Berlioz in Grenoble

The centenary of Berlioz’s birth – 1903

This page is also available in French   

    The city of Grenoble celebrated the centenary of Berlioz’s birth in style. A Centenary Committee, presided by M. de Beylié, was formed whose remit was to erect a statue of Berlioz, to organise concerts of his major works, and to publish a commemorative centenary book (Preface, Le Livre d’Or du Centenaire d’Hector Berlioz).

    Exactly 35 years after the inauguration of Napoleon’s statue in Grenoble which Berlioz had attended, the statue of the composer, made by the Grenoble sculptor Urbain Basset, was erected in Place Victor Hugo on 15 August 1903, as part of the Berlioz centenary celebrations in the city. The 100th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth would of course fall on 11 December, but the authorities wanted to bring the inauguration ceremony forward to take advantage of the good weather in summer. But by a coincidence, at the critical moment a deluge of rain inundated the streets and squares, dispersing the official cortège and the guests, and emptying the space around the monument. However, M. de Beylié, the president of the celebrations committee, courageously continued with the ceremony and ordered the statue to be unveiled, and then delivered his speech. Felix Weingartner, the celebrated Kapellmeister of Munich, deposited on the base of the statue a silver-gilt wreath adorned with a ribbon bearing the colours of Germany, with the inscription in German: Dem unsterblichen Meister, Grenoble 15 August 1903, Felix Weingartner [To the immortal Master, Grenoble 15 August 1903, Felix Weingartner]. Two days later Weingartner travelled to La Côte Saint-André to present the wreath to the house where Berlioz was born.

    Le Monde Illustré, published in Paris, reported part of this ceremony in its issue of 22 August 1903, and Julien Tiersot, who witnessed the event, briefly wrote about it in his book:

On 15 August 1903 Grenoble, the capital of his native province, celebrated the centenary of Berlioz’s birth with a festival. At the precise moment when the inauguration of his statue was due to take place a tremendous hurricane came down from the Alps and shook the air. It was in the midst of lightning and peals of thunder that the image of the greatest French musician of modern times was revealed to the eyes of his compatriots.

In the evening the stars shone in the sky that was now clear, and the next morning the sun rose radiantly.

Everyone understood that the caprices of the weather were a faithful symbol of Berlioz’s destiny.

(Julien Tiersot, 1904, p. 207)

    In his book cited above, Tiersot poignantly says that ‘We can believe that this peaceful monument will be lasting’. But this was not to be. The bronze statue was dismantled then melted down by the Germans at some time after September 1943 when they occupied the city in the course of the 1939-1945 war.

    The new statue of Berlioz which is now in the Place Victor Hugo, was erected in 1953 on the exact location of the original one. It is the work of the sculptor Claude Grange (or Grangé), who was born at Vienna on 23 September 1883 and died in Paris on 22 September 1971. A plaster cast of Grangé’s statue of Berlioz had already been presented at the 1933 Salon, held at the Grand Palais in Paris; it is now in the Hector Berlioz Museum at La Côte-Saint-André. The new statue was inaugurated towards the end of November 1953, in the presence of numerous public figures such as the Minister of Education André Marie and the Danish ambassador, and a performance of the Hungarian March was given by the municipal brass band of Grenoble. The inauguration was related in the paper Le Dauphiné Libéré on 30 November 1953. (We are most grateful to M. Antoine Troncy, Assistant de Conservation at the Hector Berlioz Museum, for providing us with the information regarding the fate of the original statue and its modern replacement.)

    The two concerts organised by the Centenary Committee were given at the Théâtre municipal de Grenoble on 16 and 17 August. At the first concert La Damnation de Faust was conducted by Léon Jehin. In the first half of the concert on 17 August, Georges Marty conducted Roméo et Juliette. In the interval, Julien Tiersot gave a talk on Berlioz which is reproduced on this site, and M. Bréant recited a poem by Camille Saint-Saëns, hitherto unpublished (the poem was later published in the journal Musica in 1908 and has been reproduced on this site). In the second half of the concert Felix Weingartner conducted the Symphonie fantastique, after which he made the journey to La Côte as mentioned above. The concerts were commented on by music critics in France and abroad.

    The commemorative book, entitled Le Livre d’Or du Centenaire d’Hector Berlioz, which included the speech of Julien Tiersot, was published simultaneously in Grenoble by Allier Frères and in Paris by Georges Petit – the Preface is dated June1906. (The table of contents of this book is reproduced elsewhere on this site.) Details of the concert programmes, reviews published in various newspapers, and the complete text of the speeches which were to be delivered at the inauguration of the statue are reproduced in the book as well (pp. 3-74).

    On the initiative of the Centenary Committee an official set of postcards were published each of which represented different stages of Berlioz’s life and beyond, using contemporary 19th century engravings published in Adolphe Jullien Hector Berlioz, sa vie et ses œuvres (Paris, 1888). Ten of these cards are in our collection.

    In addition to the above, a musical competition was held on 14-17 August 1903 in Grenoble and a medal, in gold, silver and bronze, was issued to commemorate the centenary of Berlioz’s birth.

Statue of Berlioz in pictures

All the modern photos reproduced on this page were taken by Michel Austin in September 2008 and August 2009; other pictures have been scanned from postcards and other publications in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

1. The 1903 Statue of Berlioz in Place Victor Hugo

Place Victor Hugo ca. 1910

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Place Victor Hugo ca. 1916

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The old Bastille and Rabot fortifications on the hill at the back overlook the Place; the Saint-Eynard is on the right of the picture in the distance.

The original statue of Berlioz erected in 1903 

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The above postcard was posted in 1907.

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The above postcard was published around 1910.

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The above postcard was posted in 1911.

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The above two postcards were posted in 1913.

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This 1903 postcard shows an identical statue inside a building; it was written and posted in Grenoble on 15 April 1903. The card is a Berlioz centenary souvenir. We have not been able to identify the building which housed the statue at the time this card was published. Judging by the title of the list to the right of the statue, DONATEURS DE LA BIBLIOTHE[QUE] and the words on the entrance to the room to the left, [SAL]LE DE LECTUR[E], it is probably the old building which at the time housed the Musée-Bibliothèque de Grenoble [Museum-Library of Grenoble]. We have not been able to establish whether this is the same statue that was installed and inaugurated 4 months later on 15 August of the same year at the Place Victor Hugo.

2. Statue of Berlioz in Place Victor Hugo erected in 1953

The original plaster cast of Grange’s 
statue of Berlioz in 1933

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This picture appeared in L’Illustration of the 20th May 1933, No. 4707. We are most grateful to M. Jean-Claude Luc for generously giving us an original copy of this issue. 
A bronze version of the statue, made also by Claude Grange in 1952, is in the Hector Berlioz Museum. (see below)

Statue of Berlioz in bronze by Grange in 1952

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The above postcard was published by the Hector Berlioz Museum.

Place Victor Hugo and statue of Berlioz in 2009

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Place Victor Hugo and statue of Berlioz in 2008

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The inscription on the pedestal

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The rear view of the statue

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The inscription on the back of the pedestal

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The inscription reads:

SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE – HAROLD EN ITALIE

BENVENUTO CELLINI – BEATRICE ET BENEDICT

REQUIEM – LA DAMNATION DE FAUST – LES TROYENS

ROMEO ET JULIETTE – L’ENFANCE DU CHRIST

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997;
Berlioz in Grenoble page created on 11 December 2008; this page updated on 6 December 2009, 11 December 2012, and 15 January 2013.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the pictures and information on this page.

Copyright notice: The texts, photos, images and musical scores on all pages of this site are covered by UK Law and International Law. All rights of publication or reproduction of this material in any form, including Web page use, are reserved. Their use without our explicit permission is illegal. 

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