(b.Amsterdam, 14 April 1792; d.Berne, 8 September 1873)
Sometimes known as the ‘Paganini of the flute’, Louis Drouet was a leading virtuoso. Born in 1792 in Amsterdam of a Dutch mother and a French father, he took up the flute at an early age and went on to play at both the Conservatoire and the Opera House, Paris aged only seven. He was largely self-taught on the flute but for composition he is known to have studied under Étienne Mehul and Anton Reicha at the Paris Conservatoire. In his 1826 book A Word or Two on the Flute, W. N. James wrote “It is said, … M. Drouet’s usual time for study was eight hours a-day ; … [and] is reported to have been so fond of his instrument, that he usually played an hour or two in bed every morning before he rose.”
Having made several successful concert tours with his father, Drouet was appointed Première Flûte to King Louis of Holland, brother of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In recognition of his services he was presented with a glass flute which survives today unbroken in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. In 1811 he was invited by the Emperor to Paris where he was appointed court flute player.
In 1816 he came to England where his first advertised appearance was at the Oratorio Concerts at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on 8 March 1816 where as “the celebrated Mons. Drouet, Premier Flute de la Chapelle du Roi de France” he played a flute concerto into which he “very elegantly introduced ‘God save the King’ as the slow movement of his concerto, and astonished the English public not more by the peculiar clearness of his tones, than by the novelty, brilliancy, and ingenuity of his variations to this air, already, one might suppose, so nearly exhausted amongst us as a subject for musical decoration.”
No account of Drouet in England would be complete without mention of Charles Nicholson (1795–1837) who by the time of Drouet’s arrival was the leading flute player in London and who was also at the Oratorio Concerts both at Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Early on the press drew attention to their rivalry:
“The attractions of the Oratorio entertainments at Drury-Lane Theatre were on Wednesday night considerably increased by the masterly execution of Mr. NICHOLSON, of Liverpool, on the flute. At the end of the first act Mr. NICHOLSON performed a Concerto, in which he introduced the pathetic Scots air Rosslyn Castle, and the national hymn God save the King. This gentleman, we conclude, is the English champion of the flute, and thus accepts the challenge of the French Damon, M. DROUET. We will not enter into any invidious comparison of their respective merits; but it is just to state, that Mr. NICHOLSON is a performer of the highest merit, and at least shews as many saltations as his rival, without being inferior in the other more pleasing though less astonishing qualities.”
Commercial Chronicle, 23 March 1816.
Their respective merits are discussed in W. N. James’s book A Word or Two on the Flute (Edinburgh, 1826) and in other publications. Drouet went on to play at the remaining Oratorio Concerts at Covent Garden, at the Philharmonic Society concert on 25 March and at numerous benefit concerts including the annual New Musical Fund concert on 25 April
The years 1817 to 1819 saw more performances at the Oratorio Concerts, many benefit concerts including two for his own benefit, the setting up a flute manufactory under his direction (which didn’t persist beyond 1819), provincial tours and participation in both the Birmingham and Liverpool musical festivals of 1817. Also in July 1817 he travelled to Dublin with Sir George Smart, his piano-playing daughter, Miss Drouet and a couple of singers where one of his performances excited “wonder and admiration”. This period was peppered with visits to the Continent to which he returned for some years in 1819.
Drouet came back to England in 1829 where, on 24 June, at the Argyll Rooms, his benefit concert took place at which his friend Mendelssohn’s overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream was given its England debut with Mendelssohn conducting. Drouet performed a new flute concerto, an air and variations on the Huntsman Chorus from Der Freischütz and his variations on ‘God save the King’. Mrs Drouet made her first appearance in England singing music by Weber. It is notable that, in Drouet’s lifetime, the pieces composed by him most frequently played by other flute players in England appear to be ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘God save the King’ and the ‘Huntsman’s Chorus’, all with variations.
Before his next departure for the Continent in the mid-1830s he played in several more concerts in London and the provinces with final performances for the New Musical Fund and the Philharmonic Society. In 1836 he was appointed Capellmeister to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – the father of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband.
He returned to England in 1842 where he performed before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on 4 July. She wrote “M. Drouèt [sic] played really wonderfully & most beautifully on the Flute.” On the Queen’s visit to Schloss Rosenau in Germany in August 1845, she recorded in her diary that after a grand banquet the party went down to the Marble Hall where “a concert was given under the direction of Capelmeister [sic] Drouet, known in London as the great flutist”. Evidently he played a solo, too, as the Queen wrote “The performers were from the Theatre, & a M. Drouet, who played beautifully on the flute.”
In 1854 he went to America with his son Louis Drouet, a talented pianist who had studied the piano under Mendelssohn and Moscheles. It was for his son who lived in York from 1859 to 1869 where he conducted, performed and taught that he gave what is most likely to have been his last public performance on the flute in 1860. “MONS. L. DROUET begs to announce that he purposes to give a SOIREE MUSICALE in the De Grey Rooms, York, on THURSDAY, the 8th of November, assisted by his father, Mons. Drouet, (formerly first Flautist to the Court of France, and at present Chapel Master at the Court of the reigning Duke of Saxe Cobourg and Gotha) and by several Amateurs.” The programme included his air and variations on ‘God save the King’ – now ‘God save the Queen’.
Drouet died in Berne, Switzerland of a stroke at the age of 81.
Drouet favoured a flute with eight keys, the number shown on the two flutes above. He left us with a method, over a hundred compositions including ten flute concertos, numerous fantasias, airs with variations, flute duets and studies. Several of his pieces and arrangements are available in modern editions.