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This is the house where Prosper Sainton lived; Berlioz had dinner with Wagner here around 20 June 1855. Sainton, a Frenchman from Toulouse, was a distinguished violinist who settled in London; in 1860 he married an English singer. During this visit Berlioz’s conducting engagement with the New Philharmonic Society at Exeter Hall coincided with that of Wagner’s with the old [Royal] Philharmonic Society at Hanover Square Rooms. The two attended some of each other’s concerts and met a few times, the most celebrated occasion being that at Sainton’s (see the photo below). Their meetings in London are known from the correspondence of the two composers, and from a passage in Wagner’s autobiography (Mein Leben). The relevant texts are cited in full in English translation and set in the wider context of the relations between the two men on the page Berlioz and Wagner. The most important texts are first a letter from Berlioz to Liszt dated 24-25 June (Correspondance Générale no. 1987):
[…] These last few days we talked here a great deal about you with Wagner, and you can imagine with what affection; take my word for it, I believe he loves you as much as I do myself.
He will probably tell you about his stay in London and all he has had to suffer from preconceived hostility. He is superb in his fire, warmth and ardour, and I confess that I find even the violence of his outbursts compelling. It seems that fate is preventing me from hearing anything of his recent compositions. The day when, at the request of Prince Albert, he conducted his Tannhäuser overture at Hanover Square Rooms I was at the same time forced to attend a dreadful choral rehearsal for the concert of the New Philharmonic which I was due to conduct two days later. […] Despite a few real absentees from the orchestra the first two pieces of Roméo went well. The Fête chez Capulet was even played with such verve that for the first time since this symphony exists it was encored to great applause from the vast audience in Exeter Hall. There were many mistakes in the Queen Mab Scherzo. […]
Wagner is ending tomorrow Monday with the Hanover Square concerts, and will hurry away the day after. We are dining together before his concert. There is something singularly attractive about him, and though we may both have our rough edges at least they dovetail […]
Then there is a letter from Wagner to Liszt dated 5 July:
[…] I am bringing back from England a real gain: the cordial and deep friendship which I have conceived for Berlioz and which we both sealed. I heard a concert of the New Philharmonic under his direction; I was not much impressed by his conducting of Mozart’s symphony in G minor and had to feel sorry for him for the performance of his symphony Romeo and Juliet which was very unsatisfactory. A few days later we were both on our own at dinner at Sainton’s: he was very lively, and the progress I had made in French in London enabled me in the course of our five-hour meeting to have a stimulating discussion with him on all aspects of art, philosophy and life. I gained in this way a deep sympathy for my new friend; he came across to me as a completely different person than he had been before; we suddenly discovered in each other a genuine companion in misfortune, and I judged myself more fortunate than Berlioz. – After my last concert he paid me a visit with my few remaining London friends; his wife was also present; we stayed together till 3 in the morning, and parted on that occasion with warm embraces. […]
Further evidence is cited and discussed on the page Berlioz and Wagner.
As visitors to the Hector Berlioz Website know, Olivier Teitgen has written a play in French, L’Entente cordiale, which takes at its starting point this two-man dinner party. The conversation between them and the views they express are based on the memoirs, letters, and other writings of the two men. The full text of this play has been placed, with the author’s agreement, on a specially created page on this site. You can access the page and read this play at: Entente Cordiale.
The photo reproduced on this page was taken by Michel Austin in 2001. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for the picture and information on this page.
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