Sunday, March 29, 2009


American merchandization and modern technology get their come-uppance in WINDMILLS OF HOLLAND (1913) by Otis M. Carrington.

Myncheer Hertogen is a rich Dutch farmer whose mill is the pride of the area. His one daughter Wilhelmina is in love with a poor songwriter named Hans, while the other daughter Hilda has the good sense to fall in love with Franz, who's the son of an equally rich farmer. Into this comes Bob Yankee, an American entrepreneur who's trying to convince Hertogenbosch to mechanize his mill and make it more profitable.

The problem with that, however, is that Hertogenbosch's employees are earnestly protective of the mill as it is right now: because of it, they have a job, sure, but it also becomes a matter of personal pride that their mill is the best in the region. So between his daughyer's romantic complications and this, poor Hertogenbosch is getting slammed on all sides.

For a piece written by an American, though, WINDMILLS isnt exactly the most complementary when it comes to its solo US character. Bob is a shyster of the first order, pretending to be anything in order to win the good graces of the farmer and, subsequently, his wife, his daughters, and Hans. When he finds out that the farmer is part of a local band, suddenly he's a volunteer bandsman too. When he thinks the way into the farmer's wallet is through his daughter, suddenly he's in love with her. And in the end, when the farm staff has told Hertogenbosch they're not letting this American screw around with their windmill, the farmer tells Bob Yankee that he's still welcome back anytime, an invitation Bob essentially snubs off as he exits in search of another gullible Dutchman while everyone else wishes continued success to the two couples and Hertogenbosch's windmill. Oh, and by the way, Hans gets a last-minute letter from a music publisher in London that's buying his songs... so now he's not poor anymore.

WINDMILLS is a pretty facile piece, but it has some great moments, mostly in the songs. For example, Wilhelmina's mother Vrouw, tries to deflect her growing infatuation with the American:

There was a wise old spider
And he made a little cider
Out of rose and violet leaves
And he set a tiny table
Just as good as he was able
'Neath some broad and shady leaves
Then he saw a fly a-flying
So he set up such a sighing
That she stopped to hear him say
"I'm so love sick and so lonely
Wont you stay and be my only
And we'll drink the hours away"

... and you can imagine the lesson coming out of that. Or Hilda and Franz's spat, sung to a terse little allegretto:

HILDA. Dont think I'll be lonely
Or that I'll be sad
Dont think I'll be grieving so

FRANZ. I'll be only happy
Gee but I'll be glad
I'll soon find another beau

HILDA. I'm so tired of seeing nobody but you
And listening to your silly prat

FRANZ. That's just the way I'm feeling too
So why not let it go at that

I mean, cant you tell these two are just made for each other?

Every year from 1912 to his retirement in 1949, Carrington wrote an annual operetta custom-order for his theatre classes at Sequoia High School in California, which allowed him to work out any problems before publishing and distributing them from his own company, Myers and Carrington. He was the first to use an "orchestra chorus": singers in the pit whose sound supports the singing onstage. WINDMILLS was his very first attempt and, while it shows a certain amateurism (Almost every song is introduced with a variation of "Here, let me sing a little something about that"), the music is simple enough for untrained voices but clever enough that it doesnt stall in repetition.


Julia said...

My grandma used to sing me songs from that play, and only after this post did I know where the songs came from! Where might one find a copy of the play to purchase?

Sean Martin said...

Thanks for commenting, Julia. Insofar as where to find the songs, you pretty much have to watch places like eBay or Abes Books (or sometimes Amazon), as those are about the only places to find these anymore. The publishers have all either discontinued them or gone out of business or merged without carrying the catalogues forward, so it's really a crap shoot more often than not.