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date: 01 December 2020

The Paris Conservatoire in the Nineteenth Century

Abstract and Keywords

Founded to populate the new French Republic with bandsmen and theater artists, theorized as a branch of public education, the Paris Conservatoire developed into and through the nineteenth century with sagacity and prescience. Effective leadership, committed teacher-performers and capable students, an excellent physical location in a historic quarter, and a direct link between music composition and its performance all strengthened the institution. By the late nineteenth century the name alone enabled the Conservatoire to prosper even as it became entrenched in its ways and prone to elitist behaviors and considerable unfairness. The appointment in 1905 of a director from the outside, Gabriel Fauré, led the institution to address these problems and withstand the upheavals that occurred in the new century. For the Conservatoire had carved out for itself a secure place in the national patrimony, a heritage widely recognized as contributing to the fundamental strength of the nation.

Keywords: Paris Conservatoire, French Republic, music teacher-performers, concerts, music composition, Fauré


Since its establishment by legislative decree of August 3, 1795 (16 Thermidor, year III of the Republican calendar), the Paris Conservatoire has functioned as the gateway to the upper echelons of classical music in France—much as, say, the younger “Sciences Po” (originally the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, 1871) has from its beginnings provided the nation’s political and diplomatic leadership. A premier prix from the Conservatoire launched careers in the best theaters and concert societies; the foremost instrumentalists rose to occupy, simultaneously, principal chairs at the Opéra and Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (the Paris Conservatory Orchestra) and a professorship at the school. Matriculation at the Conservatoire was so highly valued that families of gifted children would move to Paris and sometimes, like César Franck’s family, change citizenship, since admission required French nationality. In the early years even the best foreign students were routinely turned away, including Franz Liszt in 1823; though by the 1880s, a quota of 15% foreign students was deemed acceptable.

Together with the Opéra and to some extent the music (composition) section of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the Conservatoire dictated the substance of French musical culture—the élite sort, anyway—from the Revolution to the Belle Époque and beyond. It stood at the juncture of most Parisian musical enterprise: its graduates staffed the major theaters, onstage and in the pit; served as consultants and participants in the development and manufacture of the modern orchestral instruments; and composed the competition solos and wrote the method books that served music pedagogy all over the world for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Conservatoire, after all, emerged from the same ideas and ideals—above all, a staunch commitment to the public utility—as had the National Museum of Natural History (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 1793), the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, 1794)—even the Bibliothèque Nationale (1792) that at least theoretically made the treasures of the former king’s library available to every citizen of the republic. Its management interlocked with senior levels of government to such a degree that it seldom lacked for adequate funding and often was in a position to wield real political influence, as when, during World War I, the Société des Concerts was sent on international propaganda tours.

Apart from its direct pedagogical mission, the Conservatoire was home to three pillars of the nation’s musical culture: the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (1828), the Bibliothèque du Conservatoire (1795), and the Musée Instrumental (1861, though envisaged from the start; now the Musée de la Musique). A fourth pillar was the Prix de Rome awarded to young composers, technically given by the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the French Institute (from its building on the Left Bank) but practically controlled by the composition faculty in the rue Bergère. In the early years there was also a music publisher, the Magasin de Musique de l’Imprimerie du Conservatoire, at 11, rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière—that is, a national music shop right at the main entrance to the school.

Two fundamental tensions characterize the ebb and flow of ideas at the Conservatoire: the conflict between exclusivity and access (in choice of students, repertoire, and subscribers) and the cost to the provinces of centralizing national musical culture in Paris. There were ongoing struggles to find a workable balance between national priorities and new ideas emanating from beyond France. What music was to be taught, and performed, at the Conservatoire? How might its accomplishments—it was imagined nearly everywhere that the best instrumentalists came from the Conservatoire—be exported? Quotidian matters of funding and oversight cropped up every year, and, with the increasing involvement of ministers and legislators in academic affairs, came an often-problematic cahier des charges associated with each new funding cycle.1 For all that, the most remarkable characteristic of the Conservatoire during the nineteenth century was its constancy, the result of widespread agreement as to its mission and of its graduates’ conspicuous profile in the world at large.

Accounts of the Conservatoire’s history typically follow the tenures of its directors (major composers all), conductors, and/or the national governments (see Tables 1). Other milepost events include the brief closure of the institution in late 1815 and the transfer from the rue Bergère in the IXth arrondissement to the rue de Madrid in the VIIIth (near the Gare St. Lazare) in 1911. In 1946–47 the music and theater divisions separated into two: the present Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (CNSMDP) and the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique (CNSAD). The political, educational, and social upheavals of the 1960s resulted in wholesale revision of longstanding practices in French arts and education: a national political scheme for music (the Landowski Plan, 1964), for instance, and subsequent government programs focused on the regional and municipal conservatoires. The Société des Concerts disbanded and was reconstituted as the Orchestre de Paris (1968). From this period, too, came the notion of moving the music Conservatoire to a residential campus at the outskirts of Paris, which came to fruition with the Cité de la Musique at La Villette (fall 1990, well in time for the 200th anniversary of the institution in 1995) and the construction and inauguration there of a new national concert hall, the Philharmonie (2015).

Table 1 Governments of France

Revolution 1789–92

First Republic 1792–99

First Empire 1804–14

Napoleon I

The Hundred Days 1815

Restoration 1814–30

Louis XVIII 1814–24

Charles X 1824–30

July Monarchy, 1830–48


Second Republic 1848–52

Second Empire 1852–70

Napoleon III

Third Republic, 1870–1940

Vichy and Provisional Governments, 1940–46

Fourth Republic, 1947–58

Fifth Republic, 1958–

Table 2 Directors of the Conservatoire to 1920

Bernard Sarrette 1797–1814

François-Louis Perne 1816–22 (“inspecteur général des études”)

Luigi Cherubini 1822–42

Daniel F.-E. Auber 1842–71

Ambroise Thomas 1871–96

Théodore Dubois 1896–1905

Gabriel Fauré 1905–20

Henri Rabaud 1920–41

Table 3 Conductors of the Société des Concerts

François-Antoine Habeneck 1828–48

Narcisse Girard 1849–60

Théophile Tilmant, aîné 1860–63

François-George Hainl 1864–72

E.-M.-E. Deldevez 1872–85

Jules Garcin 1885–92

Paul Taffanel 1893–1901

Georges Marty 1901–08

André Messager 1908–19

Philippe Gaubert 1919–38

Charles Münch 1938–46

André Cluytens 1946–60

This essay focuses on the musical institution from its reemergence during the Bourbon Restoration—that is, under Luigi Cherubini2 and his successors—to the watershed appointment of Fauré, who had not attended the Conservatoire, as its director in 1905.3


The branch of the king’s household charged with entertainments and ceremonies, the Menus-Plaisirs du Roi (“lesser pleasures of the king”), had its workshops and warehouses in a large plot bounded by the rue Bergère, rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière, rue Richer, and rue de Trévise. Here, in April 1784, Papillon de la Ferté (1727–94), Louis XVI’s powerful intendant of the Menus-Plaisirs, established a Royal Singing School (École Royale de Chant), tasked with assuring a proper supply of French singers for the royal entertainments, notably including opera.4 Following the Revolution and establishment of a National Guard, the government needed a reliable supply of top-quality military bandsmen, especially to staff the monster fêtes nationales mandated in the Republican calendar. The Corps de Musique de la Garde Nationale was led from its foundation by Bernard Sarrette (1765–1858) and numbered among the citoyens in its ranks Rodolphe Kreutzer on clarinet and Luigi Cherubini on triangle. It was natural to locate its free school for military musicians (1792), soon called the Institut National de Musique (November 1793), there at the Menus-Plaisirs. The schools of singing and playing were thus merged, in 1795, to become the Conservatoire. After a year of organization and remodeling of facilities, the institution began to offer classes in 1796–97 to a student cohort of some 350 with a faculty of about 75.

The venerable composer François-Joseph Gossec (1734–1829) was closely associated with both precedent schools, but it was the bandsman Sarrette who emerged as powerful director of the new Conservatoire: visionary in politics and social thought, an experienced bureaucrat, a moving orator. He formulated the mission and then sold it on the grounds that music bettered the populace.5 It was of public utility: a matter of liberty, citizenship, and nationhood.

Sarrette’s associates in establishing the principles of the institution were five “inspectors of teaching” (inspecteurs de l’enseignement), all of them important composers: Étienne Méhul (1763–1817), André Grétry (1741–1813), Gossec, Jean-François Le Sueur (1763–1837), and Cherubini (1769–1842). The other, rather younger, principal designer of the Conservatoire was the violinist/conductor François-Antoine Habeneck (1781–1849), who had matriculated there in 1801 and left with his premier prix just three years later. Habeneck oversaw orchestral activities at the Conservatoire from the time he led the student orchestra from the front desk until the end of his career on the podium of the Société des Concerts.

Napoleon, sharing its philosophies, continued to support the Conservatoire as consul and emperor. Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and the turbulence of 1814 and 1815 led naturally to closure of an institution so closely identified with the revolution and empire. Sarrette was dismissed from his post and was never again of much influence, though he lived into his 90s. The Conservatoire, on the other hand, re-emerged in more or less its original configuration in time for the academic year 1816–17.

Buildings and Grounds

The buildings at the corner of the rue Bergère and rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière were transformed to suit the Conservatoire for its first teaching year, 1796–97, with periodic modifications by government architects thereafter. (There was never a provision within the grounds for room and board.) Three sides of a courtyard were surrounded by the academic buildings, entered from the rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière through a decorative portal and a vaulted passageway. Another entry, through the rue Bergère, gave onto the hôtel that housed the administration of the king’s estates and thence to the other end of the courtyard. Owing to longstanding French tradition of separate entries for male and female scholars (entrée des filles, … des garçons), these doors were so designated. The young Hector Berlioz, attempting to visit the library on one of the days it was open to the public and ignorant of the custom, managed to take the wrong entry, with the consequences so vividly related in chapter 9 of his Mémoires. Here the livid Cherubini, of cadaverous face, sunken eyes, and bristling hair, limps forward to identify the intruder: “Sir,” says Berlioz “my name will perhaps be familiar to you one day—but you shall not have it now.”

“S-S-seize ‘eem,” Cherubini says to the porter Hottin (later Berlioz’s own employee). “I’ll ‘ave ‘eem in preeson.”6

Between the academic buildings and the warehouses, the architect François Delannoy identified a plot large enough for a concert hall seating some 1,055; this was inaugurated on July 7, 1811. Low on creature comforts but long on cachet, the Salle des Concerts du Conservatoire (or Salle des Menus-Plaisirs) was possessed of enviable acoustics—“the Stradivarius of concert halls,” according to Antoine Elwart.7 When occupied by the Société des Concerts in 1828 it became the locus of weekly presentations each season by the Conservatoire’s leading figures, offering a repertoire founded in the symphonies of Beethoven and Haydn and a few remnants of ancien régime tradition to a public made up of titled aristocrats, political leaders, and intellectual giants from George Sand to Jean Cocteau and beyond.

Use of the concert hall was limited, with rare exceptions, to functions sponsored by the school. Waivers to policy typically originated from higher authority, as was the case with the first performance of the Symphonie fantastique in 1830. Juries for admission and prizes also took place there, when planking would be laid over the ground-floor seats and the examining committee seated at tables arranged in a U-shape around the candidate and accompanist, inkwells and blotting sand in front of each juror and a bell at the director’s seat.8 The major end-of-year concours and prize ceremonies were open to the public.

The Salle des Concerts was originally painted in ivory hues with mint-green accents. The redecorating of 1865–66 brought dramatic change in appearance, with a Pompeii-influenced color scheme in reds and blues and a new shell (hémicycle) representing the nine muses. With each reconditioning of the room more seats were lost to emergency escape routes: toward the end of its use for concerts, the capacity was just over 800.

The Salle des Concerts/Menus-Plaisirs, shabbier with each passing season owing to its relentless use, continued as a primary venue for classical concerts through World War II: electrified in 1884–85, it was able to accommodate broadcasts and recordings from the mid 1920s. Chamber orchestra and new-music concerts continued there through 1947–48, when the hall devolved to the drama school. Remodelings for that purpose (1951, 1972, and 1987) restored the breathtaking décor but reduced the capacity to about 500 and somewhat compromised the legendary acoustic.

Curriculum and Method, Faculty, Students

The fundamental unit of instruction was the classe associated with each professor; the overall curriculum was loosely understood to be divided into singing, playing, and composing. Students were admitted by competitive audition and remained at the Conservatoire until they left with a prize or were dropped from the rolls: thus the academic year centered on the concours d’entrée in October or November and the concours pour les récompenses in June and July. Expertise at sight-singing (solfège) and sight-reading (déchiffrage) was expected of all and assured, like other preparatory and remedial work, by teaching assistants (répétiteurs). Singers had supplemental training in expressive diction (déclamation, a trademark of French oration) from noted actors, and in posture and carriage from professional dancers. Students were expected to participate in the appropriate classe d’ensemble—orchestra or chorus—and other public exercices. These were vital, of course, to the composition program and, later, to the training of conductors.

Indeed the primary exposure of the students to the real world of public performance came by way of these exercices publics.9 Shortly after the Société des Concerts was established in 1828, the student orchestra was called the Société Mineure des Jeunes Élèves de l’École Royale de Musique and offered concerts d’émulation—that is, in imitation of their elders. The annual distribution des prix was an important event in each academic year: here, too, the student musicians would appear before an influential public.

In principle all “living” instruments were taught, though a separate class in viola was not added until 1894 (under Théophile-Édouard Laforge, then Maurice Vieux).10 Harpsichord was dropped after the first year and only reintroduced, as part of the early music program, in 1950 (Robert Veyron-Lacroix, etc.). Pipe organ was reintroduced in 1819 (François Benoist, César Franck, Charles-Marie Widor, Alexandre Guilmant, Eugène Gigout, Marcel Dupré); pedal harp in 1825 (François-Joseph Naderman, Théodore Labarre, Alphonse Hasselmans, Pierre Jamet, Lily Laskine)—programs outside the core orchestral curriculum that nevertheless greatly enhanced the Conservatoire’s international reputation. Instruction on the serpent was discontinued in 1802. Percussion was not introduced until 1914 (under Joseph Baggers); saxophone, not until 1942 (under Marcel Mule).

Nearly all the major French composers of the nineteenth century passed through the Conservatoire, with its faculty of a half-dozen active composers who provided entrée to the best opportunities in the capital. The curriculum consisted of classes in harmony and counterpoint before individual lessons, much like composition study today. Such teachers as Gossec, Méhul, Le Sueur, Halévy, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, Adolphe Adam, and Ambroise Thomas produced a strong lineage of outstanding and influential French composers. Among these were Berlioz, Georges Bizet, Charles Gounod, Jules Massenet, Gabriel Fauré, Gustave Charpentier, Claude Debussy, Lili (and Nadia) Boulanger, and Henri Dutilleux.

The roster of instrument teachers was similarly exalted for the entire century, fostering astonishing lineages. Violin teachers, for instance, included Pierre Baillot, Pierre Rode, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Delphin Alard, Charles Dancla, and Eugène Sauzay; cello: Charles Vaslin, Louis-Pierre-Martin Norblin, Auguste Franchomme, and Jules Delsart; flute: François Devienne, Jean-Louis Tulou, Louis Dorus, Henri Altès, Paul Taffanel, Adolphe Hennebains, Philippe Gaubert, Marcel Moyse (and later Michel Debost and Jean-Pierre Rampal). If the piano faculty did not at first have that kind of celebrity roster (Henri Herz was the first superstar, from 1842; that year also saw the creation of the hugely successful class for women pianists taught by Louise Farrenc), it soon boasted a roster that included Louise Massart, Alfred Cortot, Lazare Lévy, Monique de la Bruchollerie, Marguerite Long, and Jean Doyen—and by mid-twentieth century such stars as Monique Haas, Aldo Ciccolini, and Yvonne Loriod (Mme Messiaen).

A provision of the employment of the professors was that they contribute official method books (méthodes) appropriate to the curriculum and not based on foreign models.11 Among the earliest, and certainly most influential, of these was Charles-Simon Catel’s Traité d’harmonie (1802; the title continues: par Catel, membre du Conservatoire de Musique, adopté par le Conservatoire pour servir à l’étude dans cet établissement; later modified to boast adopté par le Conservatoire imp. de musique et par tous les conservatoires de France et de l’étranger).

Among the early method books were the Méthode de Violon par MM. Baillot, Rode, et Kreutzer, membres du Conservatoire de Musique, rédigée par Baillot, adoptée par le Conservatoire pour servir à l’étude dans cet établissement (Paris: Mme Le Roy) as compiled by Baillot; and his subsequent L’Art du violon (1834).12 Today among the most employed are Hyacinthe Klosé’s Méthode complète of 1843 for the Buffet-Crampon clarinet,13 widely disseminated as Klosé’s Conservatory Method (Boston 1879ff.) and [Klosé’s] Celebrated Method (New York, 1945ff.); and Jean-Baptiste Arban’s immense Grande Méthode complète de cornet à pistons et de saxhorn (1864, with the Carnival of Venice variations at the end), known today as the Célèbre Méthode complète de trompette, cornet à pistons et saxhorn (Paris, 1956), or Arban’s Celebrated Method (New York, 1893ff.) and Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method (New York, 1936ff.). In addition, hundreds of instrumental solos were composed for use in the curriculum, both as sight-reading exercises and as set pieces for competitions and juries.14 These accumulated, as a modern editor has observed, into the core of the instrumental teaching repertoire today.

Through these publications (and through live appearances of the musicians outside France), the Conservatoire label became internationally recognized and thus aggressively sought: the branding words “professeur du Conservatoire,” “adopté au Conservatoire,” “approuvé par le Conservatoire” were good for sales. For instance Eugène Jancourt’s method for the Buffet bassoon, called Méthode théorique et pratique en 3 parties, op. 15 (1847), is among those identified as “adoptée au Conservatoire National de Musique.” Also carrying the institution’s name were two volumes of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Souvenirs des Concerts du Conservatoire for solo piano (1847, 1861); a two-volume edition of the symphonies of Beethoven “dédiée à la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, et revue par Fétis” (1841); Gounod’s Répertoire des Concerts du Conservatoire …: quatorze grands chœurs à quatre voix avec accompagnement de piano (1884); Henry Expert’s collection of choral Répertoire de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris extrait des Maîtres Musiciens de la Renaissance française (Paris, 1906); and 170 volumes of the symphonic concert repertoire reduced for piano. Many dozens of works were dedicated to the Société in the (usually vain) hope of securing a first performance in return.

David Charlton noted in The New Grove that over the long haul, the curriculum in instrumental studies was superior to the programs in opera and theater. “The early achievements of the Conservatoire,” he writes, “were the successful training of a generation of instrumentalists, publication of many tutors and establishment of a free library. Its early failings were the inability to produce well-equipped singers, too little training in fundamental musicianship and lack of provision for boarders.”15

Two major additions to the curriculum occurred in the late nineteenth century. One was the dawn of music historical studies, long advocated by Ambroise Thomas, in 1871, and their perfection by Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray from 1879. Bourgault-Ducoudray led the institution toward its involvement in what it now called early music (musique ancienne), already in December 1878 organizing student performers for Janequin’s La Bataille de Marignan; documents of 1896 show him lecturing in the Salle des Concerts with live musical examples from the stage, 270 places for students, and 150 for the public.16 A new chair in musicology evolved after World War II under Norbert Durourcq, succeeded by Yves Gérard.

The program in orchestral conducting evolved from the classe d’ensemble/classe d’orchestre assigned to Edme-Marie-Ernest Deldevez in October 1873, from which a formal program was introduced in 1914, the work of Fauré and his successor, Henri Rabaud.17 This project encountered the usual impediments, including instrument teachers who objected to having their students drafted into a training orchestra; but by the time of Rabaud’s deft proposal for the new class (April 1912), the arguments in favor were incontrovertable. Among its graduates were Roger Désormière and Serge Baudo; the teachers included Henri Rabaud, Gaubert, and Charles Munch, all familiar figures on the podium of the Société des Concerts.

Later twentieth-century accruals to the curriculum included pedagogy, esthetics, and culture (from 1947), orchestration (1977), and eventually a range of subject matter essential to musical careers of the late late-twentieth century and beyond, including studio electronics and world music.

Prix de Rome

The Prix de Rome in composition (sojourns in Rome and sometimes Germany, major public performances, and a handsome multiyear stipend) drew ambitious young composers to the Conservatoire from the beginning. Though actually administered and paid for by the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France, the program was directly linked to the Conservatoire by virtue of the judges, who were for the most part simultaneously members of the Academy and on the teaching faculty in the rue Bergère. The notion of sending promising visual artists (painters, sculptors, architects, engravers) to study classical antiquity on-site had been around since Louis XIV; the prize in music composition was added under Napoleon—for less persuasive reasons—in 1803 and granted through 1968. The preliminary round—a counterpoint exercise or fugue—was the equivalent of the black-and-white sketch required of the artists. Finalists were cloistered in the French Institute on the quais of the Seine and there composed cantatas to a set text. (Bizet’s penciled signature can still be seen on one of the cell walls.) The jury, hearing the manuscripts sight-read with piano, would award the prize, based as often as not on opinions already acquired in the halls of the Conservatoire rather than the merit of the score. The winning work and runner-up would later be presented in live concert.

Berlioz, having stood four times before winning the award in July 1830, took a bemused view of the proceedings, especially the stereotypical texts he satirizes in the Mémoires (ch. 22), beginning:

  •  Déjà l’aurore aux doigts de rose…
  •  E’en now the rosy-fingered dawn appears…
  • or
  •  Déjà le jour naissant ranime la nature…
  •  E’en now doth Nature greet returning day…
  • or
  •  Déjà d’un doux éclat l’horizon se colore…
  •  E’en now with lustre soft th’ horizon glows…
  • or
  •  Déjà du blond Phœbus le char brillant s’avance…
  •  E’en now blond Phoebus’ shining car draws near…
  • or
  •  Déjà de pourpre et d’or les monts lointains se parent…
  •  E’en now in purple pomp the mountains decked…18

Neither Ernest Chausson nor Maurice Ravel won the prize—nor did Manet or Degas in painting; and many of the winners left behind little of lasting merit. But a good number did well, for instance Fromental Halévy (1819), Ambroise Thomas (1832), Charles Gounod (1839), Ernest Guiraud (1859), Jules Massenet (1863), Claude Debussy (1884), and Lili Boulanger (1913).

The Société des Concerts

Enthusiasm for Beethoven and his music had reached Paris via the returning Napoleonic bandsmen—the oboist Gustave Vogt, for instance—and the acquisition of Beethoven’s scores by the Conservatoire library in the 1820s. Habeneck and his circle had the idea of building upon the exercices of the student orchestra by adding faculty members and recent graduates, constituting a philharmonic society fashioned for the express purpose of learning the Beethoven corpus. (After an early reading in his apartments, Mme Habeneck threw open the dining room doors with the blessing: “Au nom de Beethoven reconnaissant, à table!”) The first concert was on 9 March 1828 and featured the “Eroica” Symphony.19

Though perhaps not the first philharmonic society, the organization—80 players, 80 singers, staff, building, library, and subscribers—was nevertheless the most important of the post-Napoleonic era. For 140 years, with few interruptions, the Société des Concerts presented a season of weekly concerts: at first during the theater closures of Lent, and eventually every Sunday from October to May. Here, in the Salle des Concerts, the Viennese repertoire became familiar, and many dozens of French works, including the Franck Symphony in D Minor, had their premieres. During World War I, a Swiss paper wrote, “Nowhere else will you find an orchestra that even distantly approaches the orchestra of the Conservatoire of Paris. It has a unique gift, the result of the individual merit and artistry of its members. Everybody knows that what they do, and possess to do it with, far surpasses what even the better orchestras beyond the Rhine can offer.”20

Governance and administration was by the members, or sociétaires, themselves, following statutes adopted at the inauguration and which held, in most principles, until the dissolution. Compensation was by an annual division of the proceeds into equal shares (the conductor and eventually the principal players receiving more than one share). From 1838 there was a fund for members in need, retirees, widows, and orphans. The privilege of substituting for absent sociétaires, or of completing sections with unfilled vacancies, was reserved for students and sometimes recent graduates at the Conservatoire: this often led them, particularly the strings players, to become official aspirants for election.

The orchestra was soon made up almost entirely of famous-name professors and premiers prix, almost without exception French and graduates of the Conservatoire. The Beethoven corpus was completed in due course with the Ninth Symphony (1831) and Missa solemnis (extracts in 1832 and 1835; complete in 1889); Haydn symphonies, including one held to be the exclusive property of the Société des Concerts, continued in vogue; the works of Mendelssohn were hungrily devoured. French operatic and sacred repertoire figured prominently, of course, especially—from the first concert—the works of Cherubini. (The leading singers at the Opéra were typically sociétaires as well, making extended opera excerpts possible.) Concertos occupied an important place in the repertoire, owing equally to the popularity of the soloists, often foreign (Mendelssohn in 1832, Liszt and Chopin in 1835, Clara Schumann in 1862), who were drawn to Paris and to the remarkable new instruments to be heard there.

The ancien régime vogue for music of living composers receded over time in favor of a canon of masterpieces. When the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, recognized only one living composer (Rossini) on a program, she asked, “And do you play only compositions by dead people in your lovely Conservatoire concerts?” “Madame,” the conductor Narcisse Girard replied with a low bow, “the repertoire of our society is the Louvre of musical art.”21 This view was widely shared: arrival at the Salle des Concerts was the defining moment in a work’s journey toward permanence. But with each passing year the complaints from the compositional establishment grew louder, met with equal insistence from the voting sociétaires that their concerts were only for the hallowed repertoire.

For more than half the nineteenth-century, every concert was technically sold out, with the only hope of admission for others being to take, at the last minute, seats left empty by the subscribers. Subscriptions were passed from fathers to sons (but not wives or daughters; a special vote had to be taken to accommodate Mme Habeneck after her husband’s demise). Members of the royal household came from time to time, and a place could usually be found for distinguished foreign guests, for instance Beethoven’s secretary Anton Schindler in 1839. In the same year Wagner heard Habeneck rehearse and conduct the Ninth Symphony in the Salle des Concerts. “The scales fell from my eyes,” he writes, and his subsequent obsession with the Ninth can be followed not only in his essays, but also in his compositional strategies of the 1840s.22

The iconography confirms the excitement associated with the Sunday afternoon concerts, as aristocrats in greatcoats and top hats, the women in furs, press forward toward the vaulted entryway; while within, fashionably dressed women struggle to reach their seats in the narrow balcony of a packed house.23 A fine painting by Albert Maignan, Adagio Appassionato (Salle du Conservatoire), represents the same scene many decades later (1904): the now-redecorated hall still packed to capacity, while from an uppermost loge an earnest young man follows his score as his companion, in full-length black coat and brimmed hat, stands behind him, a white handkerchief clutched near her cheek.24

The dialectic of old and new, particularly the marked conservatism of the audience and the professors squaring off against the progressive agendas of the younger generation, intensified as music by living French composers found less favor than the ongoing worship of Beethoven, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. But if the Société des Concerts was never especially successful at fostering a school of French symphonists, it showed serious commitment to cantatas and oratorios that could feature both chorus and orchestra (for example Théodore Dubois’s Les Sept Paroles du Christ, 1872; Franck’s Les Béatitudes, 1882; Gounod’s Mors et Vita, 1884—though more frequently as excerpts than as full productions). The chorus, in its search for a cappella repertoire, made great headway in music of such Renaissance composers as Costeley, Lassus, and Palestrina. A foray into the Baroque chorus-and-orchestra repertoire championed by Charles Lamoureux from the early 1870s resulted in full performances of Messiah (1874) and the B-Minor Mass (1889), the later recognized as a “veritable artistic event” and bringing record box-office receipts. In the same era came near-complete readings of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (January–February 1889): the Société des Concerts was the only organization around with sufficient personnel and technical capability to manage the daunting score.

Meanwhile the public thirst for orchestral concerts was unquenchable, and the supply of good players and conductors who had not been elected to the Conservatoire orchestra proceeded to find good positions elsewhere. Rival societies appeared on the scene, with the result that as many as five major orchestras all gave their concerts on Sunday afternoons; by then the birthplace of new music was, more often than not, away from the Salle des Concerts. The orchestra boom lasted until the 1920s, when such competing allures as the motorcar, tennis, cycling, and the very concept of the weekend began to compete for leisure time each Sunday afternoon.

The Library and Instrument Collection

Article X of the decree of 1795 foresaw the establishment of a “national music library at the Conservatoire, made of up a complete collection of scores and works treating the art [of music], old and foreign instruments, as well as those [in current use] which, by virtue of their perfection, can serve as models.”25 Article XI went on to detail hours of opening, including to the public at large, and provision of a librarian at a salary level approaching that of the inspectors. “Works of masters from every epoch and nation,” Sarrette proclaimed at his inauguration (October 1796), “must be assembled in the Conservatoire library, offering to the research of young artists the lessons of true knowledge.”26

At one point we find Sarrette going off with Catel and Cherubini to choose books for the nascent library. The library was, then, originally assembled in large measure from property of the royal households and of aristocrats who had fled (émigrés) or been executed (condamnés): rooms stacked high, reported the founding librarian Nicolas Roze (1745–1819), with volumes and bundles awaiting his attention.

Sarrette’s fiery speech at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new facility (October 1801) boasted extravagantly of “the most precious works collected during the Revolution, as well as in Italy and other European countries where our [Napoleonic] arms penetrated…. It fell to France to erect a lasting monument to the glory of music, much needed for progress, the kind of musical monument that is unknown in [otherwise] harmonious and fertile Italy. Here the artist, studying art from his youth, will find all in one place simple songs, first bursts of sensuous feeling, and finally the assured, learned harmony that lets us paint the nuances of our passion. Here the master will deposit his works, safe there to earn posterity’s admiration—a lasting reputation, not merely ephemeral applause.”27

It was typical of the Republican mindset to arrange access to these treasures methodically: the library was open to the public from 10 until 12 on the days 2–4 of each 10-day week; to the students on days 6–8; and reserved on days 1, 5, and 9 for cataloging and shelving. Patrons of the Conservatoire’s library were welcome to copy scores and to take them (as one can still do) to piano studios to be realized in sound. It is estimated that there were 8,000 volumes by 1806.

From 1862, the library was located above the foyer and grand stairwell of the Salle des Concerts—in the attic, that is, just under the rafters.28 The librarians included the abbé Roze (from 1807), followed by Auguste Bottée de Toulmon (from 1831), Berlioz (from 1850), Félicien David (from 1869), and Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (from 1876). Roze, interestingly, was co-author, with Gossec and others, of a Méthode de serpent pour le service du culte et le service militaire (1814), one of the method books published by the Conservatoire’s Magasin de Musique in 1814—after the instrument had already been dropped from the curriculum.29

The library of the Conservatoire was commingled with the music collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 1935, the joint holding recognized as the Département de la Musique in 1942. In 1964 the Music Department relocated to a new building at 2 rue Louvois, adjacent to the main library in the rue Richelieu, where it continues to yield up its secrets as modern library science and database initiatives gain control of ever more of its treasures.30

(A teaching collection and some early materials remained at the Conservatoire in the rue de Madrid until 1989, then became part of the Médiathèque Hector Berlioz at the new Conservatoire.)

Another provision of the founding decree was for a cabinet (or collection room, as in the Renaissance cabinet de curiosités, or “wonder-room”) for musical instruments belonging to the nation. A trove of instruments, mostly harpsichords, attributed to the Conservatoire during the founding years consisted of booty from the Revolution: some 400 instruments at first, then a second load from Versailles. These had been placed in a dépôt national de musique in the rue Bergère (the hôtel Doué). Some of these eventually made their way back to their rightful owners; others were sold in 1797 and 1822 to finance renovations to the campus of the new Conservatoire and for the retirement fund for singers from the Opéra; others were lent to the faculty for in-class use; and some two-dozen harpsichord cases were burned in 1816 to heat classrooms. Cherubini was not much interested in the notion of curating a collection of old instruments and instead claimed the cabinet for his own office. Nevertheless a few specimens of musical life under the ancien régime were used alongside post-Revolutionary instruments for classes during the nineteenth century. These teaching instruments were deposited at the Musée Instrumental in 1969; among them a dozen were identified in 1990 as having come from property seizures during the Revolution.31

The notion of preserving the patrimoine instrumental prevailed, just as a new generation of improved orchestral instruments was gaining a permanent foothold in the orchestra; in the 1860s it coalesced into the Musée Instrumental of the Conservatoire (not to be confused with the museum of the same name at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels). In December 1861, Alexandre Walewski, Minister of State and Director of Fine Arts, agreed to the purchase by the Conservatoire of 230 instruments from the collection of the composer Louis Clapisson (1808–66), an inveterate collector and member of the Academy. Soon afterward Clapisson donated 80-some secondary items. The new museum so constituted opened November 20, 1864. Almost immediately artists began leaving their (mostly obsolete) instruments to the museum: oboes of Vogt and Triébert; Dauprat’s horn, Dauverné’s trumpet, violins of Kreutzer, Davidoff, Alard, Sarasate, and Provigny (including examples by Guarnerius, Stradivarius, and the great French violin makers of the nineteenth century, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume and Gand & Bernadel). Berlioz, who became curator at Clapisson’s death, left the guitar he and Paganini had signed. Amon the museum’s other treasures is the collection of tuning forks from all over Europe that led to the grand diapason normal of 1859: A = 870 at 15° C. After the Franco-Prussian War the collection was overseen by Gustave Chouquet (1819–86), author of the first catalogue raisonné (1875), which enumerated 640 items, some 100 of them non-European.32 Choquet, in fierce bidding against his rival at the Brussels Musée Instrumental, Victor-Charles Mahillon, also acquired a good portion of the instruments auctioned in 1877 after the bankruptcy of Adolphe Sax.33

Later gifts (Charlotte de Rothschild in 1889; Paul Cesbron’s collection of more than 400 items, for instance, in 1934), continued to swell the holdings. By 1961 as the museum’s centennial approached, there were some 2,500 items in the collection. It was at that juncture that Geneviève Thibault (1902–75), comtesse de Chambure, began to work her magic as curator. Already a noted collector and bibliophile, she set in motion projects for the scientific documentation, cataloguing, and restoration of what she had found. Some 80 instruments from her private collection were accepted by the government in payment of inheritance tax (1979) and another 720 purchased by the state, 1980–82. The Musée in the rue de Madrid was still a hodge-podge, gloomy place, but Thibault led it to be taken seriously, supporting the nascent early music movement and paving the way for the formidable museum that succeeded it.34

1905 and Beyond

The affaire Ravel broke out in 1905, when on his fifth attempt at the Prix de Rome, Ravel failed the preliminaries, summarily ending his already checkered career at the Conservatoire. Aspersions were cast in every direction as the pundits spun their tales and explanations; Gabriel Fauré’s accession as director after the unexpected resignation of Théodore Dubois was widely understood as a turn to the outside for someone to rescue a fading enterprise. But in fact Dubois had decided to resign well before the prize competition, and Ravel’s two principal detractors at the Academy, Charles Lenepveu and Émile Paladilhe, held scant claim to the compositional stature traditionally enjoyed by directors of the Conservatoire. Ravel himself was reasonably well established already; certainly he did not “need” the prize (as he himself noted), and he generally tried to hold himself above the fray.35

There was no denying the ossification in the rue Bergère. Since 1870 and the death of Auber, tradition’s grip had increasingly positioned the Conservatoire outside the most provocative cross-currents of musical thought. During the tenure of Ambroise Thomas and his successor Dubois, and the omnipresence of Saint-Saëns, the music of Meyerbeer continued to overshadow that of Wagner; grand opera remained the supreme form of musical expression; Brahms was all but unknown, and when introduced was actively detested; the presence of an English horn in a symphony (Franck’s) could provoke a scandal. (One of Ravel’s problems, it was alleged, was the use of trombones, pianissimo.) Meanwhile there was serious competition from outside its walls: from other conservatories (the École Niedermeyer, for church musicians, 1850s; later, Guilmant and d’Indy’s Schola Cantorum, 1894, and Cortot’s École Normale de Musique, 1919); from progressive composer alliances like the Société Nationale (1879) and its search, under Franck, for a true Ars Gallica; and from the many concert-giving societies born from the very success of the Société des Concerts—the Pasdeloup, Lamoureux, and Colonne ochestras, to name the most successful.

Fauré’s appointment suddenly and dramatically disrupted the status quo of practices that had defined the institution from the beginning.36 Early on he brought in outside jurors for admissions and prizes, thus ending the longstanding practice of the professors according preference to their private students. The repertoire deemed acceptable for study and performance was broadened conspicuously to include early music and the newer schools; the worldly André Messager, a protégé of Fauré but not a graduate, came to lead the Société des Concerts; the school left its faded campus and moved to 14, rue de Madrid in 1911. Fauré enjoyed a long, mostly productive tenure, through World War I and on into 1920. By then the Conservatoire was well embarked on an overall transformation toward the international standing and modern curriculum of its present. The roster of teaching personnel continued to include staunchly conservative figures like Henri Rabaud, Alfred Cortot, and Claude Delvincourt, but also such breakers of molds as Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen.

Recent research has documented the complexity of the Conservatoire’s response to the Occupation (1940–44). In many respects its maneuvers were adroit, including deals struck by Charles Munch and the Société des Concerts to secure coal to heat the buildings, and an Orchestre des Cadets du Conservatoire conceived by Delvincourt in 1943 to prevent student players from being deported to forced labor camps.37 (A particular hero of these operations was the organist Marie-Louise Boëllmann-Gigout, a résistante who managed to procure false papers for every student threatened with deportation.) But in the first days of the Occupation, Henri Rabaud had investigated the racial origins of his faculty and staff, and assented to the dismissal of 25 students (out of 580) and two faculty (Lazare Lévy, piano; and André Bloch, harmony). A roster of Jewish students submitted to the authorities as early as October 1940 is in the hand of Jacques Chailley (1910–99), secretary-general of the Conservatoire and a noted musicologist; the consequences of these decisions have figured in a national polemic in France since 2011.38

The drama school continues to occupy what is left of the buildings in the rue Bergère, including the Salle des Concerts. In 1995, after decades of debate and planning, the Conservatoire moved to become part of the Cité de la Musique in La Villette, on the site of the meat-packing district (abattoirs) at the northern rim of Paris. There, on January 14–15, 2015, gala concerts inaugurated the new Philharmonie de Paris, seating 2,400, built at a cost of 370 million euros.

The Musée de la Musique was at its opening a particular triumph of the move to La Villette, featuring in one place more than 4,000 artifacts that, until then, could only be seen piecemeal by those who had been able to secure admission to the rue de Madrid. Today’s museum is a triumph of the French manière of museology (visual, sonorized, interactive), with permanent and rotating exhibitions and ample space for performances and public encounters. To be seen toward the beginning, for example, are the two large paintings by Giuseppe Serangeli that had stood to either side of the grand stairwell of the Salle des Concerts: “The Descent of Orpheus into the Underworld” and “Sophocles Confounding His Sons Before the Areopagus” (by reading Oedipus)—thus allegories of the two arts, music and drama, presented in the building. (The bas-relief that had stood over the stair, representing Minerva distributing prize crowns to the laureates of the Conservatoire is in the collection, too, but not on display). There are precious scale models of the various concert halls associated with the Conservatoire, including the Salle des Concerts before its Pompeiian renovation of 1865 and the Salle du Trocadéro (1878, demolished 1937), with its Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ, where Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony (“Organ”) was first offered to the French by the Société des Concerts in 1887.39

Sources and Resources

In 1900 Constant Pierre (1855–1918) published a monumental compilation of “historical and administrative documents”—over 1,000 pages—wherein may be found such essential documentation as lists of all prize winners and professors, and texts of all the relevant legal decrees. This was supplemented, for the years 1900–30, in a volume published by Anne Bongrain (2012); in 1971, Élisabeth Dunan had published the inventory of documents at the Archives Nationales in the classification AJ37 that served to unlock the chapters to music historians. In 2014 appeared online an extraordinary reference work based on these sources: Frédéric de La Grandville: Dictionnaire biographique des élèves et aspirants du Conservatoire de Musique de Paris (1795–1815).40 A research team led by Cécile Reynaud, Histoire de l’Enseignement Musical en France au XIXe siècle (1975–1914) (HEMEF), is meanwhile building a mass database—a prosopography—of the Conservatoire’s students 1822–1914, based on the student and class records preserved at the Archives Nationales.

Constant Pierre had already published studies of Sarrette and the origins of the Conservatoire and on the Magasin de Musique (both 1895); in 1903 he published notes on the property and buildings. Théodore Lassabathie presented the first detailed documentary history of the institution in 1860; the Encyclopédie de la musique et Dictionnaire du Conservatoire of Albert Lavignac (1920; Debussy had been a member of Lavignac’s sight-singing class) includes important articles on the institution and its practices. The history and programming of the Société des Concerts were treated in Antoine Elwart’s foundational study of the Société des Concerts (1860), later supplemented by Deldevez (1887), Dandelot (1923), and Cordey (1941); these made possible Holoman’s 2004 English-language monograph on the orchestra’s entire history.

Meanwhile instrumentalists and scholar-players have produced numerous studies of individual musicians and repertoires associated with the Conservatoire (e.g., Edward Blakeman’s Taffanel, 2005; or Paul Louis Margelli’s doctoral thesis on Georges Gillet and the Paris Conservatoire Concours Oboe Solos, 1882–1919, University of Washington, 1990). For major composers, evidence from the Conservatoire years is now scrutinized routinely, as in John R. Clevenger’s “Debussy’s Paris Conservatoire Training” and related articles in Debussy and His World, ed. Jane Fulcher (2001). This level of factual detail informs such masterly cultural studies as Jann Pasler’s massive volume on music in Third-Republic France (2009) and Katherine Bergeron’s on vocal music and education in the Belle Époque (2010). Yet Peter Bloom cautions that the archival to-do list remains daunting: collecting, publishing, and interpreting Cherubini’s massive correspondence, for instance, is far from done.41

At its bicentenary Yves Gérard characterized the Paris Conservatoire as an “organism that since the Revolution has produced the great majority of the actors on the French musical stage.”42 The mightily utopian aspirations in the 1790s for what was, after all, a trade school, draw us strikingly to the force of the ideas espoused by the citizens of the new nation. This particular trade school dealt in craft and discipline, to be sure—counterpoint and fugue both literal and metaphorical. But its quickness to identify and shape prodigy, and its efficacious control of supply and demand in the fraught profession of music-making elevated the stakes. The Conservatoire in the nineteenth century managed, for all its challenges, to accomplish exactly what it set out to do: foster sturdy French schools of composition and performance.


I am grateful to Peter Bloom, Anne Bongrain, Florence Gétreau, Catherine Massip, and Beverly Wilcox for reviewing and substantially improving this text.


Balmary, Anne. “Regard sur les créations de classes au Conservatoire.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 217–235.Find this resource:

Blay, Philippe, et al. Musée de la Musique, Paris, Guide. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Musée de La Musique, 1997.Find this resource:

Bongrain, Anne. Le Conservatoire National de Musique et de Déclamation, 1900–1930: documents historiques et administratifs. Paris: Vrin, 2012.Find this resource:

Bongrain, Anne, and Yves Gérard, with Marie-Hélène Coudroy-Saghai, eds. Le Conservatoire de Paris, 1795–1995: des Menus-Plaisirs à la Cité de la Musique (Bongrain 1996). Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1996.Find this resource:

Bongrain, Anne, and Alain Poirier, with Marie-Hélène Coudroy-Saghai, eds. Le Conservatoire de Paris, 1795–1995: deux cents ans de pédagogie. Proceedings of a colloquium at the Conservatoire in 1995. Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1999.Find this resource:

Campos, Rémy. “‘Mens sana in corpore sano’: l’introduction de l’histoire de la musique au Conservatoire.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 145–171.Find this resource:

Chimènes, Myriam, ed. La Vie musicale sous Vichy (Chimènes 2001). Brussels: Complexe, 2001.Find this resource:

Chimènes, Myriam, and Yannick Simon, eds. La Musique à Paris sous l’Occupation. Paris: Cité de la Musique/Fayard, 2013.Find this resource:

Chouquet, Gustave. Le Musée du Conservatoire de Musique: catalogue raisonné des instruments de cette collection. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1875. New edn. 1884 with supplements by Léon Pillaut, 1894, 1899, 1903; rpt. with introduction and index by Florence Gétreau. Geneva: Minkoff, 1973.Find this resource:

Cordey, Jean. La Société des Concerts du Conservatoire: notice historique par Jean Cordey, conservateur de la Bibliothèque et du Musée de l’Opéra. Paris: au Siège de la Société, 1941.Find this resource:

Curzon, Henri de. L’Histoire et la gloire de l’ancienne Salle du Conservatoire de Paris, 1811–1911. Paris: M. Senart, 1917. Eng. transl. “History and Glory of the Concert-Hall of the Paris Conservatory,” Musical Quarterly 3 (1971): 304–318.Find this resource:

Dandelot, Arthur. La Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de 1828 à 1897; les grands concerts symphoniques de Paris. Paris: G. Havard fils, 1898. 2nd edn. titled … (1828–1923). Paris: Delagrave, 1923.Find this resource:

Deldevez, E.-M.-E. La Société des Concerts, 1860 à 1885. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1887. Rpt. Heilbronn: Galland, 1998.Find this resource:

Devriès-Lesure, Anik. “Cherubini directeur du Conservatoire de Musique et de Déclamation.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Bongrain 1996), 39–96.Find this resource:

Dunan, Élisabeth. Inventaire de la série AJ 37: Archives de l’École Royale de Chant, de l’École royale dramatique, de l’École royale de musique et de déclamation, des Conservatoires impériaux, nationaux ou royaux de musique, ou de musique et de déclamation, à Paris, 1784–1925. Paris: S.E.V.P.E.N., 1971.Find this resource:

Elwart, Antoine. Histoire de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire Impérial de Musique. Paris: Castel, 1860.Find this resource:

Ferey, Mathieu, “Le Conservatoire et la politique culturelle de l’état au XIXe siècle: cent ans de décisions budgétaires. In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 237–254.Find this resource:

Gétreau, Florence. Aux origines du Musée de la Musique: les collections instrumentales du Conservatoire de Paris: 1793–1993. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Klincksieck, 1996.Find this resource:

Gétreau, Florence. “Un cabinet d’instruments pour l’instruction publique: faillite du projet, ouverture du débat.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Bongrain 1996), 133–150.Find this resource:

Holoman, D. Kern. “Orchestral Material from the Library of the Société des Concerts.” 19th-Century Music 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1983): 106–118.Find this resource:

Holoman, D. Kern. The Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, 18281967. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Hondré, Emmanuel. “Les méthodes officielles du Conservatoire.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 73–107.Find this resource:

Hondré, Emmanuel. “Liste des professeurs du Conservatoire des origines à nos jours.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 283–300.Find this resource:

Hondré, Emmanuel, ed. Le Conservatoire de Musique de Paris: regards sur une institution et son histoire (Hondré 1995). Paris: Association du Bureau des Étudiants du CNSMDP, 1995.Find this resource:

Lassabathie, Théodore. Histoire du Conservatoire impérial de musique et de déclamation, suivie de documents recueillis et mis en ordre. Paris: Michel Lévy frères, 1860.Find this resource:

Lavignac, Albert, and Lionel de La Laurencie, eds. Encyclopédie de la musique et Dictionnaire du Conservatoire I, 3 (France—Belgique—Angleterre). Paris: Delagrave, 1931.Find this resource:

Massip, Catherine. “La Bibliothèque de Conservatoire (1795–1819): une utopie réalisée?” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Bongrain 1996), 117–131.Find this resource:

Mongrédien, Jean, “Les premiers exercices publics d’élèves d’après la presse contemporaine (1800–1815).” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Bongrain 1996), 15–37.Find this resource:

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Pierre, Constant. Bernard Sarrette et les origines du Conservatoire National de Musique et de Déclamation. Paris: Delalain frères, 1895.Find this resource:

Pierre, Constant. Le Magasin de Musique à l’usage des fêtes nationales et du Conservatoire. Paris: Fischbacher, 1895.Find this resource:

Pierre, Constant. Le Conservatoire National de Musique et de Déclamation: documents historiques et administratifs. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1900.Find this resource:

Pierre, Constant. Notes sur les bâtiments et l’installation du Conservatoire National de Musique. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1903.Find this resource:

Prod’homme, J.-G., and Étienne de Crauzat. Les Menus Plaisirs du Roi, L’Ecole Royale, et le Conservatoire de Musique. Paris: Delagrave, 1929.Find this resource:

Ronzon, Laurent. “L’enseignement de la direction d’orchestre à ses débuts.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 185–201.Find this resource:

Sablonnière, Marguerite. “Claude Delvincourt et les Cadets du Conservatoire: une politique d’orchestre, 1943–1954.” In Le Conservatoire de Paris (Bongrain 1996), 261–281.Find this resource:


(1) See Mathieu Ferey, “Le Conservatoire et la politique culturelle de l’état au XIXe siècle: cent ans de décisions budgétaires,” Hondré 1995, 237–254.

(2) On Cherubini as director, see Anik Devriès-Lesure, “Cherubini directeur du Conservatoire de Musique et de Déclamation,” Bongrain 1996, 39–96.

(3) Fauré had taught at the Conservatoire since 1886.

(4) Papillon de la Ferté left a comprehensive journal, first published in 1887: Journal de Papillon de La Ferté, Intendant et Contrôleur de l’Argenterie, Menus-Plaisirs et Affaires de la Chambre du Roi, 1756–1780, ed. Ernest Boysse (Paris: Ollendorff, 1887).

(5) See Constant Pierre, Bernard Sarrette et les origines du Conservatoire National de Musique et de Déclamation (Paris: Delalain frères, 1895).

(6) «Monsieur! mon nom vous sera peut-être connu quelque jour, mais pour aujourd’hui…. Vous ne le saurez pas!—Arrête, a-a-arrête-le… qué-qué-qué zé lé fasse zeter en prison!» Hector Berlioz, Mémoires, etc. (Paris: Michel Lévy frères, 1870); transl. David Cairns (New York: Knopf, 1969, and multiple later edns.).

(7) Antoine Elwart, Histoire de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire Imperial de Musique (Paris: Castel, 1860), 5. See also Henri de Curzon, L’Histoire et la gloire de l’ancienne Salle du Conservatoire de Paris, 1811–1911 (Paris: M. Senart, 1917); Eng. transl. as “History and Glory of the Concert-Hall of the Paris Conservatory,” Musical Quarterly 3 (1971): 304–318.

(8) See illustrations “Le Jury du Conservatoire” (1903) and “L’Examen de Contrebasse” (1886) in Hondré 1995, pp. [29], [32].

(9) See Jean Mongrédien, “Les premiers exercices publics d’élèves d’après la presse contemporaine (1800–1815),” Bongrain 1996, 15–37.

(10) Emmanuel Hondré, “Liste des professeurs du Conservatoire des origines à nos jours,” Le Conservatoire de Paris (Hondré 1995), 281–300.

(11) See Emmanuel Hondré, “Les méthodes officielles du Conservatoire,” Hondré 1995, 73–107.

(12) Many of these were reprinted in facsimile in the publisher’s series Méthodes instrumentales les plus anciennes du Conservatoire de Paris (Geneva: Minkoff, 1977).

(13) Specifically pour servir à l’enseignement de la clarinette à anneaux mobiles et de celles à 13 clés (Paris: J. Meissonnier, 1843).

(14) See the publisher’s series Music from the Paris Conservatoire, ed. James R. Briscoe (Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2012):

(15) Charlton, David, “Paris, §VI: 1789–1870,” Grove Music Online/Oxford Music Online,

(16) Rémy Campos, “‘Mens sana in corpore sano’: l’introduction de l’histoire de la musique au Conservatoire,” Hondré 1995, p. 169.

(17) Letter 6 April 1912, Henry Rabaud to Gabriel Fauré, transcribed in Laurent Ronzon, “L’enseignement de la direction d’orchestre à ses débuts,” Hondré 1995, 198–201.

(18)  Berlioz Mémoires and Cairns translation, see n. 3.

(19) Elwart, p. 62.

(20) Tribune de Lausanne, 3 April 1917.

(21) Elwart, p. 287.

(22) Richard Wagner, “Über das Dirigiren” (1869), transl. Edward Dannreuther as “On Conducting” (London: Reeves, 1887), p. 15.

(23) Exterior: “Entry to the Concerts du Conservatoire” (1848), Bibliothèque Nationale Mus. and HERE; interior: “A Concert at the Conservatoire” (1843), in Prod’homme 1929, p. 137, and HERE.

(24) Lyon: Musée des Beaux-Arts, online HERE.

(25) Cited, following Constant Pierre, in Catherine Massip, “La Bibliothèque de Conservatoire (1795–1819): une utopie réalisée?”, Bongrain 1996, 117. The language of 1795 comes nearly verbatim from the decree founding the Institut National, November 1793, cited in Florence Gétreau, “Un cabinet d’instruments pour l’instruction publique: faillite du projet, ouverture du débat,” Bongrain 1996, p. 134.

(26) Cited, following Constant Pierre, in Catherine Massip, “La Bibliothèque de Conservatoire (1795–1819): une utopie réalisée?”, Bongrain 1996, 118.

(27) Cited, following Constant Pierre, in Catherine Massip, “La Bibliothèque de Conservatoire (1795–1819): une utopie réalisée?”, Bongrain 1996, 120.

(28) The widely reprinted photograph (HERE) was by Eugène Pirou, 1895.

(29) Rpt. Geneva: Minkoff, 1974.

(30) See a summarizing chart by D. Kern Holoman, “Orchestral Material from the Library of the Société des Concerts.” 19th-Century Music 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1983), p. 115.

(31) Gétreau, “Cabinet,” Bongrain 1996, 133–150.

(32) Gustave Chouquet, Le Musée du Conservatoire de Musique: Catalogue raisonné des instruments de cette collection (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1875); new edn. 1884 with supplements by Léon Pillaut, 1894, 1899, 1903; rpt. with introduction and index by Florence Gétreau (Geneva: Minkoff, 1973).

(33) An exhibition at the Brussels museum, “Sax200” (February 2014–January 2015), brought the substance of this material together for the first time since the 1877 auction.

(34) See Florence Gétreau, Aux origines du Musée de la Musique: les collections instrumentales du Conservatoire de Paris: 1793–1993 (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Klincksieck, 1996).

(35) The best recent account of the affaire is found in Roger Nichols, Ravel (New Haven; Yale University Press, 2011), 61–65.

(36) See Jean-Michel Nectoux, “Gabriel Fauré au Conservatoire de Paris: une philosophie de l’enseignement,” Bongrain 1996, 219–234.

(37) See Marguerite Sablonnière, “Claude Delvincourt et les Cadets du Conservatoire: une politique d’orchestre, 1943–1954,” Bongrain 1996, 261–281.

(38) See Jean-Marc Warszawski, “Le Conservatoire National sous l’Occupation: Jacques Chailley, l’histoire et la mémoire,”, 19 May 2011. See also Jean Gribenski, “L’exclusion des juifs du Conservatoire (1940–1942),” in La Musique sous Vichy, ed Myriam Chimènes (Brussels: Complexe, 2001), 143–56; the polemic was revisited during the colloquium at the Conservatoire organized by Chimènes and Yannick Simon, La Musique à Paris sous l’Occupation, 12–14 May 2013, with proceedings published under that title later in the year (Paris: Cité de la Musique/Fayard).

(39) The collection summarized and lavishly pictured in Philippe Blay et al., Musée de la Musique, Paris, Guide (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Musée de La Musique, 1997).

(40) Élisabeth Dunan, Inventaire de la série AJ 37: Archives … des Conservatoires impériaux, nationaux ou royaux de musique, ou de musique et de déclamation, à Paris, 1784–1925 (Paris: S.E.V.P.E.N., 1971); Frédéric de La Grandville, Le Conservatoire de Musique de Paris (1795–1815): Dictionnaire des élèves et aspirants; tableaux des classes (Paris: Institut de Recherche sur le Patrimoine Musical en France, 2014; online at

(41) Peter Bloom, review of Hondré 1995, Notes 52, no. 4 (June 1996): 1171–1174.

(42) Yves Gérard, in preface to Hondré 1995, 4–5; transl. after Bloom, op. cit.