Songs for children: the story of a repertoire

The songs, like the narratives, belong to an oral tradition that is characteristic of a so-called “popular” culture, which in fact denotes the traditional, essentially rural society way of life and way of thinking. The oral transmission of narratives and songs allows for their eternal transformation. By correcting them in writing, we freeze them. The stories appealed to all ages and both genders and eventually became part of a children’s culture that transformed them into its use and turned them into children’s books, complete with illustrations and editorial stagings.

The same thing happens for songs, but with a time delay. While the process began at the end of the 17the century for tales, it started only in the 19the century for songs. To examine this living heritage through two centuries, that is the purpose of the exhibition. Well, sing now! which opens on June 4, 2022 at the National Museum of Education (Munaé) in Rouen.

A complex story

The story of this “acculturation”, which brings certain popular songs into children’s culture and children’s books at the expense of a certain number of transformations, is a complex story, partly because the word “song” refers to lyrics accompanied by music, of very different natures, from the lullaby for the nursery rhyme, from the formulation rhythm to the round and to the song itself.

Lullabies and wordings have existed since antiquity, but the history that interests us becomes noticeable in the 18th century.e century by the children themselves acquiring certain songs. Thus, when he arrived in Avignon in 1761, the glazier Ménétra arrived on the bridge itself, On the bridge of Avignon that his godfather used to sing for him when he was a child.

On the bridge in Avignon, n ° 1513, around 1920. Printed frieze (27.5 cm x 69.7 cm) – (inv. 2010.05952.1).
Exhibition of songs at the Statens Pædagogiske Museum

A privileged repertoire, built up from the Ancien Régime, had to be supplemented with new songs, such as Mother Michele, was published around 1810, as we have been able to show. The existence of this directory is known by educators and especially those who are interested in children’s play culture and publish collections of children’s games with children’s rounds.

This is how the oral tradition begins to freeze through publication. But a whole work of adaptation to childhood will be done until the 1870s on the lyrics, the music, their accompaniment and the illustrations.

The first editions of children’s songs

Collections of children’s games published round songs: in 1827 by Mme Celnart, Complete board game manualgives 24 of them, its edition of 1867, 44. Mme de Chabreul, in her Games and exercises for young girls (1856) announces 28 of them. We will no longer walk in the woods, He was a shepherdess, Companions of marjoram, Beautiful wood firesbut the best known were published in 1846 by Dumersan, in the first French collection of Children’s songs and rounds. Of the 29 songs he gives, half were still sung after World War II.

In his time, songs were also published for asylum seekers (Chevreau-Lemercier, 1845; Pape-Carpentier, 1849), which welcomed young children, but there were few loans from popular culture: They are about creating a school culture. At the same time, music teachers also published collections for children (by Haller, 1844), but one of them, Lebouc, in 1860 made easy arrangements for a repertoire of children’s songs, which had been passed on to ‘ours’.

In popular imagery, for example on Pellerin in Épinal, songs from this repertoire are published, with one image per. song or in blackboards with twelve boxes. All these first editions of songs from 1820 to 1860 were not yet “real” children’s books, published by professionals in children’s literature, illustrated by children’s illustrators.

Adolph Tidemand (attributed), Grandmother and grandson or Around to the sound of the violin, approx. 1840. Oil on canvas (36 cm x 45 cm) – (inv. 2019.11.1).
National Museum of Education, well sing now

The first attempts were made in youth magazines. Thus, Hachette, in Children’s Week publishes from 1857 to 1873 songs illustrated by Castelli. They are collected in one volume published in 1876, with music arranged by Verrimst, but not all are suitable for children.

The second attempt is Detzels, who publishes a collection, Circles and songs from childhood, of 14 illustrated albums by Froelich, from 1875 to 1883, one per. song. But the company was spoiled by de Gramont, who rewrote the traditional songs in an improbable, often ridiculous way, and even the images of Froelich turning the popular adult universe into childish characters (King Dagobert as a little boy in one!) Do. not always succeed in convincing.

However, it is necessary to note this willingness to penetrate the songs in children’s culture by transforming them into albums, where the image occupies the main place, and by reworking the lyrics. The music is not printed, which means that we are dependent on traditional melodies that everyone knows and that we do not seek to offer musical instruction to children’s readers.

The upheaval of illustration

Boutet de Monvel revolutionized children’s book illustration by using clear strokes and color symbolism. He will work with the layout of children’s songs, “to create an atmosphere and a world in which children enter without difficulty” (Cousin, 1988).

It has been practiced since 1881 in the journal Saint Nicolas, Illustrated newspaper for boys and girlswhere he sensed the interest in the double page before releasing two albums: Old songs and rounds for young children (1883) with Widor for the music, then Songs from France for French children (1884) with Weckerlin for the music.

Elevværk, À la volte, poem book, primary school for girls in Frouard (Meurthe-et-Moselle), 1936 – (inv. 1979.37315.1).
National Museum of Education, Well, now sing exhibition

Putting music and texts belonging to different genres in images (stories, additions of similar sequences, forms of dialogue) requires variation of the dimensions of the image (single-page or double-page), graphic unification of framed text and image, construction of lines similar to those in the music sticks. He often uses the text-space frame as the earth-surface, which not only unites the text and image spaces, but also conveys that the characters are born from the text of the song.

These characters are child spectators, listeners or actors of the songs, sometimes disguised as adults. His solid work helps to evacuate the real from which he suppresses violence and war.

He inserts music into images, by representing musical situations or by transposing it graphically with “rhythms and plastic variations homologous to rhythms and musical variations” (Nières-Chevrel, 1997). Thus, Boutet de Monvel fully meets the challenge of transforming children’s songs from oral form into children’s books.

The emergence of school songs

Under IIIe In the Republic, school songs were to gain significant momentum, especially with Bouchor’s collections (four volumes from 1895 to 1911, one after the war), which quickly became part of school culture. They transfer moral homework, praise great virtues, and make little use of the child’s imagination.

On the other hand, the folklorists multiplied the studies and collections (Rolland, 1883), and even the musician Weckerlin, who had released the album with Boutet de Monvel, said in Paris and in all the provinces that he had collected the hundred songs which he published in two volumes, in 1886 and 1889, illustrated by several acclaimed artists.

For the albums, it was not until the 1930s that new illustrators began to renew the graphic universe of children’s songs: Franc-Nohain, Minost, Ivanovsky illustrated the songs of Truth.

All were re-released in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by albums with nursery rhymes for the little ones, initiated by Roy’s collection in 1926, which marked a new stage in the construction of a repertoire of songbooks for children.

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