During the 140 years of its existence, the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris was the most stable and the best orchestra in the city of Paris.
Shortly before the Revolution, the composer Gossec and others founded the Ecole Royale de Chant (Royal Singing School) with fifteen students in 1784. The National Directory established a country-wide system of musical education with a Conservatoire Superior (the Paris Conservatoire) as the head institution. It took over the staff of the former Ecole Royale de Chant and opened in October, 1796, with 115 professors and 351 pupils.
In its very first season, the Conservatoire initiated its practice of giving an annual concert featuring its prizewinning students. In 1800, it initiated a series of concerts, from five to twelve each year, using an orchestra of about 60 players, mostly pupils but with some of the teachers as well, that became well known because of the high quality of its playing. The conductor F.-A. Habaneck led these concerts from 1806. The Conservatoire was briefly closed after the fall of Napoleon, but the restored Bourbon monarchy reopened it in 1816. Under the leadership of Luigi Cherubini after 1822, it became the world's leading institute of higher musical education outside the field of musicology, which remained a specialty of the Sorbonne.
The post-Restoration period saw a decline in the pupils' orchestra concerts due to lack of financial support, and they ended altogether in 1824. But after Habaneck was appointed Inspector General of the Conservatoire, he launched a new organization with the support of the Minister of Arts. It was called the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and its orchestra was made up of 81 present and former students of the Conservatoire. It remained the leading concert organization of Paris for many years as several private concert organizations rose and fell. Richard Wagner wrote that this orchestra was "the only thing in Paris worthy of the attention of a musician." He said they had "correct execution" and the "secret of good interpretation."
In 1859, Pasdeloup founded the Société des Jeune Artistes du Conservatoire, an orchestra of the most superior instrumental players (about 60 of them) and choral singers (around 40) of the Conservatoire, a de facto revival of the old pupils' concerts. This series lasted until the war of 1870, but the main Conservatoire concerts continued despite occasional setbacks for the rest of the century and two-thirds of the next, and became the primary example of the French sound in orchestral playing. Its leading conductors after Habeneck included Hainl, Garcin, Taffanel, and Messager and, after World War I, such leaders as Paray, Wolff, Monteux, and Münch.
The Conservatoire Concerts faced a potent rival after 1937, when the French Radio organization founded its own Orchestra National de la RTF (which has become the French National Orchestra). Charles Munch became conductor of the Conservatoire Orchestra from 1938 to 1948, succeeded by André Cluytens. In 1967, Minister of Culture André Malraux disbanded the Société des concerts du Conservatoire. Many of its players became members of the organization Malraux established in its place, l'Orchestre de Paris.