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Berlioz in Germany


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    Just before embarking on his first trip to Germany in December 1842 Berlioz had in mind to start with concerts in Brussels and Frankfurt, to be followed by one and possibly two in Stuttgart in January (Correspondance Générale no. 791, hereafter CG for short). In the event the planned concerts in Brussels and Frankfurt did not take place. Berlioz had also hoped to perform his Symphonie funèbre et triomphale in Mainz (CG no. 785), but a brief visit there on his way from Brussels showed this was impossible: as related in the Memoirs, the Austrian wind band that had performed some of his overtures the previous year had left and there was no other orchestra available. There was no option but to move on to Stuttgart earlier than planned; the concert Berlioz gave there on 29 December was thus the first he gave in Germany.

    Berlioz’s visit to Stuttgart (from 24 December to ca 8 January with a détour to Hechingen around the new year) is told in detail in the Memoirs (Travels to Germany I, Second letter); letters of the composer during and after his stay add further details. Berlioz stayed at the Hotel of the King of Württemberg (CG no. 794; the building is no longer extant). Unlike Brussels and Frankfurt Berlioz did not know personally anyone in Stuttgart prior to his visit, though his friend Georges Kastner had provided him with an introduction to the musicologist Dr Gustav Schilling who was active in Stuttgart (cf. CG no. 795, end). Schilling proved very helpful despite linguistic obstacles: since he did not know French and Berlioz could not speak German, they had to fall back on Latin… Of the two available venues, the theatre was quickly ruled out because of its poor acoustic, and Berlioz settled for the Redoutensaal (the hall is no longer extant). Peter von Lindpaintner, Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1829 till his death in 1856, was also very helpful: he introduced Berlioz to the orchestra, and they made their services available on payment of a single contribution to their pension fund. The orchestra was small but of a good standard – Berlioz describes it in detail in the Memoirs. The players were excellent sight-readers and two rehearsals were sufficient. To his friends and correspondents Berlioz professed himself very satisfied with the concert and its reception (29 December). The day after he writes to Ferdinand Friedland in Frankfurt (CG no. 794):

[…] I gave my first concert yesterday evening in the Redoutensaal. The King and the entire royal court were present; the performance was excellent and the success magnificent. After the concert the King sent Baron von Topenheim to congratulate me on his behalf. […]

    On the same day Berlioz started a letter to his friend Auguste Morel, which he concluded a few days later on his return from Hechingen (CG no. 795). One consideration in his mind was clearly the need to impress favourably the musical public in Paris:

[…] Yesterday I gave here my first concert; the King and the whole court were present. This detail attracted much attention, since His Majesty of Württemberg had not set foot at the concert hall for two years.
Would you be kind enough to write this up a little in the papers of our friends.
The following pieces made a great impression:
10 The overture Les Francs Juges;
20 The scene in the countryside from the Fantastic Symphony;
30 The Ball (from the same work):
40 The finale (the Sabbath).
Contrary to what usually happens the March of the Pilgrims [from Harold in Italy] and the March to the Scaffold [from the Fantastic Symphony] did not steal the show, though both pieces were given first-rate performances. The orchestra is excellent, and Lindpaintner very graciously allowed me to conduct in his place. All the musicians were gripped by the time of the second rehearsal and I dare say that when I depart I will leave behind a small band of supporters. […]

    The concert included in addition some vocal pieces sung by Marie Recio, as emerges from another letter to Auguste Morel later in the month (CG no. 800), though the Memoirs are silent on this; one of the songs performed was apparently La Belle Voyageuse, which may have received here its first performance in its orchestral version. To other correspondents Berlioz also presented the concert as a success (CG nos. 796, 798bis [vol. VIII]), though in practice the financial results were disappointing and the audience inevitably small, as he writes to Meyerbeer in Berlin (CG no. 798, 5 January):

[…] My concert here was a great success; the King and the court were present, but the price of the seats is so miserable that the financial gain is almost nil. They charge a maximum of 48 kreutzer for a seat, and the Redoutensaal can only hold 400 people. […]

    The Memoirs also mention that at the concert only half of the violins turned up, allegedly through illness – 8 in all instead of the expected 16 – which inevitably robbed the music of its impact. Moreover, neither Schilling nor Lindpaintner appeared to have been favourably impressed, and to judge from Berlioz’s extant letters he had no further contact with them subsequently (on Lindpaintner cf. also CG no. 1582, in 1853). The public appears from Berlioz’s silence not to have been very demonstrative in its applause, and it was only the royal court that went out of its way to show its approval. A letter dated 11 June, after the conclusion of the tour and Berlioz’s return to Paris, gives a rather damning assessment of the Stuttgart visit and puts it in perspective (CG no. 841, to Julius Benedict in London):

[…] I gave there [in Stuttgart] a miserable little concert before venturing on to the great musical cities of the north like Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Hanover, Brunswick etc. where I was wonderfully received and equally wonderfully performed. […]

    No wonder that the concert of 29 December was the only one Berlioz ever gave in Stuttgart: it was no more than an early stage in a journey of exploration. The King of Württemberg, though otherwise supportive, was of no help with introductions to the court in Weimar: the two courts were not on good terms (CG nos. 796, 798bis [vol. VIII]). But there was help in another direction: it was in Stuttgart that Dr Schilling, who was adviser to the Prince of Hohenzollern, initiated the visit to Hechingen. On his return Berlioz stayed a few more days in Stuttgart before moving on to Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Frankfurt again, then Weimar, and ‘the great musical cities of northern Germany’.

    Many years later, in October 1864, there was talk of staging Béatrice et Bénédict in Stuttgart, and Berlioz considered going there to conduct the opening performances, but in the end nothing came of the project (CG nos. 2913, 2920, 2922).

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

© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb

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