Established in 1795 in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Paris Conservatoire emerged from a training school for National Guard musicians. Aligned with the French Republic’s broader educational reforms, the Conservatoire was marked by its secularization, standardized curriculum, military-style discipline, and hierarchical organization. Among its most ambitious achievements was the publication of new instruction treatises from 1799 to 1814. Covering elementary theory, solfège, harmony, and all the major instruments, these methods articulated the Conservatoire’s pedagogy and circulated widely in nineteenth-century Europe. Hugot and Wunderlich’s Méthode de flûte (1804) exemplifies the Conservatoire’s approach, making a distinct break from methods published only a few years earlier: abstract technical drills predominate, evenness of tone quality in all key areas is emphasized, and the instruction of improvisation is curtailed. Airs, brunettes, and other pieces typical of ancien régime tutors are replaced with exercises demanding repetitive practicing. Meticulous instructions for the mastery of the flute’s four-key mechanism bear a striking resemblance to rifle-handling directions in contemporary military training and combat manuals by Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert, and others.
The Conservatoire instruction manuals serve not only as guidebooks to historical fingerings and period performance style; they also can be read as social and political texts. Meant to advance a more rational music pedagogy, these treatises show the extent to which the military model permeated everyday life in post-revolutionary France. Further, they demonstrate a new conception of musical training beyond personal development toward the creation of professional musicians serving a patriotic, republican function. The treatise thus becomes what Michel Foucault calls a “simple instrument,” disciplining musicians’ bodies for the political goals of the state.