Krazy Kat and the Toy Box at Princeton: April 8-10, 2010

Since the initial Mendel Library Blog announcement of this production on October 22, 2009, many more details are now available from project director Simon Morrison on this collaboration between the Department of Music and the Lewis Center for the Arts,
New (February 11): Click here to view a digitized version of the 1913 Durand illustrated edition of La Boîte à joujoux: ballet pour enfants.

To follow the day-to-day progress of the productions, consult the new blog Recreating Magic: Krazy Kat and the Toy Box.

Revised announcement about the event:

A Berlind Theater Evening of Enchantment, featuring John Carpenter’s surrealistic jazz pantomime Krazy Kat (1921) and Claude Debussy’s homage to childhood, The Toy-Box (1913). The program opens with Paul Lansky’s kitchen fantasy, Table’s Clear (1990).
Project Director: Simon Morrison
Choreographer/Director (Toy-Box): Rebecca Lazier
Choreographer/Director (Krazy Kat): Tracy Bersley
Choreographer/Director (Table’s Clear): Tina Fehlandt
Conductor: Anthony D. J. Branker
Dramaturg: Michael Cadden
Technical Director: Darryl Waskow
Décor: Riccardo Hernandez
Lighting: Aaron Copp
Costumes: Catherine Cann
Performed Exclusively by Princeton Students
Production Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes (excluding intermission)
Source materials provided by:
The Dansmuseet, Stockholm
The Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow
The Newberry Library, Boston
The Library of Congress, Washington DC
The project is generously supported by the
Office of the President, Princeton University
Office of the Dean of the Faculty
Department of Music
Lewis Center for the Creative and Performing Arts
Program in African American Studies
Program in American Studies
Department of Comparative Literature
The highlight of this project is a staging of the restored version of the French composer Claude Debussy’s final masterpiece, the ballet The Toy-Box (La boîte à joujoux). Conceived for his daughter Emma, The Toy-Box offers a poignant look back at the composer’s favorite musical things. It dates from 1913, and it was left partially un-orchestrated at the time of Debussy’s death in 1919. The basis of this production will be the version of the score premiered in 1918 by the Moscow Chamber Theater. That version of the score includes an unknown “jazz overture.”

The scenario was written and gorgeously illustrated in watercolor by André Hellé, a prominent children’s writer. He proposed that toy-boxes are “really just like towns in which toys live like people – or maybe towns are really just toy-boxes in which people live like toys.” Like Debussy, Hellé intended the ballet to be performed by children or, if children could not be found, marionettes. Yet when the remarkably innovative Ballets Suédois performed a modified version of the work in Paris in the early 1920s, adults played the roles, alternately winding themselves up and down in accord with the unfolding of the simple storyline.
After a preamble titled “The Toy-Box Asleep,” the four scenes bring the various characters into conflict: there’s a doll, a lovesick soldier, a lazy and irritable buffoon named Punchinello who forces himself upon the doll and wins her favor, plus various other figures, including wooden cutouts of an elephant, ducks, and sheep. The characters spill from the cramped toy-box in scene 1, cued by a phonograph record; the stage then transforms into a battlefield, a sheepfold, and a suburban development. Clones of the soldier wage battle with clones of the Punchinello; the soldier is wounded, and the doll tends to his convalescence, their love symbolized by an itinerant rose. Scene 4, which takes us “20 years” into the future, finds Punchinello transformed into a village constable; the soldier has grown a large white beard, and the doll considerably plumper. Unable to dance, she tries singing instead, but ballet being ballet, she fails. The suburbanites are now the proud parents of a twin girl and boy, who dance a polka as the décor of the first scene slowly returns.
All of this might sound rather benign, but the music and the ballet that emerged from it is a revelation. The Toy-Box offers a corrective to the grinding dissonance and ideological heaviness that characterized artistic trends outside of France. It was, in short, a riposte to German Expressionism and Soviet avant-gardism, an effort to define modernism in a positive rather than a negative way.
For one thing, the characters in the original conception derived from the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte; for another, there were various visual and narrative allusions to silent film, circus, and vaudeville. Scholarship on the music tends to focus on the relationship between Debussy’s score and Stravinsky’s 1911 puppet ballet Petrushka. True, the two ballets share some particular technical details, and there are some common instrumental choices. Close study of the two scores reveals that the connection has been overstated. Debussy’s network of musical allusions proves richer than his rival’s. As is well known, Stravinsky borrowed Russian folksongs in Petrushka. Such borrowings become, in Debussy’s hands, a cluster of gentle-spirited references to the most famous works in the Western musical canon. For example, scene changes in The Toy-Box quote from Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. If each scene of the ballet pops up like a page in storybook, what better than to quote from a composition that presents a tour through a portrait gallery?
The Toy-Box is about a child’s imagination, and but it is also an attempt to return music and dance to a more innocent state. At its heart lies something of the sentiments the French Symbolist writer Charles Baudelaire expressed in his essay “A Philosophy of Toys.” Baudelaire argues that toys are children’s first exposure to art, to the powers of enchantment. Debussy wanted to take us back to that realm of wonder.
The music for the ballet will be conducted by Princeton’s Tony Branker and performed by an expanded version of our student jazz ensemble (the score includes a lot of references to ragtime) with new choreography by Rebecca Lazier. The Toy-Box will appear on the second half of a program featuring another short jazz-age ballet, to be staged by Tracy Bersley. This work was performed in Chicago and New York City in the 1920s and 1930s before dropping out of the repertoire. It is based on the famous comic strip by George Herriman, and features music by the iconoclastic American composer John Carpenter. Set in cactus-strewn Coconino County (somewhere in New Mexico), the characters include Krazy Kat, who is insanely devoted to Ignatz Mouse. The mouse does not share the amorous sentiments, preferring instead to bonk Krazy Kat on the head with a brick, which the demented feline interrupts as a sign of affection. The secondary characters include Offisa Pupp, eager to place the menacing mouse behind bars, and Joe Stork. The novelty of the comic strip resided in its surrealism, which was as much verbal as visual: the characters speak a combination of James Joyce, fake Yiddish, highborn English, and American slang. The mélange is used to support a storyline with a great deal of political, religious, and sexual symbolism.
The ballet version of the comic strip finds Krazy Kat dozing beneath a tree (a parody of the opening scene of the famous Ballets Russes ballet Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). He awakes to catch sight of an announcement for a grand ball, which he mobilizes to attend with the help of the cosmetics and clothes that Joe Stork has casually dropped off. Ignatz sneaks into the scene in disguise and presents the feline with a bouquet loaded with catnip. Intoxicated, Krazy Kat dances a number on hotfoot called “Katnip Blues” before the inevitable whack on the head and the return to the “dream” of everyday existence.
Carpenter’s score, the first orchestral work to bear the word “jazz” in its title, is of comic-book size, ideally suited for the Berlind Theater. (The one available recording is over-scaled, with too many instruments; the restored and corrected instrumentation, with just twelve strings, can easily be accommodated by the shallow pit at the front of the Berlind Theater stage.) The plethora of styles, high and low, that inform it also make it exceedingly democratic – much like the comic strip itself. The source materials for Krazy Kat, including the unrecorded original version of the score, are scattered around the country. Most of them have now been gathered together, allowing the designer to re-imagine them for the twenty-first century.
The premiere is set for April 8, and it will run for three days (four shows total).

Original post from October 22, 2009 (slightly tweaked): 

Music department professor Simon Morrison is organizing a fascinating project focused around ballets that have gone unperformed for decades. Expect to see the Princeton’s Cotsen Children’s Library and the Mendel Music Library playing key roles in exhibits and publicity for this grand fête, which promises to be quite interdisciplinary in scope. So, stay tuned!


Krazy Kat and the Toy-Box

A Berlind Theater Double Bill

 featuring John Carpenter’s surrealistic jazz pantomime
 and Claude Debussy’s rediscovered homage to childhood

Additional Dance and Music:
Table’s Clear by Paul Lansky 

The highlight of this project is a staging of the French composer Claude Debussy’s final masterpiece, the ballet The Toy-Box (La boîte à joujoux). Conceived for his daughter Emma, The Toy-Box offers a poignant look back at the composer’s favorite musical things. The work dates from 1913, and it was left partially unorchestrated at the time of Debussy’s death in 1919. A manuscript of the score survives in Moscow, where it was used as the basis of a little-known staging of the ballet in 1918 by the Moscow Chamber Theater under the direction of Alexander Tairov. The Moscow archival sources include an unknown jazz-overture to the ballet, which will be performed at Princeton for the first time outside of Russia.

The music for the ballet will be conducted by Princeton’s Anthony D. J. Branker and performed by an expanded version of our student jazz ensemble (the score includes many references to ragtime) with new choreography by Rebecca Lazier.

The Toy-Box will appear on the second half of a program featuring another short jazz-age ballet, Krazy Kat, to be staged by Tracey Bersley. This work was performed in Chicago and New York City in the 1920s and 1930s before dropping out of the repertoire. Krazy Kat is based on the famous comic strip by George Herriman and features music by the iconoclastic American composer John Carpenter. The novelty of the comic strip resided in its surrealism, which was as much verbal as visual: the characters speak a combination of James Joyce, fake Yiddish, highborn English, and American slang. This mélange is used to support a pantomime freighted with political, religious, and sexual symbolism. Carpenter’s score also parodies one of Debussy’s masterworks, the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Featuring two forgotten, misconstrued masterworks, the project will provide Princeton students an invaluable education in modernism, specifically the impact of jazz on ballet, and the polemics that distinguished Debussy and Carpenter from their German and Russian contemporaries.
The premiere is set for April 8, and performances will run for three days.

[Note: original plans to also include “Krazy Kat (Tone Poem in Slow Rhythm)” by Bix Beiderbecke were subsequently abandoned.]


So, don’t be surprised when images of Krazy Kat and French toys start appearing on the Princeton Campus this winter and spring!



Continue reading

New Search Interface and Cross-Search Options for RILM and the Music Index

We now have a new interface for The Music Index Online and RILM Abstracts of Music Literature via EBSCOhost. We have revised the links on the main library electronic resources page, the Mendel Music Library Web page, and also the Music LibGuide. There could be some now errant links out there in on other pages you might occasionally use (please report if you encounter any).

Because the Music Index and RILM now are on the same searching platform, it is easy to cross-search both databases for simultaneous searching of names and terms–thus casting a wider net, since there is a good bit of the music literature not covered by both resources. You can refine the search in either of these databases to also include the other by clicking on the "Choose Resources" link at the top of the screen. But easier is to just use this link (,uid&profile=ehost&defaultdb=mah&defaultdb=rih) – which is now also on the Mendel Web page as well as the Music LibGuide.

If you have old, book-marked links, you should change them so that they will connect to these new paths:

Music Index: (


Please note: these links only work from Princeton terminals or by using a VPM or ProxyServer connection for authorized Princeton users working from remote locations.

Savvy searchers may also note that there is a new search default on all the EBSCOhost products: "Find all my search terms" – the default used to be Boolean/Phrase, which led to all sorts of false results for those used to basic keyword searching as a default in so many commonly used search engines.

I think you will prefer the EBSCO search interface for RILM over the previous one; similarly for the Music Index–although in this case we have no option as EBSCO bought out the Music Index last week. Such is corporate life in the world of music research as well!

Happy searching,


Audio Reserves Now Available in Blackboard!

With the help of systems staff, we’ve finally been able to perform a minor (or perhaps major) Mendel miracle here — audio reserves are now available in Blackboard by clicking the Audio Reserve link within the course. There will no longer be a need for an extra password. Enrolled students (and, of course, the faculty member) can now access all print, visual, and audio reserve materials in one place for a course — and have a total picture of what is available on reserve in all formats for the course as well.
Students can access fall 2009 course reserves from the new Mendel Music Library home page in the Quick Links box.

A special thanks to Mendel’s e-reserves supervisor Dan Gallagher for shepherding this enhancement through a long path of many months to completion this week.



Noted Pianist Alfred Brendel Visits Princeton on November 9

Music Department Chair Steven Mackey has requested that I share the following announcement with the Princeton music community–which is certainly a pleasure!


Alfred Brendel Speaks on Character in Music

November 9, 2009

Cosponsored by the Spencer Trask Fund, Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of Music, Princeton University Concerts, and the Department of German

Time and Location: 8:00 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall

The lecture sets out to show that in musical performances the perception of character and atmosphere is no less important than that of form and structure. The belief that the structure of a work automatically reveals its character is a fallacy. The notion of character appears in 18th-century treatises on interpretation as well as in writing on aesthetics where it is first discussed at the time when Beethoven’s sonatas begin to appear. Czerny’s comments on Beethoven’s piano works are full of references to character. The pianist’s task becomes related to that of a character actor identifying with different roles, with an ever-widening awareness of the staggering emotional and psychological variety great music has to offer. Mr. Brendel will play a number of musical examples during the lecture.

Alfred Brendel’s place among the greatest musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries is assured. Renowned for his masterly interpretations of the works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and Liszt, he is one of the indisputable authorities in musical life today and one of the very few living pianists whose name alone guarantees a sell-out anywhere in the world he chooses to play.

To access Alfred Brendel’s recordings owned by Princeton, click here. We need to enhance our holdings of Brendel on CD–stay tuned!


Death of the Great Spanish Pianist Alicia de Larrocha

Another great icon of the music world has left us–Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha at 86. The obituary in the September 26 New York Times is here.

I remember hearing her playing solo recitals in Los Angeles in the 1970s-early 80s and was awestruck how such a diminutive performer could take total mastery of the piano and create glorious sonic worlds with works by Mompou, Albéniz, and others. To access de Larrocha’s recordings owned by Princeton, click here. We need to beef up our holdings with some recent CD reissues and later performances.


Mendel Library Acquires First CDs in Music of the Concentration Camps Set

The first six CDs in the important new release KZ Musik: Encyclopedia of Music Composed in Concentration Camps (1933-1945) are now available under the call no. CD 31800–click these links to see catalog records for each of the CDs (select long view to see full descriptive information such as the contents notes and performers) :

This series, released by Musikstrasse in Rome, Italy, and supervised by pianist, organist, and conductor Francesco Lotoro,  will comprise 24 CDs upon completion in three years and represents the most comprehensive recordings of music produced by victims of the Holocaust to date. A brief comment (by Lotoro?) on the case of each CD, with the English much edited, reads:

All the musical works originate from imprisoned composers and musicians in Aushwitz, Birkenau, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, and other concentration camps. They represent one of mankind’s most important preserved heritages of the unique history of the tragedy of the deportations and the human catastrophe of the Shoah–the remembrance as a DNA of the history.

The CD notes provide this overview:

KZ Musik is the most up-to-date and complete CD encyclopedia of musical works composed by musicians imprisoned in the camps between 1933 (when Dachau and Börgermoor operned) and 1945. These works range from operas and symphonies to chamber, instrumental and piano music, from Lieder, choral pieces and cabaret songs to jazz, religious, traditional and folk music –as well as fragments and pieces reconstructed after the end of World War II. The composers were imprisoned, deported, murdered–some even survived–but all were of different national, social and religious backgrounds. They suffered their different fates in prison, transit and labour camps, concentration and death camps, POW camps (Oflags specifically for officers, and Stalags for non-commissioned military personnel) and military prisons: during the Third Reich, in Italy, Japan and the Republic of Salò, under the Vichy regime and other Axis powers–and in Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and other Allied countries. KZ Musik is the result of the extensive musicological research carried out by Italian pianist and conductor Francesco Lotoro. Each KZ Musik CD booklet contains information about the different camps the recorded works were written in, interesting facts about the composers and their works as well as brief remarks and original language lyrics in the case of choral and vocal works.

More about this release can be found on the Musikstrasse Web site (click here). Be forewarned, however, that the English is garbled. Those who read Italian may wish to click on the Italian-language option.


Welcome to the Mendel Music Library Blog at Princeton University!

Since arriving at Princeton University on April 1 (no fooling!) as the new music librarian for the Arthur Mendel Music Library, one of my chief goals has been to set up a blog for the Mendel Music Library–often just called “Mendel.” Finally it has arrived! There are a host of reasons to publish this blog, and they will become obvious as the blog’s content develops–but its fundamental purpose, of course, is to reach out to the array of Mendel patrons (the students and faculty of the Princeton Music Department, the Princeton community at large, and the wide range of music researchers and music lovers who visit the library and use its collections) with items of interest, updates on new acquisitions, exhibits, new or recently discovered electronic resources and Web sites, research tools, sundry bits of information from hours to policies, and so forth. And, of course, to encourage feedback and comments from Mendel users on what I post here.  The Mendel Music Library staff look forward to keeping you informed and engaging in a lively dialog about issues concerning the music library and its collections!

Many thanks to Michael Muzzie, digital media consultant in the Office of Information Technology for his help in setting up this blog–and no doubt much guidance in the future.



Darwin F. Scott, Ph.D., M.L.S.
Music Librarian
Arthur Mendel Music Library
The Woolworth Center of Musical Studies
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
Phone: 609 258-4251
Fax: 609 258-6793
IM: AIM– DarwinPUL