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Musical Airs

Songs inspired by the early age of flight.

maid in the moon sheet music
(Smithsonian Institution Libraries)

The term “collector” is perhaps too mild a description for Bella C. Landauer. Born in 1875, Landauer, the daughter of a corset manufacturer and the wife of a handkerchief tycoon, avidly gathered labels and bookplates, lottery tickets and handbills, calendars and cigar labels, matchbooks and menus. Her stash of advertising ephemera alone includes 800,000 items.

One of Landauer’s most fortunate obsessions was her interest in aeronautical sheet music. The self-named “Lady Lindbergh-Landauer” first became interested in aviation when her son took up flying. Her extensive sheet music collection, numbering more than 1,200 items, was acquired by the National Air and Space Museum in 1968.

Pictured above: “The Maid in the Moon” (circa 1850), a typical mid-19th century comic song, features a balloon on its illustrated cover, along with a fantastical propellered ship. The Montgolfier brothers began their hot-air balloon experiments in Paris in 1782; some 68 years later, balloon mania was still going strong:

Of the Man in the Moon many people will tell,
But we mus’nt forget there’s a Maid there as well!
A pretty young damsel whom poets delight
To hail as “Fair Luna, The Queen of the night.”
For in truth she has charms, which tho’ oft on the wane,
Their freshness and beauty as often regain;
‘Till Earth’s fairest daughters, tho’ lovely as noon,
Are obliged to look up to the Maid of the moon.

Now, the Maid in the moon, living up in the sky;
In consequence, carries herself somewhat high;
And perhaps is addicted, a trifle or so,
To casting reflections on people below;
But she thinks mens’ politeness has come to a pass,
When at her so rudely each puts up his glass,
And she draws down her veil of thick clouds very soon,
For a modest young lass is the Maid in the Moon!

The Balloon

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(Smithsonian Institution Libraries)

In 1935, the New Yorker covered a small exhibition of Landauer’s sheet music at the Old Print Shop in New York City: “The oldest songs are mostly English, we found, and naturally they’re about balloons. The very oldest air song, published in London in 1782, is called ‘The Balloon’…. We thought the words of this insipid.” By 1908, English songwriters were scarcely more inspired, as the lyrics to “Up In My Balloon” show:

Little Bertie Van Lear says to Maudie De Vere,
I have good news I want you to share,
Now I’ve a balloon and there’s plenty of room,
So we’ll go for a ride in the air;
Do your hair in a rat, get your best sailor hat,
Be on deck, we must sail promptly at nine,
As the Captain and crew, I’ll take good care of you,
And I’ll show you a real high old time.

Little Maudie De Vere says to Bertie Van Lear,
As the big balloon slowly arose,
We’ve been courting you know now for two years or so,
And you’ve never yet tried to propose;
You’ve had me in the air, now that I’ve got you there,
You must promise that you’ll buy the ring,
If you don’t take my tip, then your airship I’ll rip,
So to no other girl you can sing.

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