très longtemps parcouru
Les quatre parti’s du monde
A cheval sur la vertu.

Pourquoi? Parce que …
Je suis Polonaise, oui-dà
Je me nomme Lodoïska…

She sat 'astride her virtue' in all corners of the globe, each adventure ending with a rousing chorus.

Monsieur Kelm could be spoken of in the same breath as the great Thérésa... and was.

PS My friend Sean Stephane Martin has come up with a delicious bit of information about this song. It was, he tells me, used by Giraudoux in his memorable play La Folle de Chaillot. woweee!

Ramoni7: a treasure-chest of C19th music!

4pm. That makes 10 hours that I've been sitting here ... with little loo, turkey fillets and courgette soup breaks. Why such a stint? I got entranced ...

You know I do e-bay with breakfast. Well, today I was in a bit of a snit with English/American e-bay, following on the perfidious behaviour of "1 moment in time" aka Rachel something, yesterday. I woke to find that she had campily refused to let us have the article we had paid for in full, and told e-bay that Allister's 'address didn't match'. Funny, that all the other stuff he bought from her arrived no trouble. I actually didn't want the picture. I was just ensuring that she got the 20 quid we were accused of 'stealing' from her, to support what she said was her three disabled children ... I have a feeling it may be she that is the disabled one. And where's the husband? Anyway, when we're spending money, we don't need that merde ... so this morning I skipped my usual e-bay, and went to e-bay (France) for my enjoyment.

Well! I may never return. What a trove! And why is the French site so much better organised than the English one, why do the vendors in France manage to describe accurately and comprehensibly their items in a manner that the English so rarely do? The vendors in France behave like professionals (which I'm sure many of them are), the English 90% of the time have no idea what they are selling and cannot even read C19th writing ... example: Madame Rachel. Yet, in spite of needing L20 (obviously not ours) to feed her starving infants, she has several thousand items for sale on e-bay. Tiens! We went through the whole lot last night. I slept well. There wasn't one amongst them worth more than $5.

So. End of rant. Here I am on e-bay France. And by the inscrutable law of inscrutability I hit 'antique sheet music' instead of 'antique photos'. I do that, with my paralysed hand. (It occasionally gets me to places I NEVER intended ...). And there I found gold. I have spent the whole day, up till now therein. Not even therein. The first item I investigated was from the site of ramoni7, of Blois, France. Ah! I've been to Blois ... suicidal castle and everything closed: must have been a Monday. This is the most mind-blowing music shop. Staggering stock of operatic scores, of sheet music from all C19th sources and, unlike the English e-bay, which allows plastic pix of Jennifer Lopez and Milly Cyrus, lightly clad, to be listed under 'vintage' photos, almost no badly categorised items. So, for seven hours, I have browsed intently through the 4,500 items on this wonderful site, sending out messages to all corners of my musical world ... this is for you!  No, not me: I've sold my huge collection to Harvard. But there are GEMS here ..

Hehe. End of introduction. So, putting aside the 'fishing' for friends, what did I get for me ..

Right. 1850s-1860s photography was not yet digital. So although there are photos of the artists from of the great era of the birth of opéra-bouffe, they are posed (hold it, 1 minute, two ..) and I find that sometimes the black-and-white artists, in their sketches, catch much more of the 'feeling of the thing. As follows:

See what I mean? And all these can be bought on this fabulous website ... a jewel box from the past. But I don't buy. I don't. Ever. I'm getting RID of not .....    OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!

I've got to have that! No, not because I want to plunge it into a collector's cupboard, but because ... nobody else will know what it is, and it will get chucked out (as it is being effectively) and I shall restore it to its rightful place in the starosphere ...

Fists clenched. And wait. And if you are interested in scores and music, hasten to Raymond de Blois ... best music shop I've found since that little back street store in Nice, where it seemed the Nice Opéra had dumped fifty years of their used scores ...  

Yayyyyyyyy! We got it! $19 including postage! Cheaper than Madame Rachel's nobody wedding pic! And 10,000 times more important... the young lady who composed this  ditty became an international star .. under a different name or two .. but that's another blog ..

Friday, August 17, 2018

The dreadful tale of a deserted soprano ...


This tale is told in my recent Victorian Vocalists, but I think it bears repeating on line ...

HIRLEMANN, Adelina (b c 1853; d London February 1886)

‘A sufficiently grim tragedy is reported among the consequences of the late dreadful weather. It relates to the death of Mme Hurleman (sic), the singer, with whose singing doubtless many readers were familiar. The career of a foreign singer or musician in London is after this fashion. She must begin by obtaining an introduction to one of those hostesses whom Mr Du Maurier has satirized under the name of Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns. ‘Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns’, in real life, is not necessarily a woman, much less a British subject. Indeed, some of the most advantageous of the De Tomkyns tribe are bachelors, two or three of them being of foreign extraction. The stock in trade of a Ponsonby de Tomkyns is a large and carefully assorted acquaintance, one half consisting of millionaires and grandees, the other half of beauties and geniuses. It is a rule of the De Tomkyns tribe never to remunerate any genius for anything genius may do in entertaining and amusing its fellow guests. The idea is, or rather was, that genius was sufficiently advantaged by being heard in the de Tomkyns drawing room by the rich or great, who might hire it for an entertainment of its own…. This system worked well for the genius in the old and prosperous days, as every gratuitous appearance at a de Tomkyns House meant two or three paying engagements at the houses of the undistinguished rich. But times have changed. Duchesses don’t give parties in these days of Agricultural Depression. They sponge on Mr Ponsonby de Tomkyns for a supper. Mme Hurlemann was well launched on the world above described, and was supposed by her patronesses to be getting on ‘very nicely’ but in fact she was starving and penniless. She never begged or borrowed, and no one knew of her trouble. She fought bravely and proudly on, and hoped things would mend. One bitter snowy Sunday night, some weeks since, she was invited to a particularly smart party. She had no money for a cab. She went as near the house as she could in ‘the Underground’ and walked the rest of the way through the snow. The party was full of angels, aristocrats, actors, ambassadors, artists, authors and Americans, with a civilised Home Ruler thrown in to give piquancy to the occasion. Mme Hurlemann’s singing was an immense triumph. Probably, she laid the foundation of a hundred pounds’ worth of engagements. She walked back to the train in the snow. During the night she awoke with congestion of the lungs. In a few days she was dead of her cold, aggravated by starvation. All she left was eight shillings – and a little girl of six years old …’

If the tale were told in a sob style, redolent of The Little Match Girl, Madame Hirlemann’s death was a fact. But who was she? 

She arrived in Britain in 1884, and seems to have been first heard at the concerts staged at the Albert Hall in connection with the International Health Exhibition, alongside Henry Pope, Sydney Tower, Eleanor Farnol, D’Arcy Ferris and many unknown to fame. However, a few weeks later, the Albert Hall hosted the first British concert Parsifal. The leads were sung by Germans, but a curious little band of ladies was put together to sing the flower-maidens: Agnese Thorndike, Mrs Hutchinson, Marian Fenna, Beata Francis, Mrs Norman[-Stuart], Hilda Coward and Mme Hirlemann. It seemed more like a cast list for a society soiree than a Wagnerian concert.

On 4 December 1884, Mme Hirlemann went to Exeter to sing in Farley Sinkins’ concerts, and we were vouchsafed that she had ‘appeared with very great success at the Grand Opera House, Milan, and has just returned from a year in China and Japan’. Well, I don’t know about Milan, but the Orient was true. In 1880, the French paper La Justice mockingly reported that a poster in Saigon was advertising La Fille du régiment featuring Madame Hirlemann’s ‘premier prix du Conservatoire de Paris’. He was seemingly right to mock. Adeline may have been at the Conservatoire, but I can’t find her. However, The Straits Times pins M et Mme Hirlemann (‘a sweet and powerful voice’) in the east in November 1878. And Monsieur is ‘the pianist and composer’. Is this Michel-Théophile Hirlemann (b Wintzenheim 29 September 1855; d 2 rue Ambroise Paré, Paris 27 June 1927) composer of the opérette Mam’zelle Trompette?

Through 1885, Mme Hirlemann was constantly to be heard at various fashionable homes, in the company of others of the frequenters of such concerts: George Power, Alexandra Ehrenberg, Mrs Hutchinson, Monari Rocca, Mathilde Zimeri, Carlotta Elliot and, above all, the king of the society dinner and concert circuit of the period, Isidore Cohen known as ‘de Lara’. I spot her at John Child’s concert chez Mr and Mrs Henry Lumley, at Mr F von Zastrow’s concert at Captain and Mrs Laing’s, at the Prince’s Hall for Mario Costa (‘Chanson de Barberine’ ‘exquisitely’, ‘Lontana’ ‘with so much fervour’) and various soirées artistiques with de Lara, at Donald de Vere Graham’s concert in the salon of the Howard Cockrells, or for Mlle Enstrom at the home of the tanning mogul, Foster Mortimore. She returned to the Albert Hall on the occasion of the International Inventions Exhibition ballad concerts, the to Prince’s Hall to sing with pianist Jenny Viard Louis (‘Ah perfido’), for Mrs Osborne Williams, Therese Castellan, Van Lennep, and Costa again (‘Lontana’, ‘Un organetto’), at Miss Luranah Aldridge’s matinee, for Clement Hoey Esq at the Victoria Hall, as well as mounting a couple of evenings of her own, at the Marlborough Rooms (Rode’s Air and Variations) and Brixton Hall.
And there were doubtless more, unreported evenings in private homes …

The Brixton concert is the last I can find. If the soiree described by our journalist was fact and not fiction, it was unreported.

The Ponsonby de Tomkyns circuit, George Power and Mr Cockrell at their head, staged a matinee for the benefit of the semi-orphaned child. Marie Tempest and Hope Temple sang, as, of course so did de Lara. But the following month there was another Benefit, put up by the amateurs of the Kendal Dramatic Club. I wonder what the connection was. De Lara, of course, supplied songs between the amateur plays.

Well, I’ve tried to find who Mme Hirlemann actually was. That piano-playing Monsieur out east … Yes! I was right, it’s Théophile, all right! Here is the proof, dredged from the Orient, 1879-1880. ‘We had with us Mme Th Hirlemann, a French coloratura singer of considerable talent, who used to sing arias from grand operas during our intermissions.  At hearing her, on the first night, make her usual trills, cadences and chromatic scales, the Japanese audience was convulsed with laughter, and considered her musical efforts the height of comedy. The lady in question felt herself highly insulted.  It was with the greatest difficulty that Mme Hirlemann could be persuaded to go on any more, after our opening night, as the same hilarity would be shown by the audience every night.’

So she was the wife of the Alsatian pianist and, later, rising salon songwriter. Who seemingly had abandoned her and their (?) child. I reckon so. Now I just need a marriage or birth register …