“Le Flageolet”: L’Illustration

29th Mars 1902

This satirical article, published at the very end of the French flageolet’s popularity, mocks the flageolet-player for taking too seriously a lowly and unpleasantly-sounding instrument.

The original French text is reproduced below, followed by a translation.

Whilst the article is biting in tone, Georges Charlet’s pastel portrait of the flageolet player is far more sympathetic to the player and the instrument being played appears to be a rather finely turned keyless instrument in a style that was not fashionable at the start of the 20th Century.


An engraving after a pastel by Georges Charlet of a man playing a French flageolet, with a young girl in the background.

Le Flageolet

Le flageolet, instrument primitif et ingrat, généralment banni des orchestres sérieux, a pourtant ses virtuoses.  Parfois c'eset un musicien de village qui fait danser sur le pré ou dans quelque salle enfumée d'auberge ; souvent c'est un mendiant aveugle, qui sévi, implacable, comme si chez lui le sens de l'ouïe n'était pas moins aboli que celui de la vue.

Plus rare est l'amateur bourgeois ; mais il existe, — toutes les bizarreries existent, — et notre joueur flageolet représente assurément un type achevé de cette espèce de maniaques.  Il ne s'amuse pas, il « travaille » consciencieusement son instrument, il met à son jeu de l'application, de la passion ; il soigne son doigté, mesure son souffle, ferme les yeux pour se recueillir et mieux saisir les nuances ; bref, il s'efforce de donner une àme à ce sifflet vulgaire.  Y réussit-il? Il est permis d'en douter à voir l'expression plutot effaree qu'admirative de la fillette, son auditrice unique — on pourrait dire plutòt: son innocente victime.

Une comédie nouvelle nous a révélé, d'ailleurs, un phénoméne plus extraordinaire encore: l'amateur princier, en la personne d'un certain roi d'Illyrie, lequel joue du flagoelet pour calmer sese nerfs.  Il est assez curieux que les sons aigus et criards d'un pareil instrument exercent cette bienfaisante influence sur l'exécutant, alors qu'ils produisent un effet si different sur les nerfs des malheureux condamnés à l'entendre.

Translation

The flageolet, an instrument primitive and ungrateful, is generally banished serious orchestras. However it has its virtuosos. Sometimes it is a village musician who plays for a dance on the green or in some smoked out room of inn. Often it is a blind beggar, who plays relentlessly, as if at his hearing was not any better than his sight.

Rarer is the middle-class amateur; but he exists (as all bizarrities exist) and our flageolet player represents, undoubtedly, the archetype of this species of maniacs. He does not have fun: he conscientiously “works” his instrument. His playing is industrious and with passion; he looks after his fingers, measures his breath, closes his eyes to collect himself and better seize the nuances. In short, he endeavours to give a life to this vulgar whistle. Does he succeed? One has to doubt it when ones sees the rather aghast expression of the admiring of the young girl, his single listener (or, one could rather say: his innocent victim).

A new comedy revealed us, moreover, a more extraordinary phenomenon still: the princely amateur, is rather like a certain Illyrian King, who plays of the flagoelet to calm his nerves. It is rather curious that the acute and yelling sounds of such an instrument exert this beneficial influence on the player, whereas they produce an effect so different on the nerves of unhappy condemned to hear it.

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