Hector Berlioz

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Berlioz in Europe

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Berlioz's Third Century

Contents of this page:

Introduction
Chronology of Berlioz’s travels
Countries included

This page is also available in French

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Introduction

    Berlioz travelled extensively through much of his career. From early in his life he had a passion for travel and distant lands, as he relates in his Memoirs (chapter 2):

I would spend long hours in front of atlases, absorbed in the study of the complex patterns formed by the islands, capes and straits of the southern ocean and the Indian archipelago. I would brood over the creation of those distant lands, their vegetation, population, and climate, and was seized with an avid desire to visit them. This was the origin of my passion for travel and adventure.

My father would rightly say of me in this respect: "He knows the name of every one of the Sandwich, Moluccas and Philippine islands; he knows the straits of Torres, Timor, Java and Borneo, and yet he is unable to say how many departments there are in France." This thirst for knowing distant countries, in particular those of the southern hemisphere, was further intensified by the avid reading of everything connected with ancient and modern travels that I could find in my father’s library. Doubtless, had my birthplace been a seaport, I would have one day escaped on a ship to become a sailor, with or without my parents’ consent. My son has displayed the same instincts from a very early age. He is now on a French ship, and I hope he will follow a distinguished career in the navy, which he chose as his profession even before catching sight of the sea.

    In practice, Berlioz’s travels were not motivated by a tourist’s curiosity, for which he had neither time nor money, though wherever he went he was always a quick and sharp observer of everything he saw. Most of the time it was musical necessity that impelled him. His trip to Italy in 1831-1832 followed from the requirements of winning the Prix de Rome in 1830. His travels in the 1840s and subsequently arose from various needs. It was partly the need to make a living, given the limits of what he could achieve in Paris. For example, the first trip to Russia in 1847 was prompted by the financial disaster of the first performance of The Damnation of Faust in Paris in 1846: Berlioz hoped that his trip would enable him to pay his debts (as it did). Partly, and most importantly, it was to get his music known abroad, and to have it performed under his direction as he wanted it to sound. The originality of his music meant that he could not trust other conductors to perform his works faithfully, as he found out for example with the first performances of Harold in Italy under Narcisse Girard at the Conservatoire in 1834, or the rehearsals of Benvenuto Cellini under Habeneck at the Opéra in 1838. For the same reason he was reluctant to have his scores published too quickly, and was impelled to become a conductor himself: it was essential to establish an authoritative performing tradition for his own music before others could be trusted with the task. Through accident and not design Berlioz thus became a great conductor in his own right, perhaps the greatest of his time, according to contemporary testimony, and was in demand throughout musical Europe for his conducting talents. He used these not just to promote his own music, but also to champion the music of his great idols (notably Gluck and Beethoven): his very last trip to Russia at the end of his career in 1867-1868 was motivated in part by the wish to convince his Russian audience of Gluck’s greatness.

    In the course of his travels abroad Berlioz met very many musicians, composers, and figures of note in the cultural world of 19th C Europe, and some of these meetings were to have a profound influence on Berlioz’s own career. It was for example during his first trip to Russia in 1847 that Berlioz first met Princess Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein, who later provided decisive encouragement for the writing of Les Troyens, though it was only as a result of his visits to Weimar in the period 1852-1856 that he got to know her well.

    Travelling musicians were of course nothing new, as the career of Mozart shows, and virtuoso players and singers had long been in demand far and wide – among Berlioz’s contemporaries one may cite Paganini or Liszt, for example, or the celebrated soprano Jenny Lind who travelled even to South America. Berlioz, no instrumental virtuoso himself, was in this respect different: but he was new in two respects, as a composer who spread the knowledge and understanding of his music widely over musical Europe, and as the first of the great itinerant conductors. He also broke new ground in writing extensively about his musical travels. All of them are documented in detail by his correspondence, and most of them were also written up in literary form for publication, at first in journals (see Hector Berlioz: Critique Musicale), then later in collected works – notably the Soirées de l’orchestre (1852), Grotesques de la musique (1859), and the posthumous Memoirs

    All excerpts from Berlioz’s writings and from other sources in French and German have been translated by Michel Austin specifically for this site.

Chronology of Berlioz’s travels

    Berlioz’s travels fall into identifiable periods. Until 1830 his early career was necessarily restricted to Paris. His first trip, to Italy in 1831-2, arose out of the requirements of the Prix de Rome which he won in 1830: the winner had to spend a period of study there, even though at the time Berlioz would have preferred to stay in Paris, for both personal and musical reasons. For a decade after his return to Paris in 1832 he was fully committed to life in the capital city, as he struggled to establish his position and gain recognition as a composer. His period of extensive travelling abroad started in 1842 and continued on and off till 1856, with a gap in 1849-1850 after the 1848 revolution. After the visit to Gotha in early 1856 his travels abroad ceased till 1863, apart from the trip he made to Baden-Baden every year from 1856 to 1863. During this period his major preoccupation was the composition of Les Troyens (1856-1858), and subsequently the problem of getting the new opera performed in Paris; this was only achieved in 1863, and in a very unsatisfactory manner. After this there was a final spate of travels in 1863 and 1866-1868, including his visit to Russia, the last musical trip of his career.

    The chronology below gives only a general outline of his travels; more detail about each trip is provided in the pages devoted to each country which are listed below.

1831-1832

Trip to Italy as a result of winning the Prix de Rome in 1830

1842

September-October: preliminary trip to Brussels and Frankfurt

1842-1843

12 December 1842 - May/June 1843: First major trip to Germany, in the course of which Berlioz gives one or more concerts in Stuttgart, Hechingen, Mannheim, Weimar, Leipzig, Dresden, Brunswick, Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover, and Darmstadt. He also passes through Brussels and Frankfurt without giving concerts there.

1845

June: Berlioz travels to Marseille where he gives two concerts (19 & 25 June)

July: Berlioz travels from Marseille to Lyon where he gives two concerts (20 & 24 July)

August: Berlioz attends the Beethoven celebrations in Bonn organised by Liszt.

1845-1846

22 October 1845 - May 1846: Second major trip to Germany and central Europe, in the course of which Berlioz gives one or more concerts in Vienna, Prague, Pesth, Breslau and Brunswick.

1846

14 June: Berlioz gives a concert in Lille which includes the first performance of the specially-written cantata Chant des chemins de fer

1847

February - May: First trip to Russia, with concerts in St Petersburg and Moscow; on his way back Berlioz gives concerts in Riga (May) and Berlin (June).

1847-1848

3 November 1847 - 14 July 1848: First visit to London

1848

29 October: Berlioz conducts a concert in the opera hall of Versailles château

1851

10 May - 28 July: Second visit to London

1852

4 March - 20 June: Third visit to London

14 - 24 November: Visit to Weimar, where Berlioz hears Benvenuto Cellini under Liszt and gives a concert.

1853

14 May - 9 July: Fourth visit to London

2 August - end of the month: Trip to Germany, where Berlioz gives a concert in Baden-Baden and 2 concerts in Frankfurt.

14 October - 12 December: Trip to Germany, where Berlioz gives 2 concerts each in Brunswick, Hanover and Leipzig and one concert in Bremen.

1854

28 March - 7 May: Trip to Germany, where Berlioz gives a concert in Hanover, the first performance of Le Corsaire in Brunswick, 4 concerts in Dresden, and also stops at Weimar.

1855

8 February - 2 March: Trip to Weimar, where Berlioz gives two concerts; he also discusses the idea of writing Les Troyens, and stops at Gotha on his return.

12-29 March: Trip to Brussels, where Berlioz gives 3 concerts.

8 June - 7 July: Fifth (and last) visit to London

1856

1 February - 3 March: Trip to Germany, where he gives concerts in Gotha and in Weimar, where he also hears Benvenuto Cellini conducted by Liszt.

20 July -29 August: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert, stopping at Plombières on the way there and back.

1857

15 July - 20 August: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert, stopping at Plombières on the way there.

1858

8 August - 5 September: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (with some rehearsals in Karlsruhe), and returns via Strasburg.

1859

8 June: Berlioz conducts a concert in Bordeaux

18 August - 4 September: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert.

1860

11 August - early September: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert.

1861

6 - 29 August: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert.

1862

28 July - 13 August: Trip to Baden-Baden, where he gives the first two performances of Beatrice and Benedict.

1863

30 March - 23 April: Trip to Germany, where Berlioz gives two performances of Beatrice and Benedict at Weimar (in German), and a concert in Löwenberg.

15-23 June: Trip to Strasbourg to give a performance of L’Enfance du Christ (22 June)

3 - 21 August: Trip to Baden-Baden, where Berlioz gives two performances of Beatrice and Benedict.

1866

17 - 20 July: Trip to Louvain, where Berlioz acts as member of a jury examining sacred works.

5 - 21 December: Trip to Vienna, where Berlioz gives a performance of The Damnation of Faust.

1867

23 - 27 February: Trip to Cologne, where Berlioz gives a concert which includes Harold in Italy.

1867-1868

12 November 1867 - 13 February 1868: Second (and last) trip to Russia, where Berlioz gives 6 concerts in St Petersburg and 2 in Moscow; the concert in St Petersburg on 8 February 1868 was the last he conducted.

Countries covered on this site

    For convenience the detailed coverage of Berlioz’s travels has been organised by countries, though each relevant page may be further subdivided depending on the amount of material available (this is particularly the case with Germany and Central Europe, which involve a multiplicity of cities and numerous trips by Berlioz over a period of time). Countries are listed here in the chronological order of Berlioz’s career.

France  
Italy  
Monaco  
Belgium  
Germany (including Central Europe)  
Russia  
England (Berlioz only visited London)  
Switzerland (Berlioz only visited Geneva)

Related pages on this site:

Berlioz Biography  
Berlioz Mémoires (in the original French)  
Index of letters of Berlioz cited

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997;
The Berlioz in Europe page created on 7 December 2003.

© (unless otherwise stated) Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb for all the photos, engravings and information on Berlioz in Europe pages. 

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