Hubert Collinet was the most highly regarded French flageolet viruoso in the 19th and, perhaps, the only flageolet player to achieve International fame.
He was the son of Edmé Collinet and was born in Paris, in 1797, where his father was working as a flageolet player and music dealer. Presumably he was taught the flageolet by his father and, according to Fétis, surpassed him in the art of playing as he could play the instrument with “more taste and more elegance” albeit without the ability to surpass his father’s skill in executing the most difficult pieces.
Curiously, his first name was generally unknown in the 19th Century and I have not found any adverts or articles which even mention his first initial. It may be that this was an exercise in showmanship by Collinet; it seems very unlikely that it was not a deliberate decision on his part.
Publications which describe his physique almost always make reference to his shortness, no doubt because of the similarity to the size of his instrument. For example, writing in the second volume of the Gaplin Society Journal in 1949, 80 years after Collinet’s death, Adam Carse, the famous English organologist, imagines the ghost Collinet visiting his collection:
A small Frenchman rushes in and selects a French flageolet. I feel pretty certain that he is young Collinet, a star-soloist at Jullien’s promenade concerts, who during the American tour of Jullien’s band in 1856 [the true date was 1854: see below] was afraid to cross an icebound river, and was forcible strapped on to a ‘cello case and hauled across, shrieking and protesting...
Collinet appears to have first visited England in around 1819 and to have spent the 1820s and 1830s playing for society balls. He worked with a number of different orchestras. Some were listed under his own name, others included the Quadrille Band at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, between 1836 and 1845 and, in 1842, the “Orchestra de la Danse”.
He also worked with Philippe Musard’s (1793–1859) orchestra. However, he seems never to have become a regular member of the latter’s orchestra; an article in the Caledonian Mercury dated 30th November 1843 (19323) notes that: “in addition to the best of their old troops [Musard and the directors] have secured a considerable accession of new force, at the head of which stands, prominant, M. Collinet of London and Paris, the unrivalled performer on the flageolet…M. Collinet’s engagement, we regret to hear, is only for a short period.”
From 1841, Collinet began to perform with the flamboyant Parisian conductor Louise Antonie Jullien (1812–1860). He generally received second billing as a member of Jullien’s orchestra after the cornetist Hermann Kœnig. The last mention of him playing with Musard is in 1844 and from then on he appears to have taken an active part in Jullien’s many tours, including a tour of America in 1853. Adam Carse’ 1951 “The Life of Jullien” quotes the Musical World from 4th March, 1854 which described part of the tour when the orchestra was required to cross the forzen Susquehannah river:
The river was a mass of floating ice, and the steamer could not take them across to Baltimore, where they were to play that evening. It was decided to cross on foot, and a fiddler volunteered to act as pioneer. A sledge was improvised for the ladies and hauled across by a party of n—s. The orchestral luggage was loaded into three boats mounted on rollers, all except the monster drum, which had to be taken out of its case and rolled across by two life-guardsmen of our troop. All the musicians armed themselves with huge poles to pick the way, except little Collinet the flageolet player, who could not be prevailed to make the attempt. Consequently, we had to seize him by main force, strap him on to a violoncello case, and have him pulled across by a lot of young n—s shouting like devils during the transit.
It is not clear what happened to him in later years. The final concert advert mentioning him, so far discovered, dates from 1857, although as this year was the start of Jullien’s final descent into bankruptcy and insanity, not too much can be safely inferred from the lack of subsequent adverts. One possibility is that he could have returned to Paris to concentrate on other activities, especially if he had been burnt by Jullien’s financial misadventures.
It is not easy to underestimate the level of fame achieved by Collinet, in comparison to any other flageolet player and he is occasionally mentioned in poems and other popular literature of the period. For example, in the 1840s in his Airs of Haut-ton, Thomas Haynes Bayly, mocks the organiser of an “at home” (an informal gathering) who imagines it on the scale of a grand ball. He concludes by describing the music:
Oh! the matchless Collinet,
On his flageolet shall play;
How I love to hear the thrill of it !
Pasta’s song think what she will of it,
He will make a quick quadrille of it,
“Dove sono” dance away.
Equally, at the start of “The Ball” by John Nicholson (pub. 1859):
The Ball Room emulates the light of day—
All there is mirth, and ev’ry one is gay;
Each instrument to finest tones is set,
For leader of the quadrilles is Collinet.
Collinet’s lasting fame was such that, until the start of the 20th Century, dictionaries of music would often give the term “Collinet” as synonym for “flageolet”.
Jean Pierre Dantan (1800–1860) produced a number of caricature sculptures of notable musicians of his day. The original sculpture (perhaps dating from 1833) is probably in the collection of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris although engravings of it are held by a variety of art galleries and the Paris Conservatoire. To what extent it reflects reality is hard to ascertain! I have not seen the original but at least two prints of it were made.
Having, for years, thought that this “portrait” was the only one in existence I was pleased when, in July 2017, Megan Martin of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection at the Sydney Living Museum drew my attention to a sketch she found in the notebooks of Thomas Wingate (1807–1869) dating from the 10th January 1844. Its record number is 52362. Wingate was a soldier who seems to have been a fairly prolific amateur artist and made the sketch when stationed in Glasgow. His sketch is interesting in that it reproduces the mop of untidy hair from Dantan’s sketch as well as showing Collinet playing a standard 19th Century-style instrument. It also reinforces his shortness: the bottom of the instrument reaches his waist whereas the middle-of-the-chest would be more common!
There is at least one other portrait of Collinet, painted by R.G. Sweeting and exhibited at the 1838 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, though its whereabouts are currently unknown.
Collinet (. . .), virtuose sur le flageolet, fut d'abord admis comme flûtiste au théâtre des Variétés, puis se livra à l'étude du flageolet, perfectionna cet instrument en y ajoutant des clefs, et parvint à en jouer avec une habileté inconnue avant lui. Julien Clarchies, qui ent long-temps de la célébrité pour son talent de directeur d'orchestre de contredanses, engages Collinet à appliquer son instrument à ce genre de musique; celui-ci goûta ses conseils, et bientôt la vogue dont il jouit fut telle qu'on ne voulut plus danser à Paris qu'au son du flageolet de Colliqet. On a decet artiste:
- Deux concertos pour flageolet et orchestre, Paris, chez l'auteur;
- Un quatuor pour flageolet, violon, alto et violoncelle , Ibid.;
- Deux livres de duos pour deux flageolets, Ibid.;
- Plusieurs recueils d'airs variés pour deux flageolets, Ibid.;
- Plusieurs recueils de contredanses et valses pour flageolet, violon et basse, ou flageolet et piano, Paris, Langlois, Collinet, Frère et Meissonier;
- Des exercices, des préludes et des pots-pourris pour flageolet seul;
- Une méthod de flageolet dont it a été fait deux éditions, Paris Collinet.
Collinet (. . .), fils du précédent, né à Paris, vers 1797, a suprassé son père dabs l'art de jouer du flageolet. It y a dans son jeu plus de goût, plus d'élégance, sinon plus d'habileté dans l'exécution des traits difficiles. It joue les solos de flageolet dans le bel orchestre de danse organisé par M. Musard, et dans le bals de la cour. It est aussi marchand de musique et d'instrumens.François-Joseph Fétis, 1831, “Biographie Universelle Des Musiciens et Bibliography Générale de La Musique.”