Hector Berlioz

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Berlioz in Germany
and Central Europe

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The third century

Contents of this page:

Sources of information
The Prix de Rome: Italy and Germany
Berlioz and Germany: 1821-1842
Berlioz’s travels to Germany
    The first trip, 1842-1843
    The second trip, 1845-1846
    Subsequent trips, 1852-1867
    (1) 1821-1842
    (2) 1842-1867
Cities visited by Berlioz

This page is also available in French


CG = Correspondance générale (8 volumes, 1972-2003)
CM = Critique musicale (10 volumes, 1996-2020)

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    Berlioz first visited Germany in 1842 and kept returning there almost to the end of his career: of all the countries he visited in the course of his musical travels, it was to him the most important, ‘the fatherland of music’ as he wrote to Robert Schumann in 1837 (CG, no. 486), and a land where he was welcomed and honoured as he never was in his native France. In 1860 Berlioz described himself as a ‘musician three-quarters German’ (Á travers chants, in the chapter entitled ‘Concerts of Richard Wagner. The music of the future’), and significantly it was in Germany, ‘on the slopes of the Harz’,  that he located the imaginary city of Euphonia which was wholly dedicated to the art of music – the story was first written in 1844, the year after his return from his first trip to Germany (for the original version cf. Critique musicale V, pp. 425-52, 473-7, 495-7, 529-34). What Berlioz wrote to Baron von Donop of Detmold during one of his tours in 1854 sums up his feelings for the country (CG no. 1716):

Beloved Germany, what gratitude I feel for her; what a strong desire I have of showing myself worthy to some extent of her warm hospitality; and how much respect her pure and noble love of art inspires in me...

    In the context of Berlioz’s career, the name ‘Germany’ is of course a convenient shorthand – in the composer’s time Germany was not a unified country but a multiplicity of separate states. Berlioz himself used the term in a broad cultural sense to include not only the various German states but also countries in central Europe – in his Memoirs he added to the title of his second ‘Travels to Germany’ the subtitle ‘Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary’, which at the time (1845-46) were parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

    These pages trace Berlioz’s long and fruitful relations with Germany over his career. The main page gives a general view, while separate pages devoted to the individual cities which Berlioz visited provide further detail.

    For a number of photos from cities visited by Berlioz we are indebted to our friend Pepijn van Doesburg; detailed acknowledgement is provided in the relevant pages. The text of all ‘Berlioz in Germany’ pages is our own. All English translations from Berlioz’s original texts (Memoirs, letters etc.) are by Michel Austin.

Sources of information

    Berlioz gave a detailed account of his two major trips to Germany in 1842-3 and 1845-6 in his Memoirs in the sections entitled Travels to Germany I and Travels to Germany II: Austria, Bohemia and Hungary. The first was based on a series of articles he published immediately after his return in the Journal des Débats in 1843 and early 1844, which are all reproduced on this site; these were quickly reissued by Berlioz in book form in 1844 in the first volume of his Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie. See also CM V, pp. 245-55, 263-307, 317-37, 347-71, 403-14 for this series. The second was likewise reproduced from articles originally published earlier, partly again in the Journal des Débats in 1847 and partly in 1848 in the Revue et gazette musicale. Those from the Journal des Débats are reproduced on this site. For this series see also CM VI, pp. 295-305, 307-18, 333-52, 361-98. The visit to Berlin in 1847 on his return from Russia was mentioned in the chapter of the Memoirs entitled Travels to Russia – Sequel. This had already appeared in an unexpected journal, the Magasin des Demoiselles in 1856, and is reproduced on this site.

    The other trips to Germany, especially those from 1852 onwards, were not written up by Berlioz in the same comprehensive way. For one thing they did not form part of large-scale tours but were more fragmented; for another Berlioz evidently did not wish to repeat himself. In any case Berlioz’s narrative of his career in his Memoirs becomes much less detailed after 1848 (see the page on the Composition and History of the Memoirs). Berlioz did give an account of the Beethoven celebrations in Bonn in August 1845 soon after, which was later included in the Soirées de l’orchestre, 2nd Epilogue in 1851. He also gave a light-hearted view of his visit to Baden-Baden in August 1856 via the spa resort of Plombières, later included in the Grotesques de la musique in 1859, and another one in September 1861, later included in À travers chants in 1862. All of these appeared initially in the Journal des Débats in 1845, 1856 and 1861; it is noticeable that he later included them not in his Memoirs but in separate books that were published in his lifetime, as though he did not want to burden the Memoirs with an excess of narrative material.

    A major supplement to all the narrative accounts that Berlioz published comes from his surving correspondence. Several thousand letters have survived, and they become progressively more numerous in the latter part of his career. As well as covering every major trip he made they have a day-to-day immediacy that the retrospective and more polished accounts in the Memoirs do not always have, and will be frequently cited in this page and in those covering individual cities (see the Index of letters of Berlioz cited on this site).

The Prix de Rome: Italy and Germany

    As winner of the Prix de Rome of 1830, Berlioz received a state pension for five years (from 1831 to 1835 inclusive) and was required to spend a period of study in Italy, to be followed by a further period in Germany. As is well known, the trip to Italy influenced Berlioz in many ways. But from a purely musical point of view Italy had little to offer to Berlioz and he curtailed his stay there as much as he could: he reached Rome in March 1831, but left Italy for good in June of the following year, never to return.

    Germany was different: initially Berlioz had every intention of spending a year there, and there were strong musical reasons for doing so. Letters of 1832 repeatedly show him planning to follow his trip to Italy with one to Germany in 1833 (Berlin specifically, where Spontini was now established). On the way there he would stop briefly in Paris in order to perform his Fantastic Symphony together with the newly-composed sequel to it, the Return to Life, later called also Lélio (CG nos. 256-8, 268, 272, 276, 282).

    But events took an unexpected turn: on his return to Paris Berlioz stayed coincidentally in the flat that had once been occupied by Harriet Smithson, then in Paris, and the composer’s infatuation with the Irish actress started all over again. There followed a stormy courtship during 1833 which was eventually resolved by their marriage on 3 October. In April of 1833 the administration of the Beaux-Arts had consented to Berlioz postponing his projected trip to Germany to the following year (CG no. 334). After his marriage Berlioz seriously contemplated carrying out his original plan of going to Germany during the winter, this time with Harriet (CG nos. 347, 351, 360), and on 7 December he even wrote to Spontini in Berlin asking for his support for the plan (CG no. 364). But before the end of the year the project had fallen through and was abandoned (CG no. 370, to his sister Adèle): for the foreseeable future he would have to stay in Paris to make a living and promote his career. During 1834 and 1835 Berlioz managed to receive the final instalments of his Prix de Rome pension, and the requirement to go to Germany was in practice quietly dropped. But for Berlioz the projected trip to Germany was not abandoned altogether, merely postponed, though it was going to be a long time before it could be carried out.

Berlioz and Germany: 1821-1842

    Regardless of the requirements of the Prix de Rome, Berlioz would probably have gone to Germany sooner or later: though his roots were in France, his musical debts to Germany were by his own admission immense. From early in his career he knew that Germany as a country was the real centre of gravity of the musical world, however strong the bonds that kept him tied to Paris throughout his life.

    Almost from the moment of his arrival in Paris Berlioz was exposed to the music of German composers: first Gluck at the Opéra (November 1821), to be followed by Weber (late in 1824), finally and most important Beethoven (1828). The European cultural and musical scene had long been cosmopolitan: composers and musicians travelled freely. Decades before Berlioz, Gluck’s career had spanned a large part of Europe – Prague, Vienna, many cities in Germany and Italy, Paris, London, Copenhagen. Weber stopped briefly in Paris in 1826 on his way to London where he was to die prematurely. After many years in Paris, Spontini, another of Berlioz’s idols, moved to settle in Berlin in 1820. Musicians from Germany and all over Europe flocked to Paris, the most important city in the musical world of the time, whether to perform themselves or to study at the Conservatoire. It was a contemporary German composer, Meyerbeer, who was to dominate the stage of the Paris Opéra for many years with the success of Robert le Diable (in 1831) followed by Les Huguenots (in 1836). It was in Paris in the 1820s and 1830s that Berlioz made the acquaintance of numerous performing musicians, many of them German – Ferdinand Hiller (CG nos. 156, 203, 206 etc.), Ludwig Schlösser (CG nos. 840, 881, 895), the Pole Karol Lipinski (CG nos. 803, 807), Anton Bohrer (CG no. 809bis), Heinrich Ernst (CG nos. 1095, 1263, 1284 etc.), the Müller brothers, and others. Some he also met during his trip to Italy in 1831-2 – among them Mendelssohn (CG nos. 804-6, 813 etc.) and Josef Dessauer (CG no. 272). Men such as these constituted a network of friends active in the musical life of the leading German cities, and they were to be of great assistance to Berlioz in his travels later – Hiller in Frankfurt, Schlösser in Darmstadt, Lipinski in Dresden, Bohrer in Hanover, the Müller brothers in Brunswick, Mendelssohn in Leipzig, Meyerbeer in Berlin, Dessauer in Vienna. Further links were created once Berlioz travelled himself to Germany (see the page Berlioz and Germany: friends and acquaintances).

    Public opinion was not confined by national boundaries. Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, and other leading musical centres of Europe, all watched with interest developments abroad – the success of an opera, the appearance of a new virtuoso or singer, the emergence of a new composer. Rumour travelled fast. In the course of his musical apprenticeship in Paris, Berlioz quickly grasped the importance of the press in shaping public opinion at home and abroad. Among the earliest articles Berlioz wrote in his long career as music critic were a series of four published in 1829 in a German translation in the Berliner Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (CM I pp. 17-45). Berlioz was, naturally enough, particularly sensitive to the reception of his music, and in his letters to his family and friends he constantly draws attention to the reactions of the French press. For example, he writes to his father after the first performance of the Requiem on 5 December 1837 (CG no. 523):

Among all the papers I read yesterday there are thirteen in favour and two against (le Corsaire and le Constitutionnel). Le Corsaire was not present at the ceremony as is proved by the factual errors it makes, and le Constitutionnel wanted to get its own back for an article on Hérold I wrote two years ago. Such are the inevitable benefits of being a music critic.

    He was hardly less attentive to the foreign press and to reactions from abroad. Concerning the same first performance of the Requiem he writes to his mother a few days later (CG no. 529):

I have sent you in two parcels about twenty papers; I imagine they have all reached you. The English press has also been very good, and so we can be confident of causing a tremendous stir in the four corners of the globe.

    So too with the German press. For example, in a letter to his friend Humbert Ferrand in December 1835, he mentions that he has received a bundle of papers from Leipzig and Berlin attesting to the success of Liszt’s piano transcription of the Fantastic Symphony (CG no. 453). When in December 1838 Paganini made a public homage to Berlioz and gave him 20,000 francs, Berlioz commented in a letter to Edouard Rocher a few days later (CG no. 612):

The consequences of this overwhelming endorsement by one of the greatest musicians of all time will be incalculable, especially in Germany and England, and here in Paris I can already sense them.

     Early in January 1839, writing to Humbert Ferrand, he notes that newspapers in London were reporting very favourably on Paganini’s gift (CG no. 616).

    During the 1830s, well before he travelled there, Berlioz’s reputation in Germany was developing rapidly. He was winning friends and admirers among musicians he had yet to meet; there was a growing demand for his scores and for him to come in person. The publication of Liszt’s piano transcription of the Fantastic Symphony in 1834 (CG nos. 416, 425) attracted great attention: Schumann published the following year a detailed analysis of the work in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, in response to an earlier and hostile article by Fétis. In April and May 1835 Berlioz received repeated requests from Vienna to send the full score of the symphony; this he would not agree to, as he feared disaster if the work was performed in his absence, though it encouraged him in his determination to visit Germany himself (CG nos. 429, 435). In December Berlioz commented to Ferrand on the impact that Liszt’s transcription was having according to the German press – this must refer to Schumann’s article, among others (CG no. 453). The publication early in 1836 of the full score of the Francs-Juges overture (together with a piano transcription for four hands) was a landmark: it was the first orchestral score by Berlioz to be made available for performance anywhere and to become known in the original outside France (and in France outside Paris, cf. CG no. 493). In March Schumann devoted another article in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik to the new work, and in June he also commented favourably on the Waverley overture. At the same period J.-C. Lobe, the friend of Goethe and composer, whom Berlioz described as ‘this example of the true German musician’ (Memoirs, Travels to Germany I, 3rd letter), also wrote very appreciatively about the new work, as he wrote to Berlioz late in December 1842: ‘I was your friend from the moment I heard the Francs-Juges overture, and will remain so to the end of my life’ (CG no. 793). But the publication of the Francs-Juges overture only emphasised to Berlioz the dangers of allowing his music to travel without him. In April 1836 he was shocked to receive from Germany a bowdlerised piano arrangement of the overture issued without his knowledge or authorisation by the Leipzig publisher Hoffmeister, to whom he wrote early in May a long letter of complaint (CG no. 472). As he writes to Liszt at the time (CG no. 470):

This new proof of the danger for me in allowing my works to circulate has made me resolve not to allow anything to be published before I have made myself the trip to Germany.

    Subsequent years followed the same pattern and reinforced the dilemma. Several new compositions by Berlioz scored significant successes in Paris: the Requiem in 1837, Romeo and Juliet in 1839, the Funeral and Triumphal Symphony in 1840. Berlioz was in correspondence with German musicians who showed a keen interest in his work – notably Robert Schumann in Leipzig, also Ludwig Rellstab in Berlin (CG no. 549), and others (CG no. 557). His few published works were being performed there – the Francs-Juges overture in several German cities in 1837 and 1838 (CG nos. 486, 517, 549) and again in Mainz in June 1840 under Lachner; the Requiem in Munich at the same time, a performance Berlioz had hoped to be able to attend (CG no. 711). Persistent requests were made for him to publish the scores of his symphonies (CG no. 493), but for several years Berlioz would not agree, for the same reasons as before (cf. CG nos. 486, 493, 616, 747). As he writes to an unknown correspondent in January 1841, rehearsing now familiar arguments (CG no. 741; cf. before no. 485bis):

The reason I have so far obstinately refused to allow the publication of my symphonies is that I want to avoid being executed in spite of myself. I even regret that publication has allowed several of my overtures to get into circulation [viz. Les Francs-Juges, Waverley, Benvenuto Cellini, King Lear]

    In the end it was only in 1842 that he agreed to start the publication (CG nos. 770, 772). Over the preceding years [1836-1841] he had repeatedly mentioned to his family and friends as well as to colleagues his intention of travelling to Germany and the importance he attached to the trip (CG nos. 485bis, 486, 517, 608 & 612, 635, 655bis, 667, 747). But for long he was tied down by the necessity of earning a living in Paris: since he lacked a permanent salaried position this meant the writing of endless feuilletons which gave him all too little time for composition and the performance of his own works. In addition, his domestic circumstances were deteriorating and making his travel plans more difficult. By 1841 his marriage with Harriet Smithson was in disarray, and Harriet was opposed to his journeys abroad: she never accompanied him on his musical travels, and when he eventually set out in September of 1842 for a preliminary trip to Brussels and Frankfurt it was in the company of his mistress Marie Recio, whom he later married in 1854, months after Harriet’s death. As Berlioz himself relates, without naming Marie Recio (Memoirs ch. 51):

Under one pretext or another my wife had always been hostile to my travel plans, and had I followed her I would still at this time not have left Paris. An insane jealousy for which I had long given no cause was at heart the reason for her opposition. To achieve my plan I had therefore to keep it secret and smuggle out of the house my bundles of music and a trunk, and leave abruptly, leaving a letter to explain my departure. But I did not leave on my own: I now had a travelling companion who since then has followed me in my various excursions.

Berlioz’s travels to Germany

  The first trip, 1842-1843

    Delayed by circumstances for a whole decade, the trip Berlioz finally embarked on in December 1842 was felt by him to be a major challenge. ‘You are aware of the immense importance this musical début in Germany has for me’, he writes to Guhr in Frankfurt late in October 1842, on return from his preliminary excursion to Brussels and Frankfurt (CG no. 782). The practical problems involved were immense, particularly for someone as conscious as Berlioz was of not knowing the language and taking a plunge into the unknown. This was very different from the trip to Italy in 1831. ‘I am horribly ignorant of European geography [...] What a disgrace that I do not know a word of German’, he confesses disarmingly to J.-C. Lobe in Weimar (CG no. 792). To arrange and publicise concerts in the cities he intended to visit he depended in the first instance on the help of friends on the spot, as he writes to Ferdinand Friedland in Breslau (CG no. 794):

You understand that I must first go to places where I have friends such as you to pave the way and look after my interests, before I present myself in a city like Vienna where I do not know anyone and where expenses must be very high.

    As a result, the trip had to be improvised on an almost daily basis to meet fluid local circumstances, and there were endless changes of plan. The start of the trip was inauspicious: planned concerts in Brussels and Frankfurt did not take place. Several projected visits were either postponed till a later trip (such as those to Breslau, Vienna and Pesth), or never materialised despite attempts in later years (such as those to Munich and Amsterdam). The timing and programme of individual concerts was subject to frequent modifications. Communication could only be done by letter or by personal contact on the spot. Tact and diplomacy were at a premium, as revealed for example by Berlioz’s correspondence with J.-C. Lobe in Weimar: Lobe suggested it would be prudent to conciliate J.-B. Chélard, a musician resident in Weimar whom Berlioz had known in Paris but had not maintained contact with for a long time, and Berlioz followed his advice (CG nos. 792, 793, 796, 798bis and ter). Travel was partly by stagecoach, and partly by the network of railways which was beginning to spread in Europe. This enabled Berlioz on one occasion to make a return journey from Leipzig to Dresden and back the same day, to his amazement (2 February 1843; CG nos. 810, 816): ‘such is the power of railways!’ he exclaims to his father (CG no. 820). One special problem was the enormous pile of manuscript music, scores and parts, weighing some 250kg in all, that had to travel around by stagecoach at considerable expense (cf. e.g. CG nos. 794, 806bis, 820, 822). It was also risky: Berlioz’s symphonies were as yet unpublished… (cf. CG 781). The costs incurred for travel and lodging at good hotels were high, and receipts from concerts often below what Berlioz had hoped. Then there was the problem of recruiting players and singers of sufficient numbers and calibre; conditions varied from place to place. Berlioz quickly found out that some instruments which he could take for granted in Paris were rarely to be found in even the best German orchestras of the time (the harp, cor anglais, and ophicleide), and the cymbals available were regularly in poor condition. Rehearsals demanded much time and patience, as the players were faced with music that was unfamiliar in style and technically difficult. While the trip was proceeding Berlioz also had to keep an eye on the Parisian musical scene: it was important that the public at home be impressed by the success of his German venture (CG nos. 795, 817, 818). On top of it all there were private worries. Marie Recio’s presence was a liability, personal and musical, but despite attempts Berlioz could not shake himself free (CG nos. 800, 815). In the background Harriet and his son were a subject of concern at home (CG nos. 815, 821). No wonder Berlioz felt the strain, and he was not the only one to suffer from the unusually mild winter: in Dresden, Leipzig and again in Brunswick he had to see a doctor (CG no. 820).

    The trip was too hectic to allow Berlioz any time for composition, apart from the orchestration of the song Absence for performance by Marie Recio. But musically it was for him extremely instructive: in Germany he was confronted for the first time with a different musical culture from that of Paris (the trip to Italy in 1831-2 was not comparable in this respect). Here was a land where music was taken seriously in all classes of society, and which still had an aristocracy that championed the arts. Some rulers even took a personal interest in music, such as the King of Prussia whom Berlioz later thanked for his support for musicians (Memoirs, Travels to Germany I, 9th letter; Sequel to the trip to Russia). The trip also had a practical purpose: Berlioz had received a commission from the Minister of the Interior to report on musical institutions in Germany. Before his departure he had been working on his Treatise on Orchestration, which he intended to dedicate to the King of Prussia. To study at close quarters the different instrumental traditions and practices of both countries was a matter of absorbing interest to a connoisseur like Berlioz.

    A letter to his uncle Marmion from Berlin at the end of March 1843 (CG no. 823ter) gives an overall assessment:

There is nothing in Germany that is as completely good as at the Paris Conservatoire, but there is excellence everywhere. I must even say that thanks to the attentiveness and discipline of the players at rehearsals I achieved results that were in some respects better than in Paris. In Brunswick, Hamburg and Leipzig my music was performed flawlessly, and some orchestral pieces were even played in an inspired way. On the other hand the choruses are everywhere very weak; there is a French prejudice in their favour which we must certainly revise.

    On his return Berlioz distilled his experiences in detail in the form of a series of ten open letters, addressed ostensibly to a number of friends and musical colleagues, and published initially in the Journal des Débats between August 1843 and January 1844 (see above). As well as giving an account of his travels and concerts that is full of picturesque detail, Berlioz comments at length on German instruments and instrumental playing as compared with French practice, notably in the 7th letter (Berlin). In many respects he was full of praise for German musicians; their brass playing, especially the trumpets, he judged to be superior to that of the French. They also made common use of valve trumpets and horns, and it was in Germany that Berlioz first heard the bass tuba. But some of his comments were to cause him trouble, as he found when stopping in Berlin on his return from Russia in 1847: the Berlin flute players had taken it very badly that he placed them beneath their colleagues in Paris and they sought to rally the orchestra in their support (Memoirs, Sequel to the trip to Russia).

    In the 10th and final letter, facing the return to the Parisian musical world, Berlioz moves to a philosophical reflection on the predicament of music and its dependence on the goodwill of political authorities; his thoughts are influenced by the differences between the two countries over the question of artistic patronage:

Music is essentially aristocratic; she is a scion of noble lineage whose dowry only princes can nowadays provide; she must therefore learn to live in virgin poverty rather than marry beneath her standing.

    Overall Berlioz was justified in regarding the trip as a breakthrough: it won him many new friends and admirers in Germany and established him as a major figure on the international musical scene. He was now a celebrity: his name was known even to a postal worker in Magdeburg (Travels to Germany I, 10th letter)! Seeds were planted that would grow in future. One of the more picturesque moments in his trip was the brief visit to Hechingen in the Black Forest around the turn of the year 1842-3 at the invitation of the prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen (Memoirs, Travels to Germany I, 2nd letter). Twenty years later, in April 1863, the same prince, now aged and infirm, invited Berlioz again, this time to his castle in Löwenberg in eastern Germany, to conduct the excellent court orchestra that he had assembled: Berlioz was astonished and delighted at how well they knew and played his music.

    Back in Paris in early June 1843 Berlioz summed up his thoughts to his father (CG no. 838):

I am now back from my long excursion across Germany; I am still feeling very tired as a result […] in five months I have given fourteen concerts and conducted forty-three rehearsals. Fortunately the result has been really splendid as far as my musical reputation is concerned. From the financial point of view the trip could not have been more than just satisfactory in view of the enormous cost of such an enterprise, unprecedented in musical history. This musical Odyssey has caused an extraordinary stir in the German press, and as a consequence also in newspapers in France, England and Italy. A composer travelled around Germany to put on and conduct himself concerts devoted exclusively to the performance of his own works, and this had never been seen before. The musicians greeted me everywhere with warm, devoted and touching hospitality, and I was welcomed by several princes with the most flattering eagerness […] Since my return to Paris I notice the gratifying impact in France of these successes across the Rhine. My friends are triumphant and my enemies livid; many who were indifferent have now also become champions. The impact is even being felt in England […].

    Some time later he concluded his account in the Memoirs (Travels to Germany I, 10th letter) in reflective mood:

Here I am now […] at the end of this pilgrimage, perhaps the most difficult ever undertaken by a musician, the memories of which will, I feel, remain for the rest of my life. Like the pious men of ancient Greece I have consulted the oracle at Delphi. Have I correctly understood the meaning of the response? Must I believe in its apparently encouraging content?… Are some oracles not misleading?… Only the future will tell. I must now go back to France and bid at last farewell to Germany, this noble second mother of all the sons of harmony. But where can I find words that express adequately my gratitude, my admiration and my regrets?… What hymn can I sing that would be worthy of her greatness and glory?… All I can do on departing is to bow respectfully and to say with emotion in my voice: Vale, Germania, alma parens!

  The second trip, 1845-1846

    Barely back from his travels Berlioz was filled with nostalgia for the country that had welcomed him. On 12 July he writes to his sister Nanci (CG no. 843): ‘I would love to start my travels again, I would love to see all those German orchestras which I miss here all the time’. But as throughout Berlioz’s career, the gap between aspiration and practical realities was painfully large, and in the next two years Berlioz was more than usually busy in Paris. ‘Were I free I would go back to Germany and I would soon be seeing you again’, he writes to a friend from Weimar in September 1843 (CG no. 848); ‘but unfortunately I am becoming ever more like Gulliver in Lilliput, and there are thousands of invisible threads which conspire to tie me down to the same spot, I suffer for lack of air and space, and I am not able even to compose!… Strange as it may seem, it is all too true that I do not have time to be a musician’. His domestic situation was also in this period in a state of crisis, as letters of 1844 to his family reveal (CG nos. 910, 920, 923, 924).

    One of the tasks he attended to promptly after his return was writing up an account of his travels and experiences for the Journal des Débats (see above); the articles were widely noticed in musical Europe and within a few months translated for publication in Germany (cf. CG nos. 845, 846, 849, 853, 864, 875, 877, 881bis, 915). They may have contributed to the improvement in instrumental standards which he repeatedly noticed in his trips to Germany a decade later. A projected trip to Baden-Baden in the Black Forest for a concert in August 1844 fell through (CG nos. 881, 895, 902, 919) – Berlioz was so exhausted by his exertions in organising the great Festival of Industry concert that he had to take a period of rest at Nice in September. It was to be almost a decade before the connection with Baden-Baden would be resumed.

    The stimulus to resuming his German travels came in the summer of 1845 when Liszt invited him, as well as many musicians from all over Europe (CG nos. 962, 987), to the celebrations in Bonn for the inauguration of a statue in honour of Beethoven (10-12 August). Although plans for a performance of the Requiem there fell through (CG nos. 962, 969), Berlioz made contact again with many of his German friends, including the King of Prussia, now the dedicatee of the Treatise on Orchestration (CG nos. 873, 874, 877, 891bis, 902). A group of Viennese musicians was particularly insistent on inviting him to Vienna, and this decided him to go there first before carrying out a visit to Russia he had been considering for several months (CG no. 992, cf. 962).

    The second trip was partly a delayed completion of the first: Berlioz visited cities he had been obliged to leave out first time round (Vienna, Pesth, Breslau). It also gave him the opportunity to revisit places that had been particularly welcoming in 1843 (Brunswick). It had the same improvisatory feel: Berlioz had not planned initially to visit Prague, and was advised against it in Vienna, though it turned out to be one of the happiest and most fulfilling trips he ever made. The sensational success of the visit to Pesth was also the product of circumstances and of Berlioz’s flair for seizing opportunities. And as with the first trip, there were loose ends – Berlioz had planned to visit Munich on the way to Vienna but once more this fell through (CG no. 1001); an invitation to Bremen could not be accepted (CG no. 1036ter) and was only followed up in 1853.

    In other respects the second trip was different. It was less hectic, fewer cities were visited, and in most of them more than one concert was given – no less than seven in Vienna, where he stayed over two months, and six also in Prague. There were no significant setbacks on the way and Berlioz was enthusiastically received everywhere. His letters during the trip convey a sense of greater relaxation – he was even able to enjoy sightseeing (as in Prague), and the striking contrasts between the national temperaments of the various peoples he visited caught his observant eye (CG no. 1029). Although his domestic situation remained unresolved, he was now more reconciled to it; Marie Recio accompanied him on the trip, posing for the first time openly as Mme Berlioz, and Berlioz was now prepared to accept this (CG 1006, 1011, 1020bis, 1022). Most important, the trip did not prevent Berlioz from composing: already on arrival in Vienna in November he composed the boléro Zaïde. The trip acted even as a stimulus: in the autumn of 1845, after the visit to Bonn, Berlioz had started work on the composition of The Damnation of Faust, which incorporated and considerably enlarged his earlier Eight Scenes from Faust of 1828-9. Work on the new score was pursued during the trip, as he relates in the Memoirs (the Damnation is seemingly the only major score of Berlioz to have been written partly while travelling abroad). Since his chosen librettist (Almire Gandonnière, cf. CG no. 999) was not at hand, Berlioz was forced to become for the first time his own librettist and complete the text himself (CG nos. 1029, 1045, 1060). It is easy to suppose that his renewed interest in the subject was prompted in part by direct contact with the setting of the Faust legend (cf. Travels to Germany I, 3rd letter, on the literary memories stirred by the first visit to Weimar early in 1843).

    Successful as the trip was, it had one unexpected by-product. In Vienna Berlioz was presented with a highly attractive offer as permanent conductor of the imperial orchestra, yet after a moment’s reflection he refused it. As he explained to friends and family, the offer made him realise how deeply he was in reality attached to Paris, despite his constant struggles there (CG nos. 1028, 1029). A letter to his father of September 1846 puts the issue succinctly (CG no. 1060):

They even wanted to keep me in Vienna to replace the conductor of the imperial chapel [the orchestra] who died during my stay in Austria. But this would have meant abandoning France once and for all, and I must confess that for all the kindness of the Viennese and the generosity of their ruler this is an effort that was beyond me. There is only one Paris in the world: it is an electrifying city which attracts and repels in turn, but to which at the end anyone who has lived there is forced to return, especially if he is French.

  Subsequent trips, 1852-1867

    As with the first trip, Berlioz was assuming on his return to Paris that he would soon be on his way back to Germany and central Europe. He was particularly anxious to return to Prague where he had been so warmly received (CG nos. 1041, 1044, 1057, 1174). In practice contact was gradually lost with the friends he had made there, and a return visit sadly failed to materialise. It was not till 1852 that he was once more in Germany. The intervening years were clouded with setbacks which affected him deeply: the failure of the Damnation of Faust in Paris in December 1846, partly offset by the great success of his trip to Russia in 1847, though this was in turn overshadowed by the disappointment of his first visit to London in 1847-8 when Jullien the impresario who had invited him went bankrupt. While Berlioz was still in London revolutions broke out all over Europe in 1848, and most grievously his father died soon after Berlioz returned to Paris during the summer.

    The second trip to Germany was written up by Berlioz, as the first had been, for the Journal des Débats and in the same form of open letters (in the final version in the Memoirs they are all addressed to his friend Humbert Ferrand). But this time the task took longer (see above). The letters differed also from the first series in that they said less about the concerts of Berlioz’s own music, apart from the first performance of the Hungarian March in Pesth (3rd letter), and the visits to Breslau and Brunswick were not mentioned (the visit to Breslau is only mentioned at the start of chapter 54 of the Memoirs). The letters presented instead a more wide-ranging report on the state of music-making in Vienna (letters 1-2) and Prague (letters 4-6), and in the 5th letter Berlioz drew up a list of recommendations for the teaching of music at the Paris Conservatoire.

    The later trips to Germany from 1852 onwards were not written up by Berlioz as he had done for those of the 1840s (see above). This may give the false impression that they were of lesser significance. In fact they included some of the greatest successes of his career, and in one respect they were indirectly of great importance for Berlioz’s operatic output. Benvenuto Cellini, which had failed in Paris in 1838, was revived by Liszt in Weimar in 1852 and became thereafter popular in Germany for years to come. It was during a visit to Weimar in 1856 that Berlioz was finally persuaded to compose his great opera Les Troyens. And it was Berlioz’s association with Baden-Baden that indirectly led to the composition and staging of his last opera Béatrice et Bénédict.

    The resumption of travels to Germany was linked to the activities of his friend Liszt, who in 1848 had settled in Weimar and turned it into a centre of progressive music-making. Among other contemporary works staged by Liszt was Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, unperformed since its failure in Paris in 1838, and revived in 1852 in what was to become known as the Weimar version. Berlioz travelled to Weimar in November 1852 to attend a performance. In the following years he returned to Weimar on a number of occasions to give several concerts (1854-6, 1863). The visits of the 1850s were to have a profound effect on his own career, beyond the revival of Benvenuto Cellini. In 1853-4 he was encouraged to complete l’Enfance du Christ; it was an instant success in Paris and received a series of performances abroad. And it was in Weimar that Princess Carolyne-Sayn Wittgenstein eventually persuaded Berlioz in 1856 to undertake the task he had long contemplated but kept resisting – the composition of the epic opera Les Troyens. But it was also in Weimar that the seeds of the eventual disagreement between Berlioz and his old friend and champion were sown: Liszt was no less ardent in promoting the music of Wagner, and was saddened that Berlioz did not share his enthusiasm.

    From 1853 to 1856 Berlioz travelled every year to Germany for concert tours, some to cities he had previously visited (Brunswick, Dresden, Hanover, Leipzig, Weimar), others to new destinations (Bremen, Gotha). Generally speaking the trips were of shorter duration than the pioneering adventures of 1842-3 and 1845-6. Germany was now a regular destination where Berlioz’s music was increasingly known, performed and appreciated, and his band of devoted admirers continued to grow. On the other hand there were also signs of occasional prejudice in the German press against the French composer, as for instance concerning Berlioz’s contribution to the performances of Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Opéra in 1841 (CG nos. 1674, 1679, 1682, 1684, 1685), and over his treatment of the Faust legend, where even some of his German admirers did not see eye to eye with him: for example the devoted Griepenkerl in Brunswick thought Marguerite ‘was not sufficiently German, and far too passionate’ (CG nos. 1750, 2070). Then there was the crucial problem of language: whereas many German musicians did learn French (Mendelssohn and Wagner among many others), Berlioz, a very literate and literary man but not a natural linguist, never tried to learn German, and could never be entirely at home in Germany. In 1854 he was offered in Dresden, as he had been in Vienna in 1846, a permanent musical post, with the prospect of making Dresden ‘the musical capital of Germany’ (Memoirs, chapter 59). Earlier in the year the rumour had actually gone round in Paris that he had been appointed (CG no. 1692). When the offer was made Berlioz did not reject it outright (as he had done with the Viennese offer of 1846), but in the end the plan came to nothing and Berlioz remained tied to Paris for the rest of his career.

    The period of extensive travelling came to an end in 1856 when Berlioz committed himself to the composition of The Trojans and then to the problem of getting the new work performed. For several years until 1863 his travels were reduced to an annual visit to Baden-Baden in the summer to conduct a concert, thanks to the initiative of the impresario Edouard Bénazet. It was Bénazet who accepted Berlioz’s last opera Beatrice and Benedict for performance in Baden-Baden, in place of the opera which he had commissioned in 1858 but which Berlioz did not write; Beatrice and Benedict received its first performance in August 1862 in the new theatre that Bénazet had built – the only major work of Berlioz to receive its first performance outside France (it was not performed in Paris in the composer’s lifetime). It was performed in April of the following year in Weimar, and again in Baden-Baden in August 1863. The year 1863 marks in practice the end of Berlioz’s active association with both Baden-Baden and Weimar; indeed for Berlioz himself it marked the end of his active career. Thereafter he only made two more trips to Germany, to perform the Damnation of Faust in Vienna in December 1866, and to give a concert in Cologne in February of the following year.

    The story of Berlioz’s relations with Germany, in his lifetime and after his death, is long and complex, but a few posthumous landmarks may be noted. It was in Karlsruhe that took place the first complete staging of both parts of The Trojans in 1890 under Felix Mottl, one of the most active champions of Berlioz in the period after the composer’s death. Appropriately it was in Germany that the first (though flawed) attempt at a complete edition of his musical works was published in Leipzig by the firm Breitkopf and Härtel, between 1900 and 1907, under the editorship of Charles Malherbe and the conductor Felix Weingartner, himself an active champion of Berlioz’s music throughout his long career. And it was in Germany that the second and definitive publication was launched in 1967 (by Bärenreiter) to celebrate the centenary of the composer’s death (1969), an undertaking that was nearing completion at the time of the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in 2003 and was eventually completed in 2006.


(1) 1821-1842

(November) Berlioz starts to attend performances at the Opéra where he discovers the music of Gluck

(December) Berlioz hears for the first time music by Weber at the Odéon theatre

Berlioz hears the music of Beethoven at the Conservatoire and reads Goethe’s Faust in translation

Berlioz publishes a biography of Beethoven in Le Correspondant (Critique Musicale I pp. 47-61) and a series of articles in German translation in the Berliner Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (ib. pp. 17-45)

Berlioz wins the Prix de Rome prize, which requires him to spend a period of study in Italy and in Germany

Berlioz is actively planning to go to Germany in 1833, but his meeting with Harriet Smithson at the end of the year diverts him from the plan

(16 April) The Beaux-Arts authorises Berlioz to postpone his trip to Germany till 1834
(October-December) After his marriage to Harriet Smithson Berlioz plans initially to travel to Germany with her, but the plan soon falls through

(14 January) Berlioz requests from the Ministry of Commerce the next instalment of his Prix de Rome pension and claims to be on the point of departing for Germany (CG no. 302)
(November) Publication of Liszt’s piano transcription of the Fantastic Symphony in Paris and Berlin
(December) Berlioz receives the penultimate instalment of his Prix de Rome pension without being required to go to Germany

(April-May) Berlioz refuses a request from Vienna to send copies of his symphonies
(July) Berlioz receives the last instalment of his Prix de Rome pension
(July-August) Schumann publishes in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik a detailed study of the Fantastic Symphony based on Liszt’s piano transcription, which answers a hostile article by Fétis
(December) Berlioz hears of the great success in Germany of Liszt’s piano transcription of the Fantastic Symphony

(February) Publication of the full score of the overture Les Francs-Juges and of a piano transcription for four hands
(22 March) Schumann publishes in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik an article on the Francs-Juges overture
(23 March) Article on the Francs-Juges overture by J.-C. Lobe in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 
(April-May) The publisher Hoffmeister in Leipzig issues an inaccurate piano arrangement of the overture Les Francs-Juges; Berlioz writes a letter of protest (8 May)
(11 June) In the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik Schumann comments favourably on the Waverley overture
(August) Berlioz sends Schumann the full score of the Francs-Juges overture after receiving Schumann’s piano sonata op. 11
(7 November) Performance of the Francs-Juges overture in Leipzig conducted by C. G. Müller
(28 December) Berlioz thanks Schumann for his article on the Fantastic Symphony, and explains his reluctance to publish his scores prematurely before he can perform them himself in Germany which he has long planned to visit

(19 February) Berlioz thanks Schumann in an open letter for giving a performance of the Francs-Juges overture in Leipzig, and develops similar points as in his letter of 28 December 1836
(April-May) Berlioz receives requests from Germany for the publication of his symphonies, which he refuses
(19 March) Performance of the Francs-Juges overture in Weimar
(7 April) J.-C. Lobe publishes another article on the Francs-Juges overture in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
(9 May) Open letter of J.-C. Lobe in honour of Berlioz in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
(13 May) Schumann sends to Berlioz a copy of J.-C. Lobe’s article of 7 April
(14 November) In a letter to his mother Berlioz talks of his planned tour of Germany where the Francs-Juges overture has been successfully performed in several cities and the German press is clamouring for his presence (CG no. 517)

(26 March) Schumann sends to Berlioz the Diploma awarded by the Euterpe Society of Leipzig
(31 March) Berlioz in correspondence with Ludwig Rellstab in Berlin
(May) Publication of the full score of the Requiem
(December) Paganini’s gift of 20,000 francs encourages Berlioz to look forward to his projected trip to Germany

(February) Berlioz in correspondence with Schumann says he expects to visit Germany in 1840
(June) Berlioz is hoping to go to Vienna at the end of the year
(December) Berlioz expects the success of Romeo and Juliet to assist him in England and Germany

(17 February) The Journal des Débats announces a German translation by Duesberg of the libretto of Romeo and Juliet
24 June) Performance of the Francs-Juges overture in Mainz conducted by Lachner
(24-26 June) Performance of the Requiem at a music festival in Munich; Berlioz had hoped to attend and give a concert

Breakdown of Berlioz’s marriage with Harriet Smithson; beginning of his relationship with Marie Recio
Berlioz held back in Paris by the hope of achieving a permanent appointment there
(5 May) Article by Richard Wagner on Berlioz in the Dresdener Abendzeitung
(October) Berlioz in correspondence with Wagner over a benefit concert for Weber’s widow (CG no. 757, cf. 765)

(10 January) The Journal des Débats announces the foundation of a society for the performance of religious works in Berlin, which is to include performance of the Requiem
(17 May) The Journal des Débats announces a performance of the Francs-Juges overture on 18-20 June during the annual festival of the Northern Philharmonic Societies at Minden
(September-October) Trip to Brussels where Berlioz gives two concerts (26 September, 9 October), intended by him as a preliminary to the long projected trip to Germany; he then goes to Frankfurt though he is unable to give a concert

(2) 1842-1867

First trip to Germany

(12 December) Departure for Brussels with Marie Recio
(14-17 December) Brussels (no concert)
(19-24 December) Frankfurt (no concert)
(24-30 December) Stuttgart (concert on 29th)
(31 December) To Hechingen

(1-3 January) Hechingen (concert on 2nd)
(3-ca 8 January) Stuttgart again (no concert)
(ca 8 January) Karlsruhe (no concert)
(9-14 January) Mannheim (concert on 13th)
(14-17 January) Frankfurt again (no concert)
(17 January) Berlioz leaves for Weimar without Marie Recio but she catches up with him
(18-28 January) Weimar (concert on 25th)
(29 January-ca 6 February) Leipzig (concert on 4th)
(2 February) Day trip from Leipzig to Dresden and back by train
(6-19 February) Dresden (concerts on 10th and 17th)
(19-28 February) Leipzig again (concert on 22nd)
(ca 1-15 March) Brunswick (concert on 9th)
(ca 15-25 March) Hamburg (concert on 22nd)
(Late March - ca 26 April) Berlin (concerts on 8th and 23rd)
(27 April) Magdeburg (no concert)
(28 April- ca 14 May) Hanover (concert on 6 May)
(ca 15 May - late May) Darmstadt (concert on 23rd)
(Late May or early June) Berlioz back in Paris

(13 August) Start of the serialisation of the Voyage musical en Allemagne in the Journal des Débats, completed in January 1844
(November) A projected trip to Holland and Denmark does not materialise (CG nos. 840, 869)
(23 December) Berlioz sends copies of his Treatise on Orchestration to Meyerbeer in Berlin and to the King of Prussia, to whom it is dedicated; it was published in January 1844

(18 February) Start of the serialisation of Euphonia, ou la ville musicale in the Revue et gazette musicale
(mid-August) Publication in book form of the Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie
(late August) A projected trip to Baden-Baden is cancelled

(10-12 August) Berlioz attends the celebrations in Bonn for the inauguration of a statue in honour of Beethoven

Second trip to Germany

(22 October) Berlioz departs (with Marie Recio) for Vienna
(2 November) Arrival in Vienna: concerts on 16, 23, 29 November, and on 17 December

(January) Concerts in Vienna on 2 and 11 January
(14 January) Arrival in Prague: concerts on 19, 25 and 27 January
(29 January) Return to Vienna; concert on 1 February
(6 February) Departure for Pesth; concerts on 15 and 20 February
(27 February) Return to Vienna
(ca 1 March) Departure for Breslau; concert on 20 March
(25 March) Return to Prague: concerts on 31 March, 7 and 17 April
(18 or 19 April) Berlioz goes through Dresden and Leipzig
(21 April) Arrival in Brunswick; concert on 24 April
(early May) Berlioz back in Paris

Subsequent trips

(ca 24 May - 2 June) Berlioz in Riga on his return from Russia; concert on the 29th
(June) Berlioz in Berlin; complete performance of The Damnation of Faust on the 19th
(27 August) Start of the serialisation of the Voyage musical en Autriche, en Russie et en Prusse, only completed in August 1848

(14-24 November) Berlioz in Weimar, where he hears Benvenuto Cellini performed under Liszt and gives a concert on 20 November

(August) Berlioz in Germany, gives one concert in Baden-Baden (11 August) and two in Frankfurt (20 and 24 August)
(13 October - 12 December) Berlioz in Germany, gives two concerts in Brunswick (22 and 25 October), two in Hanover (8 and 15 November), one in Bremen (22 November), and two in Leipzig (1 and 10 December)

(27 March - 6 May) Berlioz in Germany, gives one concert in Hanover (1 April), one in Brunswick (2 April, first performance of The Corsair), four in Dresden (22, 25, 29 April and 1 May), and stops in Weimar on the return journey (ca 3-6 May)
(July-August) Berlioz cancels a planned trip to Munich to stand as candidate for the Institut (CG nos. 1783-4)

(8 February - 2 March) Berlioz in Germany, gives two concerts in Weimar (17 and 21 February) where he also discusses the idea of Les Troyens; stop at Gotha on 27-28 February without giving a concert
(12-29 March) Berlioz in Belgium, gives 3 performances of the Childhood of Christ in Brussels (17, 22, 27 March)

(31 January - 2 March) Berlioz in Germany, gives one concert in Gotha (6 February) and two in Weimar (17 February and 1 March); in Weimar he also hears Cellini conducted by Liszt (16 and 18 February)
(August) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (16 August)

(August) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (18 August)

(August - early September) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (27 August)

(August - early September) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (29 August)

(August) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (27 August)

(August) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he gives a concert (26 August)

(end July - 12 August) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, where he conducts the first performances of Beatrice and Benedict (9 and 11 August)

(April) Berlioz in Germany, conducts two performances of Beatrice and Benedict in Weimar (8 and 10 April) and gives one concert in Löwenberg (19 April)
(August) Berlioz in Baden-Baden, conducts two performances of Beatrice and Benedict (14 and 18 August)

(December) Berlioz in Vienna, where he conducts a performance of the Damnation of Faust (16 December)

(February) Berlioz in Cologne, where he gives a concert (26 February)

Cities visited by Berlioz

    A separate page is devoted to every city in Germany and central Europe visited by Berlioz and where (in most cases) he gave one or more concerts. The list, which for convenience includes also cities outside Germany but which formed part of the same musical travels (Brussels, Pesth, Prague, Riga), is in alphabetical order.

Baden-Baden Darmstadt Löwenberg
Berlin Dresden Mannheim
Bonn Frankfurt Pesth/Budapest
Bremen Gotha Prague
Breslau (Wroclaw) Hamburg Riga (in Russia at the time)
Brussels Hanover Stuttgart
Brunswick Hechingen Vienna
Cologne Leipzig Weimar

Related pages on this site:

Berlioz and Germany: friends and acquaintances
Berlioz Biography

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb on 18 July 1997;
Berlioz in Germany was created on 1 February 2005; revised on 1 April 2021.

© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb.

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