One can hardly imagine a less likely memento of the
Franco-Prussian War and its grisly aftermath than the
sweetly yearning Romance for flute and piano in D flat.
Inevitably, Saint-Saëns composed other pieces
specifically alluding to those events -- a cantata,
Chants de guerre, for instance, recomposed as the
orchestral Marche héroïque (1871) -- but it is the
Romance that has proven evergreen. News of the French
defeat at Sedan reached Paris on September 3, 1870.
With his fellow composers Bizet, Duparc, d'Indy, Fauré,
Widor -- to name the most prominent -- Saint-Saëns
joined the National Guard (Fourth Seine Battalion) and
served during the Siege of Paris, which ended with an
armistice on January 28, 1871, and the Germans'
triumphal parade down the Champs Elysées on March 1.
Toward the end of that bleak January, Saint-Saëns'
close friend, the talented painter Henri Regnault, was
killed by a stray German bullet. Redressing French
humiliation -- culturally, at least -- Saint-Saëns and
Conservatoire professor Romain Bussine met with Duparc
at the latter's apartment February 25 to establish the
Société Nationale de Musique, under the rubric "Ars
Gallica," for the performance and promotion of French
music. With the German withdrawal, a new revolutionary
contingent within the French populace defied the
Republican government and established the Paris Commune
on March 18.
Knowing that the anti-bourgeois Commune did not speak
for him, Saint-Saëns decamped on the last train to
leave Paris for the Channel. On a visit to London in
1880 he was to play before Queen Victoria, but in 1871
he arrived a penniless émigré. Meanwhile, before or
during his flight he completed the Romance in D flat --
the manuscript is dated March 25, 1871 -- lending a new
facet to anecdotes of his famed facility. In May, as
the Republic moved to crush the Commune, the Communards
arrested and shot the Archbishop of Paris with Abbé
Duguerry of the Madeleine, where Saint-Saëns was
organist. By May 28 the Commune was over and
Saint-Saëns returned to Paris in time for Duguerry's
funeral. The Société Nationale gave its first concert
in November, and the Romance received its première at
an SNM concert in the Salle Pleyel with renowned
flutist Paul Taffanel accompanied by Saint-Saëns on
April 6, 1872. By 1878 the composer had scored the work
for orchestra. In either version, the Romance has
remained a repertoire staple, affording a winning
epitome of Saint-Saëns' characteristic mixture of
elegant melancholy with brilliance in easily graspable
lied form, the caressing first and final strains
enclosing a more animated elegy.
Although originally created for Flute and Piano, I
created this arrangement for Viola & Concert (Pedal)