Berlioz in London
CONCERT OF M. HECTOR BERLIOZ.
The Times, 30 June 1848
Berlioz first visited London between November 1847 and July 1848, where he only gave two concerts. The first took place at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 7th February; reviews of this concert in The Times and The Illustrated London News are reproduced on separate pages. Berlioz gave his second concert at the Hanover Square Rooms on 29 June, a review of which was published in The Times the following day.
We have transcribed the text of the review from a print-out of an image of the review in a database accessed at the British Library in London (Colindale site); the syntax and spelling of the original have been preserved, but we have corrected obvious typesetting errors.
See also another review of this concert published in the Illustrated London News on 8 July.
CONCERT OF HECTOR BERLIOZ.
The most interesting and engrossing of event of the present musical season happened yesterday, at the Hanover-Square Rooms, where the celebrated Hector Berlioz held his second concert since his sojourn in this country. All musical London was present. An orchestra of more than 100 performers, picked from the chosen of our metropolitan executants, (disposed with some variations of position) as the Philharmonic Concerts, showed plainly that there was to be no trifling — that music, in its gravest significance, was to be the order of the day. The following programme will best explain the sort of entertainment which M. Berlioz provided for the occasion :—
The compositions of Berlioz must not be considered in the same light as those of other great masters; they are conceived and accomplished after a design which is purely the offspring of their composer’s brain; they are formed upon no existing models, and are as far from resembling Mozart or Beethoven as Rossini or Strauss.
Throughout his whole career Berlioz has been as remarkable for his independent rejection of all precedent as for his individual idiosyncrasy of manner; he is purely a composer of imagination, and cares not a straw for Albrechtsberger. It is not counterpoint that Berlioz looks to for a guide; he holds all such restrictions in sovereign disregard; we can trace his forms to no model, his style of modulation to no system. The fact is that Berlioz could never find it in his heart to submit to the trammels of tutelage; he felt an irresistible desire to compose at the very outset of his career, and confounding the wish with the power, he began to compose before he had learnt to put his ideas into ordinary form; so fiercely did his spirit revolt against tuition, that he could never be persuaded even to learn to play upon the pianoforte or violin and we believe it is generally known that the guitar is the only instrument upon which he has had the courage to acquire a certain degree of skill. To this impatience of constraint may be traced all the faults of M. Berlioz, now that his style has expanded from the bud of infancy to the full bloom of maturity; but to this also must be traced that daring originality which places him apart from all composers, without model and without parallel. The most astonishing feature in the talent of Berlioz is the extraordinary knowledge he has been enabled to acquire of the resources of the orchestra, considered both in relation to the characteristics of the various instruments and the general effects of combination. No one living (perhaps no one that ever lived) excels Berlioz in this specialty. He wields the orchestra with the grasp of a giant, is never at a loss for new effects, and often by the strength and variety of his orchestral colouring makes that appear important which essentially is but trivial and insignificant. In whatever light, however, we may regard Berlioz, we cannot for one instant withhold from him the distinction of being one of the most conscientious, as well as one of the most original and imaginative, composers that ever figured in the history of the art, that ever helped it on in its progress, or retarded its onward march by the influence of false excitement.
The programme of yesterday’s concert was well calculated to afford some notion of that singular genius which, for the last 15 years, has been the theme of controversy among the most enlightened critics and musicians—one half of whom condemn Berlioz as a mere pretender, while the other half extol him to the skies, and allow of no possible rival to his glory. We have always been inclined to take the middle course, and the performance of yesterday has confirmed us in our first impressions. It brought with it the conviction that M. Berlioz is rather a man of genius and imagination than a practised musician, and that the striking originality of his works is more than a sufficient apology for their oddity and their insolent contempt of existing forms and models, prescribed by no matter how great authority. This general criticism so well applies to all the compositions included in the above programme, that it absolves us from the necessity of especial analysis. It is enough to hint at the design and character of the different works that were executed. The overture to the Carnaval de Rome is simply an attempt to illustrate in musical sounds the bustling events that mark the progress of the great Italian carnivals; it is in two movements—a serenade andante, the theme of which is allotted to the corno di basseto, and an allegro, all riot and abandon. The instrumentation is brilliant and masterly, so remarkably so indeed as almost to blind the critic’s eyes to the licentious disregard of symmetrical construction which characterises the general plan. The symphony called Harold is an attempt to paint by the aid of musical exposition the principal phases of the pilgrimage of Childe Harold, the hero himself being represented by a viola obligato, which plays an important part in the progress of the symphony; the orchestra describes the scenes through which Harold is supposed to pass, the viola obligato the impressions derived from them. There is a world of poetry in this work, which, in spite of its inexplicable design, places it in the highest rank of imaginative music. The opening of the first movement, especially, “Harold in the mountains,” involving an attempt to embody the sentiment of melancholy, is intensely passionate and sublime. The scene from Faust is dramatic and picturesque, the instrumentation, though fantastic, wonderfully effective, and the Danse des Syphes a triumph of art in its way. The other pieces of the programme are of smaller pretensions; the Marche Hongroise is well known to the musical world of London, and the vocal pieces, excepting “the Captive,” which is expressive and deeply coloured, are not calculated to sustain the fame of Berlioz on the same level as his instrumental compositions. The orchestral adaptation of Weber’s elegant Invitation à la valse, so well known to all good pianists, suffered so much from the absence of sundry essential instruments, that we were unable to pass judgment on it merits.
The band was magnificent. M. Berlioz is lucky in this particular. We never heard a finer body of stringed instruments, more delicate handing of the “wood,” or more striking efficiency in the “brass.” The execution, generally speaking, although M. Berlioz was compelled to offer an apology between the parts for the absence of drums and other instruments of percussion, was splendid and effective. A more complete and brilliant success could not have been desired by the warmest partisans of the composer. The Carnaval de Rome, the Marche des Pelerins (a marvellous piece of instrumental effect), and the Marche Hongroise were all encored with enthusiasm. The attention of the audience was unremitting, the applause continuous and unanimous, and the regret was general that the whole of Harold was not performed. Mr. Hill played the viola obligato of this symphony in a finished and masterly style; it was originally composed for Paganini, but we doubt if any one could have rendered it more justice than our own admirable English tenor. Madame Viardot Garcia, Mademoiselle de Mendi, Madame Dulcken, Madame Sabatier, M. Molique, M. Bouché, and M. Massol, who all exerted themselves with praiseworthy energy, must excuse us from specifying the applause and encores that rewarded their labours; the interest of the concert was naturally concentrated in Hector Berlioz, and the fact of his appearance before a London public was too rare and too exclusively absorbing to admit of any divided attention.
M. Berlioz, whose appearance was the signal for a burst of applause, loud and long continued, conducted the orchestra, MM. Sainton and Tolbecque were the leaders, and M. Maretzek directed the choruses, and accompanied some of the vocal music.
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 1 May 2010.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
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