Robert Bigio flute pages
Articles on the flute
By Bernard Duplaix
Translated by Robert Bigio
Léon Fontbonne (1859–1940) was born in Clermont-Ferrand,
in central France. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War
in 1870, Fontbonne's family moved to Belgium. There, after
an apprenticeship as a typographer at a newspaper and after
teaching himself the flute, Fontbonne began his musical
studies, including composition, at the Conservatoire in Liège
where he studied with Edouard Tricot. He received his
Premier Prix with distinction in 1877.
On returning to France, he continued serious studies in
composition and played in symphony orchestras in Paris. In
1883 he was admitted, without audition, into the Musique de
la Garde Républicaine, the official band and orchestra, where
he soon became first flute. He occupied this position until
1908, often doubling on piccolo. A hugely talented man and
an engaging character, he became one of the most popular
musicians of the Belle Époque. Fontbonne was adored by
Paris audiences and particularly by lovers of open-air
concerts, and as a pioneer of recordings he achieved a level of national fame scarcely imaginable
Fontbonne left the Garde Républicaine after 25 years' service, but, while remaining nostalgic about
his past glory, this most positive-minded musician directed his energies to many undertakings,
notably as a composer, concert organiser and conductor, and remained active for a number of
decades. He died in Paris in 1940 having spent his final years tirelessly telling the tales of the great
adventure of his life: the Garde Républicaine.
Christopher Steward’s early flute recordings
Fontbonne: La Chasse aux Papillons, with an
unknown pianist. Recorded July 1899.
Photograph of Léon Fontbonne
courtesy of Bernard Duplaix.