The Popular National Airs by M Metzler Print E-mail
Written by Tom Moore   

Hidden treasure can sometimes be waiting in unexpected places. The Boyce Library of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Louisville, Kentucky, has an interesting trove of early publications for flute, even though these works are certainly peripheral to the mission of the seminary and its library. Among these little-known gems is an interesting and apparently unique publication by M. Metzler, the Popular National Airs, Selected and Composed with Variations for the Flute by M. Metzler. The ornate title page seems to have the abbreviation “No.” after the composer’s name, so that one might expect that this publication was intended to be only one of a series of similar issues, with the same title page used for each, with the numeration entered by hand after the printed abbreviation (see, for an example of this, the Selection of Beauties (by Nicholson) also held by the SBTS Library, where the printed “No.” is followed by the handwritten 2, 13, and 14, for the library’s holdings). However, no number is entered for the Metzler publication, and I have found, until now, no reference to any other volumes.

Who was the composer of this volume? I have no information on his place of birth, nor dates of birth or death. One might surmise that there is a connection to the Metzler family involved with flute making. A Valentine Metzler, from Germany, arrived in London in 1788; when he died in 1833, his son, George took over the firm, and retired in 18661. We also know of a Martin Metzler, a flute-maker active in the area of Karlsruhe, who is represented by two one-keyed flauti d’amore now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York2 , with apparently few surviving instruments.

In addition to the Popular National Airs, there is a small body of surviving work by M. Metzler. Ordered by date, we have:

  • A favorite divertimento for two flutes, held at both the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the British Library, published in about 1805.
  • The Cheltenham Waltz, arranged for pianoforte and flute, published about 1811, held at the British Library.
  • New dances for the harp or piano forte, composed by M. Metzler. London: published for the author, by Holst [ca. 1812], held at the Bodleian.
  • Pray Goody, with two embellishments, included in vol. 1 of Alexander’s Select Beauties for the Flute [ca. 1813], p. 1613
  • Freut euch der Lebens, from Mozart, with six variations for two French Flageolets, etc. London: The composer, [ca. 1815], held at the British Library.
  • A Polonoise with variations for the flute and pianoforte, London, J. Power, 1819.
  • The Magic Flageolet, being a selection of the most esteemed, foreign, English, Irish and Scotch Melodies, adapted for the double and single patent flageolets by M. Metzler. London: J. Power, [WM1824].

In addition to these, we know of the existence of a “Tyrolean Air, with Variations” and of a Concerto for Flute, scored for strings, two oboes and two horns, published by Longman, from the periodical press.

Metzler had a level of success sufficient for him to be named in the same sentence with composers still known today, including the pianists Clementi, Cramer, Kalkbrenner, and Ries, and the flutist Nicholson, in a column published in the London Magazine of 1820 surveying the domestic musical scene4. The earliest mention of Metzler, to my knowledge, is from 1813, where his variations on a Tyrolean air (included in Alexander’s Select Beauties for the Flute) are praised for their originality5. In 1817, his Concerto is praised for its idiomatic writing for the instrument, compared favorably to the work of Drouet (the latter being too modern?), and the reviewer notes that it will serve not only for professionals, but also for the amateur flutist6.

The most extended notice in the press was the review of his 1819 Polonoise, which appeared in 1820 in the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol. 2, no. 65, p. 81, which said, in part:

A Polonoise, with Variations for the Flute and Piano Forte, composed by M. Metzler. London. Power.

This composition is worthy the regard of all flute players, and it is moreover acceptable to those who love music as the solace of domestic hours, inasmuch as it combines the two instruments in a way to render it peculiarly fitted for an addition to those stores, which are treasured up by musical families against winter's evening hours. The piano forte part presents no difficulties, indeed it is merely an accompaniment. It is to be expected, that Mr. Metzler should write with most fluency and with most preference for his own instrument.

In the introduction he has shewn his understanding of the real powers of the flute. It is novel and expressive, and the passages are notes of pure feeling. The Polacca has the features of the national character ascribed to it by the title, and is a light and graceful subject,

Var. 1. is very elegant, aiming at no difficulties, but breathing an air of chaste and (if we may apply a moral epithet) innocent beauty that is extremely characteristic and captivating.

Var. 2. consists of distant intervals, which are amongst the fashionable difficulties introduced principally by Mr. Drouet, and against which his variations upon God save the King7 sufficiently prepare the student. To say that we dislike these things, falls short of the sentiment we would express. They are what we should term the antics of musical science and mechanical skill, and this example resembles the blowing of a runner out of breath. The frequent recurrence of such methods of exciting surprize are foreign to good taste, and we should anticipate much the same sort of result upon the judgment of one accustomed to the continual contemplation of such things in Music, as we should in the drama, from one who should draw his principles from Sadler's Wells or the Circus.

The third variation returns to the natural style, but it is scarcely so sweet, so gay, or so beautiful as the former specimen in the first movement.

The fourth is in C minor and is delightfully plaintive, while it sustains all the graceful expressiveness of the flute. The chromatic passages are interspersed in a way to accord with the genius of the instrument as well as with the general style. The lugubrious effect of the repetition in the middle bars of page 6 raises a sentiment of corresponding delicacy and intensity. The accompaniment is managed with considerable judgment.

Var. 5. is a second appeal to fashion and difficulty— Here we go up, up, up, And here we go down, down, down...

We regard every composition as a design to raise corresponding emotions in the mind of the hearer—and with this leading impression we listen to the sixth variation with great pleasure. It images to us not only rural scenery, but the sensations we should experience, if while looking upon a rich and animated prospect of hill and dale, wood and stream, at the time of evening, the soft and sweet strains of a flute, neither gay nor plaintive, should rise upon the air. Such are our picturings with relation to this variation, and we repeat them, (romantic though they may seem, for the day-dreams of artists must be all romance) in the view of more strongly alluring future composers to compare their ideas during the period of production with their after sensations, and with the effects of their works. Such an examination is most likely to lead to successful results. The coda concludes the Polonoise with a lighter and stronger spirit. The echoes are nicely put in.

In conclusion we recommend this little piece for its simplicity, its suavity, and its adaptation to the most interesting, though not the grandest object of musical composition—the participation of domestic and private pleasures. The piano forte part is within anybody's reach, for there is nothing of execution, and perhaps hardly a sufficient share of attraction, even with the solo closes appended to each variation. The flute part contains some difficulties, though neither extreme in modulation nor affectedly elaborate in its passages. The expression is beautiful, and from this, as much as any other cause, we urge it upon the attention of young performers. They may catch much of the genuine power of the instrument8.

The Popular National Airs elicited no reviews that I could find in the press, and the copy of the SBTS collection seems to be the only one that survives. Although it is undated, the fact that it was published, like the latest items on the list above, by J. Power in London, argues for a date ca. 1820-1825. J. Power was already publishing circa 1810, and was active at 34 Strand shortly thereafter. The firm published a catalogue of its offerings of vocal and instrumental music in 1821.

Metzler includes three airs, each with extensive and elaborate variations, and each set concludes with a freer musical movement, a Polacca for nos. 1 and 3, and a Rondo for no. 2.

The first air is identified as Romance: Le Troubadour. Its source is the opera by Adrien Boieldieu, Jean de Paris, premiered in Paris April 4, 1812, where it is sung by Olivier in Act 2, Scene 6. This romance is also the subject of variations for unaccompanied flute by Jensen9 , but presented a fourth higher, in D.

Download Metzler Romance in PDF format.

The second air is identified only as Thema, but is a tune which appears in a work attributed to Joseph Haydn – the song for voice and piano, Liebes Mädchen, hör' mir zu , Hob. XXVIa – D1. It was certainly thought to be the work of Haydn, as the set of variations for piano with flute accompaniment by F. Tiebe listed among the new publications in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in January 180610 notes “sur l’air de J. Haydn”. Contemporary variations on the tune were also published by Gabrielsky (for solo flute, Berlin, ca. 1820) and A.L. Weiss (for solo guitar, Berlin, ca. 1810).

Download Metzler Thema in PDF format.

The third national air is Scots What Hae Wi’ Wallace Bled, for which the nationalistic text was written in 1793 by the famous Scots poet Robert Burns, at a time when, in spite of the successful repression of the Jacobite insurrection by the Stewart claimant to the throne of England almost fifty years earlier (ending with the defeat of the Jacobite forces at the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746, and the flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie), revolutionary times (the American Revolution of 1776-1783, and the French Revolution), the United Kingdom once again feared Scottish Nationalism (and was under attack by the French, who declared war on Feb. 1, 1793, after the execution of Louis XVI on Jan. 21).

Burns’ poetry was written for an old Scots tune11, later used in Scottish-themed pieces by Berlioz and Bruch.

Download Metzler Scots in PDF format.

To say a few words about the style of these works more generally, Metzler manages to write interesting and expressive variations without abusing the sort of bariolage (broken arpeggios in various extreme registers) that often makes the solo flute literature of the early 19th century so technically challenging, and which the critic writing about the Metzler Polonoise (quoted above) complains in the strongest language about. For this set of variations Metzler is far more likely to write scalar material, and avoids even moderate leaps. This does not mean that he avoids the extremes of the instrument, as the writing descends to a low C# (though very infrequently) and ascends to the high A. Nevertheless, in general the tessitura is fairly moderate, and it is clear that like Telemann, for example, Metzler knew how to play to the instrument’s strengths, and conceal its weaknesses. Particularly noteworthy are the frequent cadenzas in Le Troubadour , which appear in each variation at the points where the original theme had fermatas, providing, through the course of the first five variations, a virtual method in how to tastefully improvise fermatas and cadenzas.

One can only regret the loss of most of this composer’s works (particularly the Concerto), since on the evidence of this collection he was a flutist whose work combined technical mastery with good taste. These three extended works would be a fine addition to any modern flutist’s repertoire.




3. My thanks to Ruthann McTyre of the Rita Benton Music Library of the University of Iowa for this citation.

4. With lessons for the piano forte, the harp, and the flute, the town is daily deluged, and of these a great proportion are meritorious. We have, in this department, not alone our English musicians, but foreigners who may be said to be subjects of England by adoption. It is almost impossible to set down names without incurring the charge of invidiousness, where there is so much of talent; but we may enumerate Bochsa, Clementi, J. Cramer, Crotch, Drouet, Howell, Kalkbrenner, Latour, Metzler, Neate, Nicholson, Ries, since these composers have augmented the vast accumulation of our single instrumental pieces; and some of them, more particularly, have been of the most essential service to the rising generation of musicians, by their important additions to works of instruction. From The London Magazine, vol. 1 (Jan. 1, 1820), p. 90

5. In the present scarcity of good selections for the German flute, this will be an acceptable publication to those performers who have made some progress in the art of playing that most portable instrument. Many of the pieces are from Haydn, Mozart, Winter, Pleyel, Kozcluch, and Steibelt. Some pleasing ones, including a march for three flutes, are under the name Eley. Some of the arrangements by A. Ash deserve particular attention. An original Tyrolean air, with variations by Metzler, contains good practice, and is in a considerable degree original. From The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 113, p. 255 (March, 1813)

6. A Concerto for the Flute Principale, two Violins, tenor and bass, two Hautbois, and two Horns. Dedicated to Thos. Rumball, esq. by M. Metzler. Longman. This is a well written concerto, properly adapted to the genius of the instrument, and the parts are carefully connected. It is taking nothing from its menu to say that it is not quite a la Drouet, but of a more sober cast, and fitted for the amateur as well as the professor. From The new monthly magazine, Volume 8 p. 54 (Aug. 1, 1817)

7. The Drouet variations are published in a modern edition in vol. 2 of Con Variazione, ed. Gerhard Braun, Heinrichshofen Verlag, 2005


9. Discussed in my article on Jensen’s variations, where it is no. 3, in Flute Focus:

10. Vol.8, 1806.


Tom MooreTom Moore is a journalist, musician, and translator living in Rio de Janeiro. He has recorded Telemann for Lyrichord (USA) and Boismortier for A Casa Discos (Brazil). He writes about music for BrazilMax, Musica Brasileira, 21st Century Music, Opera Today, Flute Talk, Sonograma, Early Music America, and other venues.