Napoleonic Bows: French Connections

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Several violin, viola and cello bows still survive from the Imperial Court Orchestra of Napoleon III. Gennady Filimonov examines their history, and provides evidence that the so-called ‘Napoleonic-type bows’ originated with the first Emperor rather than the third

France in 1848: the unpopular King Louis-Philippe was overthrown in a popular uprising and Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, was elected president in a landslide victory. Three years later his position was strong enough for his supporters to stage a coup d’état, and he was proclaimed emperor on 2 December 1851, the anniversary of his uncle’s coronation in 1804. Like Napoleon I, he recognised the power of music in the popular imagination and over the next ten years he became a patron of the Paris Opéra, abolished the censorship of Paris theatres, invited Richard Wagner to Paris for the French premiere of Tannhäuser, and re-established concerts at the Imperial court. These were performed at the Louvre, with an orchestra composed of students from the Conservatoire de Paris.

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