Berlioz and the Viennese Press, 1845-1846
We would like to express our warmest thanks to Professor Stelzel who kindly supplied us with photocopies of the articles translated on this page. A transcription of the original German texts is available on another page on this site. This English translation © Michel Austin. A French translation by Michel Austin is also available.
Table of Contents
Zuschauer, 14 November 1845
Zuschauer, 19 November 1845
Zuschauer, 26 November 1845
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 2 December 1845
Zuschauer, 3 December 1845
Zuschauer, 17 December 1845
Der Wanderer, 5 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 5-6 January 1846
Der Wanderer, 6 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 6 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 10 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 12 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 13 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 24 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 28 January 1846
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 26 March 1846
A reproduction of the original article in the issue of the Allgemeine Theater Zeitung of 24 January 1846 is included on a separate page.
See also on this site Berlioz in Vienna
Zuschauer, 14 November 1845 (p. 1145-6)
(A biographical note)
Hector Berlioz was born at La Côte St. André in the department of Isère on 11 December 1803; he is thus in the fullness of his manhood. According to the wishes of his father, a practising doctor, Berlioz was meant to study medicine. He complied, even after his first music lessons had kindled in him an almost passionate love for the art of sounds. Eventually he came to Paris to pursue his medical studies and declared to his father his irreconcilable opposition to them. By defying his father’s will he brought on himself a hard fate: he was disowned by his parents. But though deprived of all support and suddenly faced with the lack of means of sustenance he nevertheless followed with indomitable courage his natural calling and opened up his own path. He sang as chorister in the Théâtre des Nouveautés, gave singing lessons and studied music at the Conservatoire under Lesueur and Reicha, with such success that he won the second prize for musical composition in 1828 and the first in 1830. This gave him the opportunity to undertake a two-year trip to Italy. In this land ‘of the wonders of the classical world’ he revelled with unbridled enthusiasm, and after his return he surrendered to the wild force of his passions as his heart was consumed with the fires of love. The tragic actress Harriet Smithson had inflamed his heart, and she became his in spite of all obstacles. He is music critic at the Journal des Débats, and through the publication of his musical travels in Germany he has proved himself to be an imaginative writer, though the soundness of his judgment may at times be open to question. Among his works we may mention: the Symphonie fantastique, the Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, the overtures to Les Francs-Juges and King Lear, the Death of Napoleon [le Cinq Mai], Sara la baigneuse, the symphony Roméo et Juliette, a Requiem for the funeral ceremony in honour of General Damrémont, and the opera Benvenuto Cellini, which did not enjoy the same success with the Paris audiences as his symphonies. The verdict of Paganini on these symphonies is characteristic of both these artists. Paganini was present in the audience at a concert given by Berlioz in Paris in the autumn of 1838, and was so captivated by the music of these symphonies that after the end of the performance he quickly went down from his box to the orchestra on stage and warmly embraced Berlioz with these words: ‘Allow me to fall at your feet in admiration for your magnificent work’. The following morning Berlioz received a note from Paganini which said more or less this: ‘Since Beethoven no one has appeared who has composed such magnificent music as you. As a feeble expression of admiration and honour allow me to present you with the sum of 20,000 francs which I have deposited for you with M. de Rothschild.’
Even apart from the recognition which Berlioz has enjoyed from Paganini, this most ambitious and glory-seeking artist, it seems that one can see at work in Berlioz the creative energy of a powerful genius, though one that is in perpetual movement and breaks out with the force of a storm, but has not yet achieved that conscious artistic repose where the power of the intellect masters the tumultuous waves of enthusiasm and compels them to fit into the mould of clarity and order.
Zuschauer, 19 November 1845 (p. 1470-1)
Concert by Mr. Hector Berlioz
(on 16 November at noon, at the Theater an der Wien)
Berlioz is paying us a visit. He has come to find out for himself what opinion is held of him, the ‘Beethoven of France’, here in Vienna — in Vienna where the real Beethoven is so fervently admired and better known than anywhere else in the world. And just as in his own native country supporters and detractors of this much praised and much derided composer argue for and against him, without so far being able to reach a clear verdict, so here too, as may be inferred from the success of his first concert, the public seems to have come to two very different estimates of Berlioz’s talent, of which the negative seems to predominate. But Berlioz’s creations are of such a kind that such a divergence of views is bound to arise. While his profound knowledge of instrumentation compels respect even from connoisseurs, too often one misses in his musical language clarity of expression. Hardly has the listener been delighted by an agreeable musical idea, sometimes even one of genius, that it quickly gets lost in the noise of the bombardon, in trombone fanfares and the shrill confusion of piccolo and clarinet. Besides, here as everywhere else in Germany, Berlioz has to face up to an unfavourable reputation: people have not forgotten the frequently sweeping judgments and half-truths which his critical pen showers upon us, and they are therefore rather inclined to show no mercy to this redeemer of our time. That is why the damning opinions that we could occasionally overhear on the way home may seem somewhat too hasty, all the more so as they come from the mouth of people whose professed enthusiasm for Mozart and Beethoven, for pure and chaste German music, comes more from the lips than from the heart. Despite all the eccentricity that his compositions breathe, despite all the dazzling acrobatics that he indulges in from time to time to the indignation of critics with set views, Berlioz is nonetheless a remarkable man: he is possessed with a passionate love for his art, he has made his own way, and — he is a personality. Do you understand what that means, you admirers of Hérold, Auber, Halévy and Balfe? What a pity that Berlioz is not a German! He would perhaps be less famous than he is, but after many years he would still be mentioned in the front rank, while now his name though the object of present adulation may not even reach the threshold of posterity. Genius for the Germans is an insurance for life which continues to be effective after death, while for the French it is a life annuity, to be enjoyed by its owner in his lifetime but which terminates after his disappearance.
Among the compositions performed by Mr. Berlioz precedence goes clearly to the purely instrumental works. In particular the overture Roman Carnival was warmly received and had to be encored. Special mention should be made of the second and third parts of the characteristic symphony Harold. The main theme of no. 6 (Apothéose) is original, fiery and patriotic, though not true to the real spirit of a symphony. The vocal numbers were less satisfying. In the cavatina from the opera Benvenuto Cellini, sung by Miss von Marra, only the brilliant flourishes at the end could rescue the success of the piece as a whole, and the cantata with chorus The old soldier [Le Cinq mai] owed a great deal to the masterly performance of Staudigl. The Hymn is written with skill and competence, and is at any rate an interesting piece, but it only makes us express again the wish: if only Berlioz was a German! He would then understand a little better the meaning of the untranslatable German word ‘Gemüt’ [soul, spirit]. The orchestra of the Theater an der Wien (augmented with players from Josephstadt and also, it seems, from the court opera) performed valiantly beyond all expectations. It is no mean feat to emerge unscathed from such acrobatics in every bar. The band of the second artillery regiment did itself proud in the Apothéose. The audience was fairly large, despite the doubling of the price of the tickets.
Zuschauer, 26 November 1845 (p. 1504)
Second Concert by Mr. Hector Berlioz,
(on the 23rd of this month at noon, at the Theater an der Wien)
Mr. Berlioz made sure that his first concert, which was admittedly only a qualified success, was followed by a second one, and this is to be welcomed. In his second appearance he had the satisfaction of making a much more positive impression. The public had grown somewhat accustomed to the composer’s eccentricities and was now prepared to listen with greater attention to the numerous felicities which shine in his compositions, though as I remarked recently, these often quickly get lost in a weird confusion of instruments. No one can dispute that Berlioz remains an interesting, indeed a remarkable musical phenomenon; admittedly he does not always obey the norms and conventions, he frequently violates boldly all rules and practices, and is at times undeniably incomprehensible and bizarre — yet what he writes comes from his own head and is not a copy or patchwork of other people’s ideas. But who would not prefer an imaginative writer, even though his handwriting may be at times illegible and he may omit here and there a dot or a comma, to a tidy calligrapher who knows how to write down in a clean hand the thoughts of others? But without further argument let us review the numbers of this second concert.
The most electrifying impact was made by the fourth part of the Symphonie fantastique, entitled ‘The march to the scaffold’; this composition demonstrates in the most brilliant way Berlioz’s knowledge of instrumentation. This piece was greeted with enthusiastic applause and had to be encored. The overture Roman Carnival and the ‘Evening prayer of the pilgrims’ (from the symphony Harold), which we had recently heard, were well received, less so the overture King Lear. In his vocal compositions Mr. Berlioz is not happy: neither the scene with chorus from the opera Benvenuto Cellini (in which Mr. Graufeld, the tenor, was in no way up to his task), nor the Song of the brigand from Calabria, performed by Mr. Staudigl, were able to move the audience. Leopold von Meyer’s Moroccan March, with which the concert concluded, is orchestrated in an interesting way. The orchestra stood up to this second test with a vigour worthy of all praise. Mr. Pokorny is to be congratulated on such a capable ensemble of players. We may now look forward with equanimity to the operas of Meyerbeer and Richard Wagner; as is well known the latter presents quite a challenge to the players. The audience was fairly large.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 2 December 1845 (p. 1159)
News from Vienna in brief
*** — Our master Strauss père, who has known the famous composer Hector Berlioz since his stay in Paris, has received from him many of his excellent compositions as a token of esteem, and among them the score of the overture Roman Carnival, a piece Mr. Strauss will soon be performing in public. — We are confident that among all the orchestras that perform in concert halls for the delight of the public none is capable of playing this beautiful but difficult overture as well as the excellent orchestra of Strauss.
Zuschauer, 3 December 1845 (p. 1535-6)
The third and last Concert by Mr. Hector Berlioz
(on 29 November, at the private imperial and royal Theater an der Wien)
This concert was a clear success, and though Berlioz’s individual talent may still seem alien to us its greatness is indisputable and it received deserved recognition. The ‘Prayer of the pilgrims on their journey’ from the symphony Harold aroused stormy applause; it is a delicate and poetic composition, whose arresting chorale vanishes in the quietest of adagios. The ballad ‘The Danish huntsman’, performed twice by Staudigl with his customary mastery, is reminiscent of Schubert and C. M. von Weber through its pleasant character and harmony, though it is noble in style. The overture Roman Carnival aroused enthusiasm; greeted with a veritable storm of applause it had to be repeated by universal demand after the curtain had fallen. A similar honour was granted to the conclusion of the Episode from the life of an artist. — The inspired creations of Mr. Hector Berlioz are without doubt extraordinary phenomena in the sphere of art, comets perhaps amidst the ordered universe of the planets in the musical heaven. At first his compositions jarred through their strange and irregular forms, but soon the light of a brilliant originality strikes through the dark and confused chaos. — Miss Treffz sang two French romances: ‘le Jeune pâtre breton’ and the bolero: ‘Zaïde.’ She received the deserved honour of being called back.
Ch. B — t.
Zuschauer, 17 December 1845 (p. 1600)
[..] We were gripped with enthusiasm on hearing the great aria ‘Ocean, thou mighty monster’ from the opera Oberon by C. M. von Weber. Magnificently orchestrated, profound in thought, and powerful and energetic in character, it gave at the same time ample opportunity to admire the superb talent as a singer of Mrs. van Hasselt-Barth. Called back several times amidst a storm of applause this great dramatic singer willingly repeated the conclusion of this very demanding aria. [...] Due recognition was given to Otto Nikolai, the able conductor and founder of the philharmonic concerts, and to all the members of the orchestra of the imperial and royal court; they performed all these great works with masterly precision. His Majesty the Emperor honoured this concert with his distinguished presence. The two French masters who are presently in Vienna, Hector Berlioz and Félicien David, were also among the audience at this delightful concert.
Der Wanderer, 5 January 1846 (p. 16)
Large orchestral and vocal concert by Mr. Hector Berlioz.
The day before yesterday in the private imperial and royal Theater an der Wien.
In this concert, which took place in response to general demand, a performance was given of Romeo and Juliet, a dramatic symphony in two parts, with choruses, solo singers and prologues for three voices and comprising four recitatives, after Shakespeare’s like-named tragedy and composed by Mr. Berlioz.
Part I consists of the following numbers. 1. Orchestral Introduction — Strife, tumult, quelled by the Prince. 2. First Prologue. Recitative with small chorus. Strophes for chorus and contralto solo, sung by Miss Betty Bury. Continuation of the first prologue. Narrative of Queen Mab. Vocal scherzetto for tenor and chorus, sung by Mr. Behringer (this is supposed to express the mischievous night excursions of this fairy). Conclusion of the prologue. 3. Romeo alone. Sadness, great celebration at the Capulets. Concert and ball. Andante and allegro for orchestra alone. 4. Stillness and solitude in the garden of Capulet. The young Capulets returning from the celebration pass by, singing snatches from the music of the ball. Chorus and orchestra. Love scene. Adagio for orchestra alone. 5. Queen Mab or the dream fairy. Very long instrumental scherzo, which continues the depiction of the doings of the mischievous fairy.
Part II comprises the following numbers. 1. Second Prologue with small chorus. 2. Funeral procession for Juliet. Chorus of the Capulets with orchestra. At first an instrumental fugue with a psalmody on one note by the chorus, then the same as a vocal fugue with the psalmody in the orchestra. Whoever thinks this is a fugue has never heard a fugue in his life. 3. Romeo at the tomb of the Capulets. Solemn farewell of Juliet. Juliet awakens. Furious outburst of joy, interrupted by the first effects of the poison. Agony and death of the two lovers. — The orchestra on its own. 4. Finale. Double chorus of the Capulets and Montagus. Fight of the two families at the cemetery. Recitative, aria, prayer of Friar Lawrence (the only character in the tragedy who is portrayed by a singer), sung by Mr. Staudigl and the chorus. Oath of reconciliation of the Capulets and Montagus. The solo of the oath sung by Mr. Staudigl.
From this programme one can see that the form of the symphony differs considerably from everything known so far in this genre, and it is probably because of the predominance of the instrumental over the vocal element in this remarkable tone poem that he has given it the name of symphony and not cantata. My honoured readers should not expect me to dissect or examine in critical detail the individual numbers of the work; I will only express here my overall impression and make a personal statement of creed.
After the Roman Carnival overture, one of the compositions of Mr. Berlioz that I had previously heard and reviewed, I did not admittedly expect to hear in this Romeo and Juliet a work of artistic depth, but at least a tone-painting which despite its unbridled and extravagant licence would be distinguished by originality and imagination. But although I listened to every note with the most intense concentration I have on the whole found nothing much better than a patchwork of sounds without any coherent ideas, devoid of form and poetry, a patchwork which merely strives incessantly after novelty and genius but is nothing but confusion and chaos. Occasionally some striking shafts of light did break through here and there, but if you were to divest the work of the cosmetic eccentricity of its orchestration and the quaintly seductive trappings at which the composer excels, then nothing would be left but a poverty-stricken and hideous caricature. Admittedly this may seem a harsh verdict, but it is true, and anyone with musical knowledge and sound taste such as myself, who detests every form of charlatanism from the depths of his soul and is free from prejudice, will agree with me. I readily admit that Mr. Berlioz, this gifted critic, also possesses as composer a great deal of talent, enormous talent, but he has never undertaken serious studies and is happy to put on paper whatever thoughts spin in his head, without knowing what to do with them. His aim is unmistakable: he wants to throw casually on the pile anything that happens to be at hand, presumably with the sole intention of shining as an innovator on the musical horizon. But whether this is for the good of art is probably altogether out of the question.
As regards the performance, which took place under the composer’s direction, I name in the first place the orchestra of that theatre, which was considerably enlarged for the occasion and was led by the capable violinist Mr. Groidl. He performed his infinitely difficult task in a manner which deserves the highest praise, and left nothing to be desired either in precision or balance.
The soloists, Miss Bury and Messrs. Staudigl and Behringer, had admittedly very few opportunities to shine, but without question they did their best, and the same applies to the choral forces. Mr. Berlioz has virtually no idea of how to write for the human voice, and this symphony provides copious proof of that.
Few indeed among the very large audience can have been convinced that what they had heard was music and that they had been moved and arrested by even a single number. All the same the majority showed their appreciation, especially after the theatrical effects, and they recalled Mr. Berlioz repeatedly between each part of the work. At the end numerous copies of a poem addressed to Mr. Berlioz were even scattered among the stalls; I append a transcription of it here […].
To Hector Berlioz
In France’s capital city I have greeted you,
I first learned there to admire and love you.
And here, where you are the most celebrated person,
In powerful Vienna I remained true to you.
The beautiful blue Danube will soon carry you
To the wonderland of the fiery Magyars,
May you, when cries of jubilation sound in your honour,
Preserve also your friendship for the Hungarian.
The best, perhaps, they approached you joyfully
And greeted without envy the foreign master
Like a master create heartily for ever and ever!
Words and sounds are at your command.
And should pale envy ever rise up against you
Let that never prevent you from striding forward.
‘Whoever has done justice to the best of his age
He has, my friend, lived for all time.’
Oh, always follow your genius!
So great and bold! So glorifying and stirring!
Sing to us of first love, of the first kiss!
Of wild passions, like a storm,
Sing to us of the carnival! Sing of wine!
Like Tyrtaeus let songs of freedom ring out!
Sing to us of battles, where in the bloody dance
The heroes fall for the noble fatherland.
This poem seemed to us so appropriate that we felt we could not withhold its publication here. (Editor)
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 5-6 January 1846 (p. 15-16)
The Romeo and Juliet Symphony by
(First performance at the Theater an der Wien, on 2nd January 1846)
A musical and critical caprice by Wießt.
Hector Berlioz has had to endure all the sorrows and joys, great and small, of a famous man in Vienna. Some have presented him with a silver baton as a token of affection and honour, while others prowl around him armed with the massive club of mean and unforgiving criticism. On top of this the little David, unable to strike with a stone a mortal blow at the noble brow of this Goliath of music, has nevertheless heaped so much sand at his feet that as a result his triumphal progress in Vienna has been rather impeded. And in his latest appearance the good Hector Berlioz has even had to put up with a poem falling from heaven! With friends like these what should one expect from one’s enemies? In all musical and critical circles in Vienna Hector Berlioz has found nothing but excess in praise and blame, but nowhere a just middle-ground of opinion and a sound and detached estimate of his rich talents. But that illustrates equally the remarkable nature of this man. Wherever he appears with his music there is conflict and argument, love and hate. Hector Berlioz is thus a small crumb of intellectual leaven who gathers in the process of fermentation all the elements of feeling. There has to be people like that in the history of art as well. This Hector Berlioz is like a musical earthquake who jolts the stagnation of present-day musical taste and above all shakes up for its own greater good our supine musical kingdom here on earth. With his musical tendencies Hector Berlioz demands from his listeners sometimes considerable perseverance, but in return he also takes with the stoicism of a true artist everything that is thrown at him — snarling criticism and extravagant praise, silver batons, public banquets, poems in verse or prose, jubilant acclamations and the hissing of snakes. His temperament is like that of a sword from Damascus: the more you polish it, the more it shines with the deep blue of a pure sky, but the more you seek to constrain it, even with the cyclopean weights of criticism, the more elastic and vibrant it becomes, the sharper its blade, the brighter the sparks that it throws.
In his previous concerts in Vienna and in the compositions that we have heard earlier, Hector Berlioz was merely playing a prelude on the powerful organ of his talent. But with the Romeo and Juliet symphony he wanted to perform for Vienna a gigantic cadenza. Yes, unfortunately, a cadenza — the downfall of a great musical spirit, the complete collapse of a Titan. I regard the Romeo and Juliet symphony of Hector Berlioz as the aberration of a great composer and creative spirit, an aberration which is, however, for those gifted with a higher musical education certainly of greater psychological interest than the humdrum correctness and rectitude of our earnest little composing minds. What Hector Berlioz offers us in this dramatic symphony has forsaken the realm of inspiration and the poetic expression of feelings. The whole story of Romeo and Juliet, this fleeing dream of happiness and love between two hearts, is surely the outpouring of a noble poetic inspiration. But where in this Romeo and Juliet symphony of Berlioz are the blossoms, the flowers, the fragrance and enchanting colours of Shakespeare’s poetry? What compensation is provided by the single balcony scene with its thousands of obstinate notes? I leave aside here the structural nonsense of this symphony, the prologues, the recitatives for several voices and in four settings, the instrumental fugues with a psalmody on a single note in the chorus, and then again the vocal fugue with the psalmody in the orchestra. I am not talking of the subversion and destruction of long established forms, for Berlioz has long accustomed us to his going over the top with such monstrosities. But almost throughout Berlioz presents us in music this noble love drama didactically, as though writing a commentary on an old classic. He takes us like a tour guide through these dark labyrinths of human tragedy, these mysterious workshops of thoughts, feelings and hopes, and hectors us with his explanations: ‘Pay attention, my esteemed listeners, here you have battle and conflict, this stands for the joy of love, here is sadness, here is the ecstatic outbreak of joy, interrupted by the first effects of the poison, and here is the agony and death of the two lovers; everything is depicted by me through sounds’. With a stroke of the hand his cold musical scepticism and instrumental sophistry brush aside the pollen from the butterfly wings of this wonderful poetry. No one with a heart that responds to poetry will thank him for it! And where is the objectivity in the musical treatment of his chosen subject? This is not Romeo and Juliet experiencing the joys and pangs of love, these are not the Capulets and Montagus of legend, this is not the gentle starry night of Italy that invites to love, this is not the deathly sigh from the ancestral tomb of the Capulets. But over and over again this is Hector Berlioz, the clever researcher in the art of music, immersed in his thought-studio, in his laboratory of musical chemistry, who examines the anatomy of Romeo and Juliet, conducts a chemical analysis of Queen Mab and the rays of the moon, who distils his countless instruments to produce extraordinary and unheard-of effects. This entire Romeo and Juliet symphony is suffused with the chiaroscuro of the study of Hector Berlioz, this brooding Faust of the world of composers, ever striving after the ultimate. I would have expected from Hector Berlioz a sharper and more truthful musical characterisation. The choruses of Capulets and Montagus all have the same colour in their musical expression. Even Friar Lawrence, who represents in the whole drama the element of reconciliation, seems to me to be lacking in gentleness of manner, to be devoid of Christian pity and divine forgiveness. I find his musical persona too full of fanatical piety and human vindictiveness, too overbearing in its exhortations to sentiment. And the concluding chorus of the whole work, the reconciliation of the Capulets and Montagus, smacks in my view of theatrical pomposity and betrays a musical style that relies too much on noise to produce effects. When broken souls stricken with remorse kneel before the power of the divine and sing words such as the following:
‘Yes, we swear by the holy symbol,
On the bodies of son and daughter,
By the consoling grief of the Redeemer
Yes, we swear by this Holy Cross!’
I do not know whether it is with such a gunfire of sounds that the new mildness of their feelings can be expressed as is the case here.
This symphony of Hector Berlioz does indeed contain, especially in the instrumental movements, many striking and magnificent details, and no one would wish to deny that. I believe that a man gifted with a truly creative talent is capable, even in an extreme bout of fever, of fantastic dreams out of the ordinary, but the rays of his nobler soul will nevertheless break through and shine everywhere. In all the turmoil of feelings of his Romeo and Juliet symphony Hector Berlioz is thus never flat, banal, or humdrum. Even in his aberrations he retains always the strength of an eagle, he glides so high in the clouds of his imagination that no human eye can perceive him any more. When he plunges in his delusions to the oceanic depths of his musico-philosophical broodings, not even a German mathematician can follow him any more to these nth powers of the deep. Yet even in his lapses he is never commonplace, homespun or down to earth. In his weaknesses as in his strengths Hector Berlioz remains an exceptional man, a great musical tactician, who even in his lost battles knows how to rescue the honour of the creative artist in the estimate of the best connoisseurs of art. For example, this work of Berlioz can boast in its first part of some truly magnificent passages (the Andante and Allegro for orchestra alone, the Love Scene, Adagio for orchestra alone, the song of the young Capulets returning from the ball), but unfortunately this Romeo and Juliet symphony resembles those legendary stone statues of female figures with their beautiful smile and voluptuous shapes which terminate at the back in the hideous tail of a fish. It is in the second part of the work that the composer’s creative energy runs dry, for it is here, I am tempted to say, that the musical law of nature hits back against the mind that rashly defied it, and demonstrates to us in abundance in this frantic outpouring of joy, interrupted by the first workings of the poison, the limits that should not be transgressed in the depiction of effects in instrumental music. Queen Mab or the fairy of dreams, this joke of an instrumental scherzo which probably brought drops of blood to the brow of the musicians performing it, may well be in the whole orchestral literature known to this day the pons asinorum mentioned by Pythagoras — though the test was passed victoriously by the able orchestra of the Theater an der Wien, superbly trained. This is surely a remarkable feat in every respect, given that Hector Berlioz has not had the courage to inflict on any orchestra in Germany, and not even his great orchestra in Paris, this monstrous burden among orchestral pieces. I must confess that while following with close attention this weird piece of musical witchcraft and listening in anguish to these clicks and clacks, squeaks and squawks, mewings and moanings, hisses and bangs, I have suffered virtually every kind of nervous discomfort. These metaphysical orchestral effects may be amazing, but they are neither beautiful, nor pleasant, nor exciting: this is not what music is about. As far as taste is concerned I am no pedant and no obtuse champion of everything German, and my views on art are not down to earth, but I would ask this. Suppose a German genius, for example a Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, were to inflict on the German public an orchestral farce like this Queen Mab, would this public put up with such impertinence with the same polite resignation as it does with artistic celebrities from abroad? The French are quite right to be despatching henceforward their battalions of composers across the Rhine, because they can find in the present day German attitude enough sympathy for their tastes, and the laurel crowns we bestow, our bank notes and gold coins are not to be despised either. But these celebrated French composers have plunged us into a strange musical epoch, in which to enjoy fully a symphonic ode one might rather have to learn first Turkish and Arabic, and you need to have Hegel’s Metaphysics at your fingertips to gain a closer understanding of such a dramatic symphony.
The performance was infused with the finest dedication and artistic conviction. Under Groidl’s watchful direction the orchestra displayed exemplary mastery in this infinitely complicated music. There were occasional weaknesses in the choral singing, but on the whole the level of ensemble was satisfactory. Miss Bury, one of our most talented amateur singers, delivered her very demanding solo for contralto with the purest intonation and the deepest lyrical feeling. Meister Staudigl rescued the finale of the symphony through his energetic delivery, so stirring and full of true expression.
The very large audience gathered on this occasion displayed the greatest marks of honour to this richly talented composer on his departure. With impeccable tact it separated what is beautiful, clear and refined from what is strained and fit for the rubbish heap; the former was greeted with enthusiastic applause, the latter treated with the gentle indulgence that is the mark of true manners. Hector Berlioz was frequently called back in a storm of applause.
The musical evening was honoured by the presence of their Imperial Majesties his Highness the Archduke Franz Karl and their Highnesses the Archduchess Sophie and Hildegarde.
Der Wanderer, 6 January 1846 (p. 20)
— Hector Berlioz will soon be travelling next week to Prague, where preparations are already in hand for the performance of his compositions. From there he will travel to Pesth, from where he will return to Vienna to organise a large orchestral concert in the great imperial and royal Redoutensaal for the benefit of several charitable causes.
C — o.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 6 January 1846
Vienna daily news
*** — The day before yesterday (Friday evening), Mr. Ernst organised in honour of Mr. Berlioz an evening reception, which was as interesting as it was in every respect delightful. After the concert given that evening by Mr. Berlioz at the Theater an der Wien, the guests gathered at the house of Mr. Ernst. Among those present, one could notice apart from Mr. Berlioz Messrs. Saphir, Baron Lannoy, Dreyschock, Seymour Schiff, Fischhof, Dr. Becher, Dr. Leo Herz, Mielichhofer, Francoletti and many other friends of the arts. After dinner the outstanding pianist Mr. Seymour Schiff improvised simultaneously on three themes presented to him by Messrs. Berlioz, Ernst and Becher, and brought the whole house down through the truly astonishing bravura of his playing. After this Ernst delighted the assembly through the performance of a Nocturne for piano composed by Mr. Schiff, and then at the request of Mr. Berlioz performed his own Elegy so well that the whole audience was visibly moved by the high poetry and sadness of his playing. But emotion was not to be the watchword of the evening, and so Ernst answered the general wish by restoring a happy mood through his magical Carnival of Venice. So great was the enthusiasm of his guests that he could not resist their urgent request to give more of his best, at which Mr. Berlioz suggested the Fantasia on Otello, of which Ernst gave a ravishingly beautiful performance. The presence of Mr. Bosco was a source of rare delight for the audience: this magician of a thousand tricks performed the most astounding feats, to which Mr. Hofzinser, the amateur who excels in this genre, added a few of his own.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 10 January 1846 (p. 36)
News from Vienna in brief
*** — Before his departure for Prague Hector Berlioz will be giving a large concert tomorrow Sunday 11 January in the great imperial and royal Redoutensaal; as a special mark of support Messrs. H. M. Ernst, J. Pischek and Seymour-Schiff will also be taking part. The concert is in two parts with ten numbers, and will begin at 12.30. Apart from a Rondo by Ernst, a song by Esser and a Fantasia by Seymour-Schiff all the music is by H. Berlioz. The orchestra of the private imperial and royal Theater an der Wien, considerably augmented, will be under the personal direction of Hector Berlioz.
*** — Sophie Bohrer, the little pianist, who has earned for herself an outstanding reputation as an artist through her truly astonishing talent, will be arriving in Vienna today in order to organise here a number of concerts.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 12 January 1846
News from Vienna in brief
*** — On Tuesday 13 January Hector Berlioz is travelling to Prague.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 13 January 1846 (p. 43)
Hector Berlioz — Farewell concert
(in the great imperial and royal Redoutensaal. Sunday 11 January 1846)
Before departing from Vienna Hector Berlioz offered us yet another great musical delight: in this farewell concert he presented a selection of his most extensive compositions, the magnificent singer Pischek, and Ernst with his elegiac and witty violin. But it was the singer Pischek, from the opera company of the court of Würtemberg, who attracted the greatest interest from the very large and distinguished audience; preceded by a considerable reputation Pischek greatly surpassed it today through his masterly Lieder-singing, the magnificent fullness of his noble baritone voice, and his complete mastery of his art. […] [There follows a long passage in praise of Pischek then of Ernst] […] Under the direction of Hector Berlioz, and played with precision and finesse by the orchestra of the Theater an der Wien, we heard the overture Roman Carnival (it was encored), the Love Scene and Queen Mab from the Romeo and Juliet symphony, and in the second part the characteristic symphony Harold in Italy, in which Ernst played the solo viola part with consummate artistry. All Berlioz’s compositions were greeted with loud and unanimous applause, and the departing composer was showered with the marks of distinction which the sophisticated musical public of Vienna has given him on every occasion.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 24 January 1846 (Reproduction of the original article)
— (Börne on Berlioz) In his Letters from Paris Börne wrote about Berlioz as follows: ‘Here the government awards every year prizes for the best works in painting, sculpture, lithography, music and similarly all the arts. The first prize consists in the winner receiving an annual pension of 8000 francs for five years, and for this purpose he is required to spend his time in Rome pursuing his studies. To a German the idea of being compelled to live in Rome must appear comical, as he would rather be in Rome than in Berlin or Karlsruhe. But to the French this is often felt to be an imposition, as they do not like leaving Paris. It was thus that last week [in July 1830] a young man called Berlioz was awarded the first prize in musical composition. I know and like him, and he has the look of a genius. Does anything of the sort happen in Germany? Think of Beethoven.’
— — On Sunday [5 December 1830] I was present at a concert at the Conservatoire. A young composer of the name of Berlioz, about whom I have previously written, was having some of his compositions performed. Here is a true romantic! There is a whole Beethoven in this Frenchman, though he is crazy and should be restrained. I liked everything very much. An extraordinary symphony, a drama in five acts, naturally purely instrumental music. But to make it intelligible he had a text printed to explain the action as in an opera. It is overflowing with irony, of a kind that no poet has so far expressed in words, and totally irreverent. The composer tells in this work the story of his youth. He poisons himself with opium and then dreams that he has murdered his beloved and is condemned to death. He witnesses his own execution. One hears then an incomparable march, such as I have never heard before. In the last part he imagines the Blocksberg [in the Harz mountains], exactly as in ‘Faust’, and everything can be readily understood. His beloved, who proved unworthy of him, appears also in the Walpurgisnacht, but not like Marguerite in ‘Faust’, but wild like a witch.
(Charity concert). On Sunday 1 February a large concert will be given in the great imperial and royal Redoutensaal by Mr. Hector Berlioz on his return from Prague; it will be for the benefit of the first hospital for children in Schottenfelde which is under the high patronage of Her Majesty the reigning Empress. The programme comprises the following interesting pieces. Part I. 1.) Overture Roman Carnival. 2.) Prologue, a poem written for this concert by Mr. Fridrich Kaiser and spoken by Mr. Ludwig Löwe, actor and producer at the imperial and royal court. 3.) The first four parts of the Fantastic Symphony, Episode from the Life of an Artist: 1.) Dreams. — Passions. 2.) A ball. 3.) Scene in the countryside. 4.) March to the scaffold. Part II. 1.) Song. 2.) Prayer of the pilgrims on their journey. Fragment from the symphony Harold. 3.) Song. 4.) Scene of sadness. — Concert and ball. — Festivities at the Capulets. Scenes from the dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet. — Apart from the songs, all the compositions are by Mr. Hector Berlioz. The orchestra of the private imperial and royal Theater an der Wien, considerably enlarged, will be under the personal direction of Mr. Hector Berlioz. — Reserved seats in the stalls: 1 florin 30 crowns, in the balcony: 2 florins. Unreserved seats in the stalls and in the balcony: 1 florin. Tickets available from H. F. Müller’s art and music shop at no. 1149 Kohlmarkt.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 28 January 1846
*** — (Pischek in Vienna) — When this king of baritones appeared for the first time before us at Hector Berlioz’s farewell concert on the 11th of January in the great imperial and royal Redoutensaal, he won the prize for the concert, and deservedly so: such a voice, such an accomplished delivery, this wonderful diction which did not let us miss a single syllable, this ability to swell and reduce the tone, and whatever else a poor layman such as myself can think of! — in short, nothing of the sort had ever been heard in Vienna. Pischek sang Uhland’s ballad ‘The curse of the singer’, a composition not particularly remarkable in itself but sung in such a way by Pischek that it could not fail to have the greatest impact.
Allgemeine Theater Zeitung, 26 March 1846
*** — Kriehuber’s masterly hand has recently been busy with a great painting. Il will comprise five persons in full figure and arranged in an artistic group. In the centre Liszt at the piano, Czerny leaning on his stool, in the background Berlioz and Ernst, and in front of the picture — Kriehuber, whose portrait has been so keenly demanded for a long time, and who is now giving us himself this joy. This interesting painting will be available in Haslinger’s court music shop.
The page Berlioz and the Vienna press was created on 1 June 2006.
© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb.
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