What’s a French flageolet? A curious question, you may ask if you speak French. You will answer: well, it’s a small bean. Lost! In music, the flageolet is a small whistle flute, which I had the pleasure of discovering thanks to the wonderful recording by Hugo Reyne and his ensemble « La Simphonie du Marais« , one of the best French baroque orchestras, which devoutly defends the French musical heritage from Lully to Rameau. In Les Amours d’un Rossignol – Music for the French flageolet, Hugo Reyne takes on three roles: conductor, instrumentalist, and narrator. He guides us, both in English and French, into the exploration of this instrument, which he describes as follows: « The flageolet is an instrument that may very fittingly be termed a ‘pleasant companion’, for it may be carried in the pocket, and so, without any trouble, be in our company either on land and at sea ». This recording is, as Hugo Reyne explains in the beautiful booklet accompanying the disc, the very first one « entirely dedicated to the French flageolet and its repertoire », which spans a period from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
The title of the album, « suggested by Eugène Damaré‘s piece » (1840-1919), « one of the last to compose for the flageolet », refers to the nightingale, considered as the « songbirds’ king », and to whom Igor Stravinsky paid a beautiful musical tribute that inspired the title of the present text, because « the flageolet was used to « instruct » captive songbirds ». To guide music lovers in this universe unknown to many of us, Hugo Reyne has wrought out « an enlived as well as a varied chronological musical itinerary », which allows us to cross two centuries of popular and scholarly music, ranging from simple and well-known tunes such as « A la claire fontaine » to refined and rare works such as the delicious Concerto The Cuckoo and the Nightingale by Georg-Friendrich Handel (1685-1759).
In this album Hugo Reyne used 13 flageolets, most of them being instruments dating from the 19th century, sometimes restored for the occasion, while one was made by Philippe Bolton specially for this recording. The piece, light and danceable, interpreted with great joy, drive and finesse by Hugo Reyne and the musicians of La Simphonie du Marais, are a real enchantment and breath of fresh air, which help us escape from the weight of a daily life currently marked by the anguish of illness and the constraints of life under lockdown. Here is a musical opportunity to exit our homes and wander in nature with the nightingale…
« Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow. »