Photo keepsake sign by Laurie Ehrenstein, Vienna 1893.

Photo keepsake signed by Laurie Ehrenstein, Vienna 1893.

Chasing Gringoire

In 1893 Paul Eisler was an eighteen year old Viennese who was given this photograph by none other than the young lady featured, Miss Laurie Ehrenstein. She has scrawled across the top in a combination of old German Kurrent script and modern letters with some French influence (translated by friends Zeni & Strumpf) “To Mr. Paul Eisler as a memory for our Gringoire studies together. May 1893”.

Ah, Springtime.
In Vienna.
A lovely lady singing?
A lovely lady reciting some poetry?

He held on to this photograph for another 58 years so it must have been a rather memorable study session. So what Gringoire exactly were they studying? It turns out there are at least four different candidate scenarios. If you know of another I would like to hear of it!

A) they were studying the works of the French poet Pierre Gringoire who lived and worked from about 1470 until about 1538. He wrote poems and created scathing plays about the Papacy and Rome for the French Court of Louis XII

B) they were studying the Gringoire character developed by Richard Hugo in the novel Hunchback of Notre Dame published in 1831 to popular success that has not waned

C) studying the opera created by the composer Louise Bertin in 1836 called La Esmeralda, inspired by Hugo’s novel (although the character Gringoire is not listed as a principal role)

D) studying the drama created by French playwright Théodore de Banville aptly titled Gringoire performed in 1866

I lean towards the scenarios of B or C, with C being perhaps the most logical for the young musician. Uncertainty remains though as Bertin’s opera was not well received and closed after only five performances, making it possibly an obscure piece for the young students to be studying. Then again Hugo was reported to be close friends with Berlioz and Liszt and perhaps he was still privately championing Bertin’s piece in musical circles even if it was ill received by audiences at the time. Here is a selection from Bertin’s opera, Quasimodo singing

What can we say but they made some kind of Gringoire related poetic memory for each other in the Springtime of Vienna In 1893. Perhaps they listened to some Schubert, maybe like

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