HECTOR BERLIOZ IN ENGLAND
as reflected in the pages of
THE MUSICAL TIMES 1844 – 1944
Compiled and annotated by Alan Merryweather
© 1947 Estate of Percy A. Scholes for the original book
© 2009 Alan Merryweather for compilation and annotation of the extracts
The English musician, journalist and prolific writer, Percy A. Scholes, (1877-1958), compiler of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music was prevailed upon to summarise the progress of British music over a hundred year period, using The Musical Times as his source. This project entailed his turning the pages of every issue from 1844 to 1944, which took up nearly five metres of space on his bookshelves. By making summaries from this huge amount of material and noting the information onto index cards, Scholes then distilled all under a myriad of headings and sub-headings, a comprehensive work of informative articles as well as wise, witty and quaint jottings. THE MIRROR OF MUSIC 1844-1944 (2 vols). Percy A Scholes. Novello & Co Limited and Oxford University Press. London, 1947 was the result, ‘the sentence of a three year’s hard labour.’
Since each chapter in Scholes’s work has numerous subheadings, and sometimes material is cross-referenced to other pages, it has been necessary to edit here and there to make for a smooth narrative.
Scholes uses footnotes and occasionally there has been a need to add one of my own, I have interwoven all such in the narrative, his in square brackets and my comments either in the text or in conventional brackets. My additions are few and the editing very light and overwhelmingly Scholes’ own words have been used in these extracts.
How The Musical Times came into being
The origins of The Musical Times lie in what Scholes describes as a musical mania for sight singing, following the arrival on these shores of Joseph Mainzer in 1841. It was Mainzer who established firstly the National Singing Circular, then Mainzer’s The Musical Times and Singing Circular. In June 1844, Novello took over the title severing a direct connection but to this day (1944) its full title still is, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular.
The name of Joseph Mainzer, a German ex-priest from Paris was once a household word all over these islands and played an important part in the country’s musical life but it has completely faded out of memory and is vaguely known only to a few students of musical history. Scholes gives a lengthy account of his extraordinary doings, finding it difficult to choose from the immense mass of vivid fact that his research revealed. Scholes described the resulting article of more than 5500 words as ‘just sufficient to give the ordinary reader a picture of the amazing man at work.’
Mainzer was born the son of a butcher in Trèves (Trier) on 7
March 1801 and became a choirboy at the Cathedral. At ten years of age there was
no vocal music, however intricate, that he could not read on sight and he
received an education for the priesthood, was ordained in 1826 and made
singing-master in the seminary in which he had studied. He published a
sight-singing method, or Singschule (1831).
BERLIOZ and MAINZER CROSS SWORDS
There is a reference to a meeting with Mainzer in Paris in the book Music and Musicians in France and Germany by Henry Fothergill Chorley (1808-72), the famous music critic of the Athenæum. Chorley made his acquaintance in the Critics’ Box at the Opéra, Berlioz being present:
Only in Paris could such a juxtaposition have presented itself. M. Mainzer (like Goldsmith’s Dr. Rook), had but recently published a book to prove that the genius of M. Berlioz was but quackery, and his picture-music a monstrous combination of what was with what ought to have been impossible, and M. Berlioz (like Goldsmith’s Dr. Franks) had only very recently retaliated by laconically characterising M. Mainzer’s La Jacquerie, produced at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, as ‘the opera in the key of D’! [Critique Musicale IV, pp. 173-8, 194, 212] There, in short, sate the appointed upholder of classicism more hurt by that one mot than his antagonist had been damaged by the whole artillery of ninety-five pages. The situation seemed comical enough for an Englishman, used only to a stated literary intercourse, in which when bitter tongue and sharp pen have fullest way, the anonymous is too often snatched up more expeditiously than honourably . . .
Mainzer died at Manchester in 1851.
THE VISITS OF BERLIOZ TO LONDON (1847-55)
In the early days of The Musical Times, Berlioz paid five visits to this country, four of which were in the capacity of conductor, viz. 1847, 1852, 1853, and 1855. (The other was as juror of musical instruments at the Great Exhibition of 1851). On the first visit he was engaged by the impresario Jullien to conduct a season of opera at Drury Lane. He was probably the most accomplished and musicianly conductor British audiences had yet seen; certainly his management of the orchestra made a deep impression. The Musical Times in July 1903 recalls the Musical World’s account of his début (by Desmond Ryan):
The orchestra was heard to great advantage in Beethoven’s Overture to ‘Leonora,’ which, wherefore we could not discover, preceded Donizetti’s opera, M. Berlioz, deeply versed in the scores of Beethoven, directing it with wonderful animation.
The new conductor established on Monday night his continental fame as one of the greatest chefs d’orchestre. The highly efficient and artistic manner in which he ruled the mass of instrumentalists under his baton was deserving of all praise. His conducting was marked with great decision and energy, and he exhibited that spirit and animation which proved him a true enthusiast in his art. It was hardly possible for M. Jullien to have selected a more able and competent chef than M. Hector Berlioz.
A peculiarity of London orchestras that was to trouble conductors for some time longer is referred to in a letter Berlioz wrote to his Russian friend Lvoff [29 January 1848]:
I am engaged here also for four concerts, and shall give the first next week, the 7th of February. We have not yet been able to get the whole orchestra together once for rehearsal. These gentlemen come and go when they please — some in the middle of the rehearsal, others before a fourth part is finished. On the first day I had no French horns at all; on the second I had three, on the third I had two, who went away after the fourth piece. That is the way they have in this country of understanding subordination.
For a quarter of a century the Philharmonic Society had to face deliberate competition. There were in the early 1850s those who maintained that it was too much run by a clique, that its programmes were not sufficiently progressive, that its performances were not as near perfection as they should and could be, and that its prices were not sufficiently reasonable to make the concerts accessible to the larger public.
A capable musician and man of great enterprise, Dr. Henry Wylde (1822-90) instigated the formation of the New Philharmonic Society in 1852. Berlioz was engaged as the first season’s conductor sharing the duties with Wylde. Berlioz’s conducting of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, which was given at two of the concerts [12 May and 9 June], was especially admired. James William Davison (1813-1885) recorded his enthusiasm as follows:
The time of the allegro was indicated to a nicety, and amidst all its extraordinary combinations, its exciting crescendos and overwhelming climaxes, the majesty, which is the prevalent characteristic of the movement, was never lost sight of. The scherzo was equally well-timed; and the trio, for the first time in our remembrance, played as fast as it should be. Long as this extraordinary movement (more than twice the length of any other of the same character), it was felt to be brief by the audience, who charmed by its originality, and the admirable decision with which it was executed, burst into an absolute uproar of cheers at its conclusion. . . . M. Berlioz very properly took the instrumental recitatives in tempo giusto, without which it is impossible they can go well.
At one of the concerts [28 April] a selection was given from Spontini’s opera La Vestale; the composer’s widow, on the day of the concert, sent her husband’s baton to use on the occasion and to keep as a memento of it, and was herself present in Exeter hall to hear the performance.
Berlioz’s visit of 1853 was for the purpose of directing, at Covent Garden, a performance of his opera, Benvenuto Cellini (a complete ‘flop’), but previously to this he conducted a half-programme of his works at the ‘Phil.’
The last visit, in 1855, was for the purpose of conducting at two concerts of the New Philharmonic, at which he had officiated three years before. Here he was now a rival of Wagner, who was conducting at the older Philharmonic. Wagner was present at one of the Berlioz concerts and we find from a letter to Liszt that he was critical of some of the performances: however the two composers met and enjoyed a five-hour discussion comprehensively devoted to ‘all the problems of art, philosophy, and life.’
Professor Karl Klindworth (1830-1916), with whom an interview appears in The Musical Times of August 1898, tells a curious tale of a lapse on the part of Berlioz:
At the concert of the now defunct New Philharmonic Society, given in Exeter Hall, on July 4, 1855, and conducted by Berlioz, Professor Klindworth played Henselt’s Pianoforte Concerto in F minor. During the progress of the slow movement at the rehearsal, Berlioz fell into a deep reverie, and, apparently forgetting all about the concerto, he stopped conducting. But the soloist and the orchestra went steadily on. At the end of the movement Berlioz was still entranced, and was only aroused when, at a sign from Klindworth, the orchestra began the last movement with an energetic attack of the opening passage!
During this visit arrangements were made by Messrs. Novellos for the publication of an English edition of Berlioz’s Traité d’Instrumentation (which had appeared in its original French in 1843): this was translated by Mary Cowden Clarke and appeared in 1858. New English editions have been issued by the same publishers in 1882 and 1907, and there are modern German editions by Strauss and by Weingartner and a modern French edition by Widor, as well as Spanish and Italian editions.
The English translation was enriched by the addition of a short treatise on the Art of Conducting which Novellos had commissioned, and this fact is sufficient testimony to the reputation the author had gained in this country as a conductor. So far as the present writer can see, this was the first work on instrumentation or orchestration ever to appear in the English language and remained the only one until, in 1876, there was published a little book in Novello’s Primers by Ebenezer Prout (1835-1909).
There can be no doubt that the visits and the writings of Berlioz, which followed so close after our clumsy ‘Leader’-plus-‘At-the-Pianoforte’ phase of orchestra direction, had a great influence in helping to lift our orchestral standard towards the modern level.
When Wylde retired in 1879, Wilhelm Ganz (1833-1914) took over the whole management of the New Philharmonic Society for which was then adopted the new title of ‘Mr. Ganz’s Orchestral Concerts.’ (They came to an end after three seasons).
Ganz’s great merit was that (as The Musical Times
puts it in July 1881) he was ‘ever bent on unfamiliar things.’ Thus he first
introduced to any British audience a complete performance of Berlioz’s Fantastic
Symphony (which caused a great sensation) and Liszt’s Dante Symphony.
THE FRENCH INVASION – LAMOUREUX AND COLONNE.
Scholes includes a discussion of the respective qualities of the conductors Charles Lamoureux (1834-99) and Edouard Colonne (1838-1910), the latter now almost entirely forgotten. Sir Henry Wood’s view was:
I always felt Colonne had been overshadowed to a degree by Lamoureux — at any rate so far as the Queen’s Hall was concerned. I know that Ernest Newman was always inclined to push Lamoureux rather than Colonne; and yet I always thought Colonne the more talented of the two; certainly his readings were broader — more German — even though he was not the trainer Lamoureux was.
Colonne made a great speciality of Berlioz (as Lamoureux did
of Wagner), his interpretation of the Fantastic Symphony being
CHORAL MUSIC AT THE QUEEN’S HALL (1893-1941)
Next year (1895) the direction was taken over by Alberto
Randegger, who seems, from The Musical Times’s successive reports, to
have pursued a policy slightly bolder and to have secured a high degree of
choral excellence. To add to the strength of the soprano line he brought in ‘the
bright voices of the London School of Choristers,’ and should this page happen
to meet the eye of the present Principal of the Royal Academy of Music it may
cheer him to be reminded that in 1897 The Musical Times was able to
announce that in Berlioz’s Faust these boys, ‘headed by Master
Stanley Marchant, once more augmented the effect.’
THE MUSIC FESTIVALS
Like the Leeds and Bradford Festivals that of Huddersfield (1881) was promoted to inaugurate a new Town Hall; in which the citizens possessed at last a suitable place for their music-makings. Hallé was engaged as conductor and his orchestra came with him. ‘Mr Walter Parratt Mus. Bac., of Magdalen College, Oxford, a native of Huddersfield,’ was the organist.
It is not perhaps realised that at one period Festival choralists were, entirely or mainly, professionals, and that, as towards the end of the nineteenth century choral culture became more common, the amateurs gradually took their places.
In The Musical Times’s account of this Festival we are given some statistics which enable us to gauge how far the change had gone:
Mr Joshua Marshall, the Conductor of the Choral Society and the Glee and Madrigal Society, was appointed Chorus-master, and it was decided to have a chorus of paid singers and amateurs seeing that with more amateurs than usual at the last Leeds Festival the chorus singing was fully as powerful as, and even more expressive than, on any previous occasion. The requisite number of vocalists was speedily obtained from Huddersfield and surrounding towns, including many who sang at the Leeds Festival, and was made up as follows: 67 sopranos (27 amateurs), 50 contraltos (24 amateurs), 26 altos (5 amateurs), 68 tenors (15 amateurs), 62 basses (18 amateurs), and 14 boys (trebles and altos), or a total of 277 voices, of whom (excluding the boys) 89 were amateurs.
The usual eminent soloists of the period were engaged — Emma Albani, Mary Davies and Patey; Edward Lloyd, Maas, Saintley and King. After performing Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust:
Mr. Hallé told the members of the choir and in a very felicitous manner that he could not go away from Huddersfield without thanking them personally for the great treat they had given him; he never, he said, had conducted a better chorus and perhaps hardly so good as one for refinement, perfect truth of intonation, expression, and considering the numbers, for power. Three hearty cheers were then given for Mr. Hallé, with whose conducting the choir was delighted.
The West of England Festival founded at Bristol in 1873 came to a halt following a disastrous fire at the Colston Hall and there was a six year interval before it resumed in 1902. In that year a performance of Berlioz’s Messe des Morts took place somewhat spoilt by ‘a cheese-paring policy’ (eight trombones instead of sixteen and so forth) … .
The Cardiff Festival grew out of the Welsh National Eistedfodd which was held there in 1883. In 1892, as previously a London orchestra was engaged with a London conductor, Joseph Barnby (1838-96).
The question of the hour was, ‘How about the chorus?’ and those who heard the local singers then, or at the performance of ‘Elijah’ on Tuesday evening, prophesied evil things. The Cardiff amateurs appeared to be decidedly inefficient, showing lack of power, poor tone quality, and a very small degree of confidence. Yet they came out as a really well qualified body lacking only in depth and volume of sound. The change was marvellous and took everybody by surprise.
The programme on this historic first occasion included . . . Berlioz’s Faust.
Finally, a most remarkable enterprise was that called the
Musical Festival of the British Empire, organised by Dr. Charles Harriss (1862-1929)
of Ottawa in the Coronation year of 1911. Yorkshireman Henry Coward (1849-1944)
and his ‘Sheffield Choir of Two Hundred Voices’ spent six months in travel,
their route circled the globe, being somewhat as follows: Canada and the United
States, Hawaii, Fiji, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, and home
again. They combined with the best orchestras of the countries visited and in
some places, for certain works, with local choirs. The party took with it
eminent solo vocalists, their repertory including Berlioz’s Faust.
THE FIGHT OVER BERLIOZ
There seems to be no parallel in the history of music for the varieties of opinion and, especially for the vacillations of opinion, regarding the work of Berlioz. The work of Wagner met opposition at the outset and gradually wore it down and established itself as a part of the canon of the art. The work of Berlioz, welcomed by many at the outset, was later, in general, thought less of (though it seems as will shortly be seen, to have made a temporary return to favour in the early eighties), and its positive value is even now, after the lapse of a century since its introduction here, a subject of keen debate.
Here are some illustrations of the way in which opinion has varied:
1843: ‘A DARING LUNATIC’
To judge from these (certain of the early works) we should rather be inclined to class him as a daring lunatic than a sound, healthy musician. Their sole merit lies in the great command of orchestral effect which they certainly display to an eminent degree. In melody they are particularly deficient — so much so, indeed, that we feel inclined to believe M. Berlioz utterly incapable of producing a complete phrase of any kind. When, on rare occasions, some glimpse of a tune makes its appearance, it is cut off at the edges and twisted about in so unusual and unnatural a fashion as to give one the idea of a mangled and mutilated body, rather than a thing of fair proportions. Moreover, the little tune that seems to exist in M. Berlioz is of so decidedly vulgar a character as to exclude the possibility of our supposing him possessed of a shadow of feeling.
[By J. W. Davison, in the Musical Examiner: reproduced in The Musical Times Oct. 1898. At a later period Davison became a personal friend of Berlioz, who dedicated to him his Overture The Corsair — Davison’s final estimate of Berlioz, as expressed in his obituary article in the Musical World, 13 March 1869, was that he was ‘a great musical thinker,’ a ‘truly wonderful composer’; but he made it clear that he himself was ‘among the dissenters from very much that this composer took infinite pains to promulgate by example.’]
1848: ‘A POET MUSICIAN’
Since the first performance of Fidelio in England, we have listened to nothing with such excitement and enthusiasm as to some of the compositions of M. Berlioz, performed in his very interesting concert on Monday, at Drury-lane. The discovery of a new pen in the art, exercised in the highest and most serious departments of music, with all the grave intention of a Beethoven or a Gluck, and in his lofty and independent walk realising effects which delight the imagination and warm the sympathies of the hearer, is no slight event.
We the more cordially acknowledge the powerful impression made on us by the first hearing of the compositions of M. Berlioz, because we went among the most mistrusting and infidel of the audience. Detraction and false criticism in professional whispers and newspaper paragraphs had predisposed us to expect a critical penance on the occasion; and this, coupled with a somewhat pardonable unwillingness hastily to believe in original genius, or that the implements of the great German masters had passed in reversion to a Frenchman, rendered us anticipative of anything but pleasure. Surprise and gratification were complete, as all these prejudices were dispersed before the beautiful, the original and poetical effects of the music; and we can only say, that if Berlioz is not Beethoven, he who can maintain such an activity of attention during four hours, by the frequency of original and interesting conceptions, must be a worthy follower of that master, and a poet musician of no common stamp. We left the house with an earnest desire to hear the whole of the music again, and as soon as possible.
[Article on London’s first Berlioz concert by Edward Holmes (1797-1859), one of the best writers on music this country has ever had: author of A Ramble among the Musicians of Germany (1828), The Life of Mozart (1845), etc. The above appeared in The Atlas, 12 Feb, 1848, and was reprinted in The Musical Times Oct. 1851. The whole long article, eloquent and judicious would be worth reproduction today. In August 1848, on the occasion of Berlioz’s departure, there appeared in The Musical Times a glowing eulogy of his compositions, with the remark that they had ‘fit audience found, though few.’ It is more than likely that Holmes (a pupil of Vincent Novello and great friend of his family) was again the writer.]
1869: ‘NOW BUT LITTLE KNOWN’
The death of Hector Berlioz, which took place in Paris during this past month, will have but little effect upon art or artists; for although in music he thought as deeply, and worked as earnestly, as any who have left an immortal name, his compositions never took a permanent hold upon the public mind. His best works are two Symphonies, Harold in Italy, and Romeo and Juliet, which although filled with undoubted proofs of fragmentary talent, are now but little known. He had a thorough command of orchestral resources, and an instinctive perception of all that was beautiful in art; but there can be little doubt that he will be more remembered by his able and acute contributions to musical criticism than any of the compositions with which he hoped to revolutionise the world.
[By the Editor of The Musical Times, H. C. Lunn, in the issue of April 1869.]
1880: BUT ‘THE TIME WILL COME !’
With the exception of a few pieces — such, for instance as his overture to the ‘Carnaval Romain,’ or the Rakoczy March and the Dance of the Sylphs in the ‘Damnation of Faust’ — his music is not of a character to be readily appreciated at first hearing. The unusual turns of the melody, the strangeness of some of the harmonies, and the complexity of the rhythms all require familiarity before they can be properly enjoyed. But each fresh hearing reveals new beauties; and we believe that the time will come ere long when the works of Berlioz will be among the most popular in our concert répertoire.
[From The Musical Times’s report of a Crystal Palace concert of 6 November 1880, at which Harold in Italy was performed (it ‘grows in favour with the public the oftener it is heard’).]
1881: POPULARITY Has COME
(BUT WON’T LAST LONG) !
There is no doubt a ‘fashion’ in music, for during much of the season Berlioz became the rage — even the usually steady-going Philharmonic Society performing his ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Symphony — but we can scarcely imagine that this will last more than any other fashion; and it becomes a question whether even next season there will be any earnest demand for his music.
[From the annual account of the London Musical Season by the Editor, H. C. Lunn (Aug.). How quickly The Musical Times’s ‘Time will come’ prophesy has been fulfilled! There are other evidences that this year the work of Berlioz was looked on as having experienced a ‘resuscitation’ or ‘revival’ (see April issue).]
1896: BERLIOZ ‘BORES’
Berlioz, though he has, in common with many second-rate composers, written isolated movements of interest and attractiveness, does not thereby claim to rank among great composers. He has written works of ambitious scope, of which the most ambitious features are invariably the least successful — the first and last movements of all his symphonies, for instance; his operas have been tried again and again, and found deadly dull; his ‘Enfance du Christ,’ in spite of two beautiful numbers, bores an audience almost as much as Liszt’s ‘Holy Elizabeth.’
[Frederick Corder, chief Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, wrote to The Musical Times stating that a lecture of his at the Royal Institution had been misrepresented in certain quarters, and summarising his views as above.]
1903: A SMALL AUDIENCE FOR THE BERLIOZ CENTENARY CONCERT
On the actual centenary day an important concert was organised at the Queen’s Hall, with Dr. Richard Strauss as conductor. The proceeds were announced to be given to the Relief Fund of the National Society of French Teachers in England, but neither the art of Berlioz, the fame of the conductor, nor the cause of the charity could succeed in attracting an audience that even by courtesy could be called numerous.
[From The Musical Times Jan. 1904.]
1929: A UNIQUE DISADVANTAGE
He has suffered from disadvantages unshared by others of his generation. His entire dependence on public performances prevents his becoming the household word that many composers, immeasurably his inferiors, have become. And those performances must be directed by a sympathetic and skilful conductor.
[Tom S Wotton, in an article A Berlioz Conference. This ‘Conference’ was of the nature of a private dinner at a London restaurant. Hamilton Harty’s magnificent interpretations of Berlioz had brought up again the question of the composer’s standing. The after-dinner discussion, in which Harty took part, was reported in The Dominant, which had arranged the event, and the report was published as a booklet by the Oxford University Press.]
1929: STILL ‘A BONE OF CONTENTION’
Berlioz is the only composer of any magnitude whose music has so long remained a bone of contention.
[Berlioz — A Postscript to a Discussion — article by M. D. Calvocoressi in The Musical Times April 1929: it was prompted by the after-dinner debate just mentioned. That debate led to further debate which went on in the pages of The Musical Times right through the year: the many thoughtful articles and letters which thus appeared are well worth the study of anyone interested in the subject.]
The tardy introduction into this country of the choral works of Berlioz has been chronicled elsewhere. The orchestral works, which nearer approached the normal in the resources they demanded, came into use, in general, rather more quickly. The first year in which London heard any of these seems to have been 1840, when no fewer than three overtures — Les Francs Juges, Waverley and King Lear — were performed at various concerts. Next year the Philharmonic Society made its first plunge, with the Overture to Bevenuto Cellini.
Harold in Italy was given under Berlioz himself, at his Drury Lane concerts in 1848. In 1853, at Covent Garden he conducted his opera Benvenuto Cellini — alas! for one night only, for, despite the presence of the Queen, the Prince Consort, and other members of the Royal Family, hisses and catcalls damned it irretrievably.
The fact of the existence of these highly original works dribbled slowly into the British concert-goer’s consciousness. The Symphonie Fantastique was half-a-century old when in 1881 it received its first British performance under Hallé at Manchester. The Romeo and Juliet Symphony was over forty years old when it was at last heard here — under Cusins at the Philharmonic Society.
It will be seen that, as was to be expected, it was the smaller works that were first adopted into the British repertory. In glancing through the tabular index of Foster’s History of the Philharmonic Society 1813-1912 one is astonished to find that as late as that latter date only one Berlioz work had received as many as three performances (the Carnaval Romain Overture), and only five two performances, while eight (including songs) had one performance.
[In addition to the above the Romeo and Juliet Symphony had two complete performances and two performances of ‘selections’.]
And now, as light relief from all that historical fact, have we room for an engaging concise biography of the composer? It is quoted in The Musical Times in January 1906 from a well-known and now much sought-after work in the ‘English language,’ published in Germany, The New Opera Glass (the fourth edition, which it is hoped may be accorded ‘the same kindly reception which has been proved to the fare-going editions’):
Born Dec. 11th 1800 at Côte St. André (France), was studying at first medicine, afterwards music without permission of his father, of whome he did not received any support. A short time afterward he left the school of music and was working on his own style. His first musical work did not receive any success and he entered the second time at the School of music and was gaining the roman price for one of his ‘Cantates.’ Returned from Italy he lived as a composer, but his compositions were received with a greater applause in the strange as in his own country. He is one of the most important composer of instrumental music. His other opera ‘Benvenuto Cellini’ (1838), ‘Beatrice and Benedikt’ (1862) and ‘The Troyens’ (1863) are also gained a good success. He died as librarian on the conservatory at Paris the 9th Mars 1869.
(Scholes quotes here verbatim from the The New Opera Glass; preserving the original spelling and grammar as a ‘light relief’.)
Occasionally we hear of devices for abolishing the pianoforte’s
constitutional defect by prolonging the sound. Berlioz, in his Traité d’Instrumentation,
written four or five years after The Musical Times began, and reproduced,
in part, in the issues of September to November 1860, gives an example of the
method of notation for the use of such a device: it used four staves, being the
two normal ones plus an upper one showing the sustained notes and chords of the
upper half of the keyboard and a lower one showing those of the lower half. The
sustaining device was operated by the right and left knees respectively, for the
two halves of the keyboard. No explanation is given of the mechanism by which
the power of the ‘sustaining for an indefinite time’ was brought about, and
one suspects that it was not, in fact, ‘indefinite,’ being almost certainly
effected by a mere holding back of the dampers (in other words the principle
being that of the sustaining pedal, but differentially applied).
THE CHARITY CHILDREN
… a certain ‘Robert Druitt Esq.’ had just published  A Popular Tract on Church Music, with Remarks on its Moral and Political Importance and a Practical Scheme for its Reformation. From this work The Musical Times quotes as follows:
Vast sums are every year expended on the theatre and concert-room. The people who frequent the opera would look on it as a piece of the most disgraceful niggardliness if the best artists were not engaged at their own prices. But, strange to say, they who frequent churches seem to consider neither care, nor skill, nor expense necessary; but are content with the performance of one or two indifferent psalm-tunes by charity children who cannot pronounce their own language with decency.
Yet we know on the authority of Haydn (1792) and of Berlioz sixty years later (1851) that not all the singing of Charity Children was painful, those two authorities being greatly impressed by what they heard at the annual gathering of all the London Charity Children in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a pity that The Musical Times does not give us an independent report of that particular service that so much affected Berlioz.
[Berlioz’s description of his sensations is reproduced in
The Musical Times Oct. 1851.]
Until the 1880’s the identity of the choral performers in The Philharmonic Choir is hidden: we see in the programme merely a vague; ‘With Choir’ or ‘With Chorus’ (presumably some ad hoc collection of choralists). In 1881 we find the South London Choral Association participating in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette.
(In a long article, Scholes goes on to describe performances of Berlioz’s principal choral works.)
Despite the personal popularity of Berlioz in this country, his undeniable fame here as a conductor and the immediate appeal of much of his orchestral music, the choral works did not come to early performance among us and only one of them has, perhaps, attained what we may call a regular place in the repertory. One reason for this is doubtless the unusually massive demands made as to orchestral and choral forces.
The following are the particulars of some first performances:
La Damnation de Faust; composed 1846; first performed here in 1880, at Manchester and the St. James’s Hall, under Hallé (Time-lag — 34 years).
L’Enfance du Christ; composed 1854; first performed here in 1880, at Manchester, under Hallé (Time-lag — 26 years).
Grande Messe des Morts; composed 1837; first performed here in 1883, at the Crystal Palace under Manns (Time-lag — 46 years).
Te Deum; composed 1854; first performed here in 1885, at the Crystal Palace, under Manns (Time-lag — 31 years).
Tristia (3 choruses with orchestra); composed 1850; Nos. 3 and 2 first performed here in 1889 and 1891, at the Crystal Palace under Manns (Time-lag — 39 and — 41 years).
From this it will be seen that Hallé and Manns were the heroes who first tackled these works, with the practical problems they pose, and that even they allowed time-lags to occur which averaged well over a third of a century.
[All the above figures are taken from a tabulated statement in The Musical Times Dec. 1903. For the sake of perfect accuracy it may be added that Berlioz himself conducted at the Drury Lane Theatre, in 1848, parts of Faust and of the Messe des Morts, and that in 1878 Pasdeloup gave a performance of part of Faust at Her Majesty’s Theatre.]
The first mention of Faust (in full, La Damnation de Faust) in The Musical Times comes in January 1847. It had just had its first performance in Paris and a quotation is given from Le Progrès Musical (a journal which, from its name, we should expect to be favourably disposed to anything novel and original) to the effect that the composer has made ‘the voices completely subservient to the orchestra’ and that, ‘the peculiarity of M. Berlioz’s music makes it much relished by a few but distasteful to the many.’
Then, thirty-three years afterwards (1880), Hallé, who at Manchester had just given the work its first complete British performance, boldly brought his orchestra and chorus to London, and repeated it at the St. James’s Hall. The Musical Times expressed its delight in a full page description of the work and its performance, ending:
Lancashire choristers are proverbially excellent, and, no doubt, every one in Mr. Hallé’s following was on his mettle before a London audience. Be this as it may, the choruses were admirably sung, while the orchestra played from first to last with a success nothing short of astonishing, having regard to what was required of it. Brilliant and imposing in the Hungarian March, it was simply ravishing in the Dance of Sylphs, and everywhere put in its figures and laid on its colours with a master-hand. For London there only remains to imitate this provincial example. Which of our concert-givers will show us more of Berlioz, and show it equally well?
The audience (a big one), ‘lapped it up.’ As The Musical Times put it, ‘The verdict was unanimously favourable: on every hand signs appeared that a great thing stood revealed, one which it will no longer be possible to ignore.’
And so, two years later when Barnby gave it with the Albert Hall Choral Society, The Musical Times opened its account with words which show that the work, once introduced to the British public, had taken on: ‘No matter when performed, in the metropolis or in the country, crowds flock to hear, and having heard, are ready to hear again.’
Thereafter this work was annually performed by that same Society for twenty years or more.
On L’Enfance du Christ, when introduced by Hallé at Manchester in December 1880, The Musical Times was, likewise, enthusiastic. Three months later Hallé repeated his former plan of bringing his performers to London (MT April). After that nothing more happened, apparently for five years, when the Sacred Harmonic Society gave a performance, wisely importing for the occasion the conductor who had already made a success of the work for five years before (MT Feb. 1885). A bad translation by Chorley, it seems, militated against the general acceptance of this work, but in 1886 The Musical Times is pleased to review a new edition (published by Forsyth of Manchester) with a translation representing a ‘marked improvement.’
The production of the Messe des Morts, at the Crystal Palace in 1883, did not arouse The Musical Times’s admiration. There had been no combined rehearsal of chorus and orchestra, and for this procedure, The Musical Times felt, it was ‘difficult to find a parliamentary expression.’ Then the orchestra and the four brass bands, which at the composer’s original performance at the Invalides, in Paris, had been ‘placed in different parts of the enormous building, answering each other from a distance,’ were here ‘crammed together on the same platform,’ so that ‘the poetic meaning of this terrific noise was entirely lost.’
The Musical Times was shocked at ‘the supineness and pusillanimity of our great Choral Societies in leaving so remarkable a work by so famous a composer’ unperformed for all these years and insisted that a performance such as had just been heard could not ‘in any sense be called final.’
Nor was it final, for Glasgow, a few months later, took up the work. Here again, the choral singing was less than satisfactory. The performance was attended by Frederick Niecks (not yet Professor at Edinburgh, but already recognised as an authoritative writer on music), and he felt moved to write a detailed critical article (March), in which he pretty thoroughly condemned the whole thing:
The ‘Messe des Morts’ so far from being a thing of beauty that will remain a joy for ever, is but a remarkable monstrosity that will occupy the curiosity of the musical world for a little while and then become a dead item of history … Berlioz always confounds the grand and sublime with the colossal and monstrous, as he confounded also so many other notions. What Heine said of Victor Hugo may be applied with equal force to Berlioz: Ce n’est pas un grand homme, c’est un homme énorme.’
In 1888 the work reached Birmingham, being included in the programme of the Festival that year, Richter conducting. The performance was found to be nerve-wracking:
Opening in the severe school of Bach, the Concert closed in the licentious companionship of Berlioz, whose ‘Mass for the Dead’ was the ‘sensation’ of the week. The public had anticipated this with some interest. They had heard of the extra brass bands, the formidable array of drums, with all the rest of it, and they were naturally curious about the result. Some, on experience, found the result too much for them. As the brass bands blew their loudest and the drums thundered like the artillery of heaven, a physical disturbance became inevitable among sensitive organisations. A few persons, I am told, had to seek safety in flight, and I know that on every hand signs of great nervous commotion were visible.
What happened about Manns’s performance of the Te Deum at Crystal Palace in 1885? Event as it certainly was, The Musical Times seems to have ignored it! However, when the Bach Choir, under Stanford, gave it at St. James’s Hall in May 1887, The Musical Times’s critic was highly impressed. A year later this organisation repeated it in Westminster Abbey as a celebration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s Coronation — this latter occasion perhaps having behind it the recollection that the composer’s dedication of the work was to the late Prince Consort.
In 1894 when it was heard at the Birmingham Festival, under Richter, the journal’s ‘Special Correspondent’ gave it little space on the plea that ‘greater novelties demanded the space available.’ What little he did give it was not occupied with matter likely to cheer the British admirers of the composer — the audience was small and ‘brought comparatively little to the treasury’ and the performance, whilst ‘generally good, did not err at all on the point of satisfying the composer’s requirements as to noise’:
The final prayer, ‘Let me never be confounded,’ was, for example, emphasised by the energetic action of eleven drummers, one of whom came from the Continent to assist in storming the ear of Heaven. Whether the audience were themselves ‘confounded’ by the violence of the appeal I know not, but the reception of the Te Deum can hardly be said to be styled enthusiastic.
And that is about all we are told of this Festival performance of one of the composer’s most ambitious works.
In 1906 it was included in the programme of the Three Choirs Festival, at Hereford, in a new edition prepared by the organist of the Cathedral, Dr. Sinclair. All The Musical Times tells us about it is this:
Berlioz’s Te Deum proved interesting, and if its ‘tremendous’ effects were not realisable, the use of the great organ in the choir in alternation with the orchestra at the west end proved most satisfactory.
(Scholes compares the frequency of performance of Berlioz’s works by choral societies in three seasons, admitting that the news-gathering might not have been so complete in the earliest of them.)
1886-7. 13 performances. (8 Faust; 2 each Childhood of Christ and Te Deum; 1 Messe des Morts).
1926-7. 5 performances. (3 Faust; one each Te Deum and Messe des Morts).
THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF 1851
In August 1903 The Musical Times, recounting the events of the sojourn in London, in 1851, of one of the adjudicators at the Great Exhibition of that year, tells us:
In the intervals between his Exhibition duties Berlioz found time to write a series of highly entertaining articles on London musical life and other subjects for the Journal des Débats. Among the things which took his fancy were the London ‘niggers’ — les hommes noirs qui chantent dans les rues,’ he calls them. He was rather pleased with their ‘petits airs à cinq voix, très agréables d’harmonie, d’un rhythme parfois original et assez mélodieux.’ The verve and animation displayed in the performances of ‘Ces faux Abyssiniens’ (to adopt his own designation) met with his approval, and he does not fail to record ‘les shillings et même les demi-couronnes’ which passed into the exchequer of those peripatetic, if not very pathetic, burnt-cork minstrels
[The allusion to ‘airs à cinq voix’ is a little puzzling, as suggesting a rather elaborate type of choralism.]
In a later edition [of The Musical Times] we find Edward Holmes, ‘Author of the Life of Mozart’ (an admirable Life that is still published and read today), giving us a summary of an article in a Paris journal by one of the musical Jurors of the Exhibition — Hector Berlioz. Monsieur Berlioz has been the day before to hear the Charity Children in St. Paul’s, and is still dazed by the wonderful experience:
At night he cannot close his eyes, and he rises early to wend his way to the Palace, to contemplate London asleep, and to think with Wordsworth:—
‘That mighty heart is lying still.’
No appearance as yet, of mop or pail at any of the doors; an old Irishwoman is squatting on her heels and smoking a pipe in a corner of Manchester Square — the cows stretched on the grass in Hyde-park are quietly ruminating; the little three-master slumbers in the Serpentine; and some heavy lucid drops are beginning to fall down from the glass roof of the Palace open to ‘All people that on earth do dwell.’
The man who guards the portals of the Exhibition, accustomed to see Berlioz pass at all hours, admits him at once. The vast solitude, the silence of the interior of the Palace at seven o’clock in the morning, strikes him as a spectacle of singular grandeur:—
‘All these silent fountains, these dumb organs, these motionless trees, this harmonious range of products transported from all corners of the earth by a hundred rival nations — ingenious labours born of peace, and instruments of destruction, which remind of war, seem then to be conversing among themselves in an unknown and mysterious language which must be heard by the ear of the spirit.’
Thinking himself the sole living being within the walls, he is trying to interpret the conversation, but he finds he has two companions, a Chinese and a sparrow. With his most gracious air he approaches the Chinaman, who is cleaning some porcelain vases, and tenderly watering a poor Chinese flower. His ‘Good morning, sir,’ however receives no reply. John Chinaman turns his back, and taking some sandwiches out of a box, begins to munch with a seeming great contempt for such barbarian meats. Berlioz fancies that he sighs for the swallow-nest soup and other delicacies of the Celestial Empire.
He was more fortunate in cultivating the acquaintance of a sparrow which was hopping in and out of the mouth of the great brass cannon cast at Seville; he feeds this bird with some crumbs of biscuit that remain from his lunch at St. Paul’s. Hosts of sparrows, we are told, were caught in that singular trap of Mr. Paxton’s, but most of them had been poisoned. This was — ‘the Joash of his race — the sole survivor of the fury of Athalia’ — Berlioz knows his retreat and will try to preserve him.
Ruminating thus, the great Irish bell in the Eastern gallery strikes eight, the fountains begin to play, the policemen take their places, M. Ducroquet’s apprentice approaches the organ of his master meditating the new polka with which he intends to favour us — the manufacturers from Lyons are coming, and the diamonds, prudently hidden during the night, begin to reappear. Berlioz is beginning to feel sleepy, and is just nodding on the stool of Erard’s Grand Piano, when his arm is touched, and he sees Thalberg. Ah, Confrère — the jury is assembling, and we must be diligent — there are 32 musical snuff-boxes, 24 accordions, and 13 bombardons for us to examine to-day!
(Scholes here writes in detail about the organs exhibited and related issues as reported in The Musical Times.)
So much for the organs. Now for the Pianofortes. In this department serious trouble arose, for we read in November:
THE GREAT EXHIBITION. — The award of the Council of Chairmen has given the greatest dissatisfaction re the pianoforte prizes distributed by the Royal Commissioners of the Great Exhibition. It may naturally be asked who are they that, in musical matters, can be considered competent to reverse the verdict pronounced by musicians such as Sir H. Bishop, Sir G. Smart, Thalberg, Sterndale Bennett, Cipriani Potter, Neukomm, Berlioz, etc.? These well-known professors awarded a Council medal to Messrs. Broadwoods, but the decision was rescinded. Without expressing an opinion on the merits of the case, such a proceeding must at once be pronounced extraordinary, to say the least of it.
And that is about all that The Musical Times tells
us of the Great Exhibition of
1851, but of musical events in the same glass
palace when, it had been miraculously transported to Sydenham
its writers, for many years, are eloquent enough.
And The Musical Times does not fail to remind its
readers (Nov. 1894 and July 1895) of the approval lavished on the waltzes of the
Strausses by such musicians as Berlioz, Wagner, Brahms . . .
(Alongside the banjo, mandolin and balalaika, Scholes makes mention of the guitar.)
The guitar is, of course an instrument of enormously greater artistic capabilities than the banjo. Schubert, Weber and Berlioz played it; Paganini dropped the violin for three years to devote himself to it and wrote twelve sonatas for it, as also three quartets for violin, viola, guitar and ’cello.
* We are most grateful to our friend Alan Merryweather for this contribution to our site. We have added a number of links and references of our own in the body of the article, in conventional and square brackets as appropriate.
See also on this site: My Litany of Love, by Alan Merryweather
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 15 August 2009.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
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