This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Postcards of French Minstrels

06 June 2014

7.  Chanteurs des Cours
Avec une concurrence pareille, nous sommes!

7. Singers for Coins {Buskers}

With such competition, we are f...ed!

1.  Chanteurs des Cours

Sois bonne, ô ma chere inconnue
Pour qui j'ai si souvent chanté !

Be good, O my dear unknown
For whom I have so often sung!

2. Chanteurs des Cours

Nous so-o-o-o-o-ommes
Des nobles gentilsho-o-o-o-o-ommmes!

We are
Noble gentlemen!

3. Chanteurs des Cours

Jeunes filles, gardez bien
Ce qui vous appartient.

Young Girls, take good care
Of what belongs to you.

4. Chanteurs des Cours

J'tez nous des ronds par vos fenêtres
Par vos portes ou par vos greniers,
C'est pour soulager de pauv'z êtres
Qu'ont pas bouffe d'puis le mois dernier .

Throw us some pennies through your windows
By your door or your attics,
It is to relieve these impoverished beings
That have had no food since last month.

5. Chanteurs des Cours

C'est si gentil la femme,
C'est si mignon à caresser
La femme on ne peut s'en passer !

It is so nice a woman,
It is so sweet to caress
The woman you can't live without!

6. Chanteurs des Cours

Manon, voici le soleil
C'est le printemps, c'est l'éveil
C'est l'amour maître des choses!

Manon, here is the Sun
It is spring, it is the awakening
It is love, master of things!

8. Chanteurs des Cours

Emporte moi brise légère

Carry me light breeze

9. Chanteurs des Cours

Lou roussignol
N'a pas encore chanté

The nightingale
Has not yet sung

10. Chanteurs des Cours

Quand je vis Madeline
Pour la premire fois

When I saw Madeline
For the first time

[Aveugle de Nésense]

[Blind since birth]

Trade Card for A. Bergert & Cie.
Source: Wikepedia

This postcard set of humorous French characters was produced by the publisher Albert Bergeret (1859 - 1932) of Nancy, France. Each one was postmarked from 1903 to 1904 during the height of the postcard craze in France. In 1900 Bergeret's company printed 25 million postcards. Only three years later it tripled to 75 million making his firm one of the largest postcard companies in the world. Such production numbers came about with the development of the French collotype method of mechanical printing. The company ceased printing activity in 1926.

After the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, Nancy marked the eastern point of France as Prussia, the victor in this war, had annexed the region of Alsace-Lorraine. Most of the photo postcards Bergeret made were of the architectural and scenic sites of Nancy and the Lorraine province. But he also created many comical cards which proved to be very popular as they used actors and costumes to tell a short story on a theme and came in sets of 6 to 10 cards. In this case the Chanteurs des Cours or Singers of Coins represent the kind of street balladeers or buskers that were a familiar entertainment to people all over France.

The appeal of the sets was that they could be sent sequentially to a friend or relation for a postcard-a-day surprise. Most of these cards were sent by Raoul to his cousin, Mademoiselle Stephanie Jourdan of Rennes. Though I have a full set of 10 cards from him, No. 5, 6, 8, and 9 are from other writers to provide some contrast with the way messages were inscribed on the cards.

These buskers in their colorful bohemian costumes would not look out of place today on the streets of Paris or London. (Though I believe they were just actors and probably not real street musicians. In fact I think all 14-15 minstrels are portrayed by only 4 players. Follow the hats and trousers and you'll see that the faces repeat.) The string instruments – guitar, violin, mandolin – still remain standard equipment for street musicians, except for the man honking a brass instrument on No. 4. He blows an Ophicleide which I featured in 2011 using another copy of this same postcard. Readers can learn more about this odd and now obsolete instrument on my post entitled Oh Ophicleide, Ophicleide!  For the French public of 1900, it would not have been unfamiliar as it was still occasionally found in churches as a support for the low voices of the choir. But the sound of the ophicleide is rather unrefined and would strike most people as a rather discordant instrument. Hence its use as a clownish instrument.       

My attempt at a translation using internet resources (along with the valuable assistance of my wife) may not be exactly correct as there are some dialect words and old style contractions that are not used in the current French language, but I hope it conveys the wit and charm of these whimsical singers even if the subtle jokes remain unknown. Any improvements to the meaning are of course, always appreciated. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the theme could be anywhere the wind blows.


Wendy said...

I like the blind guy singing about seeing Madeline. Yeah, I'm sick that way.

I'm glad you mentioned the Ophicleide because my first thought was it seemed like an odd instrument to accompany a soloist.

ScotSue said...

Such a wonderful collection of old postcards.

Postcardy said...

Nice set--and it demonstrates that not all music and musicians are serious.

Anonymous said...

Another stunning collection for us to enjoy.

Boobook said...

What a fun set of cards.They must have had fun creating the tableaus.

Alan Burnett said...

Wonderful, wonderful cards Mike. Humour certainly can transcend both national boundaries, languages, and even centuries, can't it?

Terri @ Backward B Ranch said...

Wow- very cool set of postcards!

Karen S. said...

Silly and funny and just a riot I'm sure for all that saw them! Even us.

La Nightingail said...

What a wonderful collection of cards. Number 3 is my favorite - probably because I played the part of a poor woebegone heroine with a baby in a melodrama years ago. A great fun post!

Sean Bentley said...

Wow, I've never seen anything like those. Talk about hamming it up!

Nancy said...

Oh, you're right, Mike. I see that there are just four actors as I scroll back through the images. I've never seen cards like these. I was chuckling as I was looking at first one or two of them and then had the awful thought that maybe they were meant to be serious. Nice collection!

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

As everyone says on the net these days, lol. Lots of Laughs here...seriously. What a great sharing of humor...first to be sent by whoever purchased the cards, then read by a postman, then received by a pleased friend or relative, and finally to be gathered by you and posted here.

luvlinens said...

Cool Cards from another time and place.

Anonymous said...

So there's nothing new under the sun. I thought buskers were a relatively new phenomenon. I don;t remember them from my youth. The postcards themselves are so attractive. Thanks.

Jo Featherston said...

very charming and witty, as you say - and the cards are too.

Little Nell said...

They’re almost grotesquely comic with their over the top poses. I’m reminded of music hall or pantomime characters, or perhaps the old style cartoons. I can see why they were so collectable; lucky cousin Stephanie.


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