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Berlioz in Germany

MANNHEIM

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    There is relatively little to say about Berlioz’s visit to Mannheim in January 1843, one of the less successful stages of his first trip to Germany. Berlioz did not dwell on it at any great length in the Memoirs (Travels to Germany I, Third Letter) and the composer’s correspondence adds little to the account given there.

    Mannheim was not one of the cities he planned to visit when he set off in December 1842 (Correspondance Générale no. 791, hereafter CG for short). The trip was seemingly arranged at very short notice early in 1843. Berlioz had just returned to Stuttgart from a visit to Hechingen; according to his correspondence his intention was initially to proceed to Vienna (CG no. 795, 3 January), before going on to Weimar (CG no. 796, 4 January). A day later he had apparently changed his mind; there was no further mention of Vienna and Berlioz was about to set off for Karlsruhe nearby with the intention of putting on a concert there (CG no. 798, 5 January); he travelled to Karlsruhe on January 7 (CG 798bis [vol. III], the day before his departure). But the theatre in Karlsruhe was not available for over a week, so according to the Memoirs Berlioz decided to move on to Mannheim not far away where he arrived around 9 January.

    The only preserved letter of Berlioz from Mannheim sets a negative tone almost from the moment of his arrival (CG no. 799, to J. C. Lobe in Weimar, 10 January):

[…] I am dreadfully bored here, and I am dying to arrive soon in Weimar. The weather is atrocious; and then I saw yesterday the theatre where I am due to give my concert [on 13 January]; it is the size of a hat and has a puny little orchestra, which fills me with the deepest gloom. […]

    Months later, when writing the account which eventually found its way in the Memoirs, Berlioz’s retrospective impression was very similar:

[…] As a city Mannheim is very calm, very cold, very flat, and very square. I do not believe that the passion for music prevents its inhabitants from sleeping. […]

[…] I was profoundly bored in Mannheim. […] It is indeed easy to see from the manner of its inhabitants and the very appearance of the city that it is completely alien to any artistic ferment, and that music is only regarded there as a fairly agreeable pastime to be indulged when business allows moments of leisure. On top of it all, it was raining all the time […]

    But Berlioz also gives a more favourable view of the theatre and orchestra: ‘a fairly good theatre and a small but very capable orchestra’, he writes. He did not know anyone in Mannheim prior to his arrival, but the younger Lachner, the conductor of the orchestra and brother of the well-known composer, proved very helpful:

[…] He is a gentle and shy artist, full of modesty and talent. He quickly organised a concert for me. I cannot remember the details of the programme; all I recall is that I wanted to include the whole of my second symphony (Harold), and that from the very first rehearsal I had to omit the finale (the Orgy of Brigands) because the trombones were obviously incapable of rising to the challenge of that movement. […] The first three movements were well played and made a great impression on the public. I am told that the Grand-Duchess Amelia, who attended the concert, noticed the colouring of the March of Pilgrims and especially that of the Serenade in the Abruzzi, where she thought she could recognise the blissful calm of Italy’s beautiful nights. The viola solo was ably performed by one of the orchestra’s viola players, though he was by no means a virtuoso. […]

    A letter to Joseph d’Ortigue over a month after the concert briefly alludes to it (CG no. 816, 28 February):

[…] In Mannheim, the Pilgrims’ March and the Serenade were the two movements from Harold which were most successful; but as for the finale we did not even try to play it as the orchestra was too weak […]

    In addition to the first three movements of Harold in Italy, the concert also included the overture King Lear, the song Le Jeune Pâtre breton and vocal pieces by other composers. Berlioz’s incomplete recollection of the programme may have a personal explanation: as is known from another letter, the singer was Marie Recio and her performance was an embarrassment to the composer (CG no. 800, 16-17 January). The day after the concert (14 January) Berlioz was on his way back to Frankfurt where he attempted unsuccessfully to shake himself free from her presence, only to be caught up by her on arriving in Weimar (CG no. 815, 18 February; the story was told in detail years later by Berlioz’s friend Ferdinand Hiller – see Michael Rose, Berlioz Remembered [London, 2001], 143f.). But with the arrival in Weimar Berlioz’s trip to Germany was about to enter a much more positive phase.

Her name was Stephanie, as Berlioz states at the start of his next letter.

The page Berlioz in Mannheim was created on 1 September 2006.

© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb

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