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  • Renaud de Chateaudun’s “Queen of France” and the Royalist Lament in Federal Philadelphia:A Study in Atlantic Musical Politics
  • Myron Gray (bio)

The United States is not the first place where one expects to find musical tributes to deposed monarchs at the end of the eighteenth century. The American Revolution had overturned a royal administration, resulting in the first modern republic and offering a precedent to leaders of the French Revolution. Moreover, the federal era is known as a time of consolidation, when an antimonarchical national identity strengthened throughout the colonies turned states. It might seem strange that music lamenting the fall of the Old Regime found an audience in postrevolutionary America, but songs entitled “Captivity,” “Louis the Sixteenth’s Lamentation,” and “Maria Antoinette’s Complaint”—all sympathetic portrayals of the demise of the French king and queen—circulated in Philadelphia between 1793 and 1800. In part this phenomenon is attributable to the popularity of English music in American cities during the late eighteenth century—all of the above titles were reprints of London editions.1

But even so, it is hard to reconcile such a trend with the emergence of an American national consciousness. Further complicating matters is the existence of American-published royalist songs. One such work, [End Page 283] “The Queen of France to Her Children Just Before Her Execution,” is of particular interest. This lament had a multinational background, even though its only known site of publication, and thus its presumed point of origin, was the United States. Its text is a British poem, its subject and musical language derive from the European continent, and its composer, Jean-Baptiste Renaud de Chateaudun, was a refugee of the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) who settled in Pennsylvania in 1795. As perplexing as the far-flung components of “The Queen of France” might seem, however, they represent a useful framework for understanding early American music and politics. Whereas a national or Anglo-American paradigm cannot comprehend such a cultural hybrid, a broadly Atlantic perspective can. A circum-Atlantic logic could even explain the free circulation of antirepublican laments during the formative years when the new nation coalesced around republican principles.2

The political associations of “The Queen of France” were not the only characteristic that marked the song as a marginal form of expression. Its musical style was at least as problematic as its poetic tone. As said, English royalist lament enjoyed a degree of popularity in the urban United States. Featuring words by the Londoner John Wolcot (1738–1819), alias Peter Pindar, Chateaudun’s song correlated with other Philadelphia publications like Stephen Storace’s “Captivity” and John Percy’s “Maria Antoinette’s Complaint.”3 But whereas the choice of text was conventional, its musical language represented a departure from the Anglo-American mainstream. The prevailing style of the British laments, and indeed the dominant musical idiom in Philadelphia, was the galant.4 A comparison of Storace’s royalist song “Captivity” and Chateaudun’s “Queen of France” establishes a contrast between the emotionally muted rhetoric of Anglo-American salon music and the melodramatic impulse of songs connected to the northern European continent.5 The two works embody different approaches to representing grief, and further investigation shows that these paradigms were unequally privileged. Specifically, a graphic analysis of Chateaudun’s publications uncovers revisions that pulled his musical language closer to the English model of lament, underlining the hegemony of British musical culture in the urban early republic. Yet in addition to pinpointing culturally significant editorial decisions, such analysis clarifies the chronology of Chateaudun’s publications, situating them more accurately within the fast-changing political environment of the late eighteenth-century Atlantic world. A unique product of transatlantic circulation, “The Queen of France” went against the grain of early American music and politics. Couching outmoded monarchical values in an eccentric musical language, it illustrates the cultural heterogeneity of the young republic, forcing us to contend with influences from beyond the nation itself. It will be useful to begin, however, by reviewing our composer’s American itinerary. [End Page 284]

Chateaudun’s Pennsylvania Career

Aside from the fact that he published at least a dozen musical works while in the United...


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pp. 283-306
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