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Barrel organs of Paris Options
Parpar1836
Posted: Saturday, May 12, 2018 10:38:42 PM
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Decades ago, I listened to the first of a set of records designed to teach yourself French—which included a native French-speaking woman (who, of course, spoke English too) guiding a novice (an American man) through the streets and vocabulary of Paris, teaching him in a companionable way. (I'm not sure if my father had the complete set or just the first record. I think they were 33-1/3 rpm LPs.) There were snippets of appropriate background sounds. The part I remember most vividly is when the pair encounters a barrel organ (a distinctive street instrument of Paris; it sounded rather like an accordion to me) on a Parisian street. Just after and the man asks what that is, there's a bit of delightful allegro music—I still remember the melody. The guide replies, "The bizet?" At least that's what it sounded like to me. It was a short word of two syllables. I played and replayed this segment, trying to get the word right, but I was left puzzled.

When I checked Google Translate and James Boielle's 1913 French and English Dictionary (posted online at archive,org), I found several possible translations of hurdy-gurdy, barrel organ, and street organ in French. I found orgue à manivelle, orgue de rue (street organ), orgue de Barbarie (barrel organ), vielle à roue (hurdy-gurdy), and orgue de fête (fairground organ) . . . none of which sound like bizet.

So I figured I'd post a query here.
IMcRout
Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2018 1:31:32 AM

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Could it be that she was talking of the composer of the piece they were hearing?
George Bizet wrote a number of catchy songs in his operas (Carmen) or in L'Arlésienne.
Either the guide or you may have misunderstood the question.

I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger. (Anon)
Parpar1836
Posted: Monday, May 14, 2018 9:42:32 PM
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My recollection was that the guide wasn't talking about the composer, but about the instrument. The American "tourist" is curious about the street music, the barrel organ (or whatever) that's playing merrily, and she tells him what it is. The music fades as the two presumably pass out of range.
leonAzul
Posted: Monday, May 28, 2018 2:27:20 AM

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Parpar1836 wrote:
My recollection was that the guide wasn't talking about the composer, but about the instrument. The American "tourist" is curious about the street music, the barrel organ (or whatever) that's playing merrily, and she tells him what it is. The music fades as the two presumably pass out of range.


I'm in agreement with IMcRout that "Bizet" is the most likely word, and that this is intended to be humorous.

Another word I can think of that sounds similar is «musette», a more gentil species of bagpipe that is also typically French.

If you had some way of sharing a sound clip, that would be helpful.

As always, yours Fauré song,

lA

Whistle

"Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit," he whispered. "Make it go away. It's evil."
Parpar1836
Posted: Monday, May 28, 2018 6:52:00 PM
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Location: Rochester, New York, United States
I'd love to, but I no longer know if that particular record exists. I cleared out my parents' apartment four years ago, and took a couple of records—I think they were already in my room. My brother came by and took every single record that was in the attic. I organized those by name before he did; I didn't see the French tutorial. "Bizet" or "musette" are both possible.

I'm sure that this was a physical LP, and not a tape.

Also . . . would a "musette" refer to a keyboard instrument? Or jut a bagpipe-type instrument? The bit of music on the record didn't sound at all as if it came from a bagpipe. Closer to an accordion.

Merci beaucoup!
SandraM
Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 4:17:27 AM
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Hi there Parpar,
Musette in that context would be more likely to refer to the genre or style of music than to the musical instrument itself. Musette as a musical style would involve a lot of accordion, as it is the type of popular music played on the streets and popular dancehalls (called "bal musette"), in Paris and in other French cities during the 20th century. See a bit more about it here Bal-musette.
Good luck on your musical and linguistic quest!
Sandra
leonAzul
Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 4:21:41 AM

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Parpar1836 wrote:

Also . . . would a "musette" refer to a keyboard instrument? Or jut a bagpipe-type instrument? The bit of music on the record didn't sound at all as if it came from a bagpipe. Closer to an accordion.

Merci beaucoup!


The accordion and musette are both reed instruments, and they can sound very similar, yet I agree that an accordion playing an air by Bizet is the most likely answer.

A hurdy-gurdy or street organ, however, is actually a string instrument with a sound that is quite distinctive. It uses a wooden wheel to rub the strings instead of a tensioned bow like a modern violin.

"Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit," he whispered. "Make it go away. It's evil."
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