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Clowns And Concertinas


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Can anyone tell me the historical connection between clowns and concertinas?

 

Just Curious

Cheers

Morgana

Hi, Morgana -

I can't shed any light on the historical connection, only confirm that it is there. In Denmark, where I was born, most people will - when pressed for an opinion - say: "Hmm, concertina...I think it is that little hex-shaped accordion the clowns use". I vaguely remember a TV-program about the clown Charlie Rivel, in which he played concertina.

 

In the very beginning of my concertina interest, I was handed a battered concertina to fix in a TV show called "The Circus Club". The instrument belonged to a Danish circus family (yes - I did get it to play again). Since I am right now digging around for old photos I might as well dig out the dia slide of the occasion and figured out how to scan it.

 

My personal theory about clowns and concertinas is that it leaves the face free for miming.

 

Henrik

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I can remember as a lad seeing a white faced clown play a miniture concertina

he also played a miniture saxaphone and other mini instruments.This was in between a car that exploded.Buckets of water being poured down trousers and a bucket full of confetti thrown over the crowd.The white faced clown always stayed immaculate whilst his partner with hooped trousers,ginger wig,red nose,foot long boots got the lot. I have a feeling the name of the white faced clown was Charlie Correlli or Corrona but it was rather a long time ago.(ten years at least).

Al ;)

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Copied from the bellows leather vs. paper Topic:

According to Chris Algar,from whom I got it, he said that mine and one other were made for a clown who performed in a Paris circus.

There were several musical clowns performing in Paris circuses with concertinas, including Grock (though he seems to have preferred Edeophones), Paolo Fratellini, Pinder Bros, and George Jones' pupils the Brothers Webb (Jojo and Ruté - though they played Joneses).

 

By the way, calculating today's price of the three gilt Æolas, by a formula based on wages, arrives at an equivalent price of £25,000 for the trio of instruments in 2002 !

And that suggests a concept of what a "clown" might be, which is very different from what I grew up with in the US. To me, a "clown" act invariably involves abuse of some sort or other, with nothing -- whether attitudes or objects -- immune from ridicule or even damage. Clearly, a concertina of such value could not be treated in such fashion, and the purpose of one or more instruments of such artistic supriority must have been far more sophisticated than what I'm used to.

 

So I hope someone(s) could expound on just what sort of act these clowns might have had and how having one or more concertinas with gold-plated intricate fretwork and surpassing musical quality might have been important to such an act.

 

Even the possibility suggested by Alan's description, "The white faced clown always stayed immaculate...," doesn't seem to justify spending the above-mentioned amount on an instrument; a lesser one -- more for appearance than true quality -- would seem adequate.

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So I hope someone(s) could expound on just what sort of act these clowns might have had and how having one or more concertinas with gold-plated intricate fretwork and surpassing musical quality might have been important to such an act.

Jim,

 

You should try asking Pietro Valente about that, after all he comes from an old Franco-Italian circus family and used to be a clown himself. It is why he plays the English concertina !

 

Otherwise, I would refer you to Richard Carlin's article on Frank Butler in PICA, which refers to the Brothers Webb and how "in addition to their fiddle, musical saw, and drum (not to mention their feats of acrobatics, juggling, and comic skits), the brothers played concertinas in the course of their act. Moreover, since the circuses of the period offered Sunday concerts of semi-classical music, the brothers had an opportunity to show off their concertina-playing skills, Arthur on the treble, Joseph on the baritone."

 

Jojo (Joseph) Webb was the father of the Fayre Four sisters, who played gilt Æolas (actually only gold-painted, as the ebony ends were thought to look too drab) and whose recordings of "surpassing musical quality" have survived to delight us.

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So I hope someone(s) could expound on just what sort of act these clowns might have had and how having one or more concertinas with gold-plated intricate fretwork and surpassing musical quality might have been important to such an act.

You should try asking Pietro Valente about that, after all he comes from an old Franco-Italian circus family and used to be a clown himself. It is why he plays the English concertina !

Indeed I will, next time I see him, though I don't recall him saying that he took up the concertina because he was familiar with it as a clown's instrument, but rather as something deliberately less comic.

 

Of course, that relates to my "question", since in my experience "clown"="comic", and having a "clown" act with non-comic elements is the concept I want to learn more about.

 

Otherwise, I would refer you to Richard Carlin's article on Frank Butler in PICA, which refers to the Brothers Webb and how "in addition to their fiddle, musical saw, and drum (not to mention their feats of acrobatics, juggling, and comic skits), the brothers played concertinas in the course of their act. Moreover, since the circuses of the period offered Sunday concerts of semi-classical music, the brothers had an opportunity to show off their concertina-playing skills, Arthur on the treble, Joseph on the baritone."

So maybe the concept I'm searching for is that the (one?) foundation of European clowning is not simply the absurd or ridiculous, but more generally surprise... as in the surprise of having something excellently non-comic appearing in the midst of a comic skit? (That is, quite simply, a highly speculative guess.)

 

The separate concerts are something else I wasn't aware of, and I can certainly see that a "clown" might have an excellent instrument for that purpose, while (literally?) "wearing a different face". But it's the description of the concertina being used in the clown act itself which led to my speculation. And what I'm looking for is something more detailed than "the brothers played concertinas in the course of their act." I.e., what sorts of music -- even what sorts of arrangments, -- and how they fit contextually into the rest of the act. (To understand that, I guess I would want/need a description of an actual act, I might even hope from beginning to end.)

 

Jojo (Joseph) Webb was the father of the Fayre Four sisters, who played gilt Æolas (actually only gold-painted, as the ebony ends were thought to look too drab) and whose recordings of "surpassing musical quality" have survived to delight us.

And we on C.net should be well aware of those gilt-painted instruments, as they're in various photos from member Lester Bailey's Morris team. :)

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I think you need to think of clowns in terms of the pantomime character pierrot, rather than purely as "modern" court jesters or buffoons.

 

From joseph Grimaldi to Charlie Chaplin and I'm sure a few more recent clowns, the tradition has been based on a melancholic figure quite often unhappily in love, (in the circus of my youth - not that long ago - the tradition was dying out, though the clown could often be seen to be trying to attract the girl in the dancing horses act, attention).

 

Why the concertina I have no idea. Though I remember once being told that the clowns played music during their own and other acts because the circus band was paid per tune they played where as the clowns were paid for their whole act.

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Jojo (Joseph) Webb was the father of the Fayre Four sisters, who played gilt Æolas (actually only gold-painted, as the ebony ends were thought to look too drab) and whose recordings of "surpassing musical quality" have survived to delight us.

Their concertinas can be seen here. The players are not the Fayre Four Sisters :) it's actually (left to right) me on tenor, Terry (who owns the concertinas) on treble and Pete on Bass.

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You should try asking Pietro Valente about that, after all he comes from an old Franco-Italian circus family and used to be a clown himself. It is why he plays the English concertina !
Indeed I will, next time I see him, though I don't recall him saying that he took up the concertina because he was familiar with it as a clown's instrument, but rather as something deliberately less comic.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Jim,

I'm sure that he must have been familiar with the concertina as a clown's instrument, after all he learnt it from his mother Maria, who was herself a musical clown, whilst it seems that his father Giuseppe was the accordion virtuoso "Di Zazzo".

post-436-1114479041_thumb.jpg
Maria Valente in 1930.


 

So maybe the concept I'm searching for is that the (one?) foundation of European clowning is not simply the absurd or ridiculous, but more generally surprise... as in the surprise of having something excellently non-comic appearing in the midst of a comic skit?

I think the "clowning" tends to be in the preparations for the playing of music, but the music making itself can be quite serious and of good quality.

There is a film clip of Grock and his Edeophone (in 1947, at the age of 67) on the
website, though sadly he doesn't really play it on the film, however he did make various 78rpm records. Somewhere I've got his autobiography ... if only I could find it. huh.gif

post-436-1114480772_thumb.jpg
Grock + Edeophone in 1947.


Edited to add photos. Edited by Stephen Chambers
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It also make me wonder if there  is ( or was ) the connection between clowning in circuses and comedy music hall acts, where instruments were us. In this instance, concertinas......

Robin,

 

There certainly was a crossover between the two, and also with blackface minstrelsy. Indeed "Mr. Bones" and "Mr. Tambo", the comedians in a minstrel troop, were virtually clowns in blackface, and most such groups included a concertina, or accordion player.

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I have a feeling the name of the white faced clown was Charlie Correlli or Corrona but it was rather a long time ago.(ten years at least).

Al,

 

I wonder if it was Charlie Cairoli ? (Though the original Charlie died 25 years ago, his son has carried on his persona.) For 39 years he was the star of Blackpool Tower Circus, and he appeared on TV, in his own series "Right Charlie" in 1972, and with Max Bygraves in "Max's Holiday Hour" in 1977.

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