Chapter 5: Habeneck
Habeneck did not attend the Assemblée Générale closing the session, on 7 May 1848. His formerly robust constitution had declined dramatically since 1842; he had retired from the Opéra in 1846. Probably he was suffering cerebral accidents: eventually he lost the use of his arms and legs, and his reason was affected as well. The political events of February 1848 appear to have confused him and left the orchestra rudderless in a time of crisis, in stark contrast to the way George-Hainl would steer it through the agonies of 1870 and Münch through World War II. Increasingly he was to be found in his country house at Chatou, near St. Germain-en-Laye. His closest friend among the musicians and a frequent companion in last years was the flutist Tulou, with whom he enjoyed hunting until he was no longer able. He would talk aimlessly about the past, said Tulou, and of a future in which he knew he would have little part; the privation of physical powers caused him intense anguish.” His colleagues at the Société des Concerts had already begun to search for some gentle way of removing him from the podium, to assure the power of the institution over even the most august of its members.
He reported that he was was still en voyage in August 1848, when the new committee returned to address the manner in which he would be removed. Charles Saint-Laurent, the old archiviste-caissieras old as Habeneck, and also in declining healthhad tried to signal the turning point in May 1845 when he first proposed a statute making it possible to elect a président dhonneur; it seems likely that this idea gained a certain momentum when Habeneck was ill in November 1845 and may have been discussed with him at one of the meetings the committee held in his home. The committee for 184849, strategically put in place by nominations from the outgoing members, included three of the strongest administrators the Société des Concerts had ever had: Meifred as secretary, Saint-Laurent as archiviste-caissier, and Trévaux as membre adjoint. They arranged for the necessary twelve sociétaires to submit a petition for action, received and approved on 2 September. They called an Assemblée Générale extraordinaire for 7 September 1848 to ratify the simple amendment: The Société, in witness of its great esteem and consideration, may accord the title président dhonneur à vie to those of its members who retire after at least twenty years of service.”
Auber presided; neither Habeneck nor Saint-Laurent attended. Immediately after the formal reading, a member asked for the meeting to be suspended for fifteen minutes so that the musicians could discuss the situation. They returned understanding that they were about to retire their conductor, and Seuriot proposed to amend the language to that effect: to a chef dorchestre who retires ” Elder members including Tulou objected to passing the measure behind Habenecks back, and others wondered who would take him their decision. On the third reading, each phrase was considered, each word weighed,” and at the end there were no modifications proposed. Adding to the record that the society appreciates the motives behind the proposition addressed to the committee,” the members voted passage, 60 favoring and 3 opposed. On the 10th a letter accompanying a transcript of the minutes was signed by each member, and the next day, assembled in Aubers office at noon, the committee received Habenecks written resignation.