Contents of this page:
An opera for Baden-Baden
Selected letters of Berlioz
Baden-Baden in the 19th century
This page is also available in French
M. Bénazet, the director of the casino, has asked me several times to come and organise the annual festival in Baden-Baden, and has made available to me everything I could ask for to perform my works. His generosity in these circumstances has greatly exceeded anything ever done for me by the princes in Europe to whom I am most indebted.
Berlioz, Memoirs chapter 59
In Baden-Baden it is different; you earn good money, you make good music, you find a crowd of intelligent and cultured people, and people speak French.
Berlioz, Letter to his sister Adèle, 11 March 1858 (Correspondance Générale no. 2283)
Baden-Baden holds a special place in the long story of Berlioz’s relations with Germany: no other German city was visited by him with such frequency. In the decade from 1853 to 1863 he went to Baden-Baden no less than nine times, returning there every year from 1856 onwards. Yet the start of his association with Baden-Baden also came relatively late in his travels: it was a decade after he had launched the first of a series of major musical trips which took him eventually to many parts of Germany, then to Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Russia, and England.
The association could have started earlier, but was postponed accidentally for health reasons. Early in 1844 Berlioz mentioned casually to his friend Ludwig Schlösser in Darmstadt a project for the summer: ‘It is not impossible that I may see you again this summer; plans for a grand musical event are afoot here, which might bring me to Baden-Baden… and so… we shall go once more to drink milk on your mountain’ (Correspondance Générale no. 881, 28 January; hereafter CG for short). Three months later he wrote again to Schlösser: ‘The business with Bénazet is settled. The festival-concert in Baden-Baden will take place in the second half of August, and so we shall be able to see each other before or after this musical ceremony’ (CG no. 895 [see vol. VIII]; 20 April). The projected concert is mentioned as a certainty in subsequent letters to his family (CG nos. 902, 919, 920; 19 May, 19 and 24 August). But everything fell through at the last minute: exhausted by the preparations for a great concert he gave in Paris for the Festival of Industry on 1 August Berlioz was advised by his friend the doctor Amussat to rest, and went to spend several weeks in Nice. There is at this point a sudden break in the composer’s correspondence which only resumes in mid-October when Berlioz was back in Paris. It would be another nine years before he was invited again to Baden-Baden.
The Bénazet mentioned in the letter of April 1844 is presumably the well-known Édouard Bénazet (1801-1867) with whom Berlioz had close relations in the 1850s and early 1860s, rather than his father Jacques Bénazet (1778-1848), though the latter is the starting point in the story. In 1838 Jacques Bénazet had secured the license for running the casino in Baden-Baden, which he kept till his death in 1848, at which point his son succeeded to his position. The hand of Édouard Bénazet can be detected even before he took over in person: a successful entrepreneur with a keen business sense, he was a cultured figure, who at one time had studied at the Paris Conservatoire and had numerous connections in the artistic world. The small spa town of Baden-Baden, ideally located in picturesque surroundings and within reach of major cities – Strasbourg in France, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart and Mannheim in Germany – was already a favourite destination of the élite of European society. Bénazet conceived the ambition to enhance its status and to make it into a cultural centre as well. The invitation to Berlioz in 1844, whose fame in Germany had been spreading after his first major tour of 1842-1843, fits into this pattern. After taking over from his father, Bénazet set out in the 1850s to put his plans into practice on a lavish scale. New rooms for the casino, in the style of French châteaux, were opened in 1855, and a new race track at Iffezheim nearby inaugurated in 1858. A new theatre was built which was eventually inaugurated in 1862. Hand in hand with this he developed the annual summer festival, which was to become a regular fixture in the latter part of Berlioz’s musical career. Berlioz was not the only musical figure to be invited to Baden-Baden – the composer’s writings naturally give prominence to his own part – and many other singers and instrumentalists came to display their talents (for example the singer Pauline Viardot in 1856, 1859 and 1860; the violinists Ernst in 1853 and Vieuxtemps in 1860), but he was undoubtedly the most prestigious, and it was his association with the festival that raised it to European fame. It is not clear that Bénazet intended from the start to make Berlioz the central figure of the festival; the visit of 1853, though successful, was not immediately followed up, but from 1856 onwards the invitation became in practice annual.
For Berlioz, Bénazet was the ideal impresario, a far cry from the likes of Jullien in London in 1848, better even than the princes who had supported Berlioz, with the additional advantage that socially he could be treated as an equal. The conditions provided could not be better:
[…] At the annual festival in Baden-Baden […] everything is organised in favour of the conductor who is in charge; he does not have to put up with penny-pinching and no obstacles of any kind are placed in his way. In the conviction that the best course of action is to let the conductor act with complete freedom, M. Bénazet does not interfere in any way and considers his only function is... to pay the bills. « Do everything in royal style, he says, I am giving you a free hand. » Three cheers! With music that is the only way to achieve something elevated and beautiful. […]
Thus Berlioz in Les Grotesques de la musique (1859), and the same praise is found in À Travers Chants (1862), in the posthumous Memoirs (cited above), and throughout the composer’s correspondence (for example CG nos. 1627, 2238, 2240, 2286, 2294, 2395, 2589, 2646, 2693).
Baden-Baden came at the right time in Berlioz’s career. The start of his regular association with the spa resort coincided with the beginning of the composition of his new opera Les Troyens, which itself caused him to curtail the foreign trips he had been making in previous years. Baden-Baden made it possible for him to maintain his contacts with the German musical scene but in a more relaxed way. The travel involved was less arduous, the setting delightful, the timing predictable, and the company congenial. In Baden-Baden, unlike Weimar, he was fully his own master. He was only required to organise a single concert every year, given in the Salon de Conversation, for which he had unlimited rehearsal time and a guaranteed audience, and received a handsome fee of 2000 francs (CG nos. 1594, 2659). The annual concert became a reliable source of income, so much so that the thought of losing it alarmed him (CG nos. 2378, in 1859; 2659, 2688, in 1862-3). In his choice of programmes Berlioz had a free hand; they were always varied to include music by different composers, and scope was given for singers and virtuoso players to display their talents. Every concert included works by Berlioz, and he was able to experiment with some of his new music (excerpts from Les Troyens in 1859, and his orchestral arrangement of Schubert’s Erlkönig in 1860). In the case of the Troyens excerpts he hoped this would influence opinion in Paris and help to have the work staged there (CG nos. 2390, 2393, 2394, 2416). Another attraction of Baden-Baden was language: Berlioz could feel at home in a German city where French was spoken and the ‘King of Baden-Baden’ (Bénazet; CG no. 2565) was himself a compatriot. The performances of Béatrice et Bénédict in 1862 and 1863 were given in Berlioz’s original French text with French singers, whereas for the two performances in Weimar in 1863 a German translation had to be produced (by Richard Pohl).
The start of the regular Baden-Baden connection coincided with a decline in Berlioz’s health: in 1856 and 1857 he took the opportunity to stop at Plombières on the way to take the waters, and in 1860 made a similar stop at Luxueil. Yet even with the favourable conditions provided, Berlioz found the work increasingly demanding. Since the musical resources of Baden-Baden were limited, musicians had to be enlisted from the neighbouring region: in 1853, and then annually from 1856 to 1861, a substantial contingent of players was provided by the court orchestra of Karlsruhe, and many of the rehearsals took place there, which often involved daily travel from Baden-Baden in the run-up to the concert (CG nos. 1627, 2156bis, 2162, 2240, 2307, 2395). In 1862 and 1863 the arrangement no longer applied: for Béatrice et Bénédict the preliminary rehearsals for the singers were conducted in Paris, and the contribution provided by the Strasbourg chorus was rehearsed there before Berlioz’s arrival (CG nos. 2589, 2632).
Baden-Baden had other personal attractions: it brought him within reach of his relatives, though it was a matter of constant regret that he found it so difficult to persuade them to come to hear his concerts (CG nos. 2144, 2238, 2286, 2303, 2307, 2395, 2608). But in July 1856 he had the satisfaction of seeing his sister Adèle and her family in Plombières; in 1861 two of his nieces, Joséphine and Nanci Suat, actually came to Baden-Baden (CG nos. 2562, 2575), and in 1863 he was able to travel with his son Louis to Baden-Baden for the two performances of Béatrice et Bénédict: it was the first time since 1846 that Louis had a chance to hear his father’s music, and he went on to attend the performances of Les Troyens in Paris in November and December of the same year (CG no. 2759). Baden-Baden thus helped to bring father and son closer together.
Top of page
An opera for Baden-Baden
In his account of the composition of Béatrice et Bénédict in the Memoirs Berlioz gives the impression that the work was written directly in response to a commission by Bénazet for a new opera (Bénazet’s intention was to have it performed for the inauguration of a new theatre which was to open in 1860, though it took another 2 years to complete). The composer’s correspondence shows that the story was more complex.
The commission of a new opera is first mentioned in a letter of May 1858 (CG no. 2299). The new work, it should be mentioned incidentally, was to join the short list of works by Berlioz that were written in response to a commission – the Requiem in 1837, the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale in 1840, the Chant des chemins de fer in 1846 – with the difference that in this case there was no prompting by Berlioz. Berlioz had just completed the score of the monumental Les Troyens, a work which was to undergo further revisions over the next few years and was as yet unperformed. Not surprisingly, Berlioz was less than enthusiastic. A. Dumas fils was approached but did not want to write the libretto, so Berlioz turned elsewhere and it was apparently he who in July approached the writer Édouard Plouvier (1820-1876; CG nos. 2301bis, 2304-5). The two men knew each other: a letter of congratulations from Plouvier to Berlioz on the occasion of the first performance of l’Enfance du Christ in December 1854 is extant (CG no. 1828; cf. also CG vol. VIII p. 609). Some correspondence between them followed (CG nos. 2339, 2379bis), but though Berlioz had a favourable opinion of Plouvier and thought the suggested subject, an episode from the Thirty Years War, had possibilities (CG nos. 2355, 2380, 2416), he was very reluctant to undertake the work (CG nos. 2320, 2337, 2338, 2361, 2416), though also worried at the financial loss involved (12,000 frs) should he break the contract (CG nos. 2345, 2348). In the end, late in 1859, he decided against writing the work (CG no. 2442), though it was only in early October 1860 that he informed Plouvier of his decision (CG no. 2515).
The matter might have ended there, but despite his reluctance to undertake a new opera Berlioz’s latent creative energies were aroused and only waiting for a suitable target. Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, who had been closely associated with the composition of Les Troyens in 1856-8, evidently hoped to prolong her role and had new subjects to suggest (CG no. 2347, 22 January 1859). Berlioz’s response a few weeks later must have raised her hopes (CG no. 2361), not least because of his lack of enthusiasm for the Plouvier commission. Late in the year she managed to get Berlioz excited at the idea of an opera on the subject of Antony and Cleopatra, but in the end Berlioz dropped this as well (CG nos. 2423, 2430, 2442, 2449, cf. 2656: over two years later the Princess was still trying to get Berlioz interested in the project).
For most of 1860 there was no further talk on Berlioz’s part of starting a new opera and early in October he informed Plouvier that he had given up his libretto (CG no. 2515). Yet within a matter of weeks he was eagerly back at work on a new project, and it is not clear what had provided the stimulus. This time the new work was entirely his own idea and he would write his own libretto, as he had done for Les Troyens, though the new work, short and light in character, would provide a complete contrast with its monumental predecessor and a welcome relief. The subject was derived from Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing, a project he had already considered many years earlier: letters of January 1833 mention the plan for an opera on the subject in Italian to be performed by the Théâtre Italien (CG nos. 311, 312; cf. also NBE vol. 3 Appendix 1 for a project around 1852). The new project is mentioned suddenly in letters of late October and November 1860, at first in confidence to his son Louis (CG nos. 2516, 2519bis, 2520), then to a few close friends as well (CG nos. 2522, 2524). Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein only heard of the composition of the new work long after it was completed and did not attend any of its performances, whether in Baden-Baden or Weimar (CG nos. 2634, 2651). Initially Berlioz was not sure whether to offer the work to Bénazet for performance in Baden-Baden (CG no. 2519bis), though he did so early in 1861 and Bénazet was delighted with the subject (CG nos. 2526, 2534). The original commission could thus be fulfilled after all in a way that was satisfactory to both men. Composition proceeded at first very fast, then slowed down in the course of 1861 (CG nos. 2534, 2565, 2585), and Béatrice et Bénédict, the new work’s title, was eventually completed in February 1862. The vocal score was published early the following year and appropriately dedicated to Bénazet (CG nos. 2691, 2693). Rehearsals started in Paris in February 1862 and continued for many weeks, initially at Berlioz’s home at 4 rue de Calais (CG nos. 2589, 2590, 2598), then in July at the Opéra-Comique and the Théâtre Lyrique (CG nos. 2630, 2632, 2634, 2635). The two performances at Baden-Baden on 9 and 11 August, when the work was premièred in the new theatre, represented a landmark in Berlioz’s operatic career: it was the first time that he had been fully in charge of an opera, as composer, producer, and conductor (CG nos. 2605, 2635, 2642, 2643, 2645, 2646, 2651). The same was true of the two other performances at Baden-Baden the following year, when at Bénazet’s request the work was repeated on 14 and 18 August 1863 (CG no. 2762). The 1863 performances incorporated two additional movements that Berlioz had added to enlarge the second act (CG nos. 2648, 2652, 2691), as did the two performances in Weimar in April of the same year (the work was never performed in Paris in Berlioz’s lifetime).
The year 1863 marked the end of Berlioz’s active association with Baden-Baden. In 1862 and 1863 he had already given up the annual concert so as to concentrate on the performance of the new opera. The festival projected for 1864 was cancelled early in the year (CG nos. 2659, 2859) and Bénazet is last mentioned in Berlioz’s correspondence in May of that year (CG no. 2858). The festival was revived in 1865 but Berlioz played no active part in it, though his friend Ernest Reyer who was now in charge included excerpts from Les Troyens and l’Enfance du Christ in the programme. But he also included music by composers Berlioz had kept out of his programmes – Wagner, Liszt, and Schumann (CG nos. 3017, 3025, 3032).
Top of page
April: Bénazet invites Berlioz to conduct the first two parts of the Damnation of Faust and excerpts from Romeo and Juliet at Baden-Baden in August (CG nos. 1582, 1593-4)
1 or 2 August: Berlioz leaves Paris for Baden-Baden (for the date cf. CG nos. 1617, 1618)
11 August: concert in the Salon de Conversation (CG nos. 1624, 1627). The programme included the first two parts of the Damnation of Faust (Eberius: Faust; Oberhoffer: Mephistopheles; Bregenzer: Brander), the Roman Carnival overture, two duets from Rossini’s Semiramide (sung by Sophie and Marie Cruvelli), variations improvised by the violinist Ernst, and a clarinet piece played by Cavallini. The excerpts from Romeo and Juliet were not performed after all. For the date cf. CG nos. 1618, 1620, 1621
12 or 13 August: departure for Frankfurt
April: Bénazet invites Berlioz to conduct a large concert at the festival in Baden-Baden in August (CG no. 2120), to celebrate the wedding of the Duke of Baden-Baden with the princess of Prussia (CG no. 2144). The programme was only fixed much later (CG no. 2148)
18 July: Berlioz accompanied by Marie Recio departs for Plombières on the way to Baden-Baden (CG no. 2156)
20 July – 5 August: stay in Plombières
6 August: arrival in Baden-Baden
7 August: excursion in the mountains (CG no. 2160)
14 August: concert in the Salon de Conversation for the benefit of victims of floods in France (CG nos. 2164, 2167); the programme included Mozart’s Magic Flute overture, Gluck arias sung by Caroline Duprez and Greminger, an aria by Graun sung by Pauline Viardot, a motet by Victoria, the slow movement of Beethoven’s 4th Symphony [cf. CG no. 2335], excerpts from l’Enfance du Christ, Spanish arias and Chopin arrangements sung by Pauline Viardot, an aria from Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers sung by Caroline Duprez, the final rondo of Bellini’s La Sonnambula sung by Pauline Viardot, Weber’s Invitation to the Dance in Berlioz’s orchestration and seemingly the Oberon overture (cf. CG no. 2393bis)
19-21 August: return to Plombières with stops at Thann and Remiremont (CG no. 2164)
end August: return to Paris
April: Bénazet invites Berlioz to conduct a concert in Baden-Baden in August (CG nos. 2225, 2230)
15 July: Berlioz accompanied by Marie Recio departs for Plombières by rail (CG nos. 2233, 2235, 2236ter, 2237)
16 July – 11/12 August: stay in Plombières
12 August: arrival in Baden-Baden
14 August: Berlioz visits the Princess of Prussia (CG no. 2240)
15 August: Berlioz takes the musicians from Baden-Baden by train to Karlsruhe for rehearsals (CG no. 2240)
18 August: concert in the Salon de Conversation (CG no. 2247). The programme included the Francs Juges overture, arias from Verdi’s Ernani, Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro sung by Faure and Mlle Lefebvre, excerpts from l’Enfance du Christ, the Scythian dance from Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris, the last movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, the Judex Crederis from Berlioz’s Te Deum, Le Spectre de la rose sung by Mlle Wiedemann, an organ fantasy played by Daussoigne-Méhul, and the Hungarian March from the Damnation of Faust. For the date cf. CG nos. 2233, 2235
25/26 August: return to Paris (CG nos. 2239, 2240)
By October: Bénazet invites Berlioz to conduct another concert in Baden-Baden in August 1858 (CG no. 2254)
By March: decision to include the first 4 movements of Romeo and Juliet in the August concert (CG nos. 2284, 2286, 2289, 2294)
7 August: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart from Paris (CG no. 2304)
8 August: arrival in Baden-Baden
24 August: dinner in Rothenfels (CG no. 2307)
26 and 27 August: rehearsals in Karlsruhe (CG no. 2307)
27 August: evening concert in the Salon de Conversation (CG nos. 2307, 2308, 2315, 2318). The programme included a number of pieces by Victoria, Mozart, Beethoven [Leonora overture (no. 2?), cf. CG no. 2393bis], Weber, Rossini, and Vivier, but the two main items were the first 3 movements of Litolff’s 4th Concertante Symphony for piano and orchestra and the first 4 movements of Romeo and Juliet, in which Mme Charton-Demeur sang the contralto part. On the date cf. CG nos. 2302, 2307
28 August: dinner in honour of Berlioz offered by Bénazet (CG nos. 2308, 2315, 2318)
29 August: lines in honour of Berlioz inserted by the poet Méry in the prologue of a play (CG nos. 2308, 2315, 2318)
1 September: dinner with friends at the bains de Stéphanie (CG 2307quater [vol. VIII])
2 September: departure from Baden (CG no. 2307quater [vol. VIII])
3-4 September: Berlioz in Strasbourg (CG no. 2308)
4 September: article by François Schwab in honour of Berlioz in L’Illustration de Bade (CG no. 2311)
5 September: Berlioz back in Paris
By December: Bénazet invites Berlioz again to Baden-Baden in August 1859 (CG nos. 2337, 2340-1, cf. 2355, 2368)
May-June: the outbreak of war between France and Austria threatens for a while the summer festival in Baden-Baden, and delays its start (CG nos. 2371, 2378, 2379, 2380, 2384, 2386)
18 August: departure for Baden-Baden (CG no. 2393)
19 August: Berlioz and Marie Recio arrive in Baden-Baden, stay at Rettig Strasse 374 (CG no. 2393)
29 August: concert in the Salon de Conversation (CG nos. 2390, 2393, 2396, 2398, 2402). The programme included the first four parts of Romeo and Juliet, an aria from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Pauline Viardot), piano pieces by Beethoven (Théodore Ritter), excerpts for Act I of Les Troyens (sung by Pauline Viardot and Jules Lefort), the overture to Meyerbeer’s Pardon de Ploërmel, a clarinet fantasia by François Schwab (played by H. Wuille; cf. CG no. 2391), the duet from Act IV of Les Troyens (Viardot and Lefort), a song by Théodore Ritter (Lefort, accompanied by Ritter), 2 pieces for the Alexander organ (played by M. Engel), a Russian and a French song (sung by Pauline Viardot), and the overture to Spontini’s La Vestale (cf. CG no. 2393bis). For the date cf. CG nos. 2390, 2394
30 August – 4 September: Berlioz stays on in Baden-Baden to rest
5 September: Berlioz back in Paris
2 March: death of Adèle (CG nos. 2487, 2493)
Early August: Berlioz and Marie Recio stop at Luxueil until August 10 on their way to Baden-Baden (CG nos. 2507, 2513, 2513bis [vol. VIII])
10 August: departure for Baden-Baden (CG no. 2513bis)
11 August: arrival in Baden-Baden (CG no. 2513)
27 August: concert in Baden-Baden. The programme included the Francs Juges overture, excerpts from Gluck’s Orphée (with Pauline Viardot), Vieuxtemps’ 4th violin concerto with the composer as soloist (CG nos. 2511, 2513), a cavatina from Benvenuto Cellini sung by Mme Miolan-Carvalho, the chorus and ballet of the Sylphs from the Damnation of Faust (with Eberius as Faust and Oberhofer as Mephistopheles), the 2nd and 4th movements of Beethoven’s 4th symphony, Gounod’s adaptation of a Bach prelude for voice and violin, the cello concerto by Molique (with Léon Jacquard as soloist), the first performance of Berlioz’s orchestration of Schubert’s Erlkönig (with Gustave Roger as soloist), and Weber’s Euryanthe overture
28 August: review of the concert by François Schwab in L’Illustration de Bade (CG no. 2514)
Early September: Berlioz and Marie Recio back in Paris
October: Berlioz starts composing Béatrice et Bénédict (CG nos. 2516, 2519bis, 2520, 2522, 2524)
Early January: Bénazet invites Berlioz to conduct at Baden-Baden in August (CG no. 2526 [see vol. VIII])
5 August: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for Baden-Baden (CG no. 2569)
6 August: arrival in Baden-Baden where they stay till 28 August (CG no. 2566)
26 August: concert in Baden-Baden in the Salon de Conversation, in presence of his nieces Nanci and Joséphine Suat and their father. The programme included Harold in Italy (with Grodvolle as solo viola; CG nos. 2566bis, 2571, 2590), an aria from Verdi’s La Traviata (sung by Mlle Monrose), the last 2 movements of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto (with Sivori as soloist), the Dies Irae, Tuba Mirum and Offertorium of the Requiem (cf. CG nos. 2557, 2565, 2567), an aria from Halévy’s La Juive (sung by Antoine Renard; cf. CG no. 2559), Beethoven’s Fantasia for piano, chorus and orchestra (with Mme Escudier-Kastner as soloist), the duet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (Mlle Monrose and Renard), and the overture to Méhul’s La Chasse du jeune Henri. For the date cf. CG no. 2562, 2570
ca. 29 August: Berlioz returns to Paris
11 September: letter of Berlioz to the Institut about his season in Baden-Baden, subsequently included in À Travers Chants as chapter 21 (cf. CG nos. 2574, 2575)
25 January: start of a series of rehearsals for Béatrice et Bénédict, held initially every week at Berlioz’s home at 4 rue de Calais and continuing till June (CG nos. 2589, 2590, 2595, 2598, 2599, 2608, 2610bis [vol. VIII], 2612, 2618, 2623-4, 2628)
13 June: death of Marie Recio (CG nos. 2625-9)
11 July: rehearsal at the Opéra-Comique (CG no. 2630)
18 July: rehearsal at the Opéra-Comique (CG no. 2632)
26 July: final rehearsal in Paris, at the Théâtre Lyrique (CG nos. 2633, 2634, 2635, 2636-7)
28 July: Berlioz departs for Baden-Baden (CG nos. 2631-2)
9 August: first performance in Baden-Baden of Béatrice et Bénédict in the new theatre (CG nos. 2635, 2642, 2643)
11 August: second performance of Béatrice et Bénédict (on both performances cf. CG nos. 2645, 2646, 2651)
13 August: Berlioz returns to Paris
January: publication of the vocal score of Béatrice et Bénédict (CG nos. 2688, 2689, 2690, 2691); the work is dedicated to Bénazet (CG nos. 2691, 2693)
June: rehearsals for the singers in Paris (CG no. 2731)
3 August: Berlioz leaves for Baden-Baden with his son Louis (CG nos. 2758, 2759)
14 August: performance of Béatrice et Bénédict (CG no. 2762)
ca. 15 August: Berlioz sees the Queen of Prussia (CG no. 2762)
18 August: second performance of Béatrice et Bénédict (CG no. 2762)
21 August: Berlioz returns to Paris with Louis (CG nos. 2762, 2763)
May: the August festival in Baden-Baden is cancelled (CG nos. 2858, 2859)
Spring/early summer: Ernest Reyer undertakes to conduct the Baden-Baden festival (CG nos. 3017, 3025)
31 July: concert in Baden-Baden under the direction of Ernest Reyer, includes excerpts from Les Troyens and l’Enfance du Christ (CG no. 3032)
Top of page
Selected letters of Berlioz
Berlioz’s links with Baden-Baden and with Édouard Bénazet, the director of the casino, are mentioned in several of his writings. The visit of 1856 is treated in two light-hearted letters he included in the Grotesques de la musique (1859), which also refer to Baden-Baden in other passages. The visit of 1861 formed the subject of a letter to the members of the Institut which was included in 1862 in À Travers Chants as chapter 21. A footnote in chapter 59 of the Memoirs gives warm praise to Bénazet for his generous support of Berlioz’s music-making in Baden-Baden, and in the Postface of 1864 Berlioz tells the story of the composition and performance of Béatrice et Bénédict. The fullest continuous source of information remains the composer’s correspondence, though the coverage varies in different years: full for 1858-9 and 1861-2, less so for 1853, 1856-7, 1860 and 1863. By a curious coincidence only one of the many letters that Berlioz must have written to Bénazet has survived (CG no. 2693). Below is a selection of relevant passages from the letters, arranged in chronological order.
To Liszt (CG no. 1624; 3 September, from Paris):
[…] The concert in Baden-Baden was very brilliant, the performance very satisfactory, and the audience too large for the hall. From there I went to repeat part of the programme in Frankfurt before an audience that was less packed but much more enthusiastic. […]
I can tell you that our two Acts of Faust were performed three times without cuts and that the amen fugue has won me every heart; a good half of the audience in Baden-Baden and in Frankfurt took it seriously as once did the public with the sonnet in Molière’s Misanthrope. […]
I saw the princess of Prussia in Baden-Baden; she spoke to me about you with great interest and her exquisite grace. As you can imagine, her bereavement did not allow her to attend the concert.
I think you will be pleased with the musicians from Karlsruhe, but should you require incomparable players for trombone, horn and cornet parts do not forget the names of Messrs. Rome, Baneux and Arban (3 Frenchmen) who are in M. Bénazet’s orchestra in Baden-Baden. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 1627; 7 September, from Paris):
[…] My trip to Germany was limited to Baden-Baden and Frankfurt. I organised and conducted the Baden-Baden Festival for which I was engaged by M. Bénazet, then I went to give two concerts at the theatre in Frankfurt, everywhere with stunning success. […] Inevitably the lavishness of Baden-Baden was something outside the experience of the Frankfurters. The Salle de Conversation was transformed into a concert hall, adorned with shrubs, flowers, brilliantly lit up, and filled with the most fashionable public in Europe, including all our great ladies from Paris, our diplomats, ambassadors and foreign artists. Outside the hall there was a group of five or six hundred listeners under the peristyle, since there was no room for them in the hall. An outstanding chorus and orchestra, three good German singers, the Cruvelli sisters, Ernst; the effect was huge. I was called back, acclaimed, encored, everything in short. I had the orchestra of the Ducal Chapel of Karlsruhe combined with the musicians from Baden-Baden. M. Bénazet did a splendid job and did us proud. He only annoyed the gamblers who would have much preferred there had not been any concert, because on that day the gambling rooms were closed.
Every morning at 7 o’clock I would take a convoy of musicians by rail to Karlsruhe to rehearse with the Ducal Chapel. We would find all our people ready and rehearse till 12.30. At one o’clock we (the musicians from Baden-Baden) gathered together for lunch in a garden, in accordance with M. Bénazet’s instructions, and thus refreshed we would go back to Baden-Baden. Only on the last day did the musicians from Karlsruhe come to rehearse on the spot together with those from Baden-Baden. The first two acts of Faust made a tremendous impact, as they did in Frankfurt, and set straight many of the silly ideas that the amateur and professional musicians of both cities, which I had not yet visited, had formed about my music. The Kapellmeister of Karlsruhe, M. Strauss, who supervised all our rehearsals, said to me on the evening of the concert in Baden-Baden: « Allow me to shake your hand, M. Berlioz, I have followed carefully all your rehearsals of Faust. It is so novel that my thoughts were still somewhat confused until this evening; but this time everything has become clear, I see everything, understand everything, and I give you my word of honour that this is a masterpiece. » […]
I hope that you and your family are well; for my part I have never felt better. The fragrant air of Baden-Baden, the woods, mountains, streams, and the sunshine have done me a great deal of good. The only annoyance was the sight of these idiotic gamblers; they reason about chance, they calculate… real lunatics, in short… […]
See also CG nos. 1582, 1593-4, 1611, 1617-22, 1648.
Top of page
To his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 2144; 24 June, from Paris):
[…] You are not travelling any more this year? Then come to Baden-Baden at the end of August. I have been engaged by Bénazet to go and conduct a festival there, or at least a large-scale concert, on the occasion of the wedding of the reigning Duke of Baden-Baden with the princess of Prussia – a real fairy, more delightfully pretty than her mother was, and whose sight is painful to the eyes. […]
To his cousin Odile Burdet (CG no. 2156bis [vol. VIII]; 29 July, from Plombières):
[…] In eight days I am departing for Baden-Baden where I have to conduct a grand concert for which I was engaged two months ago in Paris. This means a great deal of sweat – forgive the expression – both in Karlsruhe and in Baden-Baden to bring these different orchestras together and fuse them into one. […]
To his brother-in-law Marc Suat (CG no. 2160; 8 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] I am surrounded here with friends and acquaintances from Paris, Berlin and Weimar, but the concert is not progressing, and nothing is being done as yet. M. Bénazet wanted to organise this himself and nothing will be ready for another five days, and this worries me.
Eventually everything will probably fall into place.
Yesterday Marie and I made the strenuous climb to the top of the mountain of the Old Castle; it is magnificent but draining, and I am exhausted. […]
To Ferdinand Praeger in London (CG no. 2162; 11 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] I envy the freedom you enjoy in your country. If I am in Baden-Baden at this moment it is not to have a good time; my task is to conduct a large quasi-historical concert organised by M. Bénazet with the limited resources available here and in Karlsruhe… […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2164; 21 August, from Plombières):
[…] I have come back here; the concert in Baden-Baden and the worry caused by Louis’ behaviour have exhausted me. My gastro-enteritis had increased so much five days ago that I had to go to bed. We stopped overnight twice on the way, at Tann and at Remiremont. The concert was splendid, magnificent, and exceptional. The performance was extraordinary and scored a great success, there were takings of 10,600 frs. for the flood victims. M. Bénazet and his public are delighted. […]
I found in Baden-Baden a crowd of friends who had come for the concert, from Weimar, Berlin, Winterthur, Paris, and colleagues from the Institut and from various newspapers. […]
M. Bénazet also presented me with a very beautiful pin with diamonds.
To Gustave Satter (CG no. 2167; 3 September, from Paris):
[…] I am back from Germany, where I was engaged to conduct a concert in Baden-Baden. My Enfance du Christ was better performed there – especially the chorus – than anywhere else. […]
See also CG nos. 2120, 2129, 2130, 2148, 2154, 2156-7, 2159, 2163, 2165, 2166, 2168, 2171, 2335 and the account of the trip to Plombières and Baden-Baden reproduced in Les Grotesques de la musique.
Top of page
To Auguste Morel (CG no. 2225; 25 April, from Paris):
[…] I am going to lose another whole month. Bénazet has just engaged me to come and conduct a concert for him in August in Baden-Baden like last year. I will also take the opportunity to go and spend another three weeks in Plombières. I need it very much, I am still unwell. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2238; 4 August, from Plombières):
[…] From time to time I get news from Baden-Baden; our concert is being prepared and is promising. This year I want to devote special care to this musical festival; it has to be magnificent. I have included in the programme, among other pieces, the Judex crederis from my Te Deum, and I will not be able to rest until I have heard a rehearsal by my choristers. I have no worries about the orchestra for this immense piece, probably the most formidable I have ever written, but the vocal part needs to performed in grand style. I am thirsting for music; when I get to Baden-Baden I will immerse myself in it and drink it through every pore. I do not know whether we will have the Duke of Baden-Baden and his young fairy, nor whether the Princess of Prussia will be coming. I will meet again in Baden-Baden numerous friends and acquaintances from Paris. We will resume our pleasure outings (!!!) to the Old Castle and elsewhere, our excursions in the forests of fir, though I will not have much time to hang about. Bénazet wants to do things royally for this concert (I do not say imperially, you know how much our Emperor loves music). It will cost a fortune, and will be beautiful. And you will not be there, neither yourself, nor your family, nor my uncle… it is always like that. […]
To Émile Deschamps (CG no. 2239; 14 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] I will be back in Paris on the 25th or 26th of this month. Forgive me for answering you in this disjointed way; I am in the midst of rehearsals for the large concert which I will be conducting next Tuesday, and given the present heat it is an exhausting job. But the manager is doing everything in royal style, things will go well and we will achieve a splendid result. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2240; 14 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] I shall be staying here five days more than I intended; the concert is still scheduled for the 18th, but on the 25th a little opera, composed for Baden-Baden, is being performed and the authors and organisers are very keen to keep me here so that I can review the work in one of my feuilletons. Because of Bénazet who is lavishing every attention on me I cannot do otherwise. […]
I already had yesterday a demanding rehearsal with the Baden-Baden orchestra which is very mixed, and the three or four passengers in it made me sweat blood. Tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock I am taking my fifty players from Baden-Baden by train to Karlsruhe to rehearse with the musicians of the Ducal Chapel. Things will fall into place. Our singers from Paris are only arriving on Sunday. We have a lot of people here from high society in Paris and St Petersburg. Russia predominates. The Princess of Prussia and the Grand Duchess Stephanie are also in Baden-Baden.
I will be going later on to see the Princess of Prussia. I do not know whether the young couple, the Duke of Baden-Baden and his wife will be coming to the concert; it is hoped they will.
Farewell, and a thousand greetings to all!
My right arm aches so much thanks to my exertions at yesterday’s rehearsal that I can barely write legibly. […]
To Auguste Morel (CG no. 2247; 7 September, from Paris):
[…] Our concert in Baden-Baden was magnificent and everything went well; the choirs from Karlsruhe are excellent and they sung superbly the Judex crederis from my Te Deum. From every point of view it really is a tremendous piece. […]
See also CG nos. 2230, 2233, 2235, 2236ter [vol. VIII], 2237quinquies [vol. VIII], 2241.
Top of page
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2286; 7 April, from Paris):
[…] The Toulouse business fell through; all they can manage is an orchestra of amateurs, and as Balzac says, I refuse to get involved in this kind of nonsense. So all I will have is Baden-Baden, but at least that will be beautiful. M. Bénazet gives me a free hand to recruit all the musicians I want. I will recruit Roger and Mlle Artôt, and a few harp players. This time I would like to give the first four parts of Romeo and Juliet. […]
How can you have the heart not to come and hear this?… This is not something that you can hear every day. If you knew how many works like l’Enfance du Christ I would give for the Adagio (the love scene) of Romeo….. And how I forget the real world when I conduct this!…. But I am crazy and stupid to talk in this way. […]
To Auguste Morel (CG no. 2294; 7 May, from Paris):
[…] I am going to Baden-Baden next August; in the programme of the festival which I will be organising will be the first 4 parts of Romeo, with the prologue, etc. Bénazet has asked me to come three weeks earlier than usual to do twelve or fifteen rehearsals of these four pieces. It will go well. Bénazet does everything in style. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2299; 28 May, from Paris):
[…] Bénazet also wants me to promise him to write a little opera for the opening of the theatre which he is building and which will be inaugurated in August 1860. He therefore believes I am insured against death. I do not know whether I will make up my mind to sign such an undertaking. I offered to A. Dumas fils to write the work, but he is not making up his mind either, or rather he has decided to refuse. Such a work, destined for performance on a special occasion, has no future, and for all his generosity M. Bénazet cannot pay him enough.
Besides, I have no stomach for this. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2303; 23 July, from Paris):
[…] You must take Joséphine somewhere. I cannot really see the difference between the cost of a trip to Baden-Baden and one to Geneva. In Geneva your daughter will be bored as one can only be in a country of Protestants. In Baden-Baden we are all Catholics, people are happy, loving, there is an intelligent lifestyle and a varied social ambience. You can go for excursions in the woods which would revive this child. You hear great and beautiful music, which would reveal to her a world of which she has only had glimpses. So let her come, instead of sending her off to these tepid and revolting sons of Calvin, these cold fanatics. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2307; 25 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] I will be here till the 1st of September. Today is a day off. I have already done 8 rehearsals, and tomorrow at 6 in the morning I am taking all the 50 musicians from Baden-Baden to Karslruhe to rehearse with those of the Grand-Duke and the choirs, then the day after tomorrow another trip, and finally on Friday the Kapellmeister from Karlsruhe will bring all his people to Baden-Baden for an eleventh and final rehearsal which will take place at 11 in the morning in the concert hall. At 3 o’clock I will go and lie down then get up at 7 to go and conduct the concert. What a day!!! But it is going well. We managed to get together the performance of Romeo and Juliet. The rehearsal assistants say it is a miracle.
Roger, who was supposed to come, will be missing, but I have already replaced him. Litolff arrived yesterday evening, so now my mind is at rest.
What is more, I hope that in five or six days there will not be a pleasure outing!! Yesterday we had to go and dine at Rothenfels, though I was exhausted, and I slept fourteen hours after returning.
Méry and Vivier are here and amuse themselves with gambling away the money they no longer have………
But what a delightful place! What mountains! What forests!.. What graceful rivers! How happy your daughters would be here!
But frankly I have eyes for nothing, I am completely immersed in the Shakespearean work. Hearing my score almost every day I cannot hear anything except my characters who sing through the voice of the orchestra. I sleep-walk through the streets, and in reality am in the garden of the wealthy Capulet, and I listen to Juliet on her balcony as she makes her sublime confession to Romeo…… I can assure you, dear sister, that I have rendered this immortal scene in such a way that you would love me even more if you could know it. What a shame not to be able to write more than one piece like this in a lifetime!! If only you could hear the applause of the orchestra every morning!.. But for the general public, the splendours of the Festivities and the eccentricities of Queen Mab will be the main attraction.
My singer (Mme Charton), who is arriving this evening, sings beautifully the verses:
« Heureux enfants aux cœurs de flamme
« Liés d’amour par le hasard
« D’un seul regard!
I made her rehearse them in Paris.
Well, I believe that Friday will be a red-letter day for music; I have found 4 harps, I have 28 violins, and a terrific chorus and orchestra.
Think of us on Friday between 8 and 11 in the evening. […]
To his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 2308; 5 September, from Paris):
I arrived at one o’clock in the morning last night, very tired, exhausted, but also very pleased with my trip. It is very kind of you to have asked me to tell you about this excursion; it would have been even better to come and attend the concert. It was splendid, everything, chorus and orchestra, went like an excellent quartet; it was wonderful. I had conducted eleven rehearsals for the first 4 parts of Romeo and Juliet, and no less was needed to get this work into the heads and fingers of the musicians. The effect was considerable; I was called back I don’t know how many times, the orchestra then gave me an ovation, with fanfares of the brass instruments, bows struck on the violins, etc.
There were tears (in the adagio, the love scene), and the following day Countess Kalergis (a celebrated amateur virtuoso) was saying to my wife: « I was so moved that I am still in tears today. »
Bénazet gave a grand dinner, in the middle of which Méry offered me a particularly witty and moving toast.
A few days later the poet did better still. A comedy of his was going to be performed, to which he added an introductory prologue. In this prologue in verse, after describing the delights of life in Baden-Baden, the mountains and woods of this charming residence, he went on to stress the important part that music has assumed in the series of festivals in the summer season. This prompted him to address a dozen lines to me, which were received by the public with prolonged applause. Mme Bénazet presented Marie with a fine brooch with diamonds.
Amateur and professional musicians came for the concert from all over Germany, without counting those from Paris, London, St Petersburg (the Russians were in the majority) and the Swiss.
We finally had to leave, but we stopped for two days in Strasbourg and stayed with M. Kastner, who had invited us to come and visit his fine and opulent house. M. Kastner is an erudite musical theorist and musician; he married the daughter of M. Boursault, and as a result has an immense fortune. His wife is one of France’s most distinguished women, through her intelligence, her exceptional education, and especially the modest reserve behind which she conceals so many qualities. She is also an outstanding musician, and knows almost all my scores by heart. Both of them were present at the concert in Baden-Baden and had attended two of the rehearsals. In Strasbourg there was another dinner, and more presents; we were showered with courtesies. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2315; 20 September, from Paris):
[…] The concert was magnificent and the playing outstanding. Great success, tears at the love scene in Romeo, immense applause, fanfares from the orchestra; verses by Méry in my honour, inserted in a prologue which introduced his comedy, a few days after the concert; a grand dinner given in my honour by M. Bénazet. Gift of a fine brooch with diamonds made to Marie by Mme Bénazet; fine eulogies in the papers… etc, etc.
But I have been literally washed out by the eleven rehearsals I did. Now I can only think of sleep; I stay in bed twelve hours out of twenty four. […]
To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 2318; 28 September, from Paris):
[…] I am back from Baden-Baden where I have tired myself out dreadfully, but at least for a good, very good and brilliant result. To put on the first 4 parts of my Romeo and Juliet symphony I did eleven remorseless, fearsome rehearsals, enough to leave you flat on your face.
Performance and success were both splendid, altogether exceptional; applause, curtain calls, a grand dinner the following day, speeches, verses read the day after that in the prologue of a comedy by Méry, fanfares by the orchestra, in short everything you could dream of, without mentioning the tears of these beautiful ladies during the scene in the garden.
How my orchestra sang! In addition I had Mme Charton-Demeur, a talented woman whose attractive voice did wonders in the solos of the prologue.
We had a cosmopolitan audience, very musical and very intelligent, who did not miss anything.
I am beginning to recover a little by sleeping fourteen hours every night. Jokes of that kind should not be repeated too often, they would kill me. […]
To Baron von Donop (CG no. 2320; 2 October, from Paris):
[…] I have read the scenario which you kindly sent me; it seems to me to have the material for a very interesting lyrical drama. But I am not in a position to compose it myself. I have just completed my huge score of Les Troyens, and I have undertaken to write another work which is due to be staged in Baden-Baden for the inauguration of a new theatre in 1860. I am not sure I am going to decide to write this last opera. These modern scores require too many musical ideas, too much time, and too many resources for their performance. Is it not better to abstain than to expose oneself to writing mediocre works by writing too much?
I mentioned Baden-Baden. I was there a month ago and often thought of you during the numerous rehearsals which I did for the first four parts of Romeo and Juliet. I was very sorry not to be able to count you among my audience; the performance was wonderful, both for the chorus and the orchestra. The adagio (the love scene), in particular, had an extraordinary effect. But I was exhausted, I had done eleven rehearsals. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2337; 10 December, from Paris):
[…] Yesterday I was on the point of going to see M. Bénazet to beg him to give me back my word for the opera that I have promised to compose for the inauguration of the theatre in Baden-Baden in 1860. I did not feel the courage to undertake this work. Yet I abstained from making an approach to Bénazet, in the hope that my courage will come back.
M. Bénazet has engaged me again for next year’s Festival and has requested Romeo and Juliet once more. So it will be a little less strenuous than this year, as the orchestra now knows a large part of my work. […]
To Liszt (CG no. 2338; 13 December, from Paris):
[…] I can assure you that I do not feel any impatience, and if fortune comes in search of me it will find me in bed. Bénazet has engaged me for a three-act opera which I am due to give in the new theatre in Baden-Baden in 1860; but I have reason to believe that this theatre will not be completed before 1861, in which case I shall be delighted to have an extra year. Boredom is overtaking me, and I would almost prefer to write thirty feuilletons than three acts of an opera.
You need to be in good health, alert in spirit, and believe that singers do exist, in order to write a dramatic work with pleasure. And I am lacking in Faith, Hope, and even Charity. […]
See also CG nos. 2254, 2283-4, 2289, 2290, 2296-8, 2302, 2305-6, 2307bis [vol. VIII], 2307ter [vol. VIII], 2307quater [vol. VIII], 2311-12, 2317, 2341.
Top of page
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2345; 10 January, from Paris):
[…] I am forcing myself to keep going and to have faith in the future. The day before yesterday I signed a contract with M. Bénazet concerning the three act opera which I must write for the opening of the new theatre in Baden-Baden. I will have no choice but to work, under penalty of forfeiting 12,000 frs. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2348; 23 January, from Paris):
[…] As for my contract with M. Bénazet it is still the same reason that decided me; the idea of losing 12,000 frs. will force me to work, and maybe work will do me more good than any remedy. Should I refuse this obligation I am also fearful of compromising my annual engagements for the Baden-Baden festival by annoying M. Bénazet, and the result would be a terrible gap in my finances. And yet every season in Baden-Baden is for me the cause of violent fatigue which I find increasingly difficult to bear. Always the financial reason!…
To Richard Pohl (CG no. 2355; 19 February, from Paris):
[…] As yet I only have a very superficial idea of what will be the libretto for the opera I will be writing for the theatre in Baden-Baden. It is promised for next month. The author is Édouard Plouvier, a talented poet whose tastes and tendencies are not vulgar. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2361; 10 March, from Paris):
[…] You ask me about the subject of the opera which I will be writing for the new theatre in Baden-Baden. Unfortunately it is neither Christopher Columbus, nor Romeo. It is a rather fantastic drama drawn from German history, of which I only know a shapeless sketch. The author, M. Plouvier, was supposed to bring me the libretto these last few days, but he did not keep his word. He is full of joy at his success at the Porte St-Martin. The drama he has just given at this theatre (The Outrage) is causing a great stir. I cannot tell you the distress I feel at having been forced to sign this agreement with M. Bénazet… maybe I am deceiving myself! maybe the fire will be kindled by composing… But there would be no ifs and buts if it was a matter of treating the subjects you mention to me. The fire was lit long ago, it is burning, it is smouldering, like these underground coal mines which only betray their fire by the burning waters they emit above ground. Ah! a wonderful opera on Romeo could yet be written, next to the symphony. But for whom? who would stage it? who would appreciate it?… Let us not talk about it. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2368; 28 April, from Paris):
[…] In August I will be going back to Baden-Baden to put on Romeo and Juliet almost complete. But to perform the finale I need to find a singer capable of playing well the part of Friar Lawrence. As for the orchestra and chorus, I will certainly have nothing to desire. If you had heard last year how they sang the adagio, the love scene, the scene of Juliet’s balcony, the immortal scene which is enough to make a demi-god of Shakespeare!… Ah! dear friend, you might have said, like countess Kalergis, the day after the concert: « I am still in tears! »
How naive I can be!…
You are too unwell to think of travel; otherwise the trip to Baden-Baden in August is not a great matter. At least we would see each other! It is also a delightful country; it has beautiful forests, castles of burgraves, intelligent people, empty spaces, without mentioning the waters and the sun. […]
To Jakob Rieter-Biedermann (CG no. 2379 [see vol. VIII]; 14 June, from Paris):
[…] I am not going to Baden-Baden this year, the festival will not take place because of the negative effects of the war. M. Bénazet came to ask me to suspend all my preparations. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2380; 20 June, from Paris):
[…] I had for a while the hope of seeing you in Baden-Baden in August. They were saying here that Liszt would be coming and that you might be accompanying him. But it is I who shall not be going there. The Festival is on the rocks. Bénazet has just warned me not to make any preparations. These gawks in Baden-Baden want to eat alive every Frenchman; they imagine that our intention is to storm the place and turn it upside down. More spare time that the war is giving me. […]
I am going to start my other score, the opera promised for the theatre in Baden-Baden, if the war allows him to build it. It would be for 1861. The story is by Édouard Plouvier; it has fine situations. It is an episode from the Thirty Years’ War. There is a Duke of Saxe-Weimar, a Bohemian woman, a court of secret judges, the devil… and his train.
Bénazet has never wanted to let me take my word back, he wants his opera, even should his project for a new theatre fall through, he is prepared for the risk and keeps our contract. There are days when I am filled with despair. At other times I pick up courage again and hope to finish off this score. But I am so weary, so lacking in ambition… […]
P.S. I recently had the opportunity to see from time to time Liszt’s charming daughters and his son-in-law de Bülow who caused a great musical sensation in Paris.
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2390; 10 August, from Paris):
[…] And yet I must go to Baden-Baden to resume my job as répétiteur, and thank M. Bénazet for having succeeded in relaunching the Festival, which will take place on 29 August. We will be performing a piece from Les Troyens, the duet between Aeneas and Dido in the 4th Act. […]
You might be coming to Baden-Baden?…. My singer is Mme Viardot, the tenor is Jules Lefort; I hope they will sing properly this litany of love:
« Par une telle nuit le front ceint de cytise
« La déesse Vénus suivit le bel Anchise
« Aux bosquets de l’Ida.
« Par une telle nuit, fou d’amour et de joie
« Troïlus vint attendre aux pieds des murs de Troie
« La belle Cressida.
« O nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie
To Richard Pohl (CG no. 2393; 17 August, from Paris):
I am leaving tomorrow for Baden-Baden, and keenly looking forward to shake your hand and talk a little with you.
I am very worried about the two excerpts from Les Troyens that we are performing at the concert… It is a minor coup d’état. These two scenes, with which Mme Viardot has just fallen in love, were performed (only with piano accompaniment) before an audience of about twenty some two weeks ago and the emotion they aroused led me (with trepidation) to risk performing them at the concert.
The first is very difficult for the orchestra, and we will not have many rehearsals. […]
On Friday, the day after tomorrow, I shall be settling down at one o’clock at Rettig Strasse 374, in Baden-Baden.
To Madame Spontini (CG no. 2393bis; between 20-29 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] You are gravely mistaken if you believe that in the concerts I organise in Baden-Baden there could be pieces for the groundlings. The audience which comes is very attentive and very intelligent. All my programmes so far have ended with overtures that are masterpieces. Last year it was Beethoven’s Leonora overture, the year before that to Oberon; another time it was that to Der Freischütz. This causes no more disadvantage for the great masters than when they are placed at the end of concerts at the Conservatoire.
The overture to La Vestale will be splendidly performed and therefore listened to with religious attention. If I placed the overture by Meyerbeer at the start of the second part, it is because of its immense length and it would have been unwise to perform such a long piece (and for the first time) before an audience that was already tired of music. […]
To Marie Escudier (CG no. 2394; 22 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] But here in Baden-Baden we take things seriously and rehearse twice a day; all will go well, and if you wish to come I will look after your expenses. This year M. Bénazet is not inviting any representatives from the Paris press, otherwise I would have asked him to invite you. Between us, I had to convey yesterday this refusal to one of your colleagues, who was writing to me to have himself invited.
Therefore if you would accept 200 francs for a twenty-four hour stay in Baden-Baden, I will give them to you on your arrival, and you will be doing me a great service. The coup d’état I am attempting here with the two scenes from Les Troyens will necessarily lose much of its impact since none of our friends from Paris will be present. Only Monnais will be coming from Strasbourg where he went to spend a few weeks with Kastner. Come, you would be doing a favour to a friend, and it would be a good pretext for you to seize the Opéra bull by the horns.
The concert is fixed for 8 in the evening on Monday 29th.
P.S. Do not mention my offer to anybody.
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 2395; 26 August, from Baden-Baden):
[…] I am dreadfully tired by my numerous rehearsals, but everything is going well, and I am hardly suffering from my neuralgia. It seems that this kind of life suits me better than inaction. And besides the joy caused to me by the effect produced by my scenes from Les Troyens is exciting me to an extraordinary degree. The musicians are in raptures. I think we will have a splendid performance. How is the public going to react? If I am not much mistaken, Mme Viardot will be an admirable Cassandra. Dear sister, why are you not here?…
But it is always like this; neither yourself, nor Louis, nor my uncle, none of my relatives is ever present on my great days.
M. Bénazet is doing things ever more royally, and as for us we will do them imperially. He will be pleased. […]
Marie sends you her greetings; she too is benefiting from this delightful stay in Baden-Baden, from the waters, the woods, though I would not say the balls, since to her great regret I caused her to miss the last one; she wanted to accompany me to Karlsruhe where I went to spend three days in rehearsals. […]
To Pauline Viardot (CG no. 2396; 8 September, from Paris):
[…] I have a rather good collection of newspapers on Baden-Baden to send you; you scored a great success; in all the musical conversations up to now your name is mentioned with the greatest admiration. […]
Yes, I too prefer the trees of Baden-Baden, and the mountains, and the echoing valleys, where one can shout with such happiness. […]
To Auguste Morel (CG no. 2398; ca. 9 September, from Paris):
[…] I am coming from Baden-Baden, exhausted and unwell, but very happy at the enormous success scored by my scenes from Les Troyens and the 4 parts of Romeo and Juliet. Mme Viardot was a magnificent and moving Cassandra, the love duet between Dido and Aeneas was encored. […]
To Pauline Viardot (CG no. 2402; 13 September, from Paris):
[…] The press continues to be favourable to us about the concert in Baden-Baden; I will bring you everything.
Only one paper (l’Opinion), which has just been launched, started off with a head butt from the pen of one Braine. This gentleman claims that I must have numerous friends, since I am allowed to go every year to stir up musical riots in Germany and to perform there with impunity my wild extravaganzas. […]
To his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 2416; 7 October, from Paris):
[…] As for Les Troyens it is more and more the talk of the town; the success scored by the two scenes performed in Baden-Baden has created an immense stir. […]
If I have the strength, in a month at most, I will have to start writing the other opera in three acts which Bénazet has asked for the future theatre in Baden-Baden and for which I have signed a contract. I am very reluctant to leave the ancient world and the heroic style to enter the bourgeois world of the Middle Ages… The subject of this opera is nevertheless quite exciting and colourful. I will do my best. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2442; 2 December, from Paris):
– Yes, I will do Cleopatra, if I have time. But you know Hamlet’s saying: Had I but time… death is strict in his arrest…
– No, I will not do the Plouvier legend, and I have just written to Bénazet to beg him to release me from my undertaking. […]
See also CG nos. 2340-1, 2344-5, 2369, 2371, 2375, 2378, 2383-4, 2391-2, 2399, 2400-1, 2406-7, 2430.
Top of page
Few letters have survived that deal with the 1860 season in Baden-Baden; it was a stressful year for Berlioz, with the death of his sister Adèle in March and his declining health. But it was also the year in which he started composing his last major work, the opera Béatrice et Bénédict.
To Auguste Morel (CG no. 2505; 17 June, from Paris):
[…] I am more and more ill, my neuralgia is increasing, and even during the night hours I am unable to get any respite. Any work that requires sustained application and a great deal of thought is impossible for me. I will barely have the energy to go to Baden-Baden to organise the annual festival which Bénazet has entrusted to my direction. […]
To Johanna Pohl (CG no. 2509; 16 July, from Paris):
[…] Do not tell Liszt to come to Baden-Baden, as the programme of next concert does not include anything that could arouse his interest to any extent. It will only have pieces that he knows already. […] M. Bénazet wants it thus. I am almost completely put on one side. Nothing from Les Troyens will be given; I imagine this would hardly have been wise, two years in a row, and rather out of place. […]
To François Schwab (CG no. 2514; 4 September, from Paris):
Allow me to shake your hand and thank you for your very fine article on the concert in Baden-Baden. I would be very happy and my musical career would not have been so taxing, had there been as many critics with your keen intelligence and warmth of feeling. […]
To Édouard Plouvier, (CG no. 2515; 2 October, from Paris):
[…] I am not getting better; I am still incapable of composing, and during my last trip to Baden-Baden I had to insist to M. Bénazet that I should be allowed to take my word back. This I have at last obtained, and I have the regret to inform you that it is no longer I who shall be writing the music for your work. M. Bénazet still does not know to which composer he will entrust it. See him when he is in Paris. The theatre will only be completed in 1862.
Farewell, you will certainly gain in the bargain, since had I had the energy to write this score, it would certainly have been worse than mediocre given the poor state of my health. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2516; 23 October, from Paris:
[…] I worked yesterday for seven hours on a small one-act work I have started; I don’t know whether I mentioned it to you. It is very pretty, but very difficult to treat well. I still need to work a long time on the libretto; it is so rare for me to be able to devote continuous thought to it. The music will then take its turn. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2519bis [vol. VIII]; 10 November, from Paris):
[…] I have been working so hard for some time now that I am not conscious of how the weeks are going by. I have done the little opera I mentioned to you, after part of Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing. It is called Béatrice et Bénédict. It is very cheerful and pretty, as you will see. Now the music is coming to me like a flood, I am at a loss which piece should get my attention first, I have just written two in a few days. Do not mention any of this to anybody; it is so easy for someone to steal a subject from you. […]
As yet I am not sure what to do with my new work; will I offer it to Bénazet for Baden-Baden? This will earn me more money than if I let it loose in Paris. I will try to do both. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2520; 21 November, from Paris):
[…] I have worked so hard all these last few days that this distraction has even helped to put me back on my feet. I can hardly keep pace with the composition of the musical numbers of my little opera, so urgently do they present themselves; each one wants to come first. Sometimes I begin one piece before the other is finished. At the moment I have written four, and I have another five to do. You ask me how I have managed to reduce Shakespeare’s five acts to one single act of a comic opera. I have taken only one thread from the play; everything else is my own invention. The point at issue is simply to persuade Béatrice and Bénédict, who detest each other, that they are in love, and to inspire in this way true love for each other in both of them. It is rich in comedy, as you will see. In addition there are jokes of my own invention and musical caricatures which would take too long to explain to you. […]
To Peter Cornelius (CG no. 2522; 27 November, from Paris):
[…] In the meantime I am completing a one-act opera on a subject I have borrowed from Shakespeare; I find it very entertaining and I am writing my score con furia. It is cheerful, incisive and poetic at times; it smiles from the eyes and the lips. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2524; 29 November, from Paris):
[…] I have just been seized again with a zest for work which has resulted in a one-act comic opera for which I have written the words and am now completing the music. It is cheerful and smiling; the score will have a dozen musical numbers, and this gives me a respite after Les Troyens. […]
See also CG nos. 2501, 2507, 2511, 2513, 2513bis [vol. VIII].
Top of page
To his son Louis (CG no. 2526 [see vol. VIII]; 2 January, from Paris):
[…] Bénazet is here; he has engaged me for Baden-Baden; I have promised him my one-act opera for his new theatre that is being built in Baden-Baden. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2534; 14 February, from Paris):
[…] For the last month I have not been able to find a single day to work on my score of Béatrice. Fortunately, I have time to finish it. I went to read the libretto to M. Bénazet, who was delighted by it. This opera will therefore be performed in Baden-Baden in the new theatre; and the fate of Les Troyens is still uncertain. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2557; ca. 10 June, from Paris):
[…] As usual, I will be going to Baden-Baden. This year I will perform fragments of my Requiem, to cheer up the gamblers. Everyone needs to think a little about death… […]
To his nieces Nanci and Joséphine Suat (CG no. 2560; 22 June, from Paris):
No, dear nieces, we will not be able to go to Plombières; I am in the heat of the kitchen, as they say, and I must keep an eye on my roast. But why should you not come to Baden-Baden? It is not far from Plombières. Perhaps money is the reason… And for me too, don’t you think that money is not a good reason? […]
To his nieces Nanci and Joséphine Suat (CG no. 2562; 29 June, from Paris):
[…] To turn you into sensible, serious, settled and immobile ladies, it is absolutely essential that your father takes you to Baden-Baden in August, because once there you will feel no inclination to get out. It is a garden, an oasis, a paradise, and we shall be playing great music specially for you on August 26th.
It is a short trip when you are in Plombières, and staying there is no more expensive than elsewhere.
If you love flowers, then that is the place, they are everywhere. And what mountains, what ruins! what donkey rides! what lunches at the goat’s farm (they have 70 white goats there) and a whole crowd of Parisians, Russians, Italians and Germans who will ask me to be introduced to you.
And sulphurous baths that restore you to health in five minutes!
So it is agreed, you are coming! You will announce to me your arrival and we will go to meet you at the railway station. There will be balls to turn your heads. When M. Bénazet hears that my nieces and their father are in Baden-Baden he will not fail to invite them; likewise for the dramatic performances in the Louis XV Hall, where the temperature is 48 degrees. But you will brave the heat. If you do not come I will not write to you again for another sixty years. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2565; 6 July, from Paris):
[…] Little by little I am finishing a comic opera in one act for the new theatre in Baden-Baden, the construction of which is being completed now. I have carved out this act from the tragi-comedy of Shakespeare entitled Much ado about nothing.
It has the cautious name of Béatrice et Bénédict. In any case I can vouch that it does not contain a great deal of noise. Bénazet, the king of Baden-Baden, will have this performed next year (if I can find a suitable time, which is not certain). There will be musicians from Paris and Strasbourg. To perform the role of Béatrice requires such an intelligent woman! Will we find her in Paris?…
I am leaving for Baden-Baden in a month to organise and conduct the annual festival. This time I am throwing at them two pieces from the Requiem, the Tuba Mirum and the Offertorium. I want to indulge myself in this way; and there is no great harm in getting all these rich idle people to think a little about death…
To Richard Pohl (CG no. 2571; 28 August, from Baden-Baden):
Liszt told me that you need a triangle; here is one, made by Sax, which has just been used for the first time here in the introduction of Harold in Italy. Like every triangle it is made in the image of God, but more than other triangles, and more especially than God, it rings true. […] [Note: the play on the double meaning of juste in French defies translation]
To his niece Nanci Suat (CG no. 2575; 1 October, from Paris):
[…] So Joséphine has written her feuilleton for my uncle? Good for her. Mine on Baden-Baden have at last appeared, and Bénazet thanked me for them. I am going to have more to write soon, of a far less cheerful kind; they will be about our unfortunate lyrical theatres, which are all dead, or moribund, or sick. […]
I have recently engaged a wonderful and charming singer for my role of Béatrice (in the little opera). She is Mme Charton-Demeur. She was about to leave for America, but the events of the war between the Disunited States have enabled her to cancel her contract, so I seized her on the wing for our opera in Baden-Baden. Tomorrow Wednesday she will be coming with her husband and sister to see us in St Germain where M. Delaroche is offering a festival-style dinner.
Mme Demeur is already learning her part which is completely finished.
And that idiotic Opéra which does not engage such a virtuoso! […]
Mme Demeur does not play the diva, she sings as I want; her husband keeps saying to me: scold her, pull no punches, tell her some home truths. This I would do anyway without authorisation. […]
To Marc Suat (CG no. 2585; 7 December, from Paris):
[…] I am working a lot, I have just finished the two-act opera destined for the new theatre in Baden-Baden. I still need to write the overture; but my feuilletons will prevent me from dealing with it. We shall see whether the scoundrels who hound me in Paris will dare to send their envoys to Baden-Baden on the evening of the first performance of this work. […]
See also CG nos. 2528-9, 2543, 2550, 2566, 2566bis, 2567-9, 2570, 2574, 2579, 2581. An open letter to the members of the Institut, dated 11 September 1861 after his return to Paris, gives an account of his visit to Baden-Baden in August 1861. It was published in the Journal des Débats (cf. CG no. 2575) then included by Berlioz the following year as chapter 21 of the volume of essays he published under the name of À Travers Chants.
Top of page
To Camille Pal (CG no. 2589; 4 February, from Paris):
[…] At the moment I am busy with the first rehearsals for my two-act opera for the inauguration of the theatre in Baden-Baden. It will be performed on August 5 or 6. As always, Bénazet has acted like a perfect gentleman; he asked me what actors I wanted, I gave him a list, and he has engaged them all. The chorus will be that from Strasbourg. God knows how much money this will cost, and for only two performances! The theatre in Strasbourg would like to stage this little work after Baden-Baden, but I doubt they are able to.
As for Paris I am not thinking about it, nothing at all must be risked at the theatre before the launching of my great ship [Les Troyens], which will take place, as is being said at the Opéra, in thirteen months (in March 1863). […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2590; 8 February, from Paris):
[…] What! I have not written to you since my return from Baden-Baden? I am embarrassed. Yes, yes, the concert was superb, and I heard there our Harold symphony performed for the first time as I wish it to be; the fragments from the Requiem made a tremendous impact, but we had done eight rehearsals. […] In the meantime I am rehearsing at home every week the two-act opera which I have just finished for the new theatre in Baden-Baden. Béatrice et Bénédict will be performed for the first time in Baden-Baden on August 6. I also wrote the words, as for Les Troyens, and I am now experiencing a torment of an unfamiliar kind, that of hearing the dialogue spoken against all common sense. But by dint of badgering my actors I believe I will succeed in making them speak like human beings. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2598; 16 March, from Paris):
[…] In the meantime we are rehearsing Béatrice every Tuesday at home, and it will be performed in Baden-Baden on 6 August… I have finished everything I needed to do, and I will be careful never to start another work. […]
To Peter Cornelius (CG no. 2605; 9 April, from Paris):
[…] It would be a great pleasure for me if you were able to come to Baden-Baden on 6 August. Everything leads me to believe that my Béatrice will be well performed, and what is more it will be under my direction, and everything will go as I want. It is a work in two acts which costs very little to put on, and would be very suitable for many stages in Germany. I would be very happy if you could be asked by a director to translate it. The day before yesterday two pieces (a duet and an aria) were performed at a soirée before a large audience and they created quite a stir. Mme Charton-Demeur (Béatrice) sang outstandingly well. In the salon where I happened to be there was a musician who is not one of my supporters. He had not received the programme of the concert, and after hearing the duet he broke into applause and said: Heavens! What a wonderful piece! It is exquisitely coloured and the melody is delightful! Where does it come from? Who is the author? – at which M. de St Georges laughed and replied, pointing to me: The author is not far away, here he is! You can imagine how I laughed in my turn.
Perrin, the director of the Opéra Comique, was present at the occasion. He obviously would like to stage Béatrice once I am back from Baden-Baden; he has offered me his theatre to rehearse the staging. But I do not know whether I am going to expose myself to the cat-calls of these gentlemen, these scoundrels, before Les Troyens are performed. […]
To his niece Joséphine Suat (CG no. 2608; 19 April, from Paris):
[…] I am also busy with fairly frequent rehearsals of my opera Béatrice, which will be performed on August 6 in Baden-Baden. A few scenes were sung recently in a soirée, with considerable success.
You are not telling me whether you will come and hear it. Perhaps your father might give us this pleasure?… […]
They say the new theatre in Baden-Baden is charming, but rather small. Do persuade my uncle to cross the Rhine on this occasion. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2610bis [vol. VIII]; 8 June, from Paris):
[…] I am expecting my singers who are coming to rehearse.
I have added a new scene to the role of Prilleux (Somarone, the Kapellmeister) in which his tomfoolery should be entertaining. Mme Charton-Demeur is charming in the musical part of the role of Béatrice. It is a great pity to take so much trouble for two performances. It is now being said that there will only be two, as during this month of drama Bénazet wants to have a different spectacle every evening. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2630; 12 July, from Paris):
[…] I received this morning a letter from the director in Baden-Baden, who tells me that the chorus are well prepared and that they are making a great impact. He reckons on a great success (as though he knew the rest of the score!). These people have nothing but preconceived ideas. Yesterday we rehearsed at the Opéra-Comique; extraordinarily, every one was there, and we have started to organise the staging. […]
To Liszt (CG no. 2632; 19 July, from Paris):
[…] You wish me intelligent singers; those available to me are so in general, and I would be wrong to complain. Mme Charton-Demeur is without doubt the best singer we have in France at the moment. She scored a very fine success this winter in Desdemona at the Théâtre Italien. It was announced that she was going to be recruited at the Opéra, then the matter was dropped, they say because of lack of funds. She will be leaving for Havana where she is summoned by one of these mad engagements that are now common (85,000 frs. for 4 months), and I was only too glad to catch her on the wing for the two weeks in Baden-Baden. She is Béatrice, and in this role which is so difficult she is delightful in every way. Melle Monrose (Héro) is devoid of any musical instinct, but at least she has learned her role and her fresh and natural voice will show it to good advantage. There is also a third young lady… who is adequate. The four men sing like everybody else. In short my cast have not caused me any annoyance, they neither add anything to nor cut anything from the music, and show great zeal and ardour. I hear from Baden-Baden that the choruses (singers from the Strasbourg theatre) are very well prepared. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2634; 22 July, from Paris):
[…] You ask me how it can be that you are unaware of the existence of this two-act opera which we are going to give in Baden-Baden. This is because it is a very long time since I wrote to you.
Having been unable to decide to set to music the large melodrama which you read [Plouvier’s libretto], and wishing to demonstrate to Bénazet my goodwill, I took as my text part of Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy (Much ado about nothing), and the musical ideas followed, though at long intervals, as ever because of my infernal neuralgia. These intervals of enforced inaction have been so frequent and so long that during the first rehearsals I became as it were acquainted with my music; I had no recollection of it whatever. It is very successful, and it appears that my two heroes Béatrice and Bénédict are teasing and snapping at each other with elegance. There is in addition the sentimental couple of Héro and Claudio, who form a very happy contrast with the other pair. To the Shakespearean plot I added a musical caricature, a grotesque Kapellmeister called Somarone (big donkey) whose absurdities provoke laughter. I would give a lot to let you hear this. There is in particular a concluding Scherzo, which sums up the character of the two main protagonists, which is strikingly effective. […]
It has taken time to coach the singers, and now I am going to have trouble in rehearsing the orchestra; the work is a caprice written with the point of a needle which requires extreme delicacy in performance.
Farewell, dear princess, I will keep you informed of the impact of the performance. […]
To Camille Pal (CG no. 2635; 23 or 24 July, from Paris):
[…] Fortunately the violent distractions of my rehearsals sometimes get the upper hand [sc. of my illness]. Many of my friends will be leaving for Baden-Baden with me next Monday. I think my work will receive an exceptional performance. The rehearsals we are doing here lead me to believe this. When I arrive in Baden-Baden I will start rehearsing the orchestra, and within a few days everything will be in place. And all this will only result in two performances in Baden-Baden on 9 and 11 August. They say the new theatre is charming. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 2642; 10 August, in Baden-Baden):
A great success! Béatrice was applauded from start to finish, and I was called back I do not know how many times. All my friends are overjoyed. As for me, I watched the proceedings in a state of complete insensitivity; it was one of those days when I was in pain and everything was indifferent to me.
Today I am better, and very pleased at the friends who come to congratulate me. Madame Charton-Demeur was admirable and charming, and Montaubry presented us with an elegant and refined Bénédict. The duet you know made a huge impact, sung by mademoiselle Montrose and madame Geoffroy in a pretty set and under a moonlight which was very cleverly designed by the stagehand; the audience could not stop applauding. Come, I embrace you, you must be pleased. […]
To Marc Suat (CG no. 2643; 10 August, in Baden-Baden):
I want to let you know without delay of the great success of my opera Béatrice, which was given last night to the most enthusiastic applause. I was called back I do not know how many times. Everything went well; Mme Charton-Demeur is really the most ravishing Béatrice that can be seen or heard. Montaubry, who can sometimes be lacking in finesse, showed himself on the contrary to be a refined and elegant Bénédict, incisive and full of grace. The performance was in general excellent, the chorus and orchestra did not make a single mistake. The next performance is tomorrow. I am very pleased. All my friends and colleagues, who have come from Paris, Leipzig, Berlin, Stuttgart etc. show a warmth which is reassuring for the effect that the press will have. Obviously this will cause a devil of a stir. There are people who cannot get over their astonishment at the great success of an opera, where the librettist, the composer, and the conductor were one and the same man.
Please write to my uncle Marmion; today I do not know which way to turn. What a pity that our two dear girls, Joséphine and Nanci, did not come with you this year. […]
To Ernest Legouvé (CG no. 2645; 18 August, from Paris):
[…] Yes, everything went well, and Mme Demeur was charming from both the musical and the literary point of view. She and I owe much to you for the excellent advice you gave her.
How can she be replaced in Paris? That is the question. The orchestra showed exquisite finesse and agility, and as I was in great pain on the evening of the first performance, and so could not take interest in anything, as I was drained of feeling, I conducted very well and did not make a single mistake (which does not often happen to me).
Bénazet is in the 17th heaven, he has asked again for the work, the author and the prima donna for next year. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2646; 21 August, from Paris):
I am back from Baden-Baden, where my opera Béatrice and Bénédict has just scored a great success. The French, Belgian, and German press are unanimous in proclaiming this. Good or bad news, I am always anxious to inform you, assured as I am of the affectionate interest with which you will receive it. Unfortunately you were not there; the evening would have reminded you of that of l’Enfance du Christ. The cabal and those who mean to offend had stayed in Paris. On the other hand a large number of writers and musicians had made the trip. The performance, which I was conducting, was excellent, and Mme Charton-Demeur in particular (the Béatrice) had wonderful moments as singer and actress. Well, would you believe it, I was suffering so much from my neuralgia that I could not take interest in anything; I ascended the rostrum, in front of an audience of Russians, Germans and French, to conduct the first performance of an opera for which I had written the words and the music, without feeling the slightest emotion. The result of this peculiar detachment was that I conducted better than usual. I was far more emotional at the second performance.
Bénazet, who always does things in grand style, has spent an extravagant amount of money in costumes, sets, actors and choristers for this opera. He wanted to have a magnificent inauguration for the new theatre. Here it is causing a devil of a stir. They want to stage Béatrice at the Opéra-Comique, but a Béatrice is lacking. In our theatres here there is no woman capable of singing and acting this role, and Mme Charton is leaving for America.
You would laugh if you could read the silly praise lavished on me by critics. They discover that I do have melody, that I can be cheerful and even funny. It is the story of the astonishment caused by l’Enfance du Christ all over again. They have noticed that I was not making any noise, because they could see that the brutal instruments were not in the orchestra.
What patience I would need if I was not so indifferent! […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2648; 26 August, from Paris):
[…] Besides, I have to look after the publication of my score of Béatrice, the musical part of which I am developing a little in Act II. I am in the process of writing a trio and a chorus, and I cannot leave this work in suspense. I am eager to untie or cut all the bonds that tie me to art, so as to be able to say at any moment to death: when you will! […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2651; 21 September, from Paris):
[…] You ask me for details about the opera in Baden-Baden. Everything went admirably, and several pieces aroused a storm of applause. The entire French press even gave rapturous praise to a number of pieces. I was believed to be under great emotional stress when I came to conduct my orchestra on the first evening; but at that time I was in such pain that I had become indifferent to everything, and consequently I conducted without making a mistake. There were plenty of enthusiastic hypocrites who pestered me with their demonstrations of approval, the sincerity of which was very obvious to me… I had to put on an air of naïveté and pretend to believe them…
At present we are examining with the director of the Opéra-Comique the ways of reproducing this in Paris, where these same enthusiasts will send people to hiss at the first performance. We cannot find a singer. There is no woman capable of singing the aria of Béatrice and of playing this role. Mme Charton-Demeur was delightful in it, and now she is gone to Havana. They did not want to find a place for her in Paris. Liszt is right, it is only for mediocrities that doors are flung open.
In sum this little work is to my mind musically much more difficult to perform than Les Troyens, because it has humour, which could not be introduced naturally into an ancient subject. Bénazet has asked me again for Béatrice for next year and has not failed to engage the prima donna as well. The Bénédict will probably not want to come back, he was furious at not being the success figure. […]
I have now finished; yesterday I wrote the last orchestral note in my life that will soil a sheet of paper. No more of that, Othello’s occupation’s gone. […]
To Pauline Viardot (CG no. 2652; 21 September, from Paris):
[…] and in the midst of all this the composition of two pieces which I have added to the second act of Béatrice. Yes, it is happily finished; I have done the trio for three women and in addition a very gentle chorus for sopranos, contraltos and tenors alone, which will be sung in the wings a little after the trio. […]
To Marc Suat (CG no. 2659; 8 October, from Paris):
[…] Despite all my careful management and the strict order I keep I am still worried about the future. The Baden-Baden season can fail me at any moment, and will indeed fail me next year, since Bénazet is not giving any more festivals. He has only told me that he intends to repeat my opera in 1863, but I have already been paid for this work and consequently it will only bring me royalties of 250 frs. So it is approximately an income of 2000 frs. which is going to be lost. […]
See also CG nos. 2595, 2599, 2604, 2606, 2612-13, 2618, 2623-4, 2628, 2633, 2636-7, 2641, 2649, 2660-2, 2666, 2672.
Top of page
To Camille Pal (CG no. 2688; 13 January, from Paris):
[…] I am still fearful of losing 2000 frs. of revenue through the cessation of my annual contract with Baden-Baden. The suspension of the gambling is still announced which means henceforward no more music. In addition Bénazet seems determined not to give any more Festival, as his theatre is now absorbing everything. Béatrice will be played again this year and I will go to conduct the performances, but this will only bring in some rather modest royalties, since I was paid for the work last year. […]
To Richard Pohl (CG no. 2691; 17 January, from Paris):
I will write this very day to M. Bénazet to ask him to lend to the theatre in Weimar the full score and the orchestral parts of Béatrice. I have no doubt that he will do it. I will only be able to send the copies of the piano score next Thursday 22 January; I have just seen the printer. The Weimar theatre will thus be able to use all the orchestral music during the months of February, March, April, May and even June. And I do not imagine that there is any thought of performing Béatrice very often after the Grand Duke’s birthday. I will write to Mme the Grand Duchess to thank her for her kind intentions. Unfortunately I will be unable to ask her the favour of dedicating my score to her, as it is already dedicated to M. Bénazet.
The copyist of the Weimar theatre will only have to copy out the trio of the three women and the little chorus which I added to the second act since my return from Baden-Baden, and which are not among the music that M. Bénazet will be sending to Weimar. […]
To Édouard Bénazet (CG no. 2693; 26 January, from Paris):
[…] I do not want to await your return to present you with a copy of the score of which you have kindly accepted the dedication, and which would not exist without you. I would be happy if this feeble homage seemed to you a proof of my deep gratitude for everything you have done for me. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2759; 28 July, from Paris):
[…] The weather today is lovely. My son arrived yesterday from Mexico, and since he has obtained three weeks’ leave I am taking him with me to Baden-Baden. This poor boy is never in Paris when any of my works is performed. He only heard a performance of the Requiem when he was 12 years old. Imagine his joy at attending the two performances of Béatrice.
He will return to Vera-Cruz after leaving Baden-Baden; but he will be back in November, for the first performance of Les Troyens. […]
To his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 2762; 23 August, from Paris):
I have only been back for two days. I was ill in Baden-Baden with a throat infection which threatened to develop into something worse and kept me several days in bed. I was consequently unable to conduct the first general rehearsal of Béatrice and I had to ask the conductor [Kœnnemann] to take my place. But after this experience the actors were aghast and let me know that it was better not to perform the work than to play it under such a conductor; he caused total chaos. I made an effort, got up, conducted the second rehearsal and the performance and though I had difficulty speaking everything fell back into place. Mme Charton was more admirable than last year, her voice now has a beauty that was previously unknown; but the two other women singers nearly murdered the famous duet, so bad was their singing and their style. I was nevertheless acclaimed and applauded by the whole audience and the orchestra. Béatrice’s aria made a huge impression. Jourdan (Bénédict), though a good musician, was all over the place for almost the whole of the first act.
The queen of Prussia sent for me, and I talked to her about art for half an hour. She is still very gracious, but what has happened to her gentle beauty! Time is a great scoundrel. […]
See also CG nos. 2689, 2725-6, 2731, 2734, 2741, 2743, 2745, 2751, 2755-8.
Top of page
To his son Louis (CG no. 2858; 13 May, from Paris):
[…] No news from Bénazet. […]
Top of page
In 1865 the direction of the Baden-Baden festival was entrusted to Ernest Reyer, a friend of Berlioz.
To his son Louis (CG no. 3025; 11 July, from Paris):
[…] The programme for Baden-Baden is just as I told you. Jourdan will be singing Aeneas, and Madame Charton Dido. But there is also music by Wagner, Liszt, and Schumann, and poor Reyer does not know what awaits him at the rehearsals. […]
To his nieces Nanci and Joséphine Suat (CG no. 3032; 11 August, from Paris):
[…] An act of Les Troyens and the second part of l’Enfance du Christ have just been performed in Baden-Baden with great success. A lot of my music is now being performed in Russia, in Germany, in Denmark, in Sweden and in America; there are people who adore me whom I shall never know. […]
Top of page
Baden-Baden in the 19th century
Unless otherwise stated, all the pictures displayed below have been scanned from 19th- and early 20th-century engravings, postcards, newspapers, and books in our own collection, including Baden-Baden et ses Environs (Zürich: Orell Füssli, 1879), L’Illustration and the Illustrated London News.
1. General views of Baden-Baden
As well as its musical attractions, Baden-Baden provided an idyllic setting which enchanted Berlioz. He makes numerous references to this in his correspondence (CG nos. 1627, 2303, 2307, 2308, 2368, 2562).
A number of the addresses Berlioz stayed
at during his visits to Baden-Baden are known from his correspondence. In 1853
his address was ‘At M. De Lors, no. 475 opposite the convent’ (CG no.
1621). In 1856 it was ‘Stephanien Strasse 356’ (CG nos. 2159, 2160). In 1857
he gives his address as ‘Retting Strasse 375’ (CG no. 2240), while in
1859 the address is given as ‘Rettig Strasse 374’ (CG nos. 2393,
2394, 2395), conceivably the same as in 1857 where the number may be a mistake.
In 1862 then again in 1863 he stayed at the Darmstadt Hotel (CG nos.
2614, 2749, 2757). In 1861 he says to his nieces that it is enough to write to
him ‘at Baden-Baden in the Grand-Duchy of Baden’ (CG no. 2562).
Baden-Baden – General View (1870s)
Baden-Baden – Lichtenthal Alley (1870s)
Baden-Baden – General View (1902)
2. The Old Castle
In chapter 21 of À Travers Chants Berlioz gives a colourful description of the old castle above Baden-Baden:
The old castle of Baden-Baden is a colossal medieval ruin, a nest of vultures built on top of a mountain that dominates the entire valley of the Oos. In the middle of a forest of gigantic fir trees sections of walls stand out on every side, as black and hard as the rocks, and the rocks themselves stand out straight like the walls. In the courtyards ancient oak trees rise majestically. Old beeches peer curiously through the windows. Wherever the astonished visitor steps, he meets at every moment interminable staircases and bottomless wells, and cannot escape a feeling of secret fear. In some unknown past age, unknown landgraves, margraves or burgraves lived there, predators and brigands, living from murder and plunder, to be swept away later by the onset of civilisation. What crimes were committed under these formidable vaults, what cries of despair, what bloodthirsty orgies have resounded under these panellings!... But nowadays, prosaically, it is inhabited by the keeper of a mundane restaurant. The only sounds to be heard come from the furnaces of a vast kitchen, the popping of corks of Champagne bottles, and the laughter of middle-class Germans and French tourists having a good time. Yet, if you have the courage to attempt to climb to the top of the ruined summit of the building, you will gradually find again solitude, silence and poetry. From the top of the last platform you can glimpse in the plain below, on the other side of the mountain, a number of smiling little German towns, well cultivated fields, luxuriant vegetation, and the Rhine, mournful and silent, which unfolds its endless silvery ribbon on the horizon. […]
The Old Castle in the 1870s
3. The Salon de Conversation
All of the concerts given by Berlioz in
Baden-Baden in 1853 and from 1856 to 1861 took place in the Salon de
Conversation, which was built between 1821 and 1824 by the architect Friedrich
A letter of 1853 (CG no. 1627) gives a detailed
description of the hall as decorated for the concert of that year, while chapter
21 of À Travers Chants describes how in 1861 the performance of the excerpts
of the Requiem was organised to fit the dimensions of the hall.
The Salon de Conversation in 1835/1840
The Salon de Conversation in 1858
The Salon de Conversation in 1865
Interior of the Salon de Conversation in 1865
The Salon de Conversation in the 1870s
The Salon de Conversation in the mid-20th century
The Salon de Conversation in January 2006
We are most grateful to our friend Pepijn van Doesburg for
sending us the modern photo above.
4. Baden-Baden Theatre
At some time in the 1850s Bénazet decided to build a new
theatre, for which he commissioned a new opera from Berlioz early in 1858 (CG no. 2299).
In the event the theatre was only completed in 1862, and the opera that was
performed at its opening – Béatrice et Bénédict – was a different
one from the work originally commissioned. Berlioz refers to the new
building twice in his letters of 1862 (CG nos. 2608,
2635), but this was
before he had seen it. The evidence of a contemporary witness (Ernest
suggests that Berlioz was taken aback at the smallness of the orchestra pit
which was too narrow for the players (CG vol. VI, p. 324 n. 1); Berlioz’s
preserved letters from after August 1862 make no comment on this.
The Baden-Baden Theatre in August 1862
The Baden-Baden Theatre in 1865
The Baden-Baden Theatre in the 1870s
The Baden-Baden Theatre in the late 19th century
The Baden-Baden Theatre in the late 19th century
The Baden-Baden Theatre in January 2007
Berlioz Commemorative Plaque
This plaque is on the façade of the theatre next to the first window from the right. The German text on the plaque reads:
geb. 11. Dezbr. 1803. gest. 8. März 1869.
welcher oft und gerne in Baden Baden weilte
und zur Eröffnung dieses Theaters
im Jahre 1862 die Oper
BEATRICE und BENEDICT
componirte und dirigirte.
an seinem Geburtstage
zum Gedächtnis errichtet
STADT BADEN BADEN
[To the composer / HECTOR BERLIOZ / born 11 December 1803, died 8 March 1869 / who enjoyed his frequent stays in Baden-Baden / and composed and conducted / for the inauguration of this theatre / in the year 1862 the opera / BEATRICE and BENEDICT / on his birthday / in his memory (this plaque) was set up / by the / CITY OF BADEN-BADEN]
We are most grateful to M Hervé Levy who sent us the two modern photos above.
Top of page
Related page on this site:
Berlioz in Plombières
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18
The page Berlioz in Baden-Baden was created on 15 October 2007; updated on 1 November 2007.
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.
© 2007 Hervé Levy for the 2007 photos of Baden-Baden Theatre
© 2007 Pepijn van Doesburg for the modern photo of the Salon de Conversation
© 2007-2014 (unless otherwise stated) Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb
Back to Berlioz in Germany