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G 12.052 CoverNarcisse Bousquet (1820–1869)
Air Varié sur Malborough

for recorder in F and piano
Edited by Michel Quagliozzi

Girolamo G 12.052, score and 1 part, € 18,00
ISMN 979-0-50084-084-8

sample page score

sample page recorder

G 12.051 G 13.001





Contemporary newspaper critiques describe Joseph Narcisse Bousquet (born on 31 January 1820 in Strassburg, died on 20 August 1869 in Paris) as “the best flageolet player in Paris”. However, he was famous not only as a brilliant virtuoso on his instrument, but also as a prolific composer of dance music, a conductor, a hard-working publisher and a sought-after teacher. He was born into a family of professional musicians and moved to Paris in about 1841, where he may have attended the Gymnase musical militaire, a school which was completely independent of the Conservatoire and dedicated solely to the revival of ceremonial military music.

After 1850, Bousquet’s name is closely associated with dance orchestras, whose concerts were regarded at the time as an essential source of amusement for a Parisian. Bousquet was very soon made assistant to the celebrated conductor Pierre Pilodo at the Bal Mabille and, in 1854, was appointed chief conductor of the highly regarded dance orchestra at the Ranelagh in the Passy gardens. Later, he also conducted regularly at the Jardin d’hiver, in the Salle Barthélémy and at the Elysée-Montmartre, but he never neglected his career as a soloist or his work as a teacher and publisher.

The indefatigable Bousquet died unexpectedly on 20 August, 1869 aged only 49, in his apartment at 125 Rue d’Aboukir, where not only his private apartment, but also his publishing house was located. The press unanimously commented on his death in tones of great regret.  Despite Bousquet's high reputation during his lifetime, his memory was erased by the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/71 to the point of complete oblivion.

The flageolet, which experienced unprecedented popularity among dance masters and in French dance orchestras at the end of the 18th century, had already been described by Marin Mersenne and Pierre Trichet in the 17th century. The French flageolet and the English patent flageolet have only little in common in terms of origin and construction, and it is therefore important to make a clear distinction between the two instruments. The French flageolet used by Bousquet was a direct descendant of the instrument described by Mersenne, which had four finger holes on top and two thumb holes at the back. Keys were gradually added – culminating in the adoption of the Boehm system – with the purpose of extending the instrument’s range to two chromatic octaves, improving the intonation and increasing the volume so that the flageolet could hold its own in the Romantic orchestra. Thanks to great performers such as Eugène Roy, Edmé and Hubert Collinet, Louis Jullien and Philippe Musard, this small instrument in G (with a range which corresponded approximately to that of a sopranino recorder) quickly became an indispensable ingredient in the entertainment orchestra in France throughout the entire 19th century.

The folk song Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre comes from the old vaudevilles, but its actual origin is uncertain. The satirical lyrics recount the death in 1722 of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, who was victorious against Louis XIV in the War of the Spanish Succession. Today, it is impossible to explain why this song suddenly became so very popular after 1783 and enjoyed this popularity throughout the following decades. It is said that Napoleon hummed the melody every time before going into battle. The song was also used by Beethoven in Wellington’s Victory (op. 91, 1813) to characterise the situation in the French camp. We do not know what inspired Bousquet to take up this melody, but the idea may have been derived from the famous variations for violin and piano on the same tune, composed by Adolphe Herman1 in 1856. The clownish, exuberant character of this piece made it a resounding success right from the date of publication. Newspapers report that Bousquet played his own composition of an Air varié for the first time as early as 4 and 5 July of the following year, 1857, in the Concert Musard. The successful operetta Le Page de Malborough by Frédéric Barbier, composed in 1858 for the Folies-Nouvelles, may have been another source of inspiration. Bousquet was well acquainted with the compositions of Herman and Barbier as he had already published several arrangements by these composers. But whatever the origin, the playful character of Bousquet’s variations obviously springs from the merry world of fools and requires a diversity of musical interpretation.

The dedication on the title page of the original edition, “Monsieur Noury”, most probably refers to Charles Noury (16.08.00–19.02.1877), who played horn and cornet and was a secondary school music teacher who also taught at the Music Academy of Douai.

Bousquet’s Air varié sur Malborough was published in two parts. The first was published in 1860 and contained solo parts for flageolet or flute and for cornet à piston together with the piano accompaniment. Two years later, a complete set of parts for a large orchestra was published as an accompaniment to the solo part as well as a septet version which has since been lost. The fact that Bousquet’s music was preserved at all is due to a law which obliged all music publishers to leave a copy of each printed work to the Imperial library and to the library of the Conservatoire in Paris. These prints are now preserved in the music department of the French National Library in Paris.

This edition is based on the print numbered VM9-1492, which consists of the solo part for flageolet and the piano score, which also includes the flageolet part. A comparison reveals various minor and a few major discrepancies between the separate solo part and the flageolet part in the piano score. The present edition has been based on this piano score as it is practically error-free. The additional articulation signs in the separate solo part were also adopted. On the basis of parallel passages and practical experience, a performer can easily add any missing articulation signs. This seems to have been taken for granted by Bousquet himself, as this “carelessness” is typical of all his editions. He relied on the experience and musicality of the performer instead of prescribing every last detail, thus avoiding an overload of notation.

The orchestral version (VM7-10562) was also consulted in order to clarify doubtful passages. It seems obvious that the work was first composed for flageolet and orchestra. Nevertheless, the arrangement for piano cannot merely be regarded as a simple piano reduction, but rather as a version in its own right, compiled by Bousquet with special care. In this edition, the Air varié sur Malborough was transposed a whole tone down from D major to C major making it playable for an alto or sopranino recorder. The editor’s report contains details of the necessary changes made.

Translation: Catherine Taylor

Michel Quagliozzi, May 2022 in Nice

1 Adolphe Herman: Malborough. Carnaval de Paris. Variations originales pour le violon, avec accompagnement de piano … Op. 27. Paris: Benacci-Peschier, [1856]