Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Partant pour la Syrie" (Going to Syria)

Originally written as a love song, the melody was attributed to Hortense de Beauharnais, queen of the Netherlands and mother of Emperor Napoleon III, the French ruler of this time, but musicologist Arthur Pougin determined the true author of the melody was Louis-François-Philippe Drouet, flutist at the court of Louis king de Hollande, although it was a favourite of Queen Hortense. The words were written by Alexandre de Laborde.

The song was a favourite of the Bonapartists during the times before the Second Empire (when this was used as the anthem), and was also popular during the First Empire. The song was so prevalent during the days of the second Empire, it became known as the national anthem (and is still popular with French soldiers today). It was in use from 1852 t0 1870.

Drouet, Louis Francois Philippe, the famous flute virtuoso, was born in Amsterdam in 1792. his father, a refugee, left France, of which country he was native, because of the turmoil occasioned by the Revolution. As a child Drouet was regarded as a flute-playing prodigy. He appears to have been self-taught. It is stated that his serious study of the flute began in 1807 after a great success at a concert of Rode’s in Amsterdam. As early as 1808, when only sixteen years of age, he received an appointment as solo flutist to the King of Holland; three years later he accepted an invitation from Napoleon I to become Imperial Court Flutist at Paris.

He soon acquired continental celebrity status and made many successful concert journeys through Europe. Although the tone he produced was not large, his general technic was excellent and his double-tonguing remarkably brilliant and characteristic.

In 1815 he came to London and established a flute-making business. This he carried on until 1819 when it was given up owing, it has been stated, to the number of bogus “Drouet” flutes put upon the market by trade rivals.

Drouet made his first appearance at the Philharmonic, London, on March 25, 1816. he played at other places in the British capital in 1817, 1829, 1830 and 1832. The 1829 visit was made in company with Mendelssohn who joined the flutist in the concert venture. The first appearance of this celebrity in London was made in 1841-1842, at Buckingham Palace, on which occasion he played before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

During his active career as a flute virtuoso Drouet was responsible for a vast amount of flute music – concertos, fantasias, studies, duets, trios, etc., etc. His Robin Adair, God Save the Queen, and Rule Britannia enjoyed wide popularity. It is stated that he assisted Queen Hortense in composing the music to the song Partant pour la Syrie. Captain Gordon (he of the Boehm – Gordon controversy) and the King of Holland were two of his pupils.

In 1836 in succession to Kaspard Kummer, he became Chapel Master to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and thenceforth his wandering about Europe was restricted. For years little was heard from him outside of Germany. He did not adopt the Boehm flute, indeed, it has often been said that he was opposed to its use, but no evidence has yet been adduced to prove this. On the contrary, as may be seen hereunder, when he became acquainted with the Boehm he was most favourably impressed with its value as a musical instrument.

Next: French anthem in use (1795, abolished 1799, restored 1870)

The first day cover above features Francois Drouet, issued on February 26, 1989, to commemorate the French Revolution.