This Fantaisie is a set of variations on the Choeur des Baigneuses (Chorus of the Bathers) from the opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer which premiered in Paris in 1836. The opera was very successful and was performed at the Paris Opera over 1,000 times. As the opera’s fame spread throughout Europe and even to the United States, many composers wrote variations on popular tunes from it.
This variation set was composed by Charles de Cottignies (b. 1805 – d.?). He was a well-known flutist and composer who was thought of more highly for his composing than his playing. He was born in Lille and moved to Paris in 1823 where he studied with Berbiguier. Although hundreds of his works were available in the 19th century, very few are known today. Modern editions include one set of variations from Norma and his Concerto, Op. 38.
The Fantaisie is from an original manuscript of some 115 French works for solo flute that is in my collection and has not been published in modern times. No other version of this piece is known. Included are the Théme, Variation 1, and Rondo (final variation). I have not included the second variation in this edition. The piece has a short Ritournelle section at the end of each variation – this does not appear to be part of the movement from the opera.
The French flutist/composers from this time were extremely meticulous about articulation marks in their music. There are many slurs, often in non-standard groupings, going across beats. They also used staccato marks, with or without slurs, accents, some dynamics, and a few crescendo/decrescendo marks. It is important to observe these carefully. In performance, do not play through from one slur to the next. Instead think of the end of a slur as a relaxed ending and the beginning of the next slur as coming out of a tiny silence. The marking in the opera for the Théme is Poco Andante, and one source has a metronome marking of quarter = 76. I think that is too slow for this solo version although the Théme should not be too fast. I would play at around quarter = 92. The first variation should be quarter = 104 and the final Rondo at dotted quarter = 98. The little Ritournelle section at the end of the Théme and first variation can be quick, around half note = 130.