Wednesday, August 16th, 2017...9:30 am

A Real Old Devil

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the exhibition Open House 75: Houghton Staff Select on display in the Edison and Newman Room from May 8 – August 19, 2017.

Refashioning, revising, re-reading, restoring: the adaptation of musical works was a perennial source of fascination for Harvard University music professor John Milton Ward. Consequently, the John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collection at the Harvard Theatre Collection is rich in editions, arrangements and translations. Evidence of these multiple versions can help us understand, quite precisely, how music was circulated and performed, heard and loved.

Consider Franz Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe, known in English as The Merry Widow. Since its Viennese premiere in 1905 it has never really been off the stage, traveling the world and usually getting translated into the local language once it arrives. There are scores and librettos of the work in the Ward collection that have English, French, Italian, Danish and Polish words.

Several parodic reinterpretations of the work may be found in the Ward collection as well. These mostly date from early-twentieth-century America. An excerpt from one of these parodies is the short and snappy tune, “Toot! Toot! I’m a Real Old Devil!,” purportedly sung by Walter Jones in The Merry Widow and the Devil, which was first performed in New York at the West End Theatre on November 16th, 1908.

Cover of "The Devil As Sung By Walter Jones", with image of devil leaning back in tilted chair in red top hat, coat, and tails.

M1508.G423.M4 1908b, The John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collection, 2004

Many libraries own copies of the commercial vocal score of The Merry Widow and Devil, but only the Harvard Theatre Collection is known to have this edition of this song. It was printed as a supplement to the December 13th, 1908 edition of the now-defunct Boston Sunday American and was intended to be cut out and sewn together to make a booklet. This is just what the unidentified former owner did, taking care to slice the page neatly from the newsprint sheet and using white thread to bind the score together. From the New York stage in November to a Boston home in December, eventually on to Professor Ward’s collection and then to this library as his gift, it is a small but unique specimen of the domestication of art.

Christina Linklater, Houghton Music Cataloger, contributed this post.

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