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Drouet was just 16 years old when he was appointed ‘Solo Flute’ for the King of Holland. Subsequently he was made First Flute to Napoleon 1st and Chapel master to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. Drouet also spent significant time in London where he performed often and also set up a flute manufacturing business. A review in the Morning Chronicle [29 March 29th, 1816] described the skill of Drouet’s playing as ‘astonishing’ but complained that the small core of his flute produced a sound more like that of a ‘spirit stirring fife’ than a ‘self complaining flute….the whole however is irresistibly prepossessing and was cheered by repeated acclamations’. The critic in the The Examiner newspaper [Sunday 14 April 1816] was however rather less impressed, describing Drouet’s playing as ‘decidedly vile…..the effect of his rapidity extremely unpleasant to the ear’
But Drouet’s reputation continued to soar and in 1817, when he returned to England on a packet boat with Sir George Smart and Mrs. Salmon, he shared first billing with them, being described as ‘Mr. Drouet, First Flute to the King of France’.
The address for his flute manufacturing business was No.23 Conduit street, London. An advertisement in the Morning Post [March 21st 1817] stated ‘Mr. Drouet has the honour to acquaint the public that he has now on sale some beautiful toned instruments, made under his immediate direction, which he flatters himself will be found unrivalled for brilliancy and elegance.’ Unfortunately, however it seems that trust was not part of his working environment in London and within eighteen months, Drouet was declared a bankrupt having been swindled by one of his workers. But his father came to the rescue and soon the young man was back in business with another licence to trade:
Morning Chronicle -Tuesday December 8th 1818
‘Mr. LOUIS DROUET senior, respectfully acquaints the Public that he CONTINUES the BUSINESS lately carried on by his Son, who has lately returned from the Continent, at no. 358 Oxford street, where DROUET’S FLUTES and MUSIC CONTINUE to be SOLD as usual. Mr. Drouet takes this opportunity of informing the Public, that no Flutes of the manufacture of his Son, nor any of his compositions, are to be had elsewhere; and that to prevent the possibility of fraud upon a public which has bestowed such distinguished approbation on the works of his Son, all the Flutes of his manufacture will be accompanied by a Certificate, signed by himself, in red ink; the Music also will be accompanied by similar signature. The above precautions have become necessary, because a person lately in the employ of Mr. Drouet junior, has, during his absence, possessed himself of nearly 400 flutes of Drouet’s make in an unfinished state, as well as some certificates written in black ink, together with a quantity of imperfect music. The public will therefore be pleased to observe, that Drouet’s Flutes and Music are to be had only at 358 Oxford street; and that neither Flutes or Music are genuine unless signed or accompanied with a certificate by Mr. Drouet junior himself in red ink’.
Another newspaper report stated that London was at that time flooded with so-called Drouet flutes, but that in reality there was scarcely a genuine one to be had.
Nevertheless, Drouet’s reputation continued unabashed, for he was called the Paganini of the flute and was always much in demand as a player. A review in The Herald [1829] described how he ‘performed some variations on an air of Weber’s, likewise composed by himself, in which he surpassed even his former performance of the concerto, fugue succeeding fugue and stacato stacatos in endless variety till, as a celebrated poet expressed it, the theme dissolved in an ocean of harmony without however ceasing to imitate the original air.’ The over elaborate style of this review was rather amusingly ridiculed a few days later in the Harmonicon by the writer of the “Diary of a Dilettante” who summed up his scathingly ironical retort with the words “But this is an age of wonders, and the musical critic in The Herald, is the wonderful wonder of wonders.”
Hector Berlioz was starting to write musical criticisms around this time and he revealed his respect for Drouet when he wrote in his memoirs: “bientôt je fus un lecteur intrépide, un assez agréable chanteur, et je jouai sur la flûte les concertos de Drouet les plus compliqués”. “I was soon an intrepid performer, a pretty reasonable singer and I played the most difficult flute concertos by Drouet”
When Felix Mendelssohn was in London, he and Drouet both performed in several of the same concerts including one given by Mlle. Sontag at the Argyll Rooms for the ‘benefit of sufferer’s by the inundations in Silesia’. Tickets were half a guinea each, a dozen British and foreign Royals patronised the occasion and the Morning Post of 14 July 1829 reported that. “Nearly an hour before the commencement, upper Regent St was thronged with carriages, and in a short time the assembled company became more numerous than the room could accommodate. Upwards of 50 ladies honoured the musicians with their company” I have to confess to being somewhat amused, or maybe just aggrieved(?), by the notion of ladies ‘honouring’ the musicians by their presence!
Was it honour, trust or respect that encouraged another Royal, namely Queen Hortense de Beauharnais, to pass off a composition by Drouet as her own work? Did she feel she honoured him in this manner? If you read sources including Wikipedia you will see that Hortense is accredited with composing a rousing march for the army. However various other sources give the lie to this including the Grantham Journal [15 November 1873]
“the Musical Standard gives currency to a statement that the late Louis Drouet was the real composer of ‘Partant pour la Syrie’ which is usually attributed to Queen Hortense.”
We live in difficult times for the Arts, let us hope that patronage does not reduce musicians once again to the rank of servant. And may the days be full of students and teachers who trust and respect each other.
©Roz Trubger 2015