Posts Tagged ‘October 21’

Moulin Rogue

Posted in General, On This Day on October 21st, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment
On this day–October 21–in 1858, Jacques Offenbach endeared himself to posterity, particularly cartoon animators and advertising agencies, by premiering his Can Can music.
    It is one of the world’s most popular and exploited numbers. You have heard it accompany household cleansers and frantic Looney Tunes. And why not? His music is delightful and, more importantly, those studios and ad agencies don’t have to pay him a cent in royalties. When you have been dead for 130 years, you have very few legal rights. True, Offenbach would be a very rich man if he ever resurrected; but Offenbachs usually don’t. (Wrong theology.)
    Offenbach would also be bewildered by the reason for his acclaim. He had never intentionally composed music for the Can Can. Tres ironique, n’est-ce pas? The music we most associate with the Can Can was actually written for the operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld.” The operetta is a comic retelling of the Orpheus myth that mirrored French society at the time. In this Gallic Olympus, Zeus is a likable rogue while Hera is respectable but humorless. (It was said that the Emperor Louis Napoleon was amused, but the Empress Eugenie was not.) At the operetta’s conclusion, the Gods merrily dance off to the Underworld to the musical accompaniment of a certain tune. The Gods may have gone to Hell, and the Second Empire certainly did (courtesy of the Richard Wagner fan club), but Offenbach’s music stayed around. It became the melodies which we most associate with night life of Fin de Siecle Paris. There is no Can Can without Offenbach.
   That would have been a problem for the collaborationist Vichy Government during World War II. While it would have had no qualms about transporting Offenbach himself to an unspecified location in Poland, his music was too popular to disappear. Furthermore, the German officers in Paris would expect to see the Can Can, and Vichy would hate to disappoint them. But the dance did require music. So was the composer of the Can Can music suddenly anonymous or had Vichy belated discovered that Saint-Saens had written it?  No, Vichy simply insisted that Offenbach was a devout Catholic.  (Well, his wife was.)  And Offenbach probably wouldn’t have been surprised at his Transfiguration; he was familiar with French farce.
  p.s.  Speaking of French farce, today is also the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar:

The Glorious Annals of the French Navy

Posted in General, On This Day on October 21st, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

October 21, 1805:  Trafalgar–Not Bad For a One-Eyed, One-Armed Man

Today is the anniversary of Trafalgar and here is how you can reenact Lord Nelson’s spectacular victory in 1805. In a swimming pool set afloat 33 loaves of French bread to represent the French/Spanish fleet. To represent the British fleet, have twenty-seven people with shotguns firing at the bread. That accurately represents France’s chances at Trafalgar.

The British make much of the fact that Nelson’s fleet was smaller: Britain’s 27 ships of-the- line against 33 French and Spanish ships. Of course, the British fleet was superior in every way. The French fleet may have had newer ships…if only to replace the vessels sunk or captured by the British. (And the French sailors were newer, too…for the same reason.) But that veteran English fleet was the best in the world and led by one of history’s greatest admirals. The English victory was never in doubt; the extent of the triumph was remarkable. The French and Spanish lost two-thirds of their fleet.

Nelson likely was more fearful of the accountants at the British admiralty. At the time, naval warfare was expected to be profitable. The fleet was maintained and the crews were paid by the proceeds of captured ships and plundered cargos. The cannons were aimed to knock down masts or shred sails, leaving the enemy ship dead in the water–and ripe for looting. Sinking the ship would have ruined this financial system.

Unfortunately, in 1798 at the Battle of Nile, Nelson had proved to be somewhat extravagant. Under unerring British bombardment, the French flagship blew up. I can only imagine how the accounting office at the Admiralty reacted to that lost fortune….

“We suppose that you expect to be congratulated, Admiral Nelson. But who is going to pay for your pyrotechnics? We no longer have those 13 colonies to tax, and it is because of spendthrifts like you we don’t!”

With the proceeds of the captured fleet, Lord Nelson made a fortune at Trafalgar. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to enjoy it. A sniper demonstrated the only French marksmanship that day. Contrary to Nelson’s wishes, the money went to his widow instead of his mistress.

And but for that French sniper, Nelson might have commanded the British fleet in the attack on Ft. McHenry.

In that situation, I imagine that Francis Scott Key would have written “The White Flag Rag.”