Tuesday, November 10th, 2015...5:06 pm

Demons, dames, and devices: DAMES

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For the second in our series on Big Data (Demons are here) in John Ward’s collection of Strauss family dance music (surely a present-day Strauss would even now be writing a Data-Crunching Waltz!) we turn to images of women. The accomplished young lady beguiling long family evenings at her keyboard, or livening up a gathering à la Mary Bennet, was a major exponent of these piano arrangements, and the shrewd engravers at Viennese music publishers duly targeted her and her admirers. The ideal woman was bound to change her shape, dress, milieu, dreams and habits between the 1830’s and 1870’s, and we can track this through her representations on the covers of these scores.

TS 552.15.14.65.291 title page

TS 552.15.14.65.291 title page



For the Brüssler Spitzen waltz, F. Weigl and A. Dworžack, the engravers, offer the bust of a handsome young woman rising out of the clouds and garlanded by swaths of Brussels lace. She sports an elaborate hairdo with the high bun and ringlets of the day, gazes serenely off to her left, and seems utterly unconcerned that her lace and a bouquet are the only things between her body and any prying eyes, so remote is she from us and our world.

TS 552.15.14.65.291 title page detail

TS 552.15.14.65.291 title page detail

The Wiener Damen-Toilette-Walzer shows the apex of Gracious Living, circa 1830. As an elegant young woman tries on a shawl before her full-length mirror, everything in her boudoir (the draperies on the walls and dressing table, the patterned carpet, the symmetrical flower arrangements, and of course the dainty piano at the center of the image) indicates her status as a lady who enjoys the best of everything. The blue engraving of the image adds an extra air of refinement.

TS 552.15.14.65.323 title page

TS 552.15.14.65.323 title page

In Johann Strauss Junior’s Bijouterie-Quadrille, a quarter century later, we see another lady in her dressing room. She is as richly dressed as her predecessor, with long sausage curls, a ruffle-bedecked crinoline and a waist of Disney Princess proportions, but takes up much more space in the image, giving it a more intimate feel. She, rather than her stuff, is the focus here. Her cluttered dressing table makes that of the Damen-Toilette look Kon-Mari-ed, and the caryatid holding it up smiles directly out at the viewer. If the title page engravings of Johann Senior hoped to sell scores by appealing to an unattainable idea, those of Johann Junior show women closer to reality (though a comfortable, fairly expensive version of reality.)

TS 552.15.14.66.40 (A) title page

TS 552.15.14.66.40 (A) title page

The Pepita Polka even shows us a real person. Pepita de Oliva (stage name of Josefa Duran y Ortega) was a flamenco dancer who earned fame, fortune and the love of powerful men (including an ancestor of Vita Sackville-West) by her talent. Among her accolades was a polka with her picture on the cover.

TS 552.15.14.66.35 title page

TS 552.15.14.66.35 title page

The delicate full-length portrait captures Oliva mid-step, with her right foot pointed out and her arms above her head. Her hair is down and streams past her hips, and her knee-length skirt reveals the muscles on her calves. Entertainers’ bodies are so often considered public property, and Oliva’s is shown off in a way the lady’s in the Bijouterie-Quadrille is not.

TS 552.15.14.66.35  title page detail

TS 552.15.14.66.35 title page detail

In Die Evolirende (“The Evolving Ones”) a gentleman literally shows off a lady, standing back to let her curtsey. With her more modest neckline, softer body and awkward pose, this middle-class frau seems more ill-at-ease than the previous women mentioned. She’s even the first of them to have fuzzy, imperfect hair, echoing her escort’s rumpled formal attire. Her determined expression suggests this state of affairs is only temporary. This couple will support each other on their way to the top.

Sheet Music 37 title page

Sheet Music 37 title page

1880’s Traumgebilde Waltz brings us full circle: instead of being a fantasy, this woman is having one. A lady reclines in the foreground, eyes closed, and dreams she is on a terrace on the banks of a Nile that never was, with moonlit Pyramids in the background, a lyre-bearing cherub to serenade her, roses and butterflies around her, and a small sphinx whose blonde hair and full figure mirror her own. Lost in her sensuous dream, she is as indifferent to what we think of her as the Brussels Lace lady fifty years before. The illustration suggests that, for just 1 mark and 80 pfennigs, you can be as perfectly absorbed as she. The ladies on Strauss covers have moved from women to emulate to women to relate to, just as, for many women, piano playing had moved from a skill they cultivated to meet social expectations to a means of self-expression and imaginative escape.

Sheet Music 26 title page

Sheet Music 26 title page

[Thanks to Sarah Barton, newly minted Circulation Supervisor at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library and occasional Ward music cataloger, for contributing this post.]

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