Laugh . . . and Forget!  6 March until 21 June 2009

Songs by Jewish artists

Oh Pimprinella!, 1926. collectie Jaap van VelzenThere was a time when live music really was 'live'. A time when listening to music at home generally meant playing it yourself, often with the aid of sheet music. Laugh . . . and Forget! takes us back to the world of entertainment before television.

Dutch performers, many of whom were Jewish, made eager use of sheet music to reach a broad public. In those days, printed sheet music was a simpler and more effective way of marketing songs and performances than other methods such as gramophone records. The songs available as sheet music included hits from successful revues like Loop naar den duivel (Go to the devil, 1915) and films as De Jantjes (The Jack Tars, 1934).

With its beautiful illustrations and decorations, this sheet music from 1890 to 1960 presents a colourful picture of social trends, artistic styles, fashions, and the vibrant night life of the period. Designers and artists created covers that were impossible to ignore, and a signed portrait or photo of an artist never failed to boost sales. A good cover combined the talents of the designer, the composer, and the artist, with rhythmic patterns and illustrations representing the melody. The illustrations also reflected the subject matter of the songs, which might be satirical, politically tinged, romantic, or even a bit racy.

Many songs were published both as vocal arrangements with piano accompaniment and as instrumental versions for salon orchestra. That way, if they became successful, they could be performed not only in cafés and clubs but also in the family circle. The main reason for the popularity of sheet music was that in the early years of home audio, many Dutch homes still had neither radio nor record player.

A strikingly large number of Jewish performers - of cabaret, revues, jazz, and light music - introduced new styles or even whole new genres of entertainment from abroad. Many of them had a strong influence on later artists such as Wim Sonneveld and Toon Hermans, and thus on the postwar history of Dutch cabaret.

This exhibition presents the most prominent among the many Jewish performing artists of this period, along with a selection from the enormous library of sheet music belonging to Jaap van Velzen and the Jewish Historical Museum.

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