Jean Robert Planquette (July 31, 1848–January 28, 1903) was a French composer of songs, other light music, and operettas, several of which were extraordinarily successful in Britain, including Les cloches de Corneville (1878), the length of whose initial London run broke all records for any piece of musical theatre up to that time, and Rip Van Winkle (1882), which earned international fame. Planquette was born on July 31, 1848, in Paris, France, the son of a singer, and educated at the Paris Conservatoire. He did not finish his studies, lacking the funds to do so, and made a modest living by working as a pianist, composer, and singer at café concerts (cafés offering light music); he was a tenor. A few romances that he composed brought less fame than did his patriotic song, “Sambre et Meuse,” first sung in 1867 by Lucien Fugère, who went on to be one of the foremost French opera singers of his day. Arranged as the march Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse (1871), ir has achieved fame in an arrangement for brass band. It is the tune used by the Ohio State University Marching Band when performing their famed Script Ohio formation. The original orchestral version has been recorded by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
In 1876, the director of the Théâtre des Folies-Dramatiques gave Planquette a commission to compose his first operetta, Les cloches de Corneville (“The Bells of Corneville”; Eng. trans., The Chimes of Normandy), even though he had no experience writing for the stage. It opened in Paris in 1877, running for an extremely successful 480 performances, then enjoyed an astonishing London run, beginning in 1878, of a record-breaking 708 performances, and remains a staple of the light opera repertory. Planquette’s music has been praised for its pathos and romantic feeling. Le Chevalier Gaston was produced in 1879 with little success. In 1880 came Les Voltigeurs du 32ieme which had a long run in London in 1887 as The Old Guard, and La Cantiniére, which was translated into English as Nectarine, though never produced.
In 1882 Rip Van Winkle was produced in London and subsequently given in Paris as Rip, in both cases with great success. The libretto is an adaptation by H. B. Farnie of Washington Irving’s famous tale. In 1884 the phenomenon of an opera by a French composer being produced in London previously to being heard in Paris was repeated in Nell Gwynne, which was modestly successful, but failed when produced in Paris as La Princesse Colombine. It was followed by La Crémaillere (Paris, 1885), Surcouf (Paris, 1887; London, as Paul Jones, 1889), Captain Thérése (London, 1887), La Cocarde tricolore (Paris, 1892), Le Talisman (Paris, 1892), Panurge (Paris, 1895) and Mam’zelle Quat’sous (Paris, 1897). “The Song of the Cabin Boy,” a barcarolle from Planquette’s Les cloches de Corneville was played on the violin by W.K.L. Dickson in the first experiment in history in synchronizing sound and motion pictures (1894). Planquette died in Paris on Jan. 28, 1903.
Overall, Planquette was a minor talent whose sole gift was as a melodist; the refreshing tunes of “Les Cloches” effectively mask its technical and dramatic shortcomings. His music contains a touch of pathos and romantic feeling, which, had he cultivated it, would have placed him far above his contemporaries who wrote opéra bouffe; but he had a tendency to repeat the formula on which his reputation was built. The bells on his tomb in Pere Lachaise are a reference to his biggest hit. A street in Paris is named for him.
The following work by Robert Planquette is contained in my collection:
Les Cloches de Corneville: Overture.
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources