One can hardly imagine a less likely memento of the Franco-Prussian War and its grisly aftermath than the sweetly yearning Romance for flute and piano in D flat.
Inevitably, Saint-Saëns composed other pieces specifically alluding to those events -- a cantata, Chants de guerre, for instance, recomposed as the orchestral Marche héroïque (1871) -- but it is the Romance that has proven evergreen. News of the French defeat at Sedan reached Paris on September 3, 1870. With his fellow composers Bizet, Duparc, d'Indy, Fauré, Widor -- to name the most prominent -- Saint-Saëns joined the National Guard (Fourth Seine Battalion) and served during the Siege of Paris, which ended with an armistice on January 28, 1871, and the Germans' triumphal parade down the Champs Elysées on March 1.
Toward the end of that bleak January, Saint-Saëns' close friend, the talented painter Henri Regnault, was killed by a stray German bullet. Redressing French humiliation -- culturally, at least -- Saint-Saëns and Conservatoire professor Romain Bussine met with Duparc at the latter's apartment February 25 to establish the Société Nationale de Musique, under the rubric "Ars Gallica," for the performance and promotion of French music. With the German withdrawal, a new revolutionary contingent within the French populace defied the Republican government and established the Paris Commune on March 18.
Knowing that the anti-bourgeois Commune did not speak for him, Saint-Saëns decamped on the last train to leave Paris for the Channel. On a visit to London in 1880 he was to play before Queen Victoria, but in 1871 he arrived a penniless émigré. Meanwhile, before or during his flight he completed the Romance in D flat -- the manuscript is dated March 25, 1871 -- lending a new facet to anecdotes of his famed facility. In May, as the Republic moved to crush the Commune, the Communards arrested and shot the Archbishop of Paris with Abbé Duguerry of the Madeleine, where Saint-Saëns was organist. By May 28 the Commune was over and Saint-Saëns returned to Paris in time for Duguerry's funeral. The Société Nationale gave its first concert in November, and the Romance received its première at an SNM concert in the Salle Pleyel with renowned flutist Paul Taffanel accompanied by Saint-Saëns on April 6, 1872. By 1878 the composer had scored the work for orchestra. In either version, the Romance has remained a repertoire staple, affording a winning epitome of Saint-Saëns' characteristic mixture of elegant melancholy with brilliance in easily graspable lied form, the caressing first and final strains enclosing a more animated elegy.
Although originally created for Flute and Piano, I created this orchestral harp arrangement to highlight the light and airy arpeggios (the word comes from the Italian word "arpeggiare" , which means "to play on a harp"). It is best played using the "GeneralUser GS.sf2" Soundfont by S. Christian Collins Software (http://www.schristiancollins.com/generaluser.php).