The French Opera Before And After The Revolution


A complete history of the French Opera would include something like a

history of French society, if not of France generally. It would, at

least, show the effect of the great political changes which the country

has undergone, and would remind us here and there of her celebrated

victories, and occasionally even of her reverses. Under the despotism,

we have seen h
w a simple lettre de cachet sufficed to condemn an

abbé with a good voice, or a young girl with a pretty face, to the

Opera, just as a person obnoxious to the state or to any very

influential personage was sent to the Bastille. During the Regency, half

the audience at the Opera went there drunk; and almost until the period

of the Revolution the abbés, the mousquetaires, and the grands

seigneurs, quarrelled, fought, and behaved in many respects as if the

theatre were, not their own private house, but their own particular

tap-room. Music profited by the Revolution, in so far that the

privileges of the Académie were abolished, and, as a natural

consequence, a number of new musical works produced at a variety of

theatres which would otherwise never have seen the light; but the

position of singers and dancers was by no means a pleasant one under the

Convention, and the tyranny of the republican chiefs was far more

oppressive, and of a more brutal kind, than any that had been exercised

at the Académie in the days of the monarchy. The disobedient daughters,

whose admirers got them "inscribed" on the books of the Opera so as to

free them from parental control, would, under another system, have run

away from home. No one, in practice, was injured very much by the

regulation, scandalous and immoral as it undoubtedly was; for, before

the name was put down, all the harm, in most cases, was already done.

Sophie Arnould, it is true, is said to have been registered at the Opera

without the consent of her mother, and, what seems very

extraordinary--not at the suggestion of a lover; but Madame Arnould was

quite reconciled to her daughter's being upon the stage before she

eloped with the Count de Lauragais. To put the case briefly: the

académiciens (and above all, the académiciennes) in the immoral

atmosphere of the court, were fêted, flattered, and grew rich, though,

owing to their boundless extravagance, they often died poor: whereas,

during the republic, they met with neither sympathy nor respect, and in

the worst days of the Convention lived, in a more literal sense than

would be readily imagined, almost beneath the shadow of the guillotine.

In favour of the old French society, when it was at its very worst, that

is to say, during the reign of Louis XV., it may be mentioned that the

king's mistresses did not venture to brave general opinion, so far as to

present themselves publicly at the Opera. Madame Dubarry announced more

than once that she intended to visit the Académie, and went so far as to

take boxes for herself and suite, but at the last moment her courage (if

courage and not shamelessness be the proper word) failed her, and she

stayed away. On the other hand, towards the end of this reign, the

licentiousness of the court had become so great, that brevets,

conferring the rights and privileges of married ladies on ladies

unmarried, were introduced. Any young girl who held a "brevet de dame"

could present herself at the Opera, which etiquette would otherwise have

rendered impossible. "The number of these brevets," says Bachaumont,

"increased prodigiously under Louis XVI., and very young persons have

been known to obtain them. Freed thus from the modesty, simplicity, and

retirement of the virginal state, they give themselves up with impunity

to all sorts of scandals. * * * Such disorder has opened the eyes of the

government; and this prince, the friend of decency and morality, has at

last shown himself very particular on the subject. It is now only by the

greatest favour that one of these brevets can be obtained."[66]


No brevets were required of the fishwomen and charcoal men of Paris,

who, on certain fêtes, such as the Sovereign's birth day, were always

present at the gratuitous performances given at the Opera. On these

occasions the balcony was always reserved for them, the charbonniers

being placed on the king's side, the poissardes on the queen's. At the

close of the representation the performers invited their favoured guests

on to the stage, the orchestra played the airs from some popular ballet,

and a grand ball took place, in which the charbonniers chose their

partners from among the operatic danseuses, while the poissardes

gave their hands to Vestris, Dauberval, &c.

* * * * *

During Passion week and Easter, the Opera was shut, but the great

operatic vocalists could be heard elsewhere, either at the Jesuits'

church or at the Abbaye of Longchamp, to which latter establishment it

is generally imagined that the Parisian public used to be attracted by

the singing of the nuns. What is far more extraordinary is, that the

Parisians always laboured under that delusion themselves. "The

Parisians," says M. Castil Blaze, in his "History of the Grand Opera,"

"always such fine connoisseurs in music, never penetrated the mystery of

this incognito. The railing and the green curtain, behind which the

voices were concealed, sufficed to render the singers unrecognisable to

the dilettanti who heard them constantly at the opera."

Adjoining the Jesuits' church was a theatre, also belonging to the

Jesuits, for which, between the years 1659 and 1761, eighty pieces of

various kinds, including tragedies, operas and ballets, were written.

Some of these productions were in Latin, some in French, some in Latin

and French together. The virtuosi of the Académie used to perform in

them and afterwards proceed to the church to sing motets. "This church

is so much the church of the Opera," says Freneuse, "that those who do

not go to one console themselves by attending vespers at the other,

where they find the same thing at less cost." He adds, that "an actor

newly engaged, would not think himself fully recognised unless asked to

sing for the Jesuits." As for the actresses, "in their honor the price

which would be given at the door of the opera is given for a chair in

the church. People look out for Urgande, Arcabonne, Armide, and applaud

them. (I have seen them applaud la Moreau and la Chérat, at the midnight

mass.) These performances replace those which are suspended at the


* * * * *


There would be no end to this chapter (and many persons would think it

better not written) if I were to enter into details on the subject of

the relations between the singers and dancers of the Académie, and the

Grands Seigneurs of the period. I may observe, however, that the latter

appear to have been far more generous, without being more vicious, and

that they seem to have lived in better taste than their modern

imitators, who usually ruin themselves by means of race-horses, or, in

France, on the Stock Exchange. The Count de Lauragais paid an immense

sum to the directors of the Académie, to compensate them for abolishing

the seats on the stage (probably impertinent visitors used to annoy him

by staring at Sophie Arnould); the Duke de Bouillon spent nine hundred

thousand livres on Mademoiselle la Guerre (Gluck's Iphigénie); the

Prince de Soubise nearly as much on Mademoiselle Guimard--who at least

gave a portion of it away in charity, and who, as we have seen, was an

intelligent patroness of David, the painter.

When the Prince de Guéméné became insolvent, the Prince de Soubise, his

father-in-law, ceased to attend the Opera. There were three thousand

creditors, and the debts amounted to forty million livres. The heads of

the family felt called upon to make a sacrifice, and the Prince de

Soubise was no longer in a position to give petits soupers to his

protégées at the Académie. Under these circumstances, the "ladies of

the ballet" assembled in the dressing-room of Mademoiselle Guimard,

their chief, and prepared the following touching, and really very

becoming letter, to their embarrassed patron:--


"Accustomed to see you amongst us at the representations at the

Lyrical Theatre, we have observed with the most bitter regret that

you not only tear yourself away from the pleasures of the

performance, but also that none of us are now invited to the little

suppers you used so frequently to give, in which we had turn by

turn the happiness of interesting you. Report has only too well

informed us of the cause of your seclusion, and of your just grief.

Hitherto we have feared to importune you, allowing sensibility to

give way to respect. We should not dare, even now, to break

silence, without the pressing motive to which our delicacy is

unable any longer to resist.

"We had flattered ourselves, Monseigneur, that the Prince de

Guéméné's bankruptcy, to employ an expression which is re-echoed in

the foyers, the clubs, the newspapers of France, and all Europe,

would not be so considerable, so enormous, as was announced; and,

above all, that the wise precautions taken by the King to assure

the claimants the amount of their debts, and to avoid expenses and

depredations more fatal even than the insolvency itself, would not

disappoint the general expectation. But affairs are doubtless in

such disorder, that there is now no hope. We judge of it by the

generous sacrifices to which the heads of your illustrious house,

following your example, have resigned themselves. We should think

ourselves guilty of ingratitude, Monseigneur, if we were not to

imitate you in seconding your humanity, and if we were not to

return you the pensions which your munificence has lavished upon

us. Apply these revenues, Monseigneur, to the consolation of so

many retired officers, so many poor men of letters, so many

unfortunate servants whom M. le Prince de Guéméné drags into ruin

with him.

"As for us, we have other resources: and we shall have lost

nothing, Monseigneur, if we preserve your esteem. We shall even

have gained, if, by refusing your gifts now, we force our

detractors to agree that we were not unworthy of them. "We are,

with profound respect,


"Your most Serene Highness's very humble and

"devoted Servants,


With twenty other names.


Auguste Vestris spent and owed a great deal of money; the father

honoured the engagements of the young dancer, but threatened him with

imprisonment if he did not alter his conduct, and concluded by

saying:--"Understand, Sir, that I will have no Guéméné in my family."

Although ballet dancers were important persons in those days, they were

as nothing compared to the institution to which they belonged. Figaro,

in his celebrated soliloquy, observes, with reference to the great

liberty of the press accorded by the government, that provided he does

not speak of a great many very different things, among which the Opera

is included, he is at liberty to publish whatever he likes "under the

inspection of three or four censors." Beaumarchais was more serious

than would be generally supposed, in including the Opera among the

subjects which a writer dared not touch upon, or, if so, only with the

greatest respect. Rousseau tells us in more than one place, that it was

considered dangerous to say anything against the Opera; and Mademoiselle

Théodore (the interesting danseuse before-mentioned, who consulted the

fantastic moralist on the conduct she ought to pursue as a member of the

ballet), was actually imprisoned, and exiled from Paris for eighteen

days, because she had ventured to ridicule the management of the

Académie, in some letters addressed to a private friend. The author of

the Nouvelle Héloise should have warned her to be more careful.

* * * * *


On the 12th July, 1789, the bills were torn down from the doors of the

Opera. The Parisians were about to take the Bastille. Having taken it,

they allowed the Académie to continue its performance, and it re-opened

on the 21st of the same month. In Warsaw, during the "demonstrations" of

last March, the Opera was closed. It remains closed now[67] (end of

November), and will re-open--neither Russians nor Poles can say when! No

one tears the bills down, because no one thinks of putting them up; it

being perfectly understood by the administration, (which is a department

of the Government), that the Warsaw public are not disposed at present

for amusement of any kind.

* * * * *

In 1789, the revolutionary spirit manifested itself among the company

engaged at the French Opera. An anonymous letter--or rather a letter in

the name of all the company, printed, but not signed--was addressed to

the administration of the theatre. It pointed out a number of abuses,

and bore this epigraph, strongly redolent of the period: "Tu dors

Brutus, et Rome est dans les fers!"

In 1790 the city of Paris assumed once more the management of the

Académie, the artistic direction being entrusted to a committee composed

of the chiefs of the various departments, and of the principal singers

and dancers. One of the novelties produced was a "melodrama founded on

passages from the Scriptures," called "The Taking of the Bastille,"

written specially for Notre Dame, where it was performed for the first

time, and where it was followed by a grand Te Deum. In this Te Deum

few of the lovers of the Opera could have joined, for one of the first

effects of the revolution was naturally to drive the best singers and

dancers away from Paris. Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells us that Mademoiselle

Guimard was dancing in London in 1789. Madame Huberti, who was, by all

accounts, the best singer the French had ever heard at the Académie,

left Paris early in 1790.

We know how injurious a distant war, a dissolution of parliament, a

death in the royal family are to the fortunes of an operatic season in

London. Fancy what must have been the effect of the French revolution on

the Académie after 1789! The subscription list for boxes showed, in a

few years, a diminution of from 475,000 livres to 000,000! Some of the

subscribers had gone into exile, more or less voluntary, some had been

banished, others had been guillotined. M. Castil Blaze, from whose

interesting works I have obtained a great number of particulars

concerning the French Opera at the time of the revolution, tells us that

the Queen used to pay 7,000 livres for her box. The Duke d'Orléans paid

7,000 for his own private box, and joined the Duke de Choiseul and

Necker in a subscription of 3,200 francs for another. The Princess de

Lamballe and Madame de Genlis gave 3,600 francs for a "post chaise;"

(there were other boxes, called "spittoons"--the baignoires of the

present day--"cymbals," &c.; names which they evidently owed to their

position and form). On the other hand, there were 288 free admissions,

of which, thirty-two were given to authors, and eight to newspapers--La

Gazette de France, Le Journal de Paris, and Le Mercure. The

remaining 248 were reserved for the Hôtel de Ville, the King's

Household, the actors of the Comédie Française, and the singers and

dancers of the Opera itself.

* * * * *


The howling of the ça ira put an end for ever to the Concert

Spirituel, where the Parisians for nearly eighty years had been in the

habit of hearing excellent instrumental soloists, and some of the best

of the Italian singers, when there was as yet no Italian Opera in Paris.

The last concert spirituel took place at the theatre of the Tuileries

in 1791.

Louis XVI. and his family fled from Paris on the 28th June, 1791. The

next day, and before the king was brought back to the Tuileries, the

title of the chief lyric theatre was changed, and from the "Académie

Royale" became simply the "Opera." At the same time the custom was

introduced of announcing the performers' names, which was evidently an

advantage for the public, and which was also not without its benefit,

for the inferior singers and dancers who, when they unexpectedly made

their appearance to replace their betters, used often to get hissed in a

manner which their own simple want of merit scarcely justified. "Est ce

que je savais qu'on làcherait le Ponthieu?" exclaimed an unhappy

ticket-seller one evening, when an indignant amateur rushed out of the

theatre and began to cane the recipient of his ill-spent money. We may

fancy how Ponthieu himself must have been received inside the house.

* * * * *


By an order of the Committee of Public Safety, dated the 16th of the

September following, the title of the Opera was again changed to

Académie Royale de Musique. This was intended as a compliment to the

king, who had signed the Constitution on the 14th, and who was to go to

the Opera six days afterwards. On the 20th the royal visit took place.

"Castor and Pollux was played," says M. Castil Blaze, "and not

Iphigénie en Aulide, as is asserted by some ill-informed historians,

who even go so far as to pretend that the chorus Chantons, célébrons

notre reine was, as on another occasion, hailed with transports of

enthusiasm, and that the public called for it a second time. The house

was well filled, but not crammed[68] (comble), as is proved by the

amount of the receipts--6,686 livres, 15 sous. The same opera of

Rameau's, vamped by Candeille, had produced 6,857 livres on the 14th of

the preceding June. The representation of Castor and Pollux in

presence of the royal family took place on Tuesday the 20th September,

and not on the 21st, the Wednesday, at that time, not being an opera

night. On the 19th, Monday, the people had assisted at a special

performance of the same work given, gratuitously, in honour of the

Constitution. The Royalists were present in great numbers at the

representation of the 20th September, and some lines which could be

applied to the Queen were loudly applauded. Marie-Antoinette was

delighted, and said to the ladies who accompanied her, "You see that the

people is really good, and wishes only to love us." Encouraged by so

flattering a reception, she determined to go the next night to the

Opéra Comique, but the king refused to accompany her. The piece

performed was Les Evénements imprévus. In the duet of the second act,

before singing the words "Ah comme j'aime ma maitresse" Madame Dugazon

looked towards the Queen, when a number of voices cried out from the

pit, Plus de maitresse! Plus de maitre! Vive la liberté! This cry was

answered from the boxes with Vive la reine! Vive le roi! Sabres and

sword-sticks were drawn, and a battle began.


The Queen escaped from the theatre in the midst of the tumult. Cries of

à bas la reine! followed her to her carriage, which went off at a

gallop, with mud and stones thrown after it. Marie Antoinette returned

to the Tuileries in despair. On the first of October, fourteen days

afterwards, the title of Opéra National was substituted for that of

Académie Royale de Musique. The Constitution being signed, there was

no longer any reason for being civil to Louis XVI. This was the third

change of title in less than four months. The majority of the buffoons,

(M. Castil Blaze still speaks), "who now write histories more or less

Girondist, or romantic of the French Revolution, do not take the trouble

to verify their facts and dates. I have told you simply that the

dauphiness Marie Antoinette made her first appearance at the Opera on

the 16th June, 1773, in company with her husband. Others, more ingenious

no doubt, substitute the 21st January for the 16th June, in order to

establish a sort of fatality by connecting days, months and years. To

prophecy after the event is only too easy, above all, if you take the

liberty of advancing by five months, the day which it is desired to

render fatal. These same buffoons, (says M. Castil Blaze), who now go to

the Opera on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, sometimes on Sunday, think

people have done the same for the last two centuries. As they have not

the slightest suspicion that the evenings of performance at the Académie

Royale were changed in 1817, we find them maundering, paddling,

splashing about, and finally altering figures and days, in order to make

the events of the last century accord with the dates of our own epoch.

That is why we are told that the Royal Family went for the last time to

this theatre on Wednesday, the 21st September, 1791, instead of Tuesday,

the 20th. Indeed how is it possible to go to the Opera on a Tuesday?

That is why it is stated with the most laughable aplomb, that on the

21st October, 1793, Roland was performed, and on the 16th of October

following, the Siege of Thionville, the Offering to Liberty, and the

ballet of Telemachus. Each of these history-writing novelists fills or

empties the house according to his political opinions; applauds the

French people or deplores its blindness; but all the liberalism or

sentiment manufactured by them is thrown away. Monday, the 21st of

January, Wednesday the 16th of October, 1793, not being opera nights at

that time, the Opera did not on those evenings throw open its doors to

the public. On Tuesday, the 22nd of January, the day after the death of

Louie XVI., Roland was represented; the amount of the receipts, 492

livres, 8 sous, proves that the house was empty. No free admissions were

given then. On Tuesday, October the 15th, 1793, the eve of the execution

of Marie Antoinette, the Siege of Thionville, the Offering to

Liberty, Telemachus, in which "la Citoyenne Perignon" was to

appear--a forced performance--only produced 3,251 livres. On Friday, the

18th of October, the next day but one after this horrible catastrophe,

Armide and the Offering to Liberty--a forced performance and

something more--produced 2,641 livres, which would have filled about a

third of the house."[69]

The 10th August, 1792, was the last day of the French monarchy. On the

Sunday previous, during the Vespers said at the Chapel of the Tuileries

in presence of the king, the singers with one accord tripled the sound

of their voices when they came to the following verse in the

Magnificat: Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.

Indignant at their audacity, the royalists thundered forth the Domine

salvum fac regem, adding these words with increased energy and

enthusiasm, et reginam! The greatest excitement and agitation

prevailed in the Chapel during the rest of the service.

To conclude the list of musical performances which have derived a gloomy

celebrity from their connexion with the last days of Louis XVI., I may

reproduce the programme issued by the directors of the Opéra National,

on the first anniversary of his execution, 21st January, 1794.



In joyful commemoration of the Death of the Tyrant,







The Opera under the Republic was directed, until 1792, by four

distinguished sans culottes--Henriot, Chaumette, Le Rouxand Hébert,

the last named of whom had once been check-taker at the Académie! The

others know nothing whatever of operatic affairs. The management of the

theatre was afterwards transferred to Francoeur, one of the former

directors, associated with Cellérier, an architect; but the dethroned

impresarii, accompanied by Danton and other republican amateurs,

constantly made their appearance behind the scenes, and very frequently

did the chief members of the company the honour of supping with them. In

these cases the invitations, as under the ancient régime, proceeded, not

from the artists, but from the artists' patrons; with this difference,

however, that under the republic, the latter never paid the bill. There

was no Duke de Bouillon now testifying his admiration of the vocal art

to the tune of 900,000 francs;[70] there was no Prince de Soubise, to

receive from the united ballet letters of condolence, thanks, and

proposed pecuniary assistance; and if there had been such an

impossible phenomenon as a Count de Lauragais, what, I wonder, would he

not have given to have been able to clear the coulisses of such

abominable intruders as the before named republican chiefs? "The chiefs

of the republic, one and indivisible," says M. Castil Blaze, "were very

fond of moistening their throats. Henriot, Danton, Hébert, Le Roux,

Chaumette, had hardly taken a turn in the coulisses or in the foyer,

before they said to such an actor or actress: We are going to your room,

see that we are received properly." A superb collation was brought in.

When the repast was finished and the bottles were empty, the national

convention, the commune of Paris beat a retreat without troubling

itself about the expense. You think, perhaps, that the dancer or the

singer paid for the representatives of the people? Not at all; honest

Mangin, who kept the refreshment room of the theatre, knew perfectly

well that the actors of the Opera were not paid, that they had no sort

of money, not even a rag of an assignat; he made a sacrifice; from

delicacy he did not ask from the artists what he would not have dared to

claim from the sans culottes for fear of the guillotine."

* * * * *

Sometimes the executioner, who, as a public official, had a right to his

entrées, made his appearance behind the scenes, and it is said that in a

facetious mood, he would sometimes express his opinion about the

"execution" of the music. So, I am told, the London hangman went one

night to the pit of Her Majesty's Theatre to hear Jenny Lind, and on

seeing the Swedish nightingale, exclaimed, breathless with admiration

and excitement, "What a throat to scrag!"

* * * * *


Operatic kings and queens were suppressed by the republic. Not only were

they forbidden to appear on the stage, but even their names were not to

be pronounced behind the scenes, and the expressions côté du roi,

côté de la reine, were changed into côté jardin, côté cour, which

at the theatre of the Tuileries indicated respectively the left and

right of the stage, from the stage point of view. At first all pieces in

which kings and queens appeared, were prohibited, but the dramas of

sans culottes origin were so stupid and disgusting, that the republic

was absolutely obliged to return to the old monarchical répertoire.

The kings, however, were turned into chiefs; princes and dukes became

representatives of the people; seigneurs subsided into mayors; and

substitutes more or less synonymous, were found for such offensive words

as crown, throne, sceptre, &c. In a new republican version of a lyrical

work represented at the Opera Comique, le roi in one well known line

was replaced by la loi, and the vocalist had to declaim La loi

passait, et le tambour battait aux champs. A certain voluble executant,

however, is said to have preferred the following emendation: Le pouvoir

exécutif passait, et le tambour battait aux champs.

The scenes of most of the new operas were laid in Italy, Prussia,

Portugal,--anywhere but in France, where it would have been

indispensable, from a political, and impossible from a poetical, point

of view to make the lovers address one another as citoyen,


* * * * *

On the 19th of June, 1793, the directors of the Opera having objected to

give a gratuitous performance of The Siege of Thionville, the commune

of Paris issued the following edict:

"Considering that for a long time past the aristocracy has taken refuge

in the administration of various theatres;

"Considering that these gentlemen corrupt the public mind by the pieces

they represent;

"Considering that they exercise a fatal influence on the revolution;

It is decreed that the Siege of Thionville shall be represented gratis

and solely for the amusement of the sans culottes, who, to this moment

have been the true defenders of liberty and supporters of democracy."

Soon afterwards it was proposed to shut up the Opera, but Hébert, the

ferocious Hébert, better known as le père Duchèsne, undertook its

defence on the ground that it procured subsistence for a number of

families, and "caused the agreeable arts to flourish."

It was thereupon resolved "that the Opera should be encouraged and

defended against its enemies." At the same time the managers Cellérier

and Francoeur were arrested as suspects. Neither of them was


* * * * *


The Opera was now once more placed under the direction of a committee

chosen from among the singers and dancers, who were selected this time,

not by reason of their artistic merit, but solely with reference to

their political principles. Lays, one of the chief managers, was a

furious democrat, and on one occasion insisted on Mademoiselle Maillard

(Gluck's "Armida!") appearing in a procession as the Goddess of Reason.

Mademoiselle Maillard having refused, Chaumette was appealed to. The

arguments he employed were simple but convincing. "Well, citoyenne,"

he said, "since you refuse to be a divinity, you must not be astonished

if we treat you as a mortal." Fortunately for the poor prima donna,

Mormoro, a member of the Commune of Paris, and a raging "Maratiste"

(which has not quite the same meaning now as in the days of the

"Todistes") claimed the obnoxious part for his unhappy wife. The

beautiful Madame Mormoro was forced to appear in the streets of Paris in

the light and airy costume of an antique Goddess, with the thermometer

at twenty degrees below freezing point! "Reason" not unreasonably wept

with annoyance throughout the ceremony.

* * * * *

Léonard Bourdon, called by those who knew him Léopard Bourdon, used

all his influence, as a distinguished member of the Mountain, to get a

work he had prepared for the Opera produced. His piece was called the

Tomb of the Impostors, or the Inauguration of the Temple of Truth.

It was printed at the expense of the Republic, but never brought out. In

the first scene the stage represents a church, built with human skulls.

In the sanctuary there is to be a fountain of blood. A woman enters to

confess, the priest behaves atrociously in the confessional, &c., &c.

The scenes and incidents throughout the drama are all in the same style,

and the whole is dedicated in an uncomplimentary epistle to the Pope.

Léopard tormented the directors actors, and actresses, night and day, to

produce his master-piece, and threatened, that if they were not quick

about it, he would have a guillotine erected on the stage.

This threat was not quite so vain as it might seem. A list of twenty-two

persons engaged at the Opera (twenty-two--the fatal number during the

Reign of Terror), had been already drawn up by Hébert, as a sort of

executioner's memorandum. When he was in a good humour he would show it

to the singers and dancers, and say to them with easy familiarity; "I

shall have to send you all to the guillotine some day. Two reasons have

prevented me hitherto; in the first place you are not worth the trouble,

in the second I want you for my amusement." These reasons were not

considered quite satisfactory by the proscribed artists, and Beaupré, a

comic dancer of great talent, contrived by various humorous stratagems

(one of which, and doubtless the most readily forgiven, consisted in

intoxicating Hébert), to gain possession of the fatal list; but the day

afterwards the republican dilettante was always sufficiently recovered

from the effects of his excessive potations to draw up another one

exactly like it.

* * * * *


At the head of the catalogue of suspected ones figured the name of

Lainez, whom the republicans could not pardon for the energy and

expression with which he had sung the air Chantez, célébrez votre

reine, at the last performances of Iphigénie en Aulide; and that of

Mademoiselle Maillard, whose crime has been already mentioned. At this

period it was dangerous not only to sing the words, but even to hum or

whistle the music of such airs as the aforesaid Chantez, célébrez votre

reine, O Richard o mon roi! Charmante Gabrielle, and many others,

among which may be mentioned Pauvre Jacques--an adaptation of Dibdin's

Poor Jack, in which allusions had been discovered to the fate of Louis

XVI. Indeed, to perform any kind of music might be fatal to the

executant, and thus Mesdemoiselles de Saint Léger, two young ladies

living in Arras, were executed for having played the piano the day that

Valenciennes fell into the hands of the enemy.

* * * * *

Mademoiselle Maillard, much as she detested the republicans, was forced,

on one occasion, to sing a republican hymn. When Lainez complimented her

on the warmth of her expression, the vigour of her execution, she

replied, "I was burning with rage at having to sing to such monsters."

* * * * *

Vestris, the Prince de Guéméné of the Vestris family, he who had been

accused by his father of wishing to produce a misunderstanding between

the Vestrises and the Bourbons, had to dance in a pas de trois as a

sans culottes, between two nuns!

Sophie Arnould, accused (and not quite unreasonably), of aristocratic

sympathies, pointed indignantly to a bust of Gluck in her room, and

asked the intelligent agents of the Republic, if it was likely she would

keep the bust of Marat were she not a true republican?

* * * * *

The vocalists of a revolutionary turn of mind would have succeeded

better if they had possessed more talent; but the Parisian public, even

in 1793, was not prepared to accept correctness in politics as an excuse

for inaccuracy in singing. Lefèvre, a sixth tenor, but a bloodthirsty

republican, insisted on being promoted to first characters, and

threatened those whom he wished to replace with denunciations and the

guillotine, if they kept him in a subordinate position any longer.

Lefèvre had his wish gratified in part, but not altogether. He appeared

as primo tenore, but was violently hissed by his friends, the sans

culottes. He then came out as first bass, and was hissed again. In his

rage he attributed his fiasco to the machinations of the

counter-revolution, and wanted the soldiers to come into the theatre,

and fire upon the infamous accomplices of "Pitt and Coburg."

* * * * *


This bad singer, and worse man, was one of the twelve chiefs of the

National Guard of Paris, and on certain days had the command of the

city. As his military rule was most oppressive, the Parisians used to

punish him for his tyranny as a soldier, by ridiculing his monstrous

defects as a vocalist.

* * * * *

Though the Reign of Terror was a fearful time for artists and art, the

number of playhouses in Paris increased enormously. There were

sixty-three theatres open, and in spite of war, famine, and the

guillotine, they were always full.

* * * * *

In 1794, the opera was transferred to the Rue de la Loi (afterwards Rue

de Richelieu), immediately opposite the National Library. With regard to

this change of locality, let us hear what M. Castil Blaze has to say, in

his own words.

* * * * *

"How was it that the opera was moved to a building exactly opposite the

National Library, so precious and so combustible a repository of human

knowledge? The two establishments were only separated by a street, very

much too narrow: if the theatre caught fire, was it not sure to burn the

library? That is what a great many persons still ask; this question has

been re-produced a hundred times in our journals. Go back to the time

when the house was built by Mademoiselle Montansier; read the Moniteur

Universel, and you will see that it was precisely in order to expose

this same library to the happy chances of a fire, that the great lyrical

entertainment was transferred to its neighbourhood. The opera hung over

it, and threatened it constantly. At this time enlightenment abounded

to such a point, that the judicious Henriot, convinced in his innermost

conscience that all reading was henceforth useless, had made a motion to

burn the library. To move the opera to the Rue Richelieu--the opera,

which twice in eighteen years had been a prey to the flames--to place it

exactly opposite our literary treasures, was to multiply to infinity the

chances of their being burnt.'

* * * * *

Mercier, in reference to the literary views of the Committee of Public

Safety, writes in the Nouveau Paris, as follows:--

* * * * *

"The language of Omar about the Koran was not more terrible than those

uttered by the members of the committee of public safety when they

expressed their intentions formally, as follows:--'Yes, we will burn all

the libraries, for nothing will be needed but the history of the

Revolution and its laws.'" If the motion of Henriot had been carried,

David, the great Conventional painter was ready to propose that the same

service should be rendered to the masterpieces in the Louvre, as to the

literary wealth of the National Library. Republican subjects, according

to David, were alone worthy of being represented.


At one of the sittings of the very council in which Henriot had already

brought forward his motion for burning the Library, Mademoiselle

Montansier was accused of having built the theatre in the Rue Richelieu

with that very design. On the 14th of November, 1793, Chaumette at the

sitting of the Commune of Paris, said--

"I denounce the Citoyenne Montansier. The money of the Englishman[71]

has been largely employed in raising this edifice, and the former queen

gave fifty thousand crowns towards it. I demand that this theatre be

closed on account of the dangers which would result from its catching

fire." Adopted.

Hébert. "I denounce la demoiselle Montansier, personally; I have

information against her. She offered me a box at her new theatre to

procure my silence. I demand that la Montansier be arrested as a

suspicious person." Adopted.

Chaumette. "I demand, moreover, that the actors, actresses and directors

of the Parisian theatres be subjected to the censorship of the council."


After deciding that the theatre in the Rue de la Loi could not be kept

open without imperilling the existence of the National Library, and

after imprisoning Mademoiselle Montansier for having built it, the

Commune of Paris deliberately opened it as an opera house! Mademoiselle

Montansier was, nevertheless, still kept in prison, and remained there

ten months, until after the death of Robespierre.

Mademoiselle Montansier's nocturnal assemblies in the Palais Royal were

equally renowned before and after her arrest. Actors and actresses,

gamblers, poets, representatives of the people, republican generals,

retired aristocrats, conspicuous sans culottes, and celebrities of all

kinds congregated there. Art, pleasure, politics, the new opera, the

last execution were alike discussed by Dugazon and Barras, le père

Duchesne and the Duke de Lauzun, Robespierre and Mademoiselle Maillard,

the Chevalier de Saint Georges and Danton, Martainville and the Marquis

de Chanvelin, Lays and Marat, Volange and the Duke of Orleans. From the

names just mentioned, it will be understood that some members of this

interesting society were from time to time found wanting. Their absence

was not much remarked, and fresh notorieties constantly came forward to

fill the places of those claimed by the guillotine.

After Mademoiselle Montansier's liberation from prison, Napoleon

Bonaparte was introduced to her by Dugazon and Barras. His ambition had

not yet been excited, and Barras--who may, nevertheless, have looked

upon him as a possible rival, and one to be dreaded--wished to get up a

marriage between him and the fashionable but now somewhat antiquated

syren of the Palais Royal. Everything went on well for some time. Then a

magnificent dinner was given with the view of bringing the affair to a

conclusion; but Bonaparte was very reserved, and Barras now saw that his

project was not likely to succeed. At a banquet given by Mademoiselle

Montansier, to celebrate the success of the thirteenth Vendémiaire,

Bonaparte proposed a toast in honour of his venerable "intended," and

soon afterwards she married Neuville.


Mademoiselle Montansier who had been shamefully cheated, indeed robbed,

by the Convention, hoped to have her claims recognised by the Directory.

Barras offered her one million, six hundred thousand francs. She refused

it, the indemnity she demanded for the losses which she had sustained by

the seizure of her theatre at the hands of the Convention amounting to

seven millions. Napoleon, when first consul, caused the theatre to be

estimated, when its value was fixed at one million three hundred

thousand francs. After various delays, Mademoiselle Montansier received

a partial recognition of her claim, accompanied by an order for payment,

signed by the Emperor at Moscow.

* * * * *

Some readers have, probably, been unable to reconcile two facts

mentioned above with respect to the Opera under the Convention:--1. That

the performers were not paid; and 2. That the public attended the

representations in immense numbers. The explanation is very simple. The

money was stolen by the Commune of Paris. Gardel, the ballet-master,

required fifty thousand francs for the production of a work composed by

himself, on the subject of William Tell. Twice was the sum amassed

from the receipts and professedly set apart for the unfortunate William

Tell, and twice the money disappeared. It had been devoted to the

requirements of patriots in real life.

* * * * *

Danton, Hébert, Chaumette, Henriot, Robespierre, all administrators of

the Opera; Dubuisson, Fabre d'Eglantine, librettists writing for the

Opera, and both republicans had been executed during the Reign of

Terror. Chamfort, a republican, killed himself to avoid the same fate.

Coquéau, architect, musician, and writer, the author of a number of

musical articles produced during the Gluck and Piccinni contests, was

guillotined in the year II. of the republic.

The musician, Edelman, after bringing a number of persons to the

scaffold, including his patron and benefactor, the Baron de Diétrich,

arrived there himself in 1794, accompanied by his brother.

In the same year Despréaux, leader of the first violins at the opera in

1782, and member of the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1793, killed himself

from remorse.

Altogether, sixteen persons belonging to the opera in various ways

killed themselves, or were executed in 1792, '93, and '94.

After the fall of Robespierre, the royalists for a time ruled the

theatres, and avenged themselves on all actors who had made themselves

conspicuous as revolutionists. Trial, a comic tenor, who had made a very

serious accusation against Mademoiselle Buret, of the Comédie Italienne,

which led to her execution, was forced to sing the Réveil du Peuple on

his knees, amid the execrations of the audience. He sang it, but was

thrown into such a state of agitation that he died from the effects.

Lays, whose favourite part was that of "Oreste," in Iphigénie en

Tauride, had, in the course of the opera, to declaim these verses:--

"J'ai trahi l'amitié,

J'ai trahi la nature;

Des plus noirs attentats

J'ai comblé la mesure."

The audience of the Bordeaux theatre considered this confession so

becoming in the mouth of the singer who had to utter it, that Lays took

care not to give them an opportunity a second time of manifesting their

views on the subject. Lays made his next appearance in OEdipe à

Colone. As in this opera he had to represent the virtuous Theseus, he

felt sure that the public would not be able to confound him in any

manner with the character he was supporting; but he had to submit to all

sorts of insults during the performance, and at the fall of the curtain

was compelled to begin the Réveil du Peuple. After the third verse, he

was told he was unworthy to sing such a song, and was driven from the



On the 23rd of January, 1796, Mademoiselle Guimard re-appeared at a

performance given for the benefit of aged and retired artists. A number

of veteran connoisseurs came forward on this occasion to see how the

once charming Madeleine looked at the age of fifty-nine. After the

ballet an old habitué of Louis the Fifteenth's time called for a

coach, drove to his lodging, and on getting out, proceeded naturally to

pay the driver the amount of his fare.

"You are joking, my dear Count," said the coachman. "Whoever heard of

Lauragais paying the Chevalier de Ferrière for taking him home in his


"What! is it you?" said the Count de Lauragais.

"Myself!" replied the Chevalier.

The two friends embraced, and the Chevalier de Ferrière then explained

that, when all the royalists were concealing themselves or emigrating,

he had determined to do both. He had assumed the great coat of his

coachman, painted a number over the arms on his carriage, and emigrated

as far as the Boulevard, where he found plenty of customers, and passed

uninjured and unsuspected through the Reign of Terror.

"Where do you live?" said the Count.

"Rue des Tuileries," replied the Chevalier, "and my horses with me. The

poor beasts have shared all my misfortunes."

"Give me the whip and reins, and get inside," cried de Lauragais.

"What for?" inquired the Chevalier.

"To drive you home. It is an act which, as a gentleman, I insist on

performing; a duty I owe to my old companion and friend. Your day's work

is over. To-morrow morning we will go to Sophie's, who expects me to



"At the Hotel d'Angivillier, a caravansary of painters and musicians,

where Fouché has granted her, on the part of the Republic, an apartment

and a pension of two thousand four hundred francs--we should have said a

hundred louis formerly. This is called a national reward for the

eminent services rendered by the citoyenne Arnould to the country, and

to the sovereign people at the Opera. The poor girl was greatly in need

of it."


Fouché had once been desperately in love with Sophie Arnould, and now

pitied her in her distress. Thanks to her influence with the minister,

the Chevalier Ferrière obtained an order, authorizing him to return to

France, though he had never left Paris, except occasionally to drive a

fare to one of the suburbs.

* * * * *

The natural effect of Napoleon's campaigns in Italy was to create among

the French army a taste for Italian music. The First Consul and many of

his generals were passionately fond of it; and a hint from the Tuileries

in 1801 was sufficient to induce Mademoiselle Montansier to engage an

Italian company, which performed for the first time in Paris on the 1st

of May in the same year. The enterprise, however, was not successful;

and in 1803 the directress, who had been arrested before because money

was owing to her, was put in prison for owing money.

If, by taking his troops to Italy, Napoleon was the means of introducing

a taste for Italian music among the French, he provided his country with

Italian singers in a far more direct manner. At Dresden, in 1806, he

was delighted with the performance of Brizzi and Madame Paer in the

opera of Achille, composed by the prima donna's husband.

"You sing divinely, Madame Paer," said the emperor. What do they give

you at this theatre?"

"Fifteen thousand francs, Sire."

"You shall receive thirty. M. Brizzi, you shall follow me on the same


"But we are engaged."

"With me. You see the affair is quite settled. The Prince of Benevento

will attend to the diplomatic part of it."


Napoleon took away Achille, and everything belonging to it; music,

composer, and the two principal singers. The engagement by which the

emperor engaged Paer as composer of his chamber music, was drawn up by

Talleyrand, and bore his signature, approved by Napoleon, and attested

by Maret, the secretary of state. Paer, who had been four years at

Dresden, and who, independently of his contract, was personally much

attached to the king of Saxony, did all in his power to avoid entering

into Napoleon's service. Perhaps, too, he was not pleased at the

prospect of having to follow the emperor about from one battle-field to

another, though by a special article in the engagement offered to him,

he was guaranteed ten francs a post, and thirty-four francs a day for

his travelling expenses. As Paer, in spite of the compliments, and the

liberal terms[72] offered to him by Napoleon, continued to object,

General Clarke told the emperor that he had an excellent plan for

getting over all difficulties, and saving the maestro from any

reproaches of ingratitude which the king of Saxony might otherwise

address to him. This plan consisted in placing Paer in the hands of

gens d'armes, and having him conducted from camp to camp wherever the

emperor went. No violence, however, was done to the composer. The king

of Saxony liberated him from his engagement at the Dresden opera, and,

moreover, signified to him that he must either follow Napoleon, or quit

Saxony immediately. It is said that Paer was ceded by a secret treaty

between the two sovereigns, like a fortress, or rather like a province,

as provinces were transferred before the idea of nationality was

invented; that is to say, without the wishes of the inhabitants being in

any way taken into account. The king of Saxony was only too glad that

Napoleon took nothing from him but his singers and musicians.

Brizzi, the tenor, Madame Paer, the prima donna, and her husband, the

composer, were ordered to start at once for Warsaw. In the morning, the

emperor would attend to military and state affairs, and perhaps preside

at a battle, for fighting was now going on in the neighbourhood of the

Polish capital. In the evening, he had a concert at head quarters, the

programme of which generally included several pieces by Paisiello.

Napoleon was particularly fond of Paisiello's music, and Paer, who,

besides being a composer, was a singer of high merit, knew a great deal

of it by heart.

Paisiello had been Napoleon's chapel-master since 1801, the emperor

having sent for him to Naples after signing the Concordat with the Pope.

On arriving in Paris, the cunning Italian, like an experienced courtier,

was no sooner introduced to Napoleon than he addressed him as 'sire!'

"'Sire,' what do you mean?" replied the first consul; "I am a general,

and nothing more."

"Well, General," continued the composer, "I have come to place myself at

your majesty's orders."

"I must really beg you," continued Napoleon, "not to address me in this


"Forgive me, General," answered Paisiello, "but I cannot give up the

habit I have contracted in addressing sovereigns who, compared with you,

seem but pigmies. However, I will not forget your commands, sire; and if

I have been unfortunate enough to offend, I must throw myself upon your

Majesty's indulgence."


Paisiello received ten thousand francs for the mass he wrote for

Napoleon's coronation. Each of the masses for the imperial chapel

brought him one thousand francs. Not much, certainly; but then it must

be remembered that he produced as many as fourteen in two years. They

were for the most part made up of pieces of church music, which the

maestro had written for Italy, and when this fruitful source failed him,

he had recourse to his numerous serious and comic operas. Thus, an air

from the Nittetti was made to do duty as a Gloria, another from the

Scuffiera as an Agnus Dei. Music depends so much upon association

that, doubtless, only those persons who had already heard these melodies

on the stage, found them at all inappropriate in a church. Figaro's air

in the Barber of Seville would certainly not sound well in a mass; but

there are plenty of love songs, songs expressive of despair (if not of

too violent a kind), songs, in short, of a sentimental and slightly

passionate cast, which only require to be united to religious words to

be at once and thereby endowed with a religious character. Gluck,

himself, who is supposed by many to have believed that music was capable

of conveying absolute, definite ideas, borrowed pieces from his old

Italian operas to introduce into the scores he was writing, on entirely

different subjects, for the Académie Royale of Paris. Thus, he has

employed an air from his Telemacco in the introduction to the overture

of Iphigénie en Aulide. The chorus in the latter work, Que d'attraits

que de majesté, is founded on the air, Al mio spirto, in the same

composer's Clemenza di Tito. The overture to Gluck's Telemacco

became that of his Armide. Music serves admirably to heighten the

effect of a dramatic situation, or to give force and intensity to the

expression of words; but the same music may often be allied with equal

advantage to words of very different shades of meaning. Thus, the same

melody will depict equally well the rage of a baffled conspirator, the

jealousy of an injured and most respectable husband, and various other

kinds of agitation; the grief of lovers about to part, the joy of lovers

at meeting again, and other emotions of a tender nature; the despondency

of a man firmly bent on suicide, the calm devotion of a pious woman

entering a convent, and other feelings of a solemn class. The

signification we discover in music also depends much upon the

circumstances under which it is heard, and to some extent also on the

mood we are in when hearing it.


Under the republic, consulate, and empire, music did not flourish in

France, and not even the imperial Spontini and Cherubini, in spite of

the almost European reputation they for some time enjoyed, produced any

works which will bear comparison with the masterpieces of their

successors, Rossini, Auber, and Meyerbeer. During the dark artistic

period which separates the fall of the monarchy from the restoration, a

few interesting works were produced at the Opera Comique; but until

Napoleon's advent to power, France neglected more than ever the music of

Italy, and did worse than neglect that of Germany, for, in 1793, the

directors of the Academy brought out a version of Mozart's Marriage of

Figaro, in five acts, without recitative and with all the prose

dialogue of Beaumarchais introduced. In 1806, too, a pasticcio by

Kalkbrenner, formed out of the music of Mozart's Don Juan, with

improvements and additions by Kalkbrenner himself, was performed at the

same theatre. Both these medleys met with the fate which might have been

anticipated for them.