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Berlioz in Germany


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    There is little that can be said about Berlioz’s sole visit to Bremen in November 1853. Bremen is nowhere mentioned in Berlioz’s Memoirs and the composer’s surviving letters provide little information. He had actually been invited to Bremen before: in 1846, while nearing the end of his second trip to Germany, Berlioz was asked to come to Bremen but could not accept, as he had to return to Paris shortly (Correspondance Générale no. 1036ter [in vol. VIII]; hereafter CG for short). In June 1847, during his stay in Berlin, Berlioz considered making a trip to Hamburg and Bremen, but nothing came of this (CG no. 1115).

    Several years later Berlioz resumed his travels to Germany, and in October-December 1853 returned to cities he had first visited a decade earlier (Brunswick, Hanover, Leipzig). While still in Paris and preparing for this trip, he mentions in a letter to his friend Robert Griepenkerl in Brunswick a projected visit to Bremen, and asks Griepenkerl to communicate himself with Bremen to prepare the ground (CG no. 1632, 6 October). At the time Berlioz evidently did not have any personal contacts in Bremen and so relied on his friend to make the initial arrangements. By the time he arrived in Brunswick later the same month the visit to Bremen became a certainty (CG nos. 1636-7, both on 26 October). On 31 October Berlioz, now in Hanover, wrote to Griepenkerl (CG no. 1642):

[…]  I have just written to M. Eggers to thank him for the proposal which you passed on to me about the concert on the 22nd. I also informed him that Joachim will be coming to play the solo viola part, and asked him to write to Joachim […]

    Eggers is presumably the director of the theatre in Bremen with whom Griepenkerl and after him Berlioz were in touch to complete the arrangements (cf. also CG no. 1649). Joseph Joachim, the celebrated violin virtuoso and leader of the Hanover orchestra, was of great assistance to Berlioz in 1853 and 1854. He agreed to play in Bremen the solo viola part in Harold in Italy (cf. the letter to Joachim CG no. 1653bis, which may refer to a rehearsal in Bremen for this concert). On 13 November, still in Hanover, Berlioz wrote again to Griepenkerl about the dates of his visit to Bremen and mentioned also the question of the fee which had been agreed (CG no. 1649). He travelled from Hanover to Bremen on 18 November (CG nos. 1650-1) and stayed at Hillman’s Hotel, the location of which is not known (CG no. 1644, end). The concert took place in the theatre on 22 November (CG nos. 1642, 1644, 1650-1), and the programme included, in addition to Harold in Italy, the overture Roman Carnival and Le repos de la Sainte Famille (cf. CG no. 1646) which Berlioz performed successfully in several German cities that year – Frankfurt, Brunswick, Hanover, Leipzig. No detailed account of the concert survives in Berlioz’s correspondence, but it was another success. In a letter to Griepenkerl on 3 December, Berlioz, now in Leipzig, contrasts the outward coolness of the Leipzig audience with the warmth of the public in Brunswick, Hanover and Bremen (CG no. 1659; the autograph of this letter is reproduced and translated on this site). The fullest reference to the concert comes in a letter to his sister Adèle dated 30 November, also from Leipzig (CG no. 1657):

[…] I have come from Bremen where I only spent five days. Same enthusiasm, same applause, same fanfares. Several members of the Concert Society came to escort me back to the railway station. When I was getting into the coach an old German gentleman grasped my shoulder and took his hat off: « Monsieur! Monsieur! Grand Componist, Monsieur, Grand Componist! » He could say no more. Another one, a professor of composition, introduced me to one of his pupils, seized his right hand and rubbed it vigorously on my arm. « This young man must remember, he said, that he has touched the arm of Berlioz! » […]

    Berlioz left Bremen on 23 November, the day after the concert, and travelled to Leipzig where further successes awaited him.

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997.

The page Berlioz in Bremen was created on 1 December 2006.

© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb

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