Berlioz and Fétis
1842: the first visit
1855: the second visit
Berlioz and Adolphe Samuel
This page is also available in French
9 December: first performance of the Le Retour à la vie (the Mélologue) at the Conservatoire in the presence of Fétis
February: Fétis publishes a critical article on the Symphonie fantastique
January-February: Adolphe Sax comes to settle in Paris
Summer: Berlioz meets Jean-François Snel in Paris
19 September: Berlioz dines with Meyerbeer before departing for Belgium
20 September: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for Brussels by stage-coach
21 September: arrival in Brussels
24 September: Berlioz hears a mass by Snel at Sainte-Gudule, which he reviews in L’Éclair
26 September: first concert of Berlioz, in the Salle de la Grande-Harmonie
9 October: second concert by Berlioz, in the Temple des Augustins
mid-October: departure for Frankfurt
23 October: return to Paris
12 December: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for Brussels
14 December: arrival in Brussels
17 December: arrival in Frankfurt
August: Fétis is one of the delegates from Brussels at the Beethoven festival in Bonn
9 February: Berlioz and Marie Recio stop in Brussels on their way to Weimar
12 March: Berlioz and Marie Recio leave Paris for Brussels by train
14 March: rehearsals begin
17 March: first concert at the théâtre du cirque
22 March: second concert at the théâtre du cirque
27 March: third concert at the théâtre du cirque
29 March: departure for Paris
November: there is talk of staging Les Troyens in Brussels, though nothing comes of this (CG no. 2789)
January: Berlioz declines an invitation from Samuel to Brussels
17-20 July: Berlioz, together with Fétis and Ferdinand Hiller, serves on an international jury in Louvain
12 October: revival of Gluck’s Alceste at the Opéra supervised by Berlioz and in the presence of Fétis
Brussels was the first city outside France where Berlioz gave concerts, in the autumn of 1842 as a prelude to his first grand tour of Germany. Unlike the vast majority of other cities that Berlioz visited in his musical travels – in Germany, central Europe, Russia, England – Brussels was of course French-speaking, and this helped in the initial stages.
Belgium only became an independent country in 1830 as a consequence of the September revolution of that year which replicated the July revolution in Paris which Berlioz had witnessed (cf. Correspondance Générale no. 772bis, hereafter CG for short). Brussels naturally became the capital of the new state. For Brussels, and for Belgium generally, Paris had long provided a natural focus of attraction and a model: musicians from Belgium gravitated to the French capital, and continued to do so after their country became independent. From his early days in Paris Berlioz met a number of these and became friendly with them. Such was the violinist François-Jean-Baptiste Seghers (1801-1881) who settled in Paris in 1821; little has survived of the correspondence between the two men but it shows that they were on friendly terms for much of Berlioz’s life (CG nos. 300, 1757, 3183; cf. also Memoirs Post Scriptum). Another example is the violinist Antoine Bessems (1806-1868) to whom Berlioz gave in 1835 the autograph score of his Messe Solennelle ‘in memory of their old friendship’: the manuscript eventually ended up in a church in Antwerp where it lay unnoticed for many years until its rediscovery in 1991. A manuscript list of musicians in Berlioz’s hand shows that Bessems was one of several players who had provided their services for free at concerts given by Berlioz in November 1835.
Much more important than either of these was the eminent critic and musicologist François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871), a major figure on the 19th century musical scene, known in particular for his pioneering Biographie universelle des musiciens. The work was first published in 8 volumes from 1835 to 1844, and established itself quickly as the standard work of reference on the subject: Berlioz himself treated the work as authoritative and made frequent use of it (cf. e.g. CG nos. 1375, 1432, 1485; À Travers chants and his essay on Méhul). A native of Mons, Fétis entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1800, where he won a second prize in 1807, taught harmony from 1821 to 1823, and was librarian from 1826 to 1830. He was also active as a critic and writer: in 1827 he founded the Revue Musicale, which in 1834 fused with the Gazette Musicale newly launched by the publisher Schlesinger to become the Revue et Gazette Musicale. An influential part of the musical establishment in Paris, he and the young Berlioz were bound to come into contact sooner or later; it was a relationship that went through many phases and lasted through most of their careers.
Berlioz relates in his Memoirs that Fétis was initially sympathetic and supportive. In connection with his first concert on 26 May 1828 he writes (ch. 19): ‘Many papers gave warm praise to this concert […] Even Fétis talked about me in a salon in the most flattering terms and announced my appearance on the musical scene as a major event’. In connection with the preparations for first performance of the Tempest overture on 7 November 1830 he recalls (ch. 27): ‘The general rehearsal was superb; Fétis, who was giving me his full support, attended it and showed a great deal of interest for the work and for its author’. The composer’s correspondence provides some additional detail. Fétis is first mentioned in a letter of 1827 as a critic whose verdict mattered to Berlioz – the context is the second performance of Berlioz’s Messe Solennelle at Saint-Eustache (CG no. 77 [revised text in vol. VIII], 29 November). Before his first concert of May 1828 Berlioz sent a circular to several papers, including Fétis’ Revue Musicale, to justify his decision to give a concert devoted entirely to his own music (CG no. 86). Fétis was one of those who in the autumn of 1830 wrote to support Berlioz’s (unsuccessful) request to be excused from the requirement of travelling to Italy after winning the Prix de Rome (CG no. 187). Not long after (6 November) Berlioz wrote to Fétis inviting him to attend the final rehearsal of the Tempest overture (CG no. 188bis [in vol. VIII]), and after the performance he wrote on 19 November to his friend Humbert Ferrand: ‘Fétis has written two splendid articles about me in the Revue Musicale’ (CG no. 189). Fétis and others attended the first performance of the Symphonie Fantastique at the Conservatoire on 5 December and the day after Berlioz wrote to his father: ‘Pixis, Spontini, Meyerbeer and Fétis applauded me furiously’ (CG no. 190). On 29 December, the day before his departure for Italy Berlioz made a point of thanking Fétis for the support he had given him (CG no. 199).
Interestingly Fétis’ own articles give a more mixed assessment of the young Berlioz’s achievements than one would gather from the composer’s correspondence. The review of the concert of May 1828 was at once encouraging and qualified (French text in David Cairns, Hector Berlioz I [French edition, 2002], 317-18; English version in Michael Rose, Berlioz Remembered , 22-3, more fully in David Cairns, Berlioz I , 280-1):
M. Berlioz has the happiest disposition; he has capability and genius. His style is energetic and sinewy. His inspirations frequently show elegance, but more often the composer, swept away by his youthful and impetuous imagination, exhausts himself in contriving effects that are original and passionate. There is much that is good in this, but some of it is also bad. […] M. Berlioz is a pupil of M. Lesueur; the advice, and especially the example of his master, should probably succeed in convincing this young composer that simplicity of style and well-organised ideas do not by any means preclude the vigour and vitality in which he delights so much. […]
The publication in 1830 of Berlioz’s Neuf Mélodies elicited from Fétis a rather left-handed compliment (French text cited by Cairns Hector Berlioz I [French edition], 395-6):
We can only congratulate M. Berlioz for adopting in this work a melodic style that is much more graceful than in his other compositions. There is charm in this collection of melodies, and it is evident that all that M. Berlioz needs is the will to follow a natural path, the only one that can lead to durable success.
Ostensibly, according to Berlioz himself, the point of friction was not any criticism of Berlioz’s own music, but Fétis’ rather patronising manner with Beethoven. In the Memoirs (ch. 44, cf. ch. 16) Berlioz relates that he had been incensed by ‘corrections’ that Fétis had made to Beethoven’s harmonic writing in an edition of the symphonies. Berlioz could have added that a biographical study of Beethoven published by him in 1829 (Critique musicale I, 47-61) was a riposte to an article of Fétis a few months earlier (cf. David Cairns, Berlioz I , 312, 317-20).
Fétis did indeed represent for Berlioz an example of the musical establishment that he spent much of his career in Paris fighting against. But the abrupt change in Berlioz’s tone with Fétis came apparently not while he was still in Paris, but after his departure to Italy. The first indication is provided by a letter to his friend Ferdinand Hiller dated 1 January 1832, where Fétis (not named, but clearly alluded to) is rudely taken to task for having failed to mention a concert by Hiller (CG no. 256):
[…] We would have been really flattered to hear the verdict that this dripping leg of lamb would have bestowed from the height of his succulence on your new compositions. This Falstaff has such a good understanding of the poetry of art!… Be patient, I have thrown a spoke in his wheels in a certain melologue which I am asking you not to mention and in which I gave free rein to some of the torrents of bitterness that my heart could hardly contain. When performed this will have the effect of a bombshell in a diplomat’s drawing-room […]
The language that Berlioz continued to use privately about Fétis for years to come shows the same personal animus and his instinct was to assume the worst of Fétis (cf. CG nos. 778, 1083). It has been suggested by Peter Bloom that it was not merely Fétis’ attitude to Beethoven that provoked Berlioz’s sudden anger, but that this was connected with Camille Moke’s break with Berlioz early in 1831 (cf. David Cairns, Berlioz I , 535). Berlioz may have believed that Fétis, a friend of the Moke family, was in some way responsible. How deeply this episode wounded Berlioz can be seen not so much from the rather light-hearted account in the Memoirs (ch. 34), as from the gruesome story of revenge in Euphonia which Berlioz published many years later in 1844 (Critique musicale V, 425-52, 473-77, 495-7, 529-34) and reproduced in 1852 in his Soirées de l’orchestre (25th Evening).
The result of the break was the calculated and notorious public attack on Fétis in the Mélologue, written during Berlioz’s stay in Italy and alluded to in the letter to Hiller. The work was first performed at the Conservatoire as a sequel to the Symphonie Fantastique on 9 December 1832, in the presence of Fétis himself. The effect was immediate, as Berlioz wrote to his father on 14 December (CG no. 299):
[…] Fétis took on the chin the slap I administered to him in the Melologue, in the tirade against the arrangers and correctors, and he has taken his revenge today in a virulent article in Le Temps where his anger explodes everywhere. But no matter, the work has had a huge success […]
It so happens that not long after this episode Fétis left Paris to return to Brussels, though there is no suggestion that this was connected with the feud with Berlioz. One consequence of the emancipation of Belgium in 1830 was the decision of the new state to establish its own Conservatoire without delay. It was founded in 1832, and Fétis became its first director the following year, a position he continued to hold until his death almost forty years later. Fétis could have pursued a career in Paris, as did other Belgian musicians at the time, such as Seghers, Bessems and Adolphe Sax later; instead he chose to return to his native country and to build up the new institution on the model of Paris (Brussels was thought of as a ‘little Paris’; cf. Léon de Wailly to Berlioz in 1855, CG no. 1926; cf. also 2190). Berlioz showed otherwise considerable interest in the musical institutions of many of the cities that he later visited – in Germany, central Europe, Russia, England – but he never apparently devoted the same attention to the Brussels Conservatoire. It only earns a passing footnote in the comments he wrote in 1848 on the Prague and Paris Conservatoires: ‘I do not yet know about the internal organisation of the Brussels Conservatoire, ably directed by M. Fétis, except that it is one of the largest’.
After the falling out of 1832 it was open warfare between Berlioz and Fétis, and the musical world of Europe could not but be aware of the feud. In February 1835 Fétis published a damning study of the Symphonie Fantastique which had appeared the previous year in Liszt’s piano transcription, and took the opportunity to rewrite the history of his own previous encouragement of Berlioz (Rose, Berlioz Remembered, pp. 15-16, 22, 100-1, 118-19). The study elicited a reply from Schumann in an article in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in Leipzig, and others in Germany joined in the argument. ‘I have had great success in Germany thanks to Liszt’s piano arrangement of my Fantastic Symphony’, writes Berlioz to his friend Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 453, 16 December 1835); ‘I have been sent a bundle of papers from Leipzig and Berlin in which Fétis has been roundly criticised for my sake’. Berlioz, without replying himself to Fétis’ criticisms, did not miss opportunities to counter-attack. He referred in rather dismissive terms to the concerts historiques that Fétis had been organising in Paris since 1832 (Critique musicale II.136-7, 139-41 – April & May 1835; cf. CG no. 2683), gave encouragement to a writer involved in a polemic with Fétis (CG nos. 467, 481 – in 1836), warned the critic Rellstab in Berlin against the biographical article on Berlioz in Fétis (‘The biography by M. Fétis was written with an avowedly hostile purpose, and many of the facts it contains are absolutely wrong’ – CG no. 549, 31 March 1838), and commenting to his sister Adèle about the success of a concert he had recently given remarked ‘Fétis was present, and he nearly had a heart attack – out of rage’ (CG no. 703, 13 February 1840).
Early in 1842 another Belgian musician came to settle in Paris, the celebrated instrument maker Adolphe Sax (1814-1894). It is apparently unclear in what circumstances he and Berlioz first met, but Berlioz, a keen judge of instruments and instrument makers, was immediately convinced of Sax’s talent and gave him from the start unstinting support. At the time Berlioz was publishing a series of articles on musical instruments, which he was soon to gather in book form in his Treatise on Orchestration. Sax is first mentioned by Berlioz in an article dated 13 March (Critique musicale V, p. 61), and on 12 June Berlioz devoted an entry in the Journal des Débats to promote the new talent (Critique musicale V, p. 136-9): ‘M. Adolphe Sax, from Brussels […] is a man with a penetrating mind, clear-headed, obstinate, with an endurance equal to any challenge, highly skilled, always prepared to replace in their specialities workmen who are incapable of understanding and realising his plans; he is simultaneously a calculator and an expert in acoustics, if need be a caster, turner and engraver. He thinks and acts; he invents and executes’. Berlioz praises his improvements to the clarinet and bass-clarinet, and his invention of the saxophone, an instrument which Berlioz thought worthy of a great future. He concluded: ‘Composers will owe much to M. Sax once his new instruments have come into general use. He must persevere; he will not be lacking in encouragement from lovers of the art of music’. Berlioz and Sax became life-long friends: Sax was one of those who came to Berlioz’s assistance after the failure of the Damnation of Faust in December 1846 (Memoirs ch. 54). Though little survives of the correspondence between the two men Sax is often mentioned in Berlioz’s letters as a friend (cf. e.g. CG nos. 1638, 2130, 2342, 2345), and his workshop served as a repository for Berlioz’s music (CG nos. 1089, 1299ter [in vol. VIII], 1321, 1323-4). In his writings Berlioz frequently referred to Sax’s instruments and recommended their use, as in the Treatise on Orchestration, in several of the open letters which he wrote about his travels in Germany (e.g. Travels I, Letter 7; Travels II, Letter 5), again in his report on musical instruments at the great exhibition in London in 1851 (cf. CG nos. 1404, 1405, 1414, 1419), and in very many of his feuilletons for the Journal des Débats (29 December 1844; 1 April and 29 April 1845; 14 February 1847; 21 August 1849; 14 January and 29 June 1850; 17 January and 27 November 1851; 7 January, 21 February, 3 November and 25 December 1852; 7 January 1853; 20 January and 11 October 1854; 12 January 1856; 24 November 1860). It was fitting that at Berlioz’s funeral in 1869 Adolphe Sax should have conducted a military band in honour of the composer (Cairns, Berlioz II , p.774).
Berlioz relates in the Memoirs (ch. 51) that it was the invitation of Jean-François Snel (1793-1861), the director of a wind ensemble in Brussels, the Société de la Grande Harmonie, that prompted Berlioz to travel to Brussels in September 1842 for his first concert tour abroad. The two men apparently met during the summer in Paris, and Snel was Berlioz’s contact in Brussels for the organisation of the trip; extant are two letters of Berlioz to Snel, in which he sends very detailed instructions about the projected concerts. The programme was to include a performance of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale: ‘The words of the final chorus are very appropriate for your Belgian revolution [of 1830], a sister of our own; it would be good to get them printed in a newspaper’ (CG no. 772bis, 28 August). In the post-scriptum to the second letter he sends his greetings to Sax, who must have been in Brussels at the time, and adds ‘I have inserted in my Treatise on Orchestration a long note on his new instruments’ (CG no. 776, 16 September).
On 19 September, the day before his departure, Berlioz dined with Meyerbeer, who through his numerous contacts was to be of great assistance in the forthcoming tour; Berlioz hoped that Meyerbeer would come to the Brussels concerts, though in the event was disappointed (CG nos. 772bis, 776). Berlioz departed by stage-coach at 10am on 20 September – in 1855 he made the trip to Brussels by train – arrived the following day around noon and made contact immediately with Snel (CG nos. 776, 777). He made the journey to Brussels accompanied by Marie Recio, the first occasion on which she followed him in his concert tours; they stayed at the Hôtel du Domino, on the Place de la Monnaie in the centre of the city (CG no. 777). At the beginning of chapter 51 of the Memoirs Berlioz explains how his domestic and his artistic life had become entangled: Harriet Smithson had long opposed his travel plans, and they decided on a separation. He then adds ‘I did not leave alone: I had a travel companion who since then has followed me in my various excursions’. Neither here nor elsewhere in the Memoirs does he name Marie Recio, and he is equally silent on the musical role she played in the first German tour of 1842-3 and the frictions this was to cause.
Preparations started immediately: on the day of his arrival Berlioz wrote to Léopold I, King of the Belgians, sending him the programme for his first concert and inviting him to attend (CG no. 777); the King appears not to have come, though he gave him an audience during his stay. It is worth reproducing the programme of the concert in full – the first to be given by him in his travels abroad (the original text is given by J. Tiersot, Le Musicien Errant , p. 3-5):
HALL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY
OF THE GRANDE HARMONIE OF BRUSSELS
GIVEN BY M.
Monday 26 September 1842, at 12.30 pm
1o New piece for wind ensemble composed by M. SNEL
2o Stanzas from the prologue to Romeo and Juliet (symphony with chorus by M. BERLIOZ) sung my Mme WIDEMAN, from the Royal Academy of Music in Paris. The solo cello will be played by M. DEMUNCK.
3o Elegy for violin, composed and performed by M. ERNST.
4o Le Jeune Pâtre breton, romance by M. H. BERLIOZ, with orchestra and solo horn, sung by Miss RECIO, from the Royal Academy of Music in Paris.
5o Fantasy for violin on the march and romance from Othello, composed and performed by M. ERNST.
6o PILGRIMS’ MARCH singing the evening prayer, excerpt from the symphony (Harold) by M. BERLIOZ.
The solo viola will be played by M. ERNST.
7o The duet from Norma by Bellini, for soprano and contralto, sung by Mme WIDEMAN and Miss RECIO.
8o GRAND FUNERAL AND TRIUMPHAL SYMPHONY, for two orchestras and chorus, composed for the transfer of the remains of the victims of July and the inauguration of the Bastille column, by M. H. BERLIOZ.
Part I: FUNERAL MARCH; part II: FUNERAL ORATION (the trombone solo will be played by M. SCHMIDT); part III: APOTHEOSIS.
The orchestra comprising 200 performers will be conducted by M. BERLIOZ.
Price of seats: 5 francs.
For tickets apply to the keeper of the Society’s House.
Two days after the concert Berlioz wrote to Édouard Monnais in Paris (CG no. 778):
Please be so kind as to reproduce in next Sunday’s Gazette Musicale the article from the Commerce Belge on my first concert. The concert was very brilliant and fairly productive considering the huge number of free tickets that are obligatory for the members of the Société de la Grande Harmonie. I imagine you will find this article reproduced in the Journal des Débats the day after tomorrow. If not I am relying on you to avoid fetid comments. This big fat crushed toad [Fétis] is running amok against me here. At the concert he shouted that it was horrible, dreadful, hideous, mad, etc. and I imagine he is going to get his son to say this in writing; in the meantime he is trying to put pressure on some of our colleagues in the Belgian press who in general are actually extremely well disposed. […]
Berlioz promptly started preparing for a second concert, which was given at noon on 9 October in a different venue, the Église des Augustins, formerly a church, and according to Berlioz no better than the previous venue: both halls were over-reverberant (Memoirs; cf. CG no. 787). Berlioz felt the need to strengthen the string section: two letters dated 4 October are addressed to violinists asking for their participation in the concert (CG nos. 779 and 779bis [in vol. VIII]). Except for the Pilgrims’ March from Harold, a frequent favourite with audiences (and this time with J. B. Singelée as solo viola), the programme was entirely different. But like the first it included works by composers other than Berlioz and gave singers and instrumentalists scope for their talents. Included were the overture to the Francs-Juges, an aria from Act III of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (Marie Recio), Weber’s Invitation to the Dance in Berlioz’s orchestration, a piano fantasia composed and played by Döhler, two romances by Masini (Marie Recio again), and the Symphonie Fantastique. No letter of Berlioz survives giving an account of the second concert. The Memoirs merely comment on the poor acoustic of the two halls and mention the argument that arose between Fétis and the critic Zani de Ferranti, an admirer of Berlioz, about the second movement of Harold, to which Berlioz adds that he decided to stick to his principle of never answering criticisms, however absurd they might be.
On 12 October, shortly before his departure, Berlioz wrote a warm letter of thanks to Snel, whose support had made the trip possible; Berlioz evidently expected to return to Brussels in the not to distant future; Marie Recio added a few words of thanks of her own (CG no. 780). After Brussels, his plan was to go to Frankfurt to give concerts, but on arrival he found that two letters sent by Meyerbeer had gone astray and the project had to be postponed. Back in Paris he wrote to his sister Nanci on 23 October, but gave few details about his reception in Brussels (CG no. 784):
I am back from Frankfurt after giving two successful and lucrative concerts in Brussels. […]
My appearance in Belgium was a brilliant success, I had an audience with the king, and the musicians gave me a wonderful reception. […]
A successful performance of the Funeral Symphony at the Opéra on 7 November prompted Berlioz to write to Snel a few days later, with an implicit comparison between the Paris performance and that in Brussels (CG no. 787, 12 November). The letter shows that by then it was clearly agreed that Berlioz would return to Brussels at the start of his projected grand tour of Germany. On 24 November he wrote to his other sister Adèle (CG no. 789):
[…] I have just made a small musical trip to Belgium and to Frankfurt, and I am now ready to go back there. But this time it will be for a longer period; I must make a grand tour, I must see Vienna and Berlin. Two concerts are being organised for me in Frankfurt for the Christmas festivities. I will give a third concert in Brussels on the way […]
Early in December, shortly before leaving and in a long letter published in a Paris paper, Berlioz made a point of drawing the attention of his readers to a recent concert given in the Hague by Snel (CG no. 790). He and Marie Recio left for Brussels on 12 December and arrived there on the 14th; they stayed this time at the Hôtel de l’Europe. But all the planning for the start of the trip went wrong: Mme Nathan-Treillet, the singer who had promised to come to Paris to participate in the Brussels concert, was taken ill, and it proved impossible to put together an alternative concert with the resources and in the time available. Berlioz had no choice but to move on, but had no more luck in Frankfurt. After his first German trip he remained in touch for a while with Snel – early in December 1843 he wrote to him asking for letters of introduction for a projected trip to the Netherlands, though nothing came of this (CG no. 869). The preserved correspondence with Snel comes to an end at this point, and it is not clear that he and Berlioz ever met again (cf. also Critique musicale V, 571-2). Berlioz notes Snel’s absence from the delegates at the Beethoven celebrations in Bonn in August 1845 (Fétis was present), and there is no mention of Snel in any of Berlioz’s subsequent contacts with Brussels.
After the visit of December 1842 Brussels faded from Berlioz’s view for many years: Germany had quickly established itself as a more attractive destination. The name of Fétis occasionally surfaces in Berlioz’s correspondence. In December 1846 Berlioz writes to the publishers the Escudier brothers ‘I have already been informed of the latest thrust from the boar of Brussels; thank you for your kind offer, but I do not believe that one should answer attacks of this kind’ – this was probably in connection with the first performance in Paris of the Damnation of Faust (CG no. 1083). In April 1849, after a successful concert at the Conservatoire, he writes to his sister Nanci ‘And now Fétis himself is asking for permission to perform my symphonies in his Brussels conservatoire! He who wrote so much to prove that it is not music… What puppets!’ (CG no. 1258). While in London in 1851 and 1852 he wrote twice directly to Fétis to recommend admissions to the Brussels Conservatoire, in the first case the son of an English friend (CG no. 1425), and in the second a flautist of the name of Rémusat to fill a vacant chair: ‘It would be difficult for you to find a musician of his quality for this particular post. What is more, he has a sharp mind, something sufficiently outrageous among flute-players for it to be worth your while to have a close look at him’ (CG no. 1494).
It was also in London that in 1853 Berlioz reportedly met the young Belgian critic and composer Adolphe Samuel (1824-1898), a native of Liège, who had been taught by Fétis at the Brussels Conservatoire. Samuel became one of his warmest and most perceptive admirers and remained devoted to him for the rest of his life. Berlioz on his side took a keen interest in the young man whose ideas seemed so close to his. The friendships that Berlioz had made in Brussels in 1842 – Snel, Zani de Ferranti – had not been lasting: this one was different, the counterpart in Belgium to the older friendship of Berlioz with Robert Griepenkerl in Brunswick, except that Brussels was not Brunswick. Samuel, unlike Griepenkerl, is not mentioned in the Memoirs, but a sustained correspondence developed between him and Berlioz. Over 30 letters survive for the period from 1854, including some of Samuel to Berlioz which the composer preserved, and their correspondence continued till at least 1866. A number of these letters will be cited below. The letters of Samuel to Berlioz were published very early after the composer’s death: the publication in 1879 by Daniel Bernard of the Correspondance inédite de Berlioz prompted Samuel to send all the letters he had received from Berlioz to the journal Le Ménestrel, which published them without delay in weekly instalments between 8 June and 13 July 1879. The originals are now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, while the letters from Samuel to Berlioz are now part of the Reboul collection in the Hector Berlioz Museum at La Côte-Saint-André.
The success of Berlioz’s concerts in Germany in 1853 and 1854 had one important consequence: Berlioz was encouraged to develop L’Enfance du Christ, a work which had started life in 1850 almost by accident. In its complete form it achieved a notable success at its first performances in Paris in December 1854, which was widely recognised by the press in Paris and abroad. Congratulations poured in from many quarters, among them from Adolphe Samuel in Brussels (CG no. 1843, 14 December; cf. 1850bis [in vol. VIII]):
[…] It makes me a thousand times happier than would a personal success. Here at last is a belated recognition by those gaping Parisians of a great genius. They have taken time to understand that France possesses the leading musician of our time. […]
Berlioz responded immediately (CG no. 1846, 16 December):
[…] I could not but be very touched by the joy you show at the reception given in Paris to my new work. These proofs of true fellowship warm the heart when received from true artists such as yourself. […]
P.S. The good Parisians say that I have changed my style, that I have mended my ways; I do not need to assure you that I have only changed my subject. The kingdom of heaven will be fully populated if all the poor in spirit find a place there! But I let people talk; keep this for yourself.
Even before the end of 1854 Berlioz had received an invitation from the director of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels; Samuel’s advocacy behind the scenes may have played a hand. On 1 January 1855 Berlioz wrote to Liszt, accepting an invitation to Weimar, but as yet undecided about Brussels (CG no. 1869, cf. 1867):
[…] I do have a proposal for 3 concerts in Brussels in February, but I am not very keen on the Belgians, and as the song goes I would much prefer less money and spend some good time with you and our friends in Weimar. […]
On 4 January he wrote to J.-E. Duchesne (CG no. 1874):
[…] The success of my little Holiness continues to grow without limit; I am receiving proposals to perform it in Belgium, in Germany, in England, at the Théâtre Italien and at the Opéra Comique in Paris. I am not sure who to listen to. […]
Berlioz soon decided to accept the invitation from Brussels (cf. CG no. 1882, 11 January), but then there was some unexpected bad news, as he wrote to his sister Adèle (CG no. 1891, 1 February):
[…] Now it seems that I have money problems. The director of the Monnaie theatre in Brussels has just seen this magnificent theatre completely destroyed by fire. He had invited me for three concerts, which means that this disaster is costing me at least six thousand francs. […]
Fortunately an alternative venue was available – the théâtre du cirque – and the projected concerts could be rescued. On their way to Weimar Berlioz and Marie Recio stopped for a day in Brussels on 9 February (CG no. 1893; they probably stayed at the Hôtel de Saxe, cf. CG no. 1911). It seems that Berlioz took the opportunity to clinch the arrangements with Letellier, the director of the Monnaie, and all subsequent letters presuppose that the concerts would be taking place the following month, though precise dates remained to be agreed (cf. CG no. 1897). But though Berlioz accepted the invitation he still had his doubts, as he indicated to his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 1899; 25 February, from Weimar):
[…] I don’t know how things will work out in Brussels, I have little trust in the Belgians’ sympathies for me, and if I have accepted the invitation offered to me by the director of their theatre, it is reasons of money that decided me. […]
Letters of late February and early March, which are numerous, frequently allude to the forthcoming trip (CG nos. 1901, 1903, 1905-9, 1911-16). Prior to his departure he was in touch with Samuel for practical arrangements (CG no. 1911). He and Marie Recio left Paris by train on 12 March at 10.00am (CG nos. 1911, 1913). A letter he wrote a few days later to Léon de Wailly, one of the librettists of Benvenuto Cellini, gives an interesting illustration of Berlioz’s voracious reading habits even in the midst of a busy concert tour (CG no. 1925, 19 March):
I left Paris a few days ago by the Northern Railway. In the waiting room I noticed your name on a little book displayed on a table; I bought it. I have just finished reading it here, in the midst of my exhausting rehearsals, and I cannot resist the pleasure of saying this to you: for me and probably for many others Stella and Vanessa is a masterpiece of feeling, grace, truthful expression, deep observation, and also of style and naturalness. It is an adorable book, and I am deeply moved by it. Allow me to shake your hand, allow me to embrace you. […] And to think that without my chance acceptance of a commitment at the Brussels theatre I would not know this! There is Paris for you!… and you did not say a word to me. […] After my second concert I will start reading the book all over again. […]
In his letter Berlioz says nothing at all about the first concert which had taken place two days before he wrote the letter, despite all the time and energy it will have cost him. Wailly, deeply touched, immediately thanked him warmly, adding ‘So now you are in Brussels. You do not indicate your address, but that does not worry me. You are fortunately too well known for this precaution to be necessary’ (CG no. 1926, 21 March). Wailly’s reply evidently reached Berlioz safely.
Berlioz and Marie Recio stayed at the Hôtel de Saxe (CG nos. 1911, 1913, 1916, 1918, 1924, 1929), where they had probably stayed the previous month. Rehearsals started quickly, and Berlioz found that the chorus was already well prepared (CG no. 1918, 14 March), though as the letter to Wailly indicates, the rehearsals were strenuous as well as numerous (CG nos. 1919, 1921; 14 and 17 March). The horn players were rather weak, and this resulted in Berlioz adding extra brass parts to the chorus of Herod and the Sooth-Sayers in Part I of L’Enfance du Christ (CG no. 1920; 15 March). The first concert on 17 March was given, like the other two, in the théâtre du cirque (CG nos. 1899, 1901, 1903, 1908). The complete L’Enfance du Christ was the principal work, but the programme also included the Roman Carnival overture and the second part of Romeo and Juliet. On 19 March Berlioz wrote at length to Gaetano Belloni, Liszt’s agent (CG no. 1924):
[…] The second concert will take place next Thursday [22 March]. The success [of the first concert] was furious, except for Professor Fétis, who says he cannot make any sense of L’Enfance du Christ. I went to see him yesterday, and he nonetheless received me very well. He looks reproachfully at his students and the teachers at the Conservatoire to get them to suppress their sympathy for me. In spite of this I was told that a delegation of these gentlemen is to come to see me this evening to present their official compliments. The delegation has just come. But do not talk about this. I am sure that Fétis is paid not to understand.
I found here (this you can say) a very clever engineer who made me an electric metronome with which I conduct the choruses placed far behind the scene, without the slightest delay in the vocal entries. I was thus able to direct the orchestra at the front of the stage and the chorus of invisible angels behind the scene with wonderful precision, conducting one group with the right hand and the other with one finger of my left hand pressing a copper key fixed to my stand which transmits the signal through electric wires. This discovery is of the greatest importance for composers; I had been calling for it for the last ten years and pointed to it in my story of Euphonia in the Soirées de l’Orchestre. [….]
The choristers here sang well. The solo singers made some dreadful blunders which the entire hall noticed.
Only Audrant (the Narrator) and Cormon (St Joseph) were above reproach.
Mlle Dobré sang well the duet of the stable, but she made a very serious mistake in the other duet.
Audrant was greeted with a stamping of feet which far surpassed anything we have seen for this same piece in Paris.
The orchestral flutes played their trio with the harp like Spanish cows – don’t say this – and this piece was completely ruined.
Will they do better on Thursday? I doubt it. […]
Even after his meeting with Fétis, Berlioz continued for some time to think of him as an enemy, as shown by the Post-Scriptum of the Memoirs, completed in May of the following year. Fétis himself wrote to Liszt on 1 April and mentioned his dinner with Berlioz (the original French text is cited in CG V p. 36 n. 1):
[…] I had Berlioz here whose L’Enfance du Christ was successful. It is simple and naïve, but has feeling. It is a very noticeable change from his previous crude style. I found him much changed and aged. He did me the pleasure of dining at home with his wife; he is a keen-witted man of great intelligence, as regards music and in general. Unfortunately the richness of his imagination does not equal the technical skill he has acquired. […]
In addition to L’Enfance du Christ which was performed complete at all three concerts, the second concert also included the song La Captive sung by Mlle Elmire (cf. CG no. 1923). On 23 March Berlioz wrote to Liszt (CG no. 1927):
I am only writing to you a few lines in haste between my second and third concerts. I am having a huge success here and as always I do not earn much money. They say Lent is the reason, as the devout people of Brussels do not go to the theatre at this time of the year. On other occasions the weather will be too good, or too bad, or there will be too many balls, or etc.
Fétis is full of goodwill, but he says he cannot make head or tail of all this.
The scenes of enthusiasm he is witnessing make him believe that all his young men from the Conservatoire have gone mad. Yesterday’s performance was fairly good, but the first was dreadful. These idiotic singers who don’t know their musical ABC did not know their parts (with two exceptions) and were all over the place. Through nerves they lost all their concentration, and there was even a moment when I thought that the singer playing the part of the Father was going to break into la Marseillaise so as not to freeze up. Only the chorus went well, thanks to my electric metronome which is of invaluable help when conducting off-stage choirs. The orchestra has a passion for the strong beat of every bar; it is also afflicted with gout and you have to singe its legs with a red hot iron to get it to run. […]
Berlioz was delighted with the electric metronome made for him by the Belgian engineer (Verbrugghe; cf. CG nos. 2034, 2054); as well as the passage in Euphonia which he mentions, he drew attention to the invention in his essay on conducting which he published in 1855 and used it at the concerts he gave in Paris at the Palais de l’Industrie in November of the same year.
The third performance was on the 27th and two days later Berlioz returned to Paris. Back there he wrote on 8 April to his sister Adèle (CG no. 1933):
[…] The concerts in Brussels were far less productive [sc. than the performance of L’Enfance in Paris on 7 April] in spite of the huge success. What we thought should have attracted the crowds is precisely what kept them away. The subject of L’Enfance du Christ seemed to all the wealthy part of the population – bigots beyond all description – to be incompatible with a theatre. They were outraged that the parts of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph were sung by actors, and as a result my audience consisted only of musicians and foreigners. […]
Then on 14 April to Auguste Morel (CG no. 1937):
I am only writing to you a few lines to ask you to forgive me for not having yet answered your last letter. It arrive just as I was departing for Brussels, and since then I have been so exhausted, so taken up with a thousand worries, that I could not find five minutes of free time. The Belgian musicians put me through Huron-like tortures. These worthy players, who are so good, so patient, so welcoming, cannot get round to subdividing a bar and anything that does not fall on the first beat throws them off balance. Only the third concert went well. […]
During his stay in Brussels in March Berlioz met the writer and thinker Edgar Quinet (1803-1875), who had fled Paris after the coup by Louis-Napoléon in December 1851 and took refuge in Brussels till 1858; the meeting is alluded to in a letter to Adolphe Samuel later in the year (CG no. 2032, 16 October). Quinet was impressed by Berlioz, as he related in a letter to a friend dated 5 April (cited in CG V p. 46 n. 2; Lettres d’exil I [Paris, 1885], p. 217-18):
[…] The other day I had the great joy of being visited by Berlioz, whom I did not know but have always admired under the nose of the impious. I love and admire this artist who follows his Muse, without bothering to flatter the public. I love this uncompromising and disinterested fight against facile successes. I find the man as interesting as his music: his will-power, his energy, his pride, are to my mind in themselves the finest of symphonies. He enjoyed my admiration, and has now won my friendship. What a fine achievement is the life of a true artist! As a matter of fact we did not restrict ourselves to conversation. I heard twice a full orchestral performance of his oratorio L’Enfance du Christ. There are melodies there that Raphaël himself could have imagined… […]
During the same stay Berlioz also met Louis-Joseph Daussoigne-Méhul (1790-1875), nephew and adoptive son of the composer Méhul, and for many years director of the Conservatoire in Liège, Samuel’s native city. Berlioz initially suggested a concert there in early May, but this did not materialise (CG no. 1929, 25 March). In September Daussoigne-Méhul was suggesting a concert in December (cf. CG no. 2012); in early December Berlioz received a concrete invitation from the director of the Liège theatre for two concerts, and wrote to Daussoigne-Méhul to enquire about practical arrangements (CG nos. 2060, 2062; cf. 2061 to Samuel). Around mid-December Berlioz, evidently dissatisfied with the reply, wrote to him again (CG no. 2068):
[…] It is important to do something that is good, and not a mere approximation; it is important also to have decent takings and not to be cheated. […]
P.S. Three orchestral rehearsals are necessary, one for orchestra alone and two with the singers; but if this orchestra is made of grumpy musicians who regard every rehearsal as a chore, who grumble when asked to start again, I confess I would much prefer not to go to Liège.
Concerts under such conditions I find odious, and even should they generate a lot of money, I would send them to the devil.
Samuel in fact warned Berlioz a few days later: ‘You will be rather massacred in my native city’ (CG no. 2069, 20 December). Not surprisingly Berlioz became wary, as he wrote to Samuel two days later: ‘The director in Liège is offering me unacceptable conditions, and I am not going to let myself be cajoled’ (CG no. 2070). The whole project was soon called off: ‘The director in Liège submitted to me such hilarious proposals, followed by accounts so convoluted, that I had to refuse his invitation’ (CG no. 2079, also to Samuel, 11 January 1856).
The visit to Brussels had the effect of bringing Berlioz and Samuel closer together. On his return to Paris and after the performance of L’Enfance du Christ on 7 April Berlioz was busy with the preparation of the first performance of his Te Deum, which took place at Saint-Eustache on 30 April. Berlioz sent to Samuel an announcement about the performance for publication in the Belgian press (CG no. 1939, 14 April). Samuel decided to come to Paris for the occasion (CG no. 1943, 16 April) and assisted Berlioz at the performance, as Berlioz wrote to Liszt immediately after: ‘I had a young man who had come from Brussels, who conducted the organist in his loft at a distance and made sure that he kept in time despite the intervening space’ (CG no. 1959, 30 April). On his return to Brussels Samuel wrote a warm review of the work which he sent to Berlioz (CG no. 1964, 9 May). Correspondence between the two men continued, and Berlioz found time to comment on a composition that Samuel had submitted to him during the March visit (CG nos. 1922, 1999, 2032). Then late in the year Samuel sent a long and ecstatic letter to Berlioz about the Damnation of Faust which he had just read in vocal score (CG no. 2069, 20 December). Berlioz replied immediately (CG no. 2070, 22 December):
[…] I am not taking literally all the beautiful things you write in your letter. Know that I have written similar letters to various masters who came before me, when I was young and ardent as you are, and that later my admiration for their works cooled down considerably. Perhaps when you are ten years older your own enthusiasm will move in the same direction.
But it is certainly good of you to be echoing what I have so often thrown to the winds of passion… You are with Baron von Donop (the Chamberlain of the Prince of Lippe) the two most ardent sources of encouragement I have ever had, only that he is for Romeo and Juliet what you are for Faust.
The Germans have preconceived ideas about how this subject should be treated, and although they warmly approve most of the score, there is always something here and there which does not chime with their German sensitivity. Can you imagine that my friend Griepenkerl from Brunswick disapproves of Marguerite and claims that it is not Marguerite that I have portrayed, but Donna Anna. He thinks that I have not made her sufficiently German, that she is too passionate.
Another one, the director of the Weimar theatre (M. Mar), though declaring he has never heard in his dreams a piece like the Chorus of Sylphs, maintains that the Easter Hymn is a complete failure; I have never been able to get him to explain in what respect it fails.
But in Dresden, for example, things are different. How both the musicians and the public eagerly devoured my score! Yes, they understood everything and understood it well.
I would give much to let you hear the score. Try to suggest this to the director of the Brussels theatre. This time the devout will not find the theatre out of place, since the subject is not a religious one. […]
I feel tears coming to my eyes when I think that there are in the whole world two or three souls like yourself, and that I am unable to speak to them in their true language by letting them hear the expression of feelings of mine that match theirs.
Would it be possible to put on Romeo in Brussels in a concert hall? by paying the musicians? (but the Chorus! we could not bring this off, too many rehearsals would be needed.)
It would not work in the theatre either, the public would be too bored; no point in thinking about this. […]
Not long after Berlioz alluded to Samuel’s letter when writing to his friend Auguste Morel: ‘I receive from time to time letters from abroad which momentarily rekindle my musical fires. There came one from Brussels a fortnight ago, about Faust, which surpasses everything that has ever been written to me in this vein, even the letters of Baron von Donop on Romeo and Juliet’ (CG no. 2077, 9 January). Encouraged by Samuel’s support Berlioz conceived the idea of giving a concert in Brussels which would include parts of Faust, and asked Samuel to transmit his proposals to the director of the Monnaie theatre, M. Letellier (CG no. 2073); prospects seemed at first encouraging (CG nos. 2079, 2081), but the idea quickly faded and is not mentioned after January 1856. In April a possibility arose of a concert in Ghent during the summer, but this project too fell by the wayside (CG nos. 2120, 2130). By this time Berlioz was committed to the composition of Les Troyens (cf. CG no. 2115) and his concert tours abroad were inevitably curtailed as a result (cf. CG no. 2188).
Berlioz and Samuel apparently did not see each other again after 1855, but they continued to correspond for years to come. The day after Berlioz’s election to the Institut de France (21 June 1856) Samuel congratulated him warmly: the Institut had received in its midst ‘the greatest modern composer’ (CG no. 2140, 22 June; cf. 2144bis [in vol. VIII]). Berlioz maintained his interest in Samuel and his career, sending him his news and offering him advice from his own experience as critic and composer, though the tone of Berlioz’s letters became increasingly disillusioned as illness took its toll (CG nos. 2186, 2190, 2341, 2350, 2370, 2472). Samuel on his side showed signs of frustration over the limits of what he was able to achieve (CG nos. 2268, 2280, 2472). Berlioz had warned him: ‘It is not in Brussels that they will ever think of appointing an ardent and devoted ARTIST who is in his prime to the position [of conductor of a major musical institution]. Brussels is too anxious to imitate Paris, especially in what concerns the art of music’ (CG no. 2190, 14 December 1856). In 1859 Berlioz referred twice to Samuel in flattering terms in his feuilletons (Journal des Débats, 18 February and 8 October). After 1860 there is a gap of several years in Berlioz’s letters to Samuel, though he had not forgotten him (cf. CG no. 2727, 20 May 1863). Samuel apparently kept writing regularly, but without giving his address, hence Berlioz was unable to reply (CG no. 3076). Early in 1866 he still hoped to entice Berlioz to conduct in Brussels, where some of his music had recently been played (cf. CG no. 3061), and in the meantime asked for suggestions about which works of Berlioz he should perform in Brussels in the Concerts populaires of which he had now become the conductor. Berlioz replied:‘Start with some overtures, as you had been intending; this will not involve any mutilation and works will be heard in their entirety. A good start would be the Francs-Juges overture, but it is the most difficult of all. […] But I fear that it will be a long time before I can go to Brussels and take advantage of all your very kind offers’ (CG no. 3076, 3 January 1866). The next month Berlioz thanked him for the care he had taken in a performance of the Roman Carnival in Brussels a few days before (CG no. 3100, 15 February). This is the last preserved letter of Berlioz to Samuel.
Samuel continued to be devoted to Berlioz after his death. His donation in 1879 of the letters he had received from Berlioz was mentioned above. In summer 1885 he organised and conducted a number of performances of La Damnation de Faust in Ghent, where he was director of the Conservatoire (Le Ménestrel, 3 May 1885, p. 174; 21 June 1885, p. 230). For years after his death in 1898 Samuel was remembered as a champion of Berlioz in Belgium, as shown by the following notice in Le Ménestrel (16 February 1902, p. 53):
Berlioz had a reliable friend in Belgium whom he kept to the end of his life, Adolphe Samuel, and to whom he confided all his hopes, illusions and fears, as witness their abundant correspondence. It was to Samuel, in particular, that he made, in connection with les Troyens, the memorable claim, disarming in its pride and naïvety: « My score was dictated simultaneously by Virgil and Shakespeare; did I understand my two masters correctly? »
Berlioz did in fact return once more to Belgium. In July 1866 he was invited to participate in an international jury to judge a competition in religious music at Louvain. The most detailed account comes from a letter to Estelle Fornier dated 25 July when back in Paris (CG no. 3149; cf. 3150-1):
[…] I am back from Louvain where I went to serve on a musical jury, though somewhat under duress. It was about a prize for a religious composition. Consequently I had to read 73 masses in full score and choose not the best, but the least bad. We were fourteen jurors, Belgian, Flemish, German, English and French. I can assure you that we found our task very demanding. But it was conscientiously performed, and against the normal run of competitions there was nothing petty or underhand. When we unsealed the letter with the number of the winner, I was pleased to learn that the successful candidate was one of my young Dutch friends, who lives in London and is very poor [Eduard Silas]. This prize of 1000 francs will therefore have overjoyed him. […]
Among the jurors was his old friend Ferdinand Hiller, who took the opportunity to press him to come to Cologne to give a concert (February 1867), the last one Berlioz gave in Germany. Another juror was none other than Fétis. He and Berlioz had in fact already been jurors in similar circumstances more than ten years before, at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, over the judging of musical instruments: on this occasion Fétis was the only member of the panel to support Berlioz in a dispute (CG no. 2009, 2 September; cf. 2001ter). When Berlioz was elected to the Institut in June 1856 Fétis was one of those who congratulated him (cf. CG no. 2161). Early in 1859 Berlioz was relieved to hear that Fétis had been supportive of Samuel – whom he had taught at the Conservatoire – when a symphony by Samuel was performed in Brussels: ‘If I dared I would ask you [Samuel] to thank him [Fétis] on my behalf for all the interest he has shown in you and for the trouble he took to secure a good performance of your work’ (CG nos. 2341 and 2350). In 1860 the publication of a new edition of the Biographie universelle prompted Berlioz to write to Fétis (CG no. 2510, 22 July):
I have just read in your new Biography of Musicians the entry concerning me. Let me thank you for the evident goodwill that moved you in writing it. I am very touched by it and regret I am unable to go to Brussels to shake your hand.
Incidentally, it is so well written, and a good style matters so much to me, that I read your six columns with a pleasure in which self-gratification played no part at all.
I would love to find an opportunity to speak to you about the art which we both love and respect so much. I can only see people whose love or hate is moved purely by the changing whims of their passions, prejudices or interests. I am ill, very sad, and the bright flashes of your mind would probably dissipate the clouds that are obscuring mine. But then hardly any of our aims are achieved, and most of the time for reasons different from those the world imagines.
But anyhow let me beg you for a little of your friendship; I believe I have always enjoyed your esteem; you know that my love for music is noble. […]
Two letters of 1862 show Berlioz’s keenness to gain the support of Fétis for musicians he judged to be worthy: the instrument maker Édouard Alexandre (CG no. 2610, 16 May), and a singer who was making her début at the Théâtre de la Monnaie and had sung for Berlioz in Beatrice and Benedict in Baden-Baden (CG no. 2649, September).
The last known contact between the two men after their jury service in July 1866, came the same year as a result of the performances of Gluck’s Alceste at the Opéra that Berlioz had supervised. Fétis made the trip from Brussels for the first performance on 12 October and wrote the next day to Berlioz (CG no. 3169):
I feel the need to speak to you of the impression made on me by the sublime work of Gluck at the performance yesterday evening, and to pay homage for your perfect feeling for the beauties of this score. You entered deeply into the thoughts of the great author of Alceste and have not wavered for a moment in expressing them. It is impossible to combine at once a more noble simplicity, a more grandiose energy, a more suave and refined delicacy. In such a performance one may recognise not only a great musician, but a poet and a philosopher.
For this restoration of a masterpiece, please accept the thanks of a sincere and devoted friend of art, as well as the expression of the high esteem which I profess for you as a person. I would have gone to see you if I was not returning today to Brussels.
Berlioz published the letter in the Revue et Gazette Musicale, together with his reply of the following day, 14 October (CG no. 3170; cf. 3174):
I thank you for your letter and for the honour you did me in writing about the revival of Alceste. This letter filled me with joy, you can be in no doubt about that. The performance of the masterpiece seemed good to you because I found a director and performers as intelligent as they are devoted. I am responsible for very little in their success. The monumental elevation of Gluck’s inspiration, which overwhelmed them at first, then caused them to rise and grow in stature.
Yet if anything could now instill in me fresh courage that has now no purpose, it would be the approval of someone like you. I defend our gods. But in the small army that fights against the Myrmidons (nullam sperante salutem) you are still a spear, while I am now no more than a shield. […]
Back in Brussels Fétis responded immediately to Berlioz’s letter (CG no. 3171, 17 October):
Dear M. Berlioz, what are you saying about courage without purpose, about spears and shields? You, the vigorous athlete of old times, to allow yourself to be downcast! In the ceaseless struggle that is the artist’s life, I am supposedly a spear, and you no more than a shield! What are you thinking of? You are twenty years younger than I. Unfortunately, as I know, you do not enjoy the robust health that God has granted me, but you have strength of spirit, and it only needs to be rekindled. The author of L’Enfance du Christ must not condemn himself to silence.
Believe me, let us strive, each on our side, to the best of our abilities, to defend and honour the art which we love. […]
Raise your spirits, dear Monsieur Berlioz, and take up your pen once more. It is not possible to live in a vacuum, and for a noble soul, despair or inaction are a vacuum. […]
Fétis’ letter evidently touched a sensitive nerve in Berlioz; illness delayed his reply by one day (CG no. 3173; 20 October):
[…] Your reproaches are grave, but I think that had you looked around carefully I would not have had the pain of receiving them. […]
Nevertheless I am grateful for your kind words. But it is too late: Othello’s occupation gone.
I can report to you that the second performance of Alceste was in every respect incomparably better than the first. […]
Please, do not write to me a similar letter again; I am sufficiently alive to be pained by it and it is as though you were talking to a dead man. […]
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18
The Berlioz in Brussels page was created on 18 July 2007; updated on 15 April 2016.
© (unless otherwise stated) Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb
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