Dear readers, I know that it is still just about November, but…Christmas is coming! I have had fun in the last few days finding new, festive exhibits for our food-and-drink-themed exhibition in the Anderson Room, which is up until the New Year. For this post, the last in our Musical Feast series, I’d like to share some of my finds.
As always, the UL’s collection of Victorian sheet music came up trumps, providing some of the most visually interesting resources. The combination of colourful title page illustrations and often rather bizarre lyrics always draws me to the Victorian sheet music, despite the sometimes less-than-inspired music! One would perhaps expect the Victorians to be fairly prolific when it came to popular music about Christmas, and they did not disappoint.
The Fun of the Ball Galop, by Charles Handel Rand Marriott, shows on its title page an illustration of cracker-pulling at a Christmas fancy dress party, by Alfred Concanen. Since Christmas crackers belong on the Christmas dinner table, I decided they belonged in the exhibition too, and so felt I could also include the Christmas Crackers Polka…
One of the nice things about looking for music for the exhibition cases is stumbling across odd bits and pieces of information about things that I would probably never have thought about otherwise – in this case the history of the Christmas cracker.
Often with the Victorian sheet music illustrations it is the name of the singer who popularized the song that is the most prominent on the title page. However, the ‘Tom Smith’ mentioned on the title page of the lyric-less Christmas Cracker Polka, and to whom the piece is dedicated, was a London confectioner who developed the cracker in the 1840s. Originally marketed under the name of ‘Cosaques’, or ‘Bangs of Expectation’, the idea for the crackers came from the twisted paper wrappers of bon-bons.
Another Victorian Christmas tradition is illustrated on the title page of The Snapdragon Quadrilles. ‘Snap-dragon’ was a children’s game often played on Christmas Eve, which involved snatching the raisins out of the flaming brandy around the Christmas pudding before eating them. The illustration for this piece, by ‘R. Childs’, shows a dragon (presumably a snap-dragon!) on a Christmas table, with wine and Christmas pudding in the background.
So, if you find yourself with a moment to spare in between roasting your chestnuts on an open fire, drinking your good ale, and contemplating your marshmallow world, then do come and visit the Anderson Room for a closer look at these pieces, and to peruse many more! Other delights include The Christmas Songbook, which is actually also a Christmas recipe book (compiled by the appropriately named James Sleigh), Mozart’s Mince Pies, Christmas Dinner for wind ensemble, the story of Mr and Mrs Pickles’ goose club, and the tale of Gobbledegook the turkey.