(Le Tour Eiffel, 1889, image from Yahoo photos)

(Duckelsbuhl, Germany, ca 1900, image from Yahoo photos)

The Continental Tradition,
Popular Music in France and Germany

The story of "French Fry Alley"?

In March of this year, we featured an essay about Tin Pan Alley and provided a brief history of the American popular music publishing industry. Our overall focus at PS is the origins of American Popular music. That history cannot be effectively understood without fully understanding the influences on our music from other cultures as well as our influence on others. (Click on the above menu link to our back issues to also see our essays on, "The Dead Zone", Native American Music, Cowboy Music, Ragtime and The Blues for information about various aspects of the development of American popular music.) Likewise, it is important to view the development of popular music in other countries parallel with ours to see the differences as well as similarities.

      Prior to 1900 or so, American popular music developed with a variety of influences (European, Native American, African) and as such, evolved into a new style and genre of popular music. In Europe, though there certainly was a great deal of influence from country to country, by 1900, the musical traditions of each country were well established and identifiable. That was also the general case with classical or fine art music. If one listens to German classical music compared to French, differences can be heard and styles can be identified. The same could be said of popular music although at the same time, we can agree that there was a general continental style that was still firmly founded on the Western classical tradition.

(Below, the Paris Opera, ca 1880, image from Yahoo)
      For late 19th century Europe, Operatic music is perhaps one of the strongest foundations for popular music's rise. Singers such as Jenny Lind and Adelina Patti popularized operatic arias through their own incredible performances. Celebrated arias were sung at popular concerts for the masses and were published in various versions for instruments commonly found in the home. Performances of opera excerpts became a staple of local bands and dance ensembles. In some cases, operatic works were rewritten as waltzes or quadrilles for dances. Yet developments in the late 19th century increasingly took serious music out of the reach of the general public. For one, the operatic works of the late 19th century became too complex for popular use. The music of Wagner and Verdi for example became intellectually more demanding and was more integrated thus making popular extracts much less appealing. One result from this development, as well as the continuing urbanization of Europe was the growth of music halls. Music halls provided a place of undemanding community entertainment that mixed drinking with singing.

      Music halls spawned a new type entertainer who created new styles of music. These folks, often called comics, had no serious musical aspirations and relied on crude appeal and simple, sometimes vulgar or common phrases that the public could easily pick up on (see Ah! Suzanne on our feature this month for a mild example). Often the audience would join in the singing. Of course, Germany brought the music hall (drinking & singing) concept to its pinnacle with the "Beer Hall" and the music usually associated with them. German drinking songs are some of the greatest the world has seen. Soon, there became a sharp division between classical and popular music that allowed a different development path for both. In France, the famed Moulin Rouge became one of the most famed music halls of the world.


(Below, ad for the Lowenbrau Beer Hall in Munich, ca 1900 image from Yahoo)

     Though this division was established, one could still see and hear the classical imprint on European popular song. The styles were still most often in classical form such as the waltz (see "Ein Wiener Walzer" this month) and art song styles. Yet, by around 1900, American music began to be heard in Europe and a subtle shift began. The incredible popularity of some mega-hits, such as "After The Ball", 1892 by Charles K. Harris, the first multi-million selling work, spread to the continent. At first, the transfer was simply a direct one where the work was translated into the local language and sold. Later, the local music itself took on the aspects of American song to create their own works in the "American style". Here is a copy of the great "After The Ball" that was printed in a Swedish language version for sale in Sweden.
      This version was published in Stockholm by a Swedish publishing house, It included both English and Swedish language lyrics.(Download KAR version Swedish language only)

      Around 1910, Brazilian Tangos found their way to the continent and began to also influence popular song. (More on the Tango later.) Thus began an evolution where American and other countries' music began influencing the development of European music. In spite of these influences, up till the end of W.W. I, the popular music of France, Germany and the UK continued to carry its own flavor and was based on the classical traditions.

      One need only listen to this highly romantic and beautiful Parisian waltz song (Amoureuse, click on cover to listen) from ca. 1900 to be sure that the traditions were still firmly in place. (Download KAR version French language)
Though many countries in Europe produced some of the greatest marches the world has known (who can ignore the blood stirring marches of Germany?), even this genre began to be influenced by American composers. In particular, the works of John Phillip Sousa. His band's visit to the Paris Exposition in 1900 increased public acceptance to the lively rhythms of the cakewalk and two step march. As early as 1897 a cakewalk was published in London by Leslie Stuart. Stuart also wrote a number of "coon song" emulation's that were very successful across Europe and some of his songs were even popular in America. Stuart's works helped pave the way for the syncopated rhythms that would soon arrive in force from America. A strange twist to all this is that the purely American cakewalk style began to actually be incorporated into some European operettas, in particular, Lehar's "Die lustige Witwe" of 1905!

     The success of the operetta, spawned the musical comedy or stage musical which helped to develop popular song even further. Dance styles also began to be influenced by other countries. The traditional styles for each country continued, but new styles captivated listeners and dancers and ignited excitement and interest.
      One of the most exciting and sensual dance styles to come to Europe was the Tango, brought to Paris from South America. The first published Argentine Tango in Paris (not the last Tango in Paris) was A. G. Villodo's El Choclo, in 1911. By 1912, "tango teas" were fashionable across Europe, especially London. This beautiful dance also began to appear in stage shows around the same time.

      The tango featured here, El Panete, was published in Paris in 1911 and then distributed in the US (with the "The Latest Tango" line added) by Jos. Stern. This version has been sequenced for Tango accordion, which represents the likely performance you would have heard of the work in Paris. As usual, click the cover to hear it. Other dances such as the Boston and Fox Trot found their way to Europe and publishers rushed to create versions in French or German for consumption in Europe.

      According the New Grove, the real breakthrough for American popular music's influence on Europe was Ragtime, however, not the Scott Joplin "classical" ragtime style but the more popular styles introduced by Berlin and other contemporary composers. Songs such as Alexander's Ragtime Band and Waiting For The Robert E. Lee brought new ideas to the composers of Europe.

      Marketing and distribution of music in Europe was based on a performer based system rather than a publisher or composer based system as was found in the US. Performers owned rights to music and it was the performer who dictated the publication of a work. As well, the performer controlled royalty payments. As American musical influence crept into Europe, so too did Tin Pan Alley marketing methods (see our Essay on Tin Pan Alley). As a result Europe moved from the performer based system to the publisher/composer based system that allowed more performers access to the music. That change allowed for a much more rapid performance dissemination of music and increased consumer interest.

      Whereas World War One created a plethora of published music in America and England, the more war torn countries suffered a dampened popular music scene. Of course, music was published in Germany and France but the preoccupation with war as well as the horrible consequences to the logistics systems tended to limit distribution and growth in the music industry except for patriotic music. Of course, Germany's music was of no interest to anyone on the opposite side of the struggle and the same applied in Germany when it came to the music of it's enemies. Thus, the development and cross influences of popular music was considerably lessened till after the war.

      This great German march is from the beginning of the War and is typical of just about every country's music during the war; patriotic, stirring and showing that right was with them. The title of this work is "God Is With Us!", a term used by just about every country involved in a war, no matter which side they are on. The images on the cover are excellent examples of German patriotic symbolism from the period.

      After the war, with the huge influx of American doughboys, the post war reconstruction and occupations, the American influences on European music blossomed and the rush of American style songs increased tenfold. With the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the society that had nurtured the Viennese waltz, new musical styles were readily accepted. In America, largely unaffected by the war, musical styles had become solidified. From now on, even though the individual styles of each country's music would remain an important part of their folk cultures, all major innovations in popular music would come from America. Dixieland was introduced in 1919 through a tour of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. In the early 20's, Paul Whiteman and his band brought the big band jazz sound to Europe. The continuing introduction of new dance forms (such as the Black Bottom & Charleston) resulted in an explosion of "palais de danse" and hotel ballrooms.

      Likewise, American musical theater found its way to the stages of Europe and prompted the growth of indigenous composers and producers to fill the public's desire for this form of entertainment. Of course, just like America, as I mentioned, each country retained a firm hold on its own traditional styles of what we would call folk music. The American influence was great during this period but certainly did not overshadow each country's well loved styles. In Germany, Beer Hall music continued to flourish, and does to this day.

      Here is a great German "drinking song"from post W.W.I .( download KAR version , German language lyrics only). The same can be said for France and other countries of Europe. Each retains its own folk style that adds to the musical heritage and richness of variety that we enjoy today. A current trend in music is the "World Music" movement that uses unique folk styles from other countries to create new and appealing sounds for all of us to enjoy.

      The development of popular music in America and the world has been a journey of influence and creativity. Isolated at first, the world's countries tended to develop styles based on their heritage and current events. As the world's technology grew and travel and communication became more easily accomplished, influences became more pronounced and change came much faster than ever before. Popular music, perhaps more than any other genre has been the subject of some of the most rapid change due to the influence of other cultures and ideas.


Rick Reublin, July, 2000
Photos displayed in this essay are from the Yahoo photo collections accessible at Yahoo.com. Search for a given city or country at Yahoo and the top listings will usually return a listing for "Yahoo photos". Of course all sheet music covers are from the parlorsongs collection. A major source for much of the text discussion is from The new Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. See our references page for details of our complete bibliography used for research for this and other essays in this series..

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