Pierre Baillot and Violin Pedagogy in Paris, 1795-1815

Congratulations to  Diane Tisdall, who also submitted her thesis very recently! We wish you all the best going forward with it. You can find the abstract below:

“My dissertation focuses on Paris from shortly after the French Revolution to the end of the First Napoleonic Empire (1795-1815). It concentrates on the professionalisation of violin teaching and learning in Paris in the period, using as a case study Pierre Baillot’s initial Conservatoire classes. The Directory government’s interest in creating practically-trained students, useful to la patrie, led to the inauguration of the Conservatoire in 1795, alongside specialist schools such as the science-based Ecole Polytechnique. The issue of music as a trade – métier – rather than an art-form beloved of the Ancien Régime, and within a cultural landscape marked by Napoleon’s fascination with Italian culture and aesthetic preference for vocal music, led to a turbulent first two decades at the Conservatoire. My detailed institutional history thus aims to contribute to existing scholarship on the early Conservatoire while also tracing how violin training related to contemporary cultural and educational change.

Pierre Baillot (1771-1842) was the most eminent European violin pedagogue of the early nineteenth century. One of the first violin teachers at the Paris Conservatoire, his classes ran for nearly fifty years. His violin manuals – Méthode de violon (1803) and L’Art du violon (1834) – remain a comprehensive and vibrant analysis of early nineteenth-century performance. With the help of the Conservatoire archives, press reviews and his own correspondence, I suggest that Baillot attempted, unlike many of his contemporaries, to overcome a fiercely-protected and oral pedagogical tradition. Rather than perpetuating a web of whispered secrets, he perceived music to have a strong social function; Baillot was happy to provide the means for his pupils to supersede him. By putting pedagogical integrity before his ego, Baillot proved the ideal teacher to propagate the Conservatoire’s national musical syllabus.                                         

As shown by Cynthia Gessele, the chaotic transfer in governments and ensuing legal loophole enabled the Conservatoire to keep its artistic independence from the newly-formed National Institute of Sciences and Arts. Maintaining internal control also enabled the Conservatoire administration to preserve its independence from the new Directory government, apart from in financial matters. Whilst Gessele is the first to provide a political history of the Conservatoire, she does play down (by inference) the institution’s relationship with the state. But was the Conservatoire really an independent institution? Were the rules and regulations actually followed? In 1900, Constant Pierre published a valuable body of work on the Conservatoire, opening the door on its archives to researchers: his books are a stepping-stone to finding the answers to such questions. But still, over a hundred years later, the dust on this admittedly labour-intensive, at times frustrating, but ultimately fascinating material, has barely been blown away. Even the scholarly editions brought out to commemorate the bicentenary of the Conservatoire’s foundation shied away from examining its full riches.

Whilst improved access to the archives makes for an easier navigation through the material – the Histoire de l’enseignement de la musique en France au XIXe siècle (1795-1914) (HEMEF) digitisation project is proving of great value to my research – all the resources require processing before a clear and detailed account of the first twenty years of the Conservatoire can be written. Such a project is sadly too large for one thesis. In my examination of the violin department, however, I attempt to initiate a move towards this goal as I weave my archival research through historian Jerrold Seigel’s theory of a ‘network of means’ – the drawing together of a group of disparate people to create a benchmark of technical competence, and so creating social power for the network itself and (some of) the people within it. Seigel’s statement that people, and their actions, are crucial to a network’s existence, may seem obvious but as studies in music education have highlighted, teachers and their pupils remain a relatively unexplored area of research.

This is why Baillot’s Conservatoire career features in my institutional history. Usually presented by scholars as an individually mighty pedagogue, as a (mostly) self-taught violinist, he would not have been able to generate or sustain a musical career without an involvement with the institution. Analysing his responsibilities at the Conservatoire, such as syllabus-setting, repertoire creation and of course, teaching, I show how his unorthodox musical training and aesthetical preferences informed his pedagogical ideology whilst attempting to fit within the newly-constructed institutional framework. We see that Baillot’s almost immediate veneration, as well as his constant financial struggle, were bound to the fortunes of the Conservatoire, in addition to the changing critical and public perceptions of performing excellence.”

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