Hector Berlioz

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Berlioz in London

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Berlioz's Third Century


Contents of this page:

First visit: 3 November 1847 – 13 July 1848
Second visit: 10 May – 28 July 1851
Third visit: 4 March – 20 June 1852
Fourth visit: 14 May – 9 July 1853
Fifth visit: 8 June – 7 July 1855

List of residential addresses
List of public buildings

This page is also available in French

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    In Berlioz’s time London was the largest and richest city in Europe. England may not have had its Mozart or Beethoven, but London had long been dedicated to music, as Berlioz was able to appreciate later: ‘I am convinced that there is no city in the world where as much music is consumed as in London’, he wrote in 1851 (Journal des Débats 29 July, p. 2; reproduced in 1852 in Les Soirées de l’Orchestre, 21st Evening) and he repeated the observation in 1853 (Journal des Débats 26 July, p. 2; reproduced in 1859 in Les Grotesques de la musique). A diary of concerts in the Illustrated London News for May 4th, 1850, vividly illustrates these observations. Long before Berlioz came on the scene London had attracted large numbers of composers and musicians from all over Europe, many of them from Germany. Handel first came to London in 1710 and settled there permanently two years later until his death in 1759. Paris and London were the first destinations on the European tours organised by Leopold Mozart for his prodigy son Wolfgang and his daughter Maria Anna (1763-5). Haydn made two noted visits in 1791-2 and again in 1794-5 at the invitation of the impresario Salomon, himself a German-born musician. It was in response to a commission made in 1817 by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London that Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony. And it was in London that Weber died in 1826 after staging there his last opera Oberon, as Berlioz mentions in his Memoirs (chapter 16).

    From an early date Berlioz took London seriously as one of the major musical centres of Europe, to be mentioned in the same breath as Paris, Vienna or Berlin. Almost as soon as he embarked on his career as music critic he had frequent occasion to include in his feuilletons notices of musical and other notable events in London and elsewhere in England, thus in 1834 (Critique Musicale [hereafter abbreviated CM] I pp. 178, 289-91, 343-6), 1835 (CM II pp. 197-9, 325), 1837 (CM III pp. 160-3, 286-7), 1838 (CM III p. 486), 1840 (CM IV pp. 353, 365-6), 1842 (CM V p. 210), 1844 (CM V pp. 489-91, 615), 1845-7 (CM VI pp. 31-2, 95-6, 233-4, 273).

    He also kept an eye on the London press and was particularly alert to their reactions to his own compositions and to his concerts in Paris. Thus after the first performance of the Requiem he wrote to his mother (Correspondance Générale no. 529, hereafter CG for short; 17 December 1837): ‘I have sent you twenty or so papers in two bundles, and I imagine you have received them all. The English press has also been very good, so we can take satisfaction in causing a tremendous stir in the four corners of the world’. Before the publication of the Requiem he even wrote to Queen Victoria asking her to subscribe to the new work (CG no. 544, 17 March 1838); it is not known whether he received a reply. Later the same year Paganini’s gift to Berlioz received wide comment in the German and English press, much to Berlioz’s satisfaction. ‘What a stir in Germany and England! A homage like this coming from an Italian! It is stunning!’ he writes to his sister Adèle on 20 December (CG no. 608). To Édouard Rocher on 28 December (CG no. 612): ‘The consequences of this ringing endorsement by one of the greatest musicians who has ever existed are incalculable, especially in Germany and England, and I can already sense it here’. ‘The English papers are perfect, there is a tremendous stir in London’, he writes to Humbert Ferrand a few days later (CG no. 616; 2 January 1839). Visitors came from London for the first performances of Roméo et Juliette at the end of the year (CG no. 696); ‘the London press treated me splendidly’ he writes to Ferrand not long after (CG no. 700, 31 January 1840; cf. 690). A few years later, in 1843, on returning from his first tour of Germany he similarly noted its impact on the English scene, as he wrote to his father (CG no. 838, 4 or 5 June): ‘This musical journey caused an extraordinary commotion in the German press, and as a consequence also in newspapers in France, England and Italy’.

    But for Berlioz London – or more widely England – had more than just musical significance: England was the land of Shakespeare, whose plays he had discovered in September 1827 through the performances of a company of English actors at the Odéon theatre in Paris. The intelligentsia of the French capital was taken by storm, and for Berlioz the artistic impact of the event was further magnified by the personal impression made on him by the Irish actress Harriet Smithson in the roles of Ophelia and Juliet (Memoirs ch. 18). The sequel of the story is too well known to need elaboration. Shakespeare was, by Berlioz’s own testimony, the greatest influence of all on his own artistic personality and outlook, and directly or indirectly an inspiration for many of his greatest works from then on to the end of his career. He acknowledged his debt by framing his Memoirs with a quotation from Macbeth, first in French translation, then at the end in the English original, and Shakespeare’s name appears in chapter after chapter (some 73 times in all). Quotations or paraphrases from Shakespeare in the original – a recognisable Berlioz trademark – abound throughout the composer’s writings and correspondence: the first is to be found in a letter to Humbert Ferrand dated 29 November 1827, the earliest preserved letter following the revelatory performances at the Odéon (CG no. 77).

    One immediate consequence of his experiences at the Odéon in September 1827 was thus linguistic. Berlioz had been taught Latin by his father during his early years at La Côte; he started to learn Italian in 1826 (CG no. 63), and English was the next living language he attempted to learn himself. The motivation for this was literary, not practical: distrustful as he was of translations and translators (cf. CG nos. 1562, 1568, 2181, 2712), he wanted to be able to read Shakespeare in the original, and the ability to do so was for him the test of linguistic competence, as he wrote several years later to his sister Nanci (CG no. 877, 5 January 1844; cf. 2198 to his nieces, in 1857):

[…] My compliments on your English studies; you can now take satisfaction in the thought that after working ten hours a day, poring over old dictionaries, and going to spend ten years living in England you will be able within less than fifteen years to gain a little understanding of Shakespeare. […]

    To this motive might be added the wish to be able to converse with Harriet Smithson in her own language. Allusions in Berlioz’s correspondence in 1828 and 1829 show that in this period he followed intermittently classes in English that were open to the public, and had probably started doing this before the end of 1827. Early in 1828 he sent to his sister Nanci a volume of poems by Thomas Moore with the comment (CG no. 79, 10 January):

[…] There is real poetry for you, though a translation must distort considerably the original ideas!… I wish I could read it in the original, but I have been obliged to suspend my classes in English. […]

    Then again to Nanci on 1 November of the same year, after meeting Ludwig Schlösser, an admirer of Shakespeare who, as he noted, could read English (CG no. 100; cf. 102):

[…] I bitterly regret not being able to learn English more quickly; it is not enough to follow public classes in English three times a week where it takes an hour to learn what you could pick up in fifteen minutes in a private lesson; but I am short of money and cannot afford a private teacher. […]

    The last reference to these English classes is in a letter to his mother of 10 May 1829: ‘I have been obliged to suspend temporarily my English lessons, and I do not know when I will be able to resume them. I have no time to spare’ (CG no. 125). It does not appear that after this date Berlioz took any formal lessons again, though he evidently continued to read literary texts in English, and in the years to come he followed regularly the London press. By 1829 he had evidently picked up enough of the language to feel able to write a letter in English to Harriet Smithson (CG no. 117; the letter is not preserved). When years later he eventually came to London in November 1847 he expressed surprise at how well he was able to manage in English, though he could only understand about half of what was said to him (CG no. 1134). This was in contrast to his avowed ignorance of German: it was through the French translation of Gérard de Nerval that he discovered Goethe’s Faust in 1829 (Memoirs, ch. 26), but his admiration for the work never encouraged him to learn the language, nor for that matter did the long-conceived plan of travelling to Germany to perform his music. He was always very conscious of this deficiency (cf. e.g. CG nos. 792, 2014). Years later, in December 1853, he was reproached by the choristers in Leipzig for speaking to them in English, not in German (CG no. 1669). It is no coincidence that in his letters he hardly ever uses any German words or quotations.

    Berlioz never became completely fluent in English, as he acknowledged himself (cf. CG nos. 1179 in 1848; 1984 and 2049, both in 1855), just as Harriet Smithson never fully mastered French. The English he uses occasionally in his correspondence is frequently unidiomatic or even incorrect (e.g. CG nos. 1284, 1405, 1475), and he preferred to correspond with his English friends such as J. W. Davison in French. But he knew enough of the language to feel more at home and integrated in London society than was the case in his travels to Germany. His stays in London were generally of much longer duration than those in individual German cities. It is noticeable in this context that whereas in his travels to Germany and elsewhere Berlioz usually stayed in hotels, in London he normally stayed in rented accommodation, which gave him the chance to participate more fully in the social life of the capital. From his first trip to London in 1847-8 to his last in 1855 he could contemplate the possibility of settling there for a longer period of time (CG nos. 1162, 1163, 1451, 1619, 1984), a possibility he rejected outright in Vienna in 1846 when it was offered to him. London, in short, offered Berlioz a possible alternative to Paris, as it did to many other French musicians.

    It was thus inevitable that sooner or later Berlioz would be attracted to London to perform his music, though in the event it took much longer than expected for this to happen. In the mid 1830s he contemplated briefly the possibility of travelling to England with Harriet (CG no. 435), but the idea was soon abandoned as the condition of dramatic art in London seemed to them to have changed for the worse (CG nos. 439, 458, 464, 501). Harriet thus never returned to England or to her native Ireland. But in the following years Berlioz’s reputation in London was gradually spreading and his music – at least the few works of his that were so far published – received occasional performance, though the first known such performance, that of the Francs-Juges overture early in 1834 by the [Royal] Philharmonic Society of London, was a fiasco. This is known from two letters of Berlioz to Schumann three years later, in late 1836 and early 1837, in which he stigmatises the lack of proper rehearsal by the English musicians (CG nos. 485bis [in vol. VIII], 486; cf. 493); the pitfalls of inadequate rehearsal were forever linked in his mind to London musical life (cf. CG nos. 593, 1185, 1451, 1572, 1596, 1598, 1988, 2204, 2357, 2849, 3287). This explains the cautious response he gave in 1838 to the first invitation he is known to have received from London, which he mentions in a letter to his sister Adèle (CG no. 593, 5 December):

[…] The success of the first concert [at the Conservatoire on 25 November, conducted by Habeneck] has been huge […] Yesterday Lord Burghish [Burgersh], the president of the Philharmonic Society of London who was present at the first concert, enquired under what conditions I would be willing to go and spend two months in London to perform my symphonies… it might be possible to reach an agreement, at least as far as the question of money is concerned, but I am worried about the performers. The English are terrible musicians, they refuse to have rehearsals and believe, like the Italians, that they are the greatest players in the world. […]

    No immediate decision was made, though more approaches were to follow in the coming years. A few months later Berlioz heard of the successful performance in London of the Waverley overture by the Royal Academy of Music (CG no. 649, 11 May 1839). In December of the following year there was renewed talk of a two-month invitation to conduct concerts in London, but Berlioz found the conditions unacceptable (CG nos. 739, 740). He explained his refusal in a letter of January 1841 to an unknown correspondent who had sent him a newspaper report about the performance of two of his overtures, Les Francs-Juges and King Lear, at a showy concert organised by the impresario Louis-Antoine Jullien with the evident intention of generating publicity (CG no. 741):

[…] It is precisely to avoid being involved in performances of this kind that I am very wary of all the offers that come to me from England; and it is to make sure that my works are not performed in spite of myself that I have obstinately refused to have my symphonies published. I even regret that the printing of a few of my overtures has allowed them to get into circulation. […]
P.S. If you have the opportunity to write about me in your correspondence, please do so along the lines I have indicated. In other words introduce me to the English public as an artist who cares too much for the approval of intelligent listeners not to demand every guarantee for the good performance of his works and the fullest assurance that he will have nothing to do with the musical habits which the editor of the Atlas has stigmatised with such vigour.

    Two other letters of January 1841 turn down offers to have his Symphonie funèbre et triomphale performed in London in his absence (CG nos. 742ter and 742quater, both in vol. VIII), and a letter of March to his sister Adèle mentions Berlioz’s rejection of yet another offer to come and conduct in London, ‘once again to safeguard the future and also not to be away from Paris for a moment’ (CG no. 745).

    Berlioz’s priorities for travel abroad were directed at this time elsewhere, to the long-delayed plan of visiting Germany which finally took shape in the autumn of 1842. Just as he was departing for his first trip to Germany the Royal Philharmonic Society of London sent him an invitation to come and conduct two concerts in May 1843; he only received the letter on his return several months later and his reply in early June came too late for the invitation to be followed up (CG nos. 791ter, 821bis, 837bis [all in vol. VIII], 838, 839, 841). In the meantime Berlioz was interested in getting his newly completed Treatise on Orchestration published in an English edition as well as in German and Italian, and was in correspondence with his friend the composer Julius Benedict on the subject (CG nos. 772ter, 777bis [both in vol. VIII], 791, 841, cf. 861). Though in 1845 and 1846 his travel priorities continued to be directed towards Germany and central Europe he kept in touch with developments in London, as can be seen from the attention he paid to the London press (CG nos. 958, 967, 1017). Early in January 1847, after the failure of the Damnation of Faust in Paris and on the eve of his departure for Russia, he mentioned the possibility of a trip to London after his return and was clearly preparing the ground for this (CG nos. 1092, 1093; cf. further 1260). During August the plan took concrete shape, as he writes to his sister Nanci (CG no. 1126, 25 August; cf. 1122, 1127, 1135):

[…] While this matter was dragging on [Berlioz’s attempt to secure a position at the Opéra], thanks to a thousand contradictory plots and the meanness of the Directors over the question of my salary, the director of the Drury-Lane Theatre came from London and offered me the position of conductor of the Great English Opera. This will keep me busy for only three months a year and will bring me 10,000 francs; in addition he is asking me to conduct four concerts in London composed exclusively of my works, and guarantees me a further 10,000 francs; on top of it he is also asking me for a three-act opera which will be performed in a year or fifteen months. As a result I have decided to give politely back their word to our poor directors in Paris, and I have given up fair France for perfidious Albion. […]

    The director of Drury Lane was Louis-Antoine Jullien (1812-1860) a musician and impresario who had been taught at the Conservatoire in Paris but who spent an important part of his chequered career in London, where his Promenade Concerts won him great popularity. Berlioz had met him previously and knew of his activities in London; he will have had good reason to be wary of Jullien from the reports, mentioned above, of a concert organised by him early in 1841. But Jullien was evidently anxious to attract to London a composer and conductor whose reputation in Europe was growing year by year, and Berlioz on his side could not fail to be tempted by the very generous terms offered: on paper they guaranteed him a secure position for the next six years. The Escudier brothers, a firm of publishers in Paris who were on good terms with Berlioz, acted as intermediaries, for which they charged a commission (cf. CG nos. 1124, 1165). A draft of a contract between Berlioz and Jullien, in Berlioz’s own hand, is extant (for the text see CG vol. III pp. 765-7). On 3 November Berlioz eventually departed for London full of optimism and glad to be leaving France (CG no. 1131 [cf. vol. VIII]; 1 November). Unlike his trips to Germany and central Europe in 1842-3 and 1845-6 this time he left on his own and without Marie Recio. London was the last major musical centre in Europe that he had not yet visited.

First Visit: November 1847 to July 1848



19 August: Berlioz signs a 6-year contract with Jullien to conduct the Theatre Royal Drury Lane
3 November: Berlioz leaves for London without Marie Recio
4 November: arrival of Berlioz in London where he stays at 76 Harley Street; death of Mendelssohn
17 November: Berlioz hears Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Exeter Hall
23 November: Berlioz attends a dinner party in his honour given by the actor Macready 
6 December: opening of the Drury Lane season with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; Marie Recio joins Berlioz in London for a short time
20 December: opening performance at Drury Lane of Balfe’s opera The Maid of Honour, conducted by the composer


2 or 28 January (?): Berlioz, unwell, hands his baton temporarily to the leader of the orchestra Tolbecque
By 14 January: Berlioz is made aware of Jullien’s precarious financial position
4 February: Berlioz is received by the Comte d’Orsay with a recommendation from Alfred de Vigny
7 February: Berlioz’s first concert in London, at Drury Lane theatre
9 February: benefit concert at Drury Lane for the tenor Reeves; the Roman Carnival overture and the second movement of the symphony Harold in Italy are encored
11 February: opening performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at Drury Lane, Berlioz conducting
18 February: performance of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale at Buckingham Palace before Prince Albert, Godfrey conducting
22 February: toast in honour of Berlioz at the banquet of the Society of English Musicians
24 February: abdication of Louis-Philippe in Paris
26 February: proclamation in France of the Second Republic
Late February-early March: plans for a concert at Covent Garden of works of Berlioz inspired by Shakespeare
13 March: Berlioz hears the opening concert of the Philharmonic Society at Exeter Hall, where Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony is performed
21 March to 10 April: Berlioz writes the preface and first four chapters of the Memoirs
7 April: Berlioz conducts a concert by a new amateur musical society
20 April: Berlioz is forced by the bailiffs to leave 76 Harley Street; he moves to 26 Osnaburgh Street
22 April: Jullien’s bankruptcy is reported by the London press
24 April: Marie Recio joins Berlioz in London
Early May: Berlioz and Marie Recio hear Jenny Lind at Her Majesty’s Theatre
Around 15-20 May: Berlioz and Marie Recio attend a performance of Hamlet at the Royal Olympic Theatre
Around 20 May: publication in London of a piano reduction of the Apotheosis of the Symphonie funèbre and of the Hungarian March
16 June: Berlioz conducts the Hungarian March at Covent Garden
29 June: Berlioz’s second concert in London, at Hanover Square Rooms
3 July: Berlioz dines with the actor Macready
4 July: completion of the orchestral version of The Death of Ophelia
Around 14 July: Berlioz and Marie Recio return to Paris


    Berlioz’s first stay in London was the longest period he ever spent in any single city outside France (with the exception of Rome). But after the high expectations of the first few weeks the hopes Berlioz had placed in his trip to London were to be disappointed. Jullien’s mismanagement and eventual bankruptcy led to the collapse of his venture early in 1848 and left Berlioz stranded in London (see the page on Drury Lane). This was then quickly followed by the political upheavals which started in France in late February, then spread violently to continental Europe and cast a cloud over Berlioz’s prospects for the following years. And not long after Berlioz’s return to Paris in July came the news of the death of his father, about whose health Berlioz had long been worried. 1848 was thus a pivotal and traumatic year in Berlioz’s career. The trip to London is mentioned by Berlioz in his Memoirs (chapter 57), though rather briefly and negatively: the account emphasises above all Jullien’s instability and gross mismanagement of his operatic venture and does not seek to provide any counterpart to the lengthy accounts of Berlioz’s earlier travels to Germany, central Europe and Russia between 1842 and 1847. On the other hand a large number of letters of Berlioz survive for the period of his stay and give a vivid and detailed glimpse of his varied experiences there. In addition, the London press of the time gives concrete evidence of the positive reception he was given by the musical world and the public in London, and the reminiscences published later by several of his London acquaintances provide further information.

Music-making and publications

    In the event and because of adverse circumstances Berlioz only managed to give two concerts of his own music in London (at Drury Lane and Hanover Square Rooms), far fewer than in his previous extended travels abroad. The months he spent in London were also largely barren of new compositions, unlike his stay in Vienna and Central Europe in 1845-1846. Various projects fell by the wayside. The arrangement of God save the Queen that Jullien had suggested for the opening night at Drury Lane (CG no. 1134) did not materialise; Berlioz may have quietly dropped the idea. Another project suggested by Jullien which also lapsed was a ballet to a scenario by Théophile Gautier. Berlioz was not expected to write the music for it but was involved as an intermediary in negotiating with Gautier and thus suffered embarrassment as a result of Jullien’s bankruptcy (CG nos. 1137, 1146, 1148, 1153, 1155, 1245).

    For the opera that he was supposed to write for the 1849 season at Drury Lane (CG nos. 1126, 1135), and for which he had very little time, Berlioz considered developing his recently completed Damnation of Faust into an opera. For La Damnation de Faust he had completed himself the libretto, only part of which had been supplied by the poet Almire Gandonnière. He now considered turning again to a librettist to provide the extra text needed, and to none other than Scribe, with whom he had collaborated in 1841-1842 on an opera, La Nonne Sanglante, which had remained unfinished as neither man was very enthusiastic. He mentioned the idea to Scribe during the summer when the plan for the London visit was taking shape, though since Jullien had already agreed to perform a work on the same Faust subject (by Spohr) the idea was initially put on hold (CG no. 1122). When he reached London the plan was apparently revived and Berlioz corresponded with Scribe on the subject during November and December (CG nos. 1138, 1145, 1151). An important feature of the projected opera was to be an extended role for Mephistopheles, specifically for the benefit of the great baritone Pischek whom Berlioz had heard and admired in Frankfurt and Vienna during his travels to Germany. It is not clear how far Berlioz was serious about the project, and the idea of a collaboration with Scribe cannot have seemed enticing after his experiences with La Nonne Sanglante (he considered at one point using music from La Nonne for the Drury Lane season of 1849, though without any conviction: CG nos. 1122, 1138). The Faust plan would have involved revising a major score that he had only recently completed and which had already been successfully performed in Russia and Berlin, unlike Benvenuto Cellini which had to be rescued and revived by Liszt and Berlioz in Weimar a few years later in 1852 (it is striking that apparently Berlioz did not think of offering Benvenuto Cellini to Jullien). After a few weeks the idea seemingly lapsed altogether; it did not survive Jullien’s bankruptcy and is not mentioned subsequently by Berlioz in his correspondence or his Memoirs. In the coming years the Damnation of Faust continued to be performed by Berlioz as originally written, and it was eventually published in this form in 1854.

    Though Berlioz did not compose any new music during his stay in London, he worked on a number of arrangements for publication by the firm of Frederick Beale, with whom he had become friendly. The success of the first two parts of the (still unpublished) Damnation of Faust at the concert on 7 February encouraged Beale to suggest issuing the three orchestral pieces from the work – the Hungarian March, Dance of the Sylphs and Minuet of the Wills-o’-the-Wisps – in a piano transcription by Julius Benedict, though only the first piece came out; it was also published the same year by Brandus in Paris (CG no. 1179, 1184, 1200, 1211). Berlioz also took advantage of the current patriotic fervour aroused by the revolution in France to make an arrangement for voice and piano of the Marseillaise, as well as of two songs by Méhul and Rouget de Lisle, though it is not clear whether these last two were ever issued (CG no. 1184). In the same spirit he made an arrangement for chorus and orchestra of the Apothéose from his Symphonie funèbre, another piece that had been very successful at his first London concert (CG nos. 1184, 1185, 1191), though when it was eventually published in May Berlioz had to apologise to the dedicatee of the arrangement, his friend the architect Louis-Joseph Duc (CG no. 1200):

Our piece (the Apotheosis) has at last been published. They felt they had to mutilate the title. I had written: Composed for the inauguration of the Bastille column, and further down « Dedicated to M. Duc, architect of the column of the Bastille. » This made clear the reference to the column and the appropriateness of the dedication. But since the recent Chartist movement, the bourgeois of London have a profound horror for anything that is remotely connected with revolutions, and as a result my publisher refused to have any allusion in the title of the piece to your monument or to those for whom it was erected. […]

    In a different category from all these arrangements Berlioz also orchestrated during his stay in London his ballad The Death of Ophelia in a version for women’s voices (the original, dating from 1842, was for solo voice and piano). The work probably had a deep personal significance for Berlioz, but it is not known what prompted him to revisit it at this time. The orchestration is mentioned in connection with the projected concert at Covent Garden of music associated with Shakespeare (CG nos. 1179, 1185). The scoring was completed on 4 July, but only published in 1852 as the second of the three pieces collected as Tristia, a work Berlioz never heard performed.

Berlioz and London society

    Musically Berlioz achieved relatively little during his first stay in London, yet the visit was of great significance for his subsequent career: he was warmly welcomed by every section of London musical society, the musicians themselves, the press and the general public. He was very appreciative of London audiences: ‘There is much to be done here, because of the public which is attentive, intelligent, and truly devoted to serious works’ (CG no. 1170); ‘The London public is very attentive and serious in its tastes, and I have been able to see for myself its excellent qualities’ (CG no. 1200); ‘The (musical) English really love music, they listen to it attentively and have a keen feeling for it. The others are barbarians, like the French, like the three quarters of the population of Europe and all other nations in their entirety. Musical feeling is given to very few people, but it gives glimpses of the infinite’ (CG no. 1598bis [in vol. VIII]; cf. also 1209, 1542, 1987). In the musical world and in London society generally he made numerous friends and hardly any enemies. With no major linguistic obstacle to overcome, unlike during his visits to the German-speaking world, he integrated with ease in English society, and this guaranteed that he would return there in future. One may draw a contrast with Wagner’s far less successful visit to London in 1855 where he had to face a generally hostile press.

    Well before he set foot in London Berlioz was already friendly with members of the London musical scene, several of them not English but Germans who had settled in London (see the page Berlioz in London: friends and acquaintances). Such were the composer Julius Benedict, the critic Charles Gruneisen, with whom he travelled to London on 3-4 November 1847 (CG no. 1134), or the pianist Charles Hallé who settled in London as a result of the 1848 revolution (CG no. 1188) and later founded the Hallé orchestra in Manchester. French musicians active in London were also numerous, such as the violinists Prosper Sainton and Jean-Baptiste Tolbecque. The Drury Lane orchestra included many such musicians from continental Europe (CG nos. 1134, 1146). During his first stay in London Berlioz met many other leading figures in London musical life, such as the publisher Frederick Beale (see above); the critics Morris Barnett and Henry Chorley who translated the Damnation of Faust for the concert of 7 February (CG no. 1172); Edward Holmes, another critic and author of a biography of Mozart, who was very appreciative of Berlioz’s music; and the writer James Davison who was to become one of Berlioz’s closest friends in London. Berlioz’s circle of acquaintances extended beyond the musical world: soon after his arrival he was entertained by the great actor William Macready, who had once partnered Harriet Smithson on the stage in London; Berlioz expressed a warm admiration for his talent (CG no. 1146). During his stay in London Berlioz was a frequent visitor to the theatre; a letter of May 1848 tells in detail of a performance of Hamlet he saw with Marie Recio (CG no. 1200; according to Ganz [1950], p. 65 this was at the Royal Olympic Theatre, Wych Street).

    Several letters of Berlioz give vivid glimpses of his life in London at the time. For example to the publisher Brandus in Paris (CG no. 1179; 24 February 1848):

[…] I have just attended the annual banquet of the Society of English Musicians, presided over by the Duke of Cambridge. This society has been in existence for 110 years, and is very wealthy and powerful. I had been invited shortly after my arrival in London. The dinner was combined with a concert where old Braham sang, as did also Miss Dolby, Miss Lyon and Reeves; a large number of glees or madrigals by the old English masters was performed. At the dessert the president gave a toast in my honour, though I have been told that this is against the rules of the Society, and it was received with hurrahs and applause from the six hundred guests and the ladies who attended the banquet in a special gallery. I had to reply with a speech (in French, of course) and against my usual habit I was so composed that I was able to make an adequate speech, in which I thanked at once the public for their welcome on the day of my concert, the musicians for their outstanding performance of my music, and finally the critics of the press for the warm friendliness with which they all supported me. This went down extremely well. […]

    To Ernest Desmarest (CG no. 1181 [see vol. VIII]; 1 March):

[…] I am warmly welcomed everywhere; I have to make speeches all the time in reply to toasts at the meetings and dinners of musicians and writers to which I am invited. In truth we in continental Europe have serious misconceptions concerning the politeness of the English. And then they are a serious people and I am sick and tired of the Parisians’ constant way of treating everything as a joke. […]
I was dreadfully bored at the start, but now I am acclimatised, I have numerous and pleasant contacts, and all I miss is news from my true friends in Paris, yours in particular. […]

    To Joseph d’Ortigue, at a time when he had plenty of leisure, with the end of the Drury Lane season and before the arrival of Marie Recio in late April (CG no. 1185; 15 March):

[…] Life in London is even more absorbing than in Paris, and everything is commensurate with the immensity of the city. I get up at noon, at one o’clock come visitors, friends, new acquaintances and musicians who introduce themselves. Willy-nilly I lose a good three hours in this way. I work from 4 to 6; if I do not have any invitations I go out for dinner at some distance from where I live and read the newspapers. Then comes the time for theatres and concerts; I stay listening to music till half-past eleven, and then with three or four other musicians we go together to eat in a tavern and smoke till 2 in the morning. […]


    One element where Berlioz and the London public were at one was in their admiration for Mendelssohn (here again, Wagner in 1855 was at odds with London taste; cf. CG no. 1987). Berlioz had first met Mendelssohn in Rome in 1831 and saw him again in Leipzig in 1843; Mendelssohn himself had recently visited England twice in 1846 and 1847 to perform his latest oratorio Elijah. But his health had been poor for some time, and he died on 4 November 1847, coincidentally the very day that Berlioz arrived in London. ‘It is a heavy blow that death has struck against dignified and serious music, and we must all feel this deeply’, wrote Berlioz to Chorley some ten days later (CG no. 1139). Numerous memorial concerts were given, not a few of which Berlioz attended. To Vesque von Puttlingen in Vienna he wrote on 23 November (CG no. 1144; cf. 1170):

[…] I recently experienced a great musical emotion on hearing Mendelssohn’s Elijah. It is wonderfully great and beautiful. We have all felt very deeply the death of this eminent musician; it is a rude blow that death has struck against our art. I hear that you are putting on his last work for the annual concert of the Manège; I believe you will admire it as much as I do. For if I am not mistaken we share a very similar way of feeling music. […]

    Berlioz later referred to this performance of Elijah at Exeter Hall in the Journal des Débats of 31 May 1851 (p. 1; reproduced the following year in the Soirées de l’Orchestre, 21st Evening).

    On 13 March, at the first concert of the Philharmonic Society, conducted by Michael Costa, Berlioz heard for the first time Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony; a few days later he wrote to James Davison, himself a devoted admirer of Mendelssohn (CG no. 1187; cf. 1166, 1185):

[…] The other night at Exeter Hall I was searching for you as for a diamond in a sandpit. I wanted to tell you what you know as well as I do, that the [Italian] Symphony of Mendelssohn is a masterpiece struck in one single blow, in the manner of a gold medal. There is nothing more novel, more vital, more noble and more learned in its free inspiration. The Paris Conservatoire is not even aware of the existence of this magnificent composition; they will discover it in another ten years.

    Mendelssohn’s death, and the closeness Berlioz felt to the musical public in London, encouraged him to believe that his chances of a durable position in London were likely to take shape. To his sister Nanci he wrote on 14 January, even before his first concert (CG no. 1163, cf. 1162): ‘Everybody tells me here that there is a good position for me to occupy here, a position that has become free and remains vacant through the death of poor Mendelssohn, the idol of the English. Indeed I do not have any serious rivals here, and I believe that in a short while the hopes of my friends will be realised, if I am able to stay here for the whole of the season, that is to say until July. It would be a great feather in my cap.’ But Berlioz’s optimism was premature, as the next few months were to show, and in the end he had to return to a devastated Paris in July.

The Memoirs

    It was during his stay in London that Berlioz started writing his Memoirs. He had previously written pieces of an autobiographical character, such as the autobiographical sketch dating back to 1832, though it was written in the third and not the first person unlike the Memoirs. Between 1832 and 1836 he published numerous articles recounting his experiences of the Prix de Rome competition and his stay in Italy (CM I pp. 69-83, 91-7, 99-105, 107-12, 153-65, 211-13, 215-19, 239-44, 313-41; CM II pp. 155-69, 263-70, 275-82, 521-9, 567-70, 571-5, 577-81). After his two major trips to Germany (1842-3 and 1845-6) he published a series of letters relating to those trips, the first series of which was eventually collected in one volume in 1844 together with his Italian reminiscences under the title Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie. Much of the material from these earlier works was to be utilised again later in his Memoirs. But when Berlioz began the writing of his Memoirs in London in March 1848 he was going a step further: he was now presenting a comprehensive and continuous view of his career as a whole, starting with his childhood at La Côte-Saint-André (his early years had been mentioned in the autobiographical sketch of 1832 but only briefly).

    With the collapse of Jullien’s venture Berlioz found himself with the leisure to undertake this large-scale project. He was also on his own after the return of Marie Recio to Paris in the previous December (she had travelled to London to attend the opening night at Drury Lane), and the absence of Marie was a significant and welcome element (cf. CG nos. 1135, 1144, 1174). The writing of the Memoirs was in fact kept secret from Marie by Berlioz; strikingly she is never named anywhere in the work and only referred to briefly in two passages, the first in relation to Berlioz’s travels abroad from 1842 onwards, and the second in connection with her death in 1862, at which point he mentions belatedly and out of context the fact that he had married her in 1854 (chapter 51 and Postface). The central feminine figures in Berlioz’s account of his life were to be explicitly Estelle Fornier, his childhood love and Harriet Smithson (chapter 59), while Marie Recio was consigned, if not to complete oblivion, but at least to anonymity. Beyond this there are indications that Berlioz was in a retrospective mood even before he started writing in March 1848. A letter of 1 January 1848 to the cellist Tajan-Rogé in St Petersburg has a clear allusion to Estelle Fornier (CG no. 1158). Another preoccupation of particular relevance was the deteriorating health of his father (cf. CG no. 1190), whose figure dominates the opening chapters of the Memoirs, written in London. And the dramatic changes in the political landscape of Europe that were touched off by the revolution in France in February left Berlioz wondering about the future direction of his career in a world that seemed to be collapsing around him. To quote from the Preface, which is dated 21 March 1848:

[…] At this moment the Republican movement is running like a brazen steamroller all over Europe. Musical art, which everywhere was languishing in agony, is now truly dead, about to be buried or rather thrown on the rubbish dump. For me there is no longer any France or Germany. Russia is too far away and I cannot go back there. England has treated me with noble and cordial hospitality ever since I have been living here. But at the first tremors of collapsing thrones which are shaking the continent, swarms of distracted musicians flock to her from every point of the horizon seeking for refuge, like sea-birds taking shelter on land when a great storm at sea approaches. Will the metropolis of Britain be able to sustain so many exiles? Will it be prepared to listen to their sad songs in the midst of the proud clamours of neighbouring peoples as they crown themselves kings? […]

    This may be compared with a letter to his sister Nanci dated 4 April (CG no. 1190):

[…] The news from Paris gets every day more disgusting. I do not say alarming, there cannot be any alarm when there is no hope left. Within two months they will all be massacring each other. Here everything is already being prepared. Next Monday we will have 150,000 Chartists marching over the streets of London. The clubs are busy making long pikes for those who are unable to have rifles. The Irish are shuddering in their corner. But the insolent English aristocracy will not yield an inch of ground; it finds it quite natural that it should have everything while the destitute have nothing. […]
Terror is spreading here; the theatres are ruining themselves. I cannot do anything; everybody is frightened of undertaking anything that costs money. A swarm of musicians is flocking here from every corner of Europe, hoping to find a refuge in London but within a few days they will be greatly disappointed. I received an invitation to take part in the Norwich Festival which will take place in September and for which I would be decently paid. But between now and September the continent’s cap may be blown away by the eruption of the volcano smouldering underneath.

    (It should be mentioned incidentally that none of the extant letters of Berlioz from this period make any allusion to the fact that he was currently writing the Memoirs.) A few days later, towards the end of chapter 4, Berlioz interrupted his writing:

[…] I am pausing here a moment before starting on the story of my life in Paris and the relentless battles I had to wage almost from the moment of arrival and have never ceased to fight, against ideas, men and circumstances. The reader will allow me to pause for breath.
Besides, today (10 April) is the day when the demonstration of the 200,000 Chartists is due to take place. In perhaps a few hours England will be turned upside down like the rest of Europe, and even this place of refuge will be gone. I am about to see how the question will be resolved.
(8 o’clock in the evening). Come, the Chartists do not have the stuff of real revolutionaries. Everything went well. Cannons, those powerful orators, those voices of reason whose irresistible arguments penetrate deep into the masses, were on the platform. They did not even need to speak up, their sight was enough to convince every soul that a revolution was out of the question, and the Chartists dispersed in perfect order.
Good folk! You know how to stage a riot as well as the Italians know how to write symphonies. The same is probably true of the Irish, and O’Connel was right to keep saying to them: Keep agitating, but do not move!

    The next entry, still at the end of chapter 4, is then dated 12 July:

During the last three months I have been unable to continue work on these Memoirs. I am now departing for the sad country that is still called France, and which after all is my country. I will see how a musician can make a living there, or how long it takes for him to die in the midst of the ruins under which the flower of arts is crushed and buried. Farewell England!…

    The last entry in the chapter is dated 16 July, when Berlioz, now back in Paris, describes the destruction in the city after the violence of previous weeks. He ends the chapter with the words: ‘Let me continue my autobiography. I have nothing better to do. Besides, dwelling on the past will serve to distract my attention from the present’.

A balance-sheet

    Berlioz’s short and rather jaded view of his first London visit in chapter 57 of the Memoirs should be contrasted with more positive assessments in his correspondence. First, a letter to the director of the Musical World not long before he left London, a letter which was reproduced in two other London newspapers, the Morning Post and the Athenaeum; it starts with an echo of chapter 4 of the Memoirs (CG no. 1209; around 5-8 July):

Allow me to turn to your newspaper as to one which concerns itself exclusively with musical matters, to express in a few words feelings that are very natural after the welcome I have received in London. I am leaving and going back to the country that is still called France and which after all is my country. I will find out how a musician can live or how long he takes to die amidst the ruins under which the flower of art is crushed and buried. Whatever the duration of the torture that awaits me I will preserve to the end the most grateful memory of your excellent and talented musicians, of your intelligent and attentive public, and of our colleagues in the press who have consistently supported me in such a noble way.
I am doubly happy to have been able to admire in them those fine qualities of kindness, talent, and intelligent attentiveness allied to critical integrity. They are the manifest signs of a genuine love of art, and they must reassure all the friends of this poor great art about its future, by giving them the certainty that you will not allow it die. The personal aspect is thus merely secondary, for, believe me, I love music much more than I love my music, and I wish I had had more often the opportunity to demonstrate this.
Yes, our muse, terrified at the dreadful screams which echo from one end of the continent to the other, seems to me assured of a refuge in England. Her hospitality will be the more splendid the more frequently the host remembers that one of its sons is the greatest of poets, that music is one of the different forms of poetry, and that on the same freedom that Shakespeare used in his immortal conceptions depends the entire development of the music of the future.
So farewell to all of you who have treated me with such cordiality. It is with a heavy heart that I am leaving you and cannot help repeating these sad and solemn words of Hamlet’s father: Farewell, farewell, remember me.

    Second, a letter to Franz Liszt, with whom he had not been in touch for the whole of his stay in London; the letter was written in Paris about a week after his return (CG no. 1216; 23 July; cf. also 1240):

[…] I spent nine months in London; the director of Drury Lane, Jullien, a Frenchman and an idiot, went bankrupt and made me lose virtually everything. He did not even give me the receipts from my first concert. Once his bankruptcy was declared I recovered my freedom and gave another concert on my own account at Hanover Square Rooms; this was not long ago, on 29 June while they were shooting each other in Paris. I hardly made any money out of it; panic had long tightened the purse-strings of the English, and the French who had taken refuge in London were too patriotic not to stay resolutely at home. Nevertheless these two hearings have put me in a very good position in England; I was virtually carried in triumph by the entire press, with the exception of an old fool from the Morning Herald, I believe, who claims that I do not know counterpoint. I have left many supporters in London, a few friends, and many people with their mouth gaping, who stand in stupefaction before novelty and watch people passing by with the looks of coach drivers contemplating the passage of a steam-engine along a railway.
In sum I regret London very much, especially since I am here. […]

    Over the next two years Berlioz’s correspondence shows him keeping in touch with various friends in London and sometimes reminiscing about his time there (Panofka, Barnett, Ernst, Heller, Sainton, Wallace). Much of the years 1849 and 1850 were taken up with the organisation and running of the new Société Philharmonique in Paris, founded on the analogy of the Philharmonic Societies of London, Vienna and St Petersburg (CG no. 1289). In September 1849 there was a request from London for a performance of the newly composed Te Deum, though Berlioz at the time was unable to go; he was besides unwilling to let the work be performed in his absence and was wary of the conductor Michael Costa (CG nos. 1280-1). In September there was a suggestion by Beale for participation in concerts in Hanover Square Rooms the following May, though nothing came of this (CG no. 1345). But it would not be long before Berlioz was back in London.

Second visit: 10 May – 28 July 1851


April: Berlioz is invited by the Minister of Trade to be a member of the international jury assessing musical instruments exhibited at the Universal Exhibition in London
9 May (evening): Berlioz leaves for London with Marie Recio
10 May: crossing from Calais to Folkestone; Berlioz stays at 27 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square
31 May: publication in the Journal des Débats of the first of five letters on music in London, partly reproduced the following year in the Soirées de l’orchestre
Early June: Berlioz hears in St Paul’s the annual concert of the Charity Children given by a chorus of 6,500 children
June: Berlioz hears for the first time Mme Charton-Demeur at a concert of the Royal Philharmonic Society at Hanover Square Rooms
20 June: second letter on music in London in the Journal des Débats
1 July: third letter on music in London in the Journal des Débats
4 July: Berlioz hears at the Italian Theatre, then located at Covent Garden, Florinda ou les Mores en Espagne, an opera by Thalberg
Mid-July: the French government notifies Berlioz that his mission is terminated, but Berlioz stays on at his own expense to complete it
27 July: final day of Berlioz’s work as a juror
28 July: Berlioz and Marie Recio leave London
29 July: arrival in Paris; fourth letter on music in London in the Journal des Débats
12 August: fifth letter on music in London in the Journal des Débats

    1851 was the year of the Universal Exhibition in London, and in March Berlioz hinted in a letter to his sister Adèle that various plans were afoot which were likely to bring him to London in May (CG no. 1392, cf. 1395). The following month the plans took concrete shape, as he writes to his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1400; 15 April):

The Minister of Trade has just appointed me member of the jury which has the task of defending the interests of the French exhibitors in London. They cannot tell me precisely the date of departure of this commission, though it is possible that it will be in the early days of next month. […] The trip will be financed by the French government, though as the prudent man he is the Minister writes to me that at the moment he does not know how much money will be allocated for our expenses and travel. I fear it will be a very modest sum. And yet provided they are not too stingy I will accept. I am the only musician on the commission; I did not ask for anything and heard of my appointment through the papers; it is an honorific distinction and all my friends in London are delighted. I very much fear that this is not going to be a sinecure, and there will be stormy arguments between the exhibitors (of musical instruments) from Paris and Berlin. Both are among my friends and I will be between the hammer and the anvil. But I am determined to preside like a dignified Minos over these more or less harmonious proceedings, and not to dispense injustice. God only knows (and I bet he does not know anything) where and how I will be able to find lodgings. […]

    A few days later Berlioz officially accepted the appointment, with the pointed comment to the Minister: ‘I will do my best to show myself worthy of your confidence in defending the interests of the French exhibitors as far as the demands of art and the justice of their cause will permit me’ (CG no. 1402; 20 April). Before his departure Berlioz contacted some of his friends in London in connection with his coming visit (CG nos. 1404, 1405) and also asked for leave of absence from his post as Librarian of the Conservatoire (CG nos. 1408, 1409). On the day of his departure (9 May) he was as yet uncertain of his address in London, though the postal address he mentions in a letter to his friend Auguste Morel, 27 Queen Anne Street, is where he eventually stayed (CG no. 1411; as the letter shows the house belonged to a friend, Adolphe Duchène de Vère, who was resident in London).

    As Berlioz had expected, the assignment proved to be arduous and time-consuming (cf. CG nos. 1413, 1417, 1423), though he managed to enjoy the social life of London that he had already experienced on his first visit and to take walks in the countryside on Sundays (CG no. 1417). (It was during his stay in London that Charles Baugniet drew the portrait of Berlioz which is found on the top left of this page; Berlioz maintained friendly relations with him subsequently, cf. CG no. 1770.) Berlioz had little time to organise any musical activities of his own; a projected concert at Crystal Palace did not materialise (CG no. 1418) and nothing came of plans to have the newly written Te Deum performed in London (CG no. 1422), though he secured at least from Prince Albert the acceptance of the dedication of the work (CG no. 1418, though cf. 2211, in 1857). Although he did not put on any concerts himself he attended a number of operas and other musical events at Covent Garden, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Theatre Royal Haymarket, and Westminster Abbey. It was at a concert in Hanover Square Rooms that he heard for the first time the young singer Mme Charton-Demeur who impressed him greatly (CG no. 1428); she was to première the parts of Beatrice in Béatrice et Bénédict in Baden-Baden in 1862 and Dido in Les Troyens in Paris in 1863. But the greatest musical experience he had was that of the Charity Children’s annual concert in St Paul’s by a chorus of 6,500 children which he recounted at length in his feuilleton of 20 June in the Journal des Débats (pp. 1-2, reproduced the following year in the 21st evening of the Soirées de l’orchestre).

    The series of 5 feuilletons he wrote for the Journal des Débats were in practice Berlioz’s main creative achievement of his season in London: they gave him the opportunity to give an overall view of the musical institutions of London, as he had already done for his travels in Germany and Central Europe and would probably have done for London in 1848 had conditions been different.

    Though demanding, the work on the commission proved not to be financially rewarding, just as Berlioz had feared. Two days before returning to Paris Berlioz wrote to his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1424; 26 July):

I shall be leaving the day after tomorrow […]. I was beginning to be really tired of this job, all the more so as the Minister of Trade, the amiable M. Buffet, finding that our stay in London was dragging on too long, declared that after 15 July he would not pay us any more. Despite this strange way of behaving I did not want to leave my post before completing my task as juror, which only comes to an end tomorrow. Had I allowed myself to desert it I could see that considerable harm would have resulted for the French exhibitors, but in the end I made sure that they were fully vindicated. So the Minister will default on those of the jurors who carried out their duties best; last week there were only 12 of us left, and today I am on my own. The musical part of the work was the hardest and the most time-consuming. […]

    The cavalier behaviour of the Minister rankled with Berlioz, and over the following months several letters refer to the financial loss he had incurred (CG nos. 1433, 1437, 1442). For all that Berlioz did write his report on the musical instruments displayed at the great exhibition of 1851; the report was eventually published in Paris in 1854 and again in 1855. An English translation (by Michel Austin) of the complete report may be found elsewhere on this site, together with the original French text.

Third visit: 4 March – 20 June 1852


Late January: Berlioz signs a contract with Frederick Beale to give a series of 6 concerts with the New Philharmonic Society
11 & 12 February: Berlioz requests from the Ministry of the Interior and the Director of the Conservatoire leave of absence for his trip to London
2 March: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for London
4 March: arrival in London, where they stay at 10 Old Cavendish Street
20 March: first performance of Benvenuto Cellini in Weimar conducted by Liszt
24 March: first concert at Exeter Hall conducted by Berlioz; second performance of Benvenuto Cellini in Weimar
7 April (?): Berlioz hears a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Exeter Hall
14 April: second concert at Exeter Hall conducted by Berlioz
28 April: third concert at Exeter Hall conducted by Berlioz
29 April: matinée concert conducted by Berlioz at Hanover Square Rooms
30 April: Mme Pleyel (Camille Moke) lodges a complaint to the committee of the New Philharmonic Society concerning Berlioz’s conducting of Weber’s Konzertstück at the concert on 28 April
12 May: fourth concert at Exeter Hall conducted by Berlioz
15 May: open letter by Berlioz to John Ella concerning the composition and performance of the Adieu des bergers attributed to Pierre Ducré
28 May: fifth concert at Exeter Hall conducted by Berlioz
9 June: sixth and final concert at Exeter Hall conducted by Berlioz
19 June: dinner in honour of Berlioz before his departure
20 June: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for Paris

    There is no mention of Frederick Beale in the extant letters of Berlioz relating to his visit in 1851, though the two men are very likely to have met at that time, and in the event it was due to the initiative of Beale that Berlioz returned to London the following year. Negotiations were well advanced by early in 1852, as appears from a letter of Berlioz to General Alexei Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 1443; 21 January): ‘I believe that next month I will be going back to England where the desire to love music is at least genuine and sustained’. A few days later Berlioz warned Liszt that his projected visit to Weimar to hear Benvenuto Cellini would have to be brief (in the event it was postponed) as he was on the point of concluding a major engagement with Beale (CG no. 1444; 24 January). By 4 February the deal had been completed (CG no. 1445), and practical preparations were then put in hand. On 10 February Berlioz wrote to Adolphe Duchêne de Vère in London asking him to find a flat for Berlioz and Marie Recio in Old Cavendish Street, which he duly did (CG no. 1448). Berlioz also requested leave of absence from his duties of Librarian at the Conservatoire for the duration of his stay (CG nos. 1450 and 1452, 11 and 12 February; cf. 1453). On 11 February he wrote in detail to his sister Adèle about the forthcoming trip (CG no. 1451; cf. 1449):

[…] I will not even be able to hear the second or the third performance [of Cellini in Weimar], as there is another and far more important commitment which calls me to London at the end of this month. A celebrated English impresario and music publisher, M. Beale, offered me to organise and conduct a large new musical institution, which will be launched with six huge concerts in the largest hall in London (Exeter Hall). For these six concerts alone the undertaking will cost 70,000 francs. After exchanging several letters we reached an agreement that he would guarantee me 1,000 francs for every concert and that I would stay in London to conduct all this from the beginning of March till 15 June. Beale is known for his decency and his great wealth, and so this time I hope I will be well paid. Besides, this must have for me very favourable consequences if the enterprise is successful; it should secure me a place in England or at least prepare a position for me. The day I will be fortunate enough to be adopted by the English in one way or another I will earn money quickly. I will be resuming there a fight against the old tenants of old positions; the stir generated by the prospectus that Beale has issued has already upset them. The thought of the innovations I am known to be capable of, and the slap in the face of addressing an invitation to a Frenchman to come and conduct the greatest musical undertaking that has yet been staged in London, all this must naturally exasperate them. Fortunately though I have enemies in London I also have many friends there. I have spelled out to Beale all his instructions and his response suggests that he is very keen to follow them. He wants to do everything in style. There is only one thing that worries me, the haste of the English in all matters musical and the hatred of musicians for rehearsals. This love of theirs for approximation, for half-baked performances, can ruin everything, since the task involves learning a new repertory which is very difficult. That is the only point on which I am not very reassured. […]

    A week later (19 February) writing to his brother-in-law Camille Pal, Berlioz expressed similar worries about the problem of rehearsals in London, but added: ‘The English press and public are very well disposed to me, and the only opposition I expect is from the followers of Costa, the local Habeneck, who looks askance at my arrival in England. Well, life is a struggle; vae victis! [woe to the vanquished]’ (CG no. 1453, cf. 1456). He and Marie Recio left Paris on 2 March (CG no. 1456) and arrived two days later.

    Nearly two weeks after his arrival Berlioz wrote to his sister Adèle (CG no. 1458; 17 March):

Since I have arrived (I have been here since the 4th) I have not had a minute to write to you. Before leaving Paris I put all my affairs in order; I requested and obtained leave of absence for 3 and a half months from my duties as Librarian. M. Bertin was not pleased to see me go, because of the enhanced importance given to my feuilletons by the mediocrity of the political section of the journal. Nevertheless he could not fail to see that it was impossible for me to refuse the proposal from London, which is far too important in every respect. The fact is I am dealing with an impresario the like of which is rarely to be found: he is honest, intelligent, charming and wealthy, and has the support of three other capitalists who are ten times as rich as he is. On my arrival he paid me £50 in advance (1250 fr.) and I have absolutely no doubt that I will be paid every month with the same regularity. Besides my musical position here is very good; admittedly I will be up against the old musical authorities in London, but I am well armed and used to combat, and the whole of the younger generation in England is keen to give me support. I have a wonderful orchestra, a choice chorus, and everything so far is going as well as possible. It is only with the solo singers that it will never be possible to breathe life into them. They sing as would marble statues, if statues could sing. Our first concert is taking place next Wednesday. Everyday I am deep in rehearsals and preparations of every kind, visits to colleagues in the press, etc. […]

    The series of six concerts which Berlioz gave in Exeter Hall between March and June 1852 marked a new departure for him, and he attached even greater importance to it than going to Weimar to hear the revived Benvenuto Cellini. As well as being well paid by a dependable impresario very different from Jullien, Berlioz could look forward to the possibility of a lasting position in London, at a time when he had given up on Paris, and Germany, after an interruption of several years, was not yet back on his horizon. After the disappointment of the first London visit and the constraints of the second he was given at last the chance to display to the public his musical talents, both as conductor and composer. In this respect the London concerts of 1852 went beyond his visits of the 1840s to Germany, central Europe and Russia, in which his primary purpose had been to make his own works known to the public under his own direction. The programmes of the London concerts were much more varied: in addition to his own music, they included works of composers who meant much to him (Gluck, Spontini, Weber and Beethoven). His two performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony were particularly noteworthy: they were a landmark in London’s musical life, where the work had never been properly performed before by the Society which had commissioned it (CG nos. 1449, 1484, 1488, 1495, 1496, 3287), and it was also the first time that Berlioz was able to conduct a work which he regarded as the pinnacle of modern music and which he had approached with special reverence in his critical writings. The programmes also catered for contemporary expectations in their inclusion of instrumental and vocal pieces that allowed individual players and singers to shine. But one result of this was the delicate encounter at the third concert with Berlioz’s erstwhile fiancée Camille Moke, now Mme Pleyel, which led subsequently to recrimination between them (CG no. 1484, 1488; what exactly happened is not clear). In addition Berlioz was careful to include some music by contemporary British composers: one of the aims of the New Philharmonic Society was to promote their work. Generally the standard of performances was extremely high thanks to thorough rehearsal – the concerts were spaced out at two or three week intervals – and critical response overwhelmingly favourable. But Berlioz also encountered some opposition, partly from the old [the Royal] Philharmonic Society and its conductor Michael Costa (CG no. 1453, cf. 1495), partly from a few critics (Henry Chorley, George Hogarth: CG nos. 1477, 1484), and partly from the second conductor of the New Philharmonic Society, the composer Henry Wylde (CG nos. 1542, 1545, 1546, 1563).

    Berlioz did not compose any music during his stay in 1852, but it was during his time there that the idea of what was to become the Soirées de l’orchestre [Evenings with the Orchestra] took concrete shape; it is described in detail in a letter of 5 May to Joseph d’Ortigue (CG no. 1481; cf. 1483, 1488). The work was published by Michel Lévy in Paris at the end of the year. It included a long section on Berlioz’s experiences in London in 1851 (21st Evening) and a shorter one in the second Epilogue; these were reproduced from his feuilletons of 1851 in the Journal des Débats. It also included a colourful account of the travels to New Zealand of the Irish composer Vincent Wallace whom he had met in London (this was reproduced from a feuilleton in the Journal des Débats of 31 October 1852). Berlioz also added to the 21st evening a paragraph on the New Philharmonic Society and his experiences with it in 1852:

As for the New Philharmonic Society, recently founded at Exeter Hall, and which has just had such a brilliant success there, you will understand that I must restrict myself to just a few statistical details. As conductor of this Society I am in no position to sing its praises. You should only know that the directors of this enterprise provided me with the means of performing masterpieces in grand style, and the possibility of having a sufficient number of rehearsals, something almost without precedent in England. The orchestra and chorus number some 230 performers, and among them are to be reckoned all the best English and foreign musicians to be found in London. In addition to their unquestionable talent they demonstrate enthusiasm, zeal and a love for art without which even the best talents very often achieve only mediocre results.

    Overall Berlioz regarded the season as a success which promised well for the future. Back in Paris he wrote to Hippolyte Lecourt (CG no. 1496; 22 June):

[…] I am back from London where I scored a quite extraordinary success which greatly exceeds those I have achieved in Russia and Germany. In addition I prepared and performed twice the Choral Symphony by Beethoven, which in the mind of the majority of amateur and professional musicians was a sort of rather unpleasant riddle. It aroused storms of enthusiasm. In truth, the performance of the work by our huge orchestra and large chorus in the vast Exeter Hall had quite a different character from that in the Conservatoire in Paris, however faithful that one might be. We had besides excellent soprano and alto voices which did wonders in the great final movement. In Paris no one has any idea of the voices of these English women, still less of the intelligence of these choristers who are able to learn by heart in three sessions the most complicated works. As for the orchestra it was first rate, though it contained a large number of French, Italian, German and Belgian musicians. […]
In short I have had a magnificent season from every point of view, and we have given quite a jolt to the older generation. […]

    Then on 2 July to his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1500):

I am now back after the most brilliant musical season anyone can remember in London. The day before my departure I was treated to a great dinner party attended by the principal representatives of the English press and all the leading musicians of London. England has warmly adopted me; I even received yesterday a proposal from New York [CG no. 1499] which proves that this latest success has made an impact in America. I had to grip myself hard so as not to accept it as I am expecting a better one next year.
M. Beale paid me punctiliously at the agreed dates; and thank goodness I was able to resume my post as Librarian before the expiry of my leave. […]

    On 19 December, after his return from Weimar, Berlioz described at length to August Morel his experiences there, and then went on to reminisce about his time in London earlier in the year (CG no. 1542):

[…] But all this [sc. the reception in Weimar] must not make me forget our great festivities in London!… You should have seen this immense audience in Exeter Hall letting go after the pieces from Romeo and Faust!… and the cheers of our large orchestra!… I often looked for you when returning home in the evenings, after dining with these authentic English enthusiasts, drinking rhum and chilled champagne. What a singular, but what a great people! They understand everything! Or at least you can find among them people capable of understanding everything.
Well now, after informing me a month ago that I was about to receive my contract for next season Beale wrote to me last week that he has just resigned from the Committee, because Dr Wylde (my assistant conductor who procures the funds for the New Philharmonic Society) has managed to make sure that I should not be invited. The musicians, the public, and the press made such a fool of him last year that he says he wants to get his own back next year by choosing a less awkward partner. He wants to approach old Spohr. But there was no question on my part of conducting against all common sense, to please this Dr Wylde, which is his own way of conducting. He will only accept as associate someone who is blind in one eye or in both, and I was not even wearing glasses.
This is fatal; … but neither I nor my London friends can do anything about it. Various other plans are being mentioned to me now, still for England; a decision will soon be made. […]

Fourth visit: 14 May – 9 July 1853


February: Berlioz completes the revision of the Italian libretto of Benvenuto Cellini
Early March: Berlioz makes extensive revisions to Act III of Benvenuto Cellini
8 April: Berlioz receives confirmation that Benvenuto Cellini will be performed at Covent Garden
ca. 21 April: rehearsals begin for Benvenuto Cellini
14 May: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for London; they stay at 17 Old Cavendish Street
During his stay in London Berlioz meets the Belgian critic and composer Adolphe Samuel 
30 May: Berlioz conducts the first half of a concert by the Old [Royal] Philharmonic Society at Hanover Square Rooms
Mid-June: Berlioz and the cast of Benvenuto Cellini dine at Tamberlick’s in Hampstead
17 June: Berlioz dines with Henry Chorley
18 June: Berlioz dines with James Davison
25 June: sole performance of Benvenuto Cellini at Covent Garden, conducted by Berlioz
7 July: a projected concert at Exeter Hall offered to Berlioz by the musicians of Covent Garden and the New Philharmonic Society cannot take place
9 July: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for Paris
10 July: Berlioz and Marie Recio back in Paris


    Beale’s resignation from the Committee of the New Philharmonic Society was a serious setback for Berlioz (CG no. 1542); Beale continued subsequently to support Berlioz’s cause in London, but given the hostility of Henry Wylde the chance of doing another series of concerts comparable to the 1852 season disappeared. Nevertheless discussions about possible concerts in 1853 continued, though negotiations were slow and for long inconclusive (CG nos. 1545, 1546, 1562, 1563). In February and March 1853 Berlioz was in correspondence with George Hogarth, the secretary of the Royal Philharmonic Society – Berlioz’s ‘Old’ Philharmonic Society (CG nos. 1461, 1477, 1484), founded in 1813 and rival of the Society founded only in 1852. Hogarth was enquiring about the music for the Roman Carnival overture which the Society intended to perform (CG nos. 1567, 1568, 1571). There was as yet no mention of a conducting engagement for Berlioz himself, and it was not until early May, when Berlioz was in any case about to depart for London to conduct Benvenuto Cellini (below) that Hogarth approached Berlioz with a concrete offer to conduct music of his own in the first half of a concert of the Society; Berlioz responded with suggestions for the programme (CG nos. 1596, 1598). The concert eventually took place at Hanover Square Rooms on 30 May, and was the only orchestral concert given by Berlioz in London that year.

Benvenuto Cellini

    In the meantime another and much more promising opportunity had arisen. The performances of Benvenuto Cellini in Weimar in November 1852 attracted much attention from outside; Henry Chorley, though critical of some of Berlioz’s music, made the trip to Weimar to hear the work, and wrote an article about it in the Athenæum (CG nos. 1542, 1544, 1562, 1568). By the end of the year there was talk of staging the work in London and Berlioz commissioned an Italian translation of the libretto for the purpose (CG no. 1548). The translation was completed in February 1853, though Berlioz had to spend much time checking it for accuracy (CG nos. 1562, 1563). ‘I was busy till last week with the revision of the Italian translation of the libretto. It was littered with the most amazing stupidities which I would not have noticed had I not had some knowledge of Italian. This makes me realise what might be lurking in the German version without me being aware of it’, he wrote to Liszt on 23 February (CG no. 1568). The venue for the production was initially going to be Her Majesty’s Theatre (CG nos. 1562, 1568), but with the bankruptcy of the manager Benjamin Lumley the project was taken over by Covent Garden under its manager Frederick Gye. On 4 March Berlioz wrote to Liszt (CG no. 1572; cf. 1574):

[…] I must tell you now that Beale and I are exchanging letters every two days on the subject of Benvenuto; he says he has obtained that Covent Garden should welcome it in style. Yesterday I sent my terms (as they say in London), and I am awaiting the response of Gye, the director of Covent Garden. As usual, they seem to want to put the work on straight away, quick, quick, without pausing for breath. And yet I explained to them that it was necessary to copy at least the choral, orchestral and solo parts, which takes time; I am also demanding that these copies should be done in Paris under my eyes. […]

    By early April the formal decision had been made to stage the opera at Covent Garden, and during April and May Berlioz was in close correspondence with Gye over preparations for the opera (CG nos. 1581, 1583, 1585, 1590, 1597). He also approached the conductor Michael Costa who consented to let Berlioz conduct himself the first performances of the work (CG nos. 1588, 1590). Rehearsals started around 21 April while Berlioz was still in Paris (CG no. 1589), and after his arrival in London in mid-May Berlioz then took charge himself (CG nos. 1601, 1602). With the success of the concert of the Royal Philharmonic Society at Hanover Square Rooms on 30 May the prospects for the performance looked excellent, as he wrote to Auguste Barbier, the librettist of Benvenuto Cellini, on 10 June (CG no. 1603; cf. 1602):

Will you not come to see our Benvenuto at Covent Garden?… The production will be magnificent and the performance under my direction rather exceptional! I have the most wonderful tenor one could desire (Tamberlick), who sings and understands the part admirably, an excellent Teresa, a ravishing Ascanio and for Francesco and Bernardino the two best foremen one could possibly have. A superb orchestra, an excellent chorus, and an adequate conductor (I am conducting myself); forgive the pun [the French adjective suffisant also means ‘conceited’].
All these people are totally devoted to me; the stage-manager is promising me a dazzling Carnival. London is awaiting the event with keen anticipation, further aroused by my latest success at the [Royal] Philharmonic Society. Everything leads me to hope that we are going to have a spectacular revenge.
Please, please come, dear great poet. It is not often in life that emotions of this kind can be experienced…  and London is so near Paris.
Benvenuto will be performed around the 22nd of this month [the 25th in fact].
You cannot imagine the difference there is going to be between the Paris Malvenuto and the London Benvenuto.
In place of a Duponchel party we are going to have a dinner-party at Tamberlick’s in Hampstead one of these days. The great tenor is entertaining us, he is inviting the entire cast of Cellini. He can afford it, he earns 125,000 francs a year. Forgive him, he is an excellent and decent man, plain as you and I; it is not his fault if he has a golden voice.
Farewell. If you don’t come I will not drink to your health at Tamberlick’s dinner. […]

    This letter calls for two comments. Strikingly Berlioz makes no mention of the revival of the opera in Weimar the previous year under the direction of Liszt, in which he had been closely involved; it was that revival which had led indirectly to the Covent Garden production. Second, Berlioz at this stage shows no awareness of the hostile cabal that was being prepared for the Covent Garden performances. It transpired subsequently that he had been deliberately kept in ignorance of what was afoot (according to CG no. 1609), though another letter implies that he had been aware for a few days of the impending trouble (CG no. 1608). What is more, his feuilleton of 1 July 1851 in the Journal des Débats showed that he was perfectly aware of the long-standing rivalry between Covent Garden and Her Majesty’s Theatre (this passage was not reproduced in the Soirées de l’orchestre in 1852). In the event, whatever the merits of the performance itself, it was ruined by organised hostility, and the following day Berlioz asked Gye to withdraw the work (CG no. 1607). In his letters Berlioz blames in the first place a band of Italians motivated by nationalistic prejudice, who were joined by the followers of Lumley, the manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre, who blamed Gye for the bankruptcy and takeover of their theatre (CG nos. 1608, 1609, 1610). According to the Memoirs (chapter 59) public opinion alleged that Costa had coordinated the cabal behind the scenes, an accusation which Berlioz himself does not make though he found it credible. But there is no mention of this in his letters and outwardly Berlioz expressed appreciation for the help Costa had provided at the rehearsals (CG nos. 1612, 1613).

    The failure of Benvenuto Cellini was a major setback for Berlioz. It was the last time he was to appear conducting an opera in London, and it deprived him of the opportunity to take full personal charge of the revival of his own work, which was only played again in Weimar in 1856 under the direction of Liszt and not his own.


    The setback brought about at least one consolation which touched Berlioz greatly: the musicians of Covent Garden and of the New Philharmonic Society offered their services free to Berlioz for a concert to be given at Exeter Hall on 7 July (see also CG no. 1619 below). In the event the concert did not take place, but the sum raised was to be devoted to an English edition of the Damnation of Faust (it did not appear in Berlioz’s lifetime, and Berlioz does not mention it in the Memoirs). The concert with the Royal Philharmonic Society on 30 May also had an important by-product: it was the first time Berlioz had been able to perform Le Repos de la Sainte Famille from La Fuite en Égypte, and the success of the piece led him to perform it also in his concerts in Germany later in the year (Frankfurt, Brunswick, Hanover, Leipzig). It was so well received that he was urged to resume composition and develop the original Fuite en Êgypte; it eventually became in 1854 the full-scale l’Enfance du Christ.

    Berlioz’s overall view of his visit to London in 1853 remained positive, as he writes to his sister Adèle on 16 July back in Paris (CG no. 1619):

[…] I have completely recovered from my London ordeal; but you are wrong in making the English responsible for the Covent Garden scandal which forced me to withdraw my work immediately; they had no part in it. It was solely the work of a band of Italians, and the entire English press has not concealed the fact. On the contrary, the English have honoured me in a most tactful manner. They did not want to let me leave without a public mark of sympathy, and so a committee was formed to offer me a vast concert at no expense. Two hundred and twenty English and French musicians immediately put down their names to play in the orchestra. The sum subscribed for the tickets amounted already to £200 before the concert had even been advertised. But then during the week chosen for the concert, and the only one for which Exeter Hall was available, the Covent Garden orchestra was obliged to go to the Norwich Festival. After that the concert season would have been over and the best part of the audience would have been missing. So what did the committee do? The subscribers said they did not want their money back, and these gentlemen proposed to publish with the sum raised an English edition of my Faust and to purchase the property rights for England. Consequently they are keeping £100 for the engraving and I am offered 100 guineas for my manuscript. That is how the English treat those they love.
Never have I had more supporters in London than I do now, and sooner or later there will probably be a good position for me here. But I am also a dreadful nuisance to some other positions, especially Italian ones. You would never imagine what makes me most feared in a certain very powerful quarter; it is my talent as a conductor, which is acclaimed by all musicians [an allusion to Costa].
But I would have too much to tell you. This does not prevent me from loving this dear score of Benvenuto more than ever; it is more lively, fresh, and novel (that is one of its great faults) than any of my other works. Liszt writes to me that they will put it on again carefully in Weimar. […]

Fifth visit: 8 June – 7 July 1855


8 June: Berlioz and Marie Recio depart for London; they stay at 13 Margaret Street (Portland Place)
11 June: a rehearsal prevents Berlioz from attending a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Society conducted by Wagner
13 June: Berlioz gives his first concert with the New Philharmonic Society at Exeter Hall; Wagner is in the audience
17 June: Berlioz dines with Henry Chorley
ca. 20 June: Berlioz declines the post of conductor at Crystal Palace
22 June: Berlioz signs a contract with Cramer, Beale & Co. for an English edition of l’Enfance du Christ, in a translation by Henry Chorley
24 June: Berlioz spends part of the day at Alfred Benecke’s in Champion Hill, Camberwell
25 June: Berlioz attends a concert of the Royal Philharmonic Society conducted by Wagner, with whom he has drinks afterwards
Early July: Berlioz agrees with Alfred Novello to publish a revised English edition of his Treatise on Orchestration augmented with a new essay on the Art of Conducting
4 July: Berlioz conducts his second concert with the New Philharmonic Society at Exeter Hall
6 July: Berlioz conducts the annual matinée concert of the New Philharmonic Society at Covent Garden
7 July: Berlioz and Marie Recio leave London for Paris


    Despite the failure of Benvenuto Cellini in June 1853 Berlioz had every expectation of returning to London sooner or later. During the autumn and the following winter proposals for concerts came to him from London, though the references to these in his correspondence leave the details unclear. Two letters in October talk of a proposal so attractive that he could hardly believe it and asked for a guarantee before he would commit himself (CG nos. 1631, 1633). A letter in November mentions that he might be called to London suddenly around 15 December (CG no. 1646), though nothing came of this. In December he wrote to his sister Adèle that he was still in intermittent correspondence with London over a large-scale undertaking (CG no. 1669). In January 1854 he writes of a proposal from London which he could not accept before June, though that might not suit the impresario (CG no. 1683). A letter of 4 April finally settles the matter: he had not been able to agree on the fee with the director of the New Philharmonic Society (i.e. Henry Wylde), and so would probably not be going to London that summer (CG no. 1726). It is not clear whether this approach by Wylde is the same as those mentioned in Berlioz’s letters of the previous months.

    In the meantime Berlioz remained in touch with London. He was in correspondence with Henry Chorley who had taken an active interest in the composition of l’Enfance du Christ and given useful advice (CG nos. 1735, 1738). At Covent Garden Frederick Gye reportedly intended to perform Benvenuto Cellini again that year, though nothing came of this (CG no. 1762; cf. 1617). In August, when applying once more for election to the Institut, he asked James Davison to intervene in his support, though Davison declined and Berlioz acquiesced in his decision (CG nos. 1780, 1788). In December the first performances of the complete Enfance du Christ attracted visitors from London and congratulations from, among others, Stanley Clarke (CG no. 1842) and Howard Glover (CG no 1838). Glover had attended the general rehearsal and back in London followed this up with an appreciative review in the Morning Post for which he borrowed a score of the work from Berlioz (CG nos. 1844, 1848). In the wake of the success of the new work Berlioz also wrote to Henry Chorley (CG no. 1851; 19 December):

I have enough faith in your kind friendship to be convinced that you will hear with pleasure of the good fortune that has befallen me.
Let me inform you that my little Holiness, l’Enfance du Christ, is scoring a great success here. I would even say too great in my view.
[…] What shall we do with this work in England, and how can we get it performed? I would be very keen to have your opinion on the matter. Would it be possible for the two of us to undertake this, without turning for help to anyone, either in London or in the provinces?… not this year, which is impossible, but next year (1856).
I have signed a contract with Dr Wylde to conduct two concerts of the New Philharmonic Society, under which I am not allowed to direct any other musical event in London during the 1855 season.
Think about this and write me a few lines. I will send you the libretto which you might begin to translate, even without the score; please be careful to tailor the English verses so that they fit the French. When I am in a position to send you a copy of the vocal parts there should then be little that needs to be changed. Various offers are already being made to me for two theatres who would like to perform l’Enfance du Christ for their subscribers. […]

    A few days later Berlioz wrote to Davison (CG no. 1859; 23 December):

[…] You must know what has happened to me; the day before yesterday I received a letter from Sainton offering me a contract to conduct all eight concerts of the [Royal] Philharmonic Society. Unfortunately I had already signed a contract two weeks earlier with Wylde for two concerts of the New Philharmonic Society during May, the terms of which are very modest. I have written to Wylde to ask him to give me back my freedom. If he does not agree I will have to keep my word, and I will lose in this way a splendid opportunity to put myself forward in London. For me it is a real disaster. What has happened? How did Costa give up directing those concerts? I am completely in the dark. […]

    The letter to Wylde mentioned by Berlioz is extant (CG no. 1864, cf. 1865); it actually bears the date 26 December, whereas Berlioz implied a few days earlier that it had already been sent. Wylde’s response was negative, as shown by a letter of Berlioz to his brother-in-law Marc Suat on 31 December (CG no. 1867):

[…] I am not sure what I will be doing in February, but in March I will be going to England where I have, to my great regret, signed a contract with the New Philharmonic Society for three concerts. I say to my great regret, because hardly had I given my word to the director of that institution that I received an offer from the rival institution, the Old [Royal] Philharmonic Society, to go and conduct all eight of their concerts. I tried to liberate myself but without success. For me that involves some kind of loss, though I have to bear it with good grace. […]

    The invitation made by Henry Wylde to Berlioz calls for a word of comment. Berlioz had a low opinion of Wylde’s abilities as a composer and conductor and had good reason to suspect him: it was Wylde who late in 1852 had made sure that Berlioz would not be invited again for the 1853 season, which prompted Beale to resign from the committee of the New Philharmonic Society (CG nos. 1542, 1545, 1546, 1563). Yet by early in 1854, and possibly earlier, he was trying to get Berlioz invited to conduct the New Philharmonic again (CG no. 1726). The timing and terms of his approach to Berlioz in early December 1854 are curious. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that he had advance knowledge of the much more favourable offer that was about to be made to Berlioz by the rival Royal Philharmonic Society after the resignation of Costa, and wanted to tie Berlioz down in advance with an exclusive but much less attractive offer. His refusal to free Berlioz from his contract implies as much, as do the unsatisfactory conditions provided for the rehearsals and concerts which Berlioz did eventually conduct (see next section). At the same time it is striking that none of the surviving letters of Berlioz for this period expresses any suspicions about Wylde’s true motives. Whatever the truth, Berlioz’s 1855 season in London fell far short of what it could have been.

The 1855 concerts

    In mentioning his contract with the New Philharmonic Society Berlioz refers initially to only two concerts (CG nos. 1851, 1859, 1864). On the other hand several letters in December 1854 and January 1855 now refer to three concerts (CG nos. 1867, 1872, 1882); the matter is further obscured by subsequent letters from March to June which once more refer only to two concerts (CG nos. 1928, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1976). In the event Berlioz did give a total of three concerts in London in 1855, the first two at Exeter Hall and the third at Covent Garden. References to this third concert in late June not long before it took place give the impression that it was an afterthought on the part of the organisers and not part of the original contract, and this final concert caused Berlioz to prolong his stay beyond what he had expected (CG nos. 1984, 1985, 1987).

    Soon after Berlioz’s arrival problems emerged during the rehearsals for the first concert, as he writes to Davison on 12 June (CG no. 1977):

I arrived here Friday evening [8 June] and I have not yet had a minute to go and see you. Today again I am busy all day with our general rehearsal, and when I come back home, drenched like a river rat, I will probably only have enough strength to go to bed. But until tomorrow my greetings! I shake your hand.
I have had to struggle these last few days with an impossible performance, which I have fortunately avoided by cutting out the whole of the first part of Romeo and Juliet which would have made your ears bleed. Because of two or three wind instruments (a horn in particular) we may have to omit the scherzo. […]

    The letters relating to the first concert emphasise the success of the evening but also reveal that not only did the playing leave much to be desired (the Queen Mab scherzo was performed after all), but that Berlioz had been forced to omit entirely the choral sections of Roméo et Juliette because of the inadequacy of the chorus (CG no. 1980, 1981, 1987). This led to a public argument between Berlioz and some members of the chorus; one of them, an amateur singer, wrote a letter of protest to the Musical World which elicited a response in support of Berlioz from another, who was a professional member of the chorus and who censured the behaviour of those choristers who had hissed Berlioz at the concert (the letters of the choristers are cited in CG vol. V p. 119 n. 1). Berlioz felt impelled to explain his reasons in an open letter addressed to Davison, the editor of the Musical World (CG no. 1988; 26 June):

[…] The little chorus in the Prologue, for only fourteen voices, had been rehearsed in French; to my great surprise M. and Mme Gassier had been engaged for the solo parts of my symphony which they were unable to sing in English. At the last moment M. Gassier, who has a baritone voice, declared that he was unable to sing a tenor part, and that Mme Gassier (a high soprano voice) was unable to sing a contralto part, which was obvious to me.
It was therefore necessary to start rehearsals afresh with an English text, and these extremely difficult choral parts, the words of which must be correctly pronounced, without accompaniment, could not be learnt adequately in so little time.
As for the chorus of the Capulets, over which the gentlemen of the chorus had taken great trouble, it was well learnt. But on learning that the practice was to have the chorus perform in public, without a single rehearsal with the orchestra, I was very apprehensive, all the more so as a small number of these choristers had come to the last rehearsal and had twice missed their entry after the orchestral reply. It was obvious that those who were due to sing in the concert and who had never heard the orchestra (that is the majority of them) would inevitably miss their entry. Could I expose them to such an unfortunate accident? Could I expose the Philharmonic Society to a disaster of this magnitude? […]

    In the light of this evidence it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that there was not just negligence on the part of Henry Wylde but perhaps even deliberate sabotage, and the professional chorister who wrote in support of Berlioz thought this was this case. There is much less evidence about Berlioz’s second and third concerts, though a letter refers to a ‘dreadful rehearsal’ for the second concert (CG no. 1991). These were the last concerts Berlioz ever conducted in London.

Berlioz’s stay in London

    Letters of Berlioz give glimpses of his social life in London at this time. Extant also is a letter of Marie Recio to her friend Mme Duchène, dated 2 July 1855, in which among other news she mentions their visit to Crystal Palace and the offer made to Berlioz to be director of music there (the letter is cited in CG V pp. 123-4 n. 1). Before this, on 22 June, Berlioz wrote to his sister Adèle (CG no. 1984):

[…] To judge from my increasing influence here, by the various propositions that are made to me and by the new friends I make every day, it is very likely that in the end I will settle in London where my position is gradually becoming established.
Marie and I are literally showered with invitations. This week we will not have dined once at home, and on Sunday we are going to spend the day in the countryside with an English family who know little French and will put my knowledge of English to a severe test, if I am to keep the conversation going for a long time. [cf. CG no. 1987]
I recently spent part of a day at Crystal Palace at Sydenham; it is one of the wonders of the world. I feel I have seen Aladdin’s Palace and the Gardens of Semiramis… It is a dream. […] 

    And to his young friend and protégé Théodore Ritter who had accompanied him to London, in a breathless and hilarious letter (CG no. 1991, 3 July; cf. 1996):

[…] Your letter caused me great pleasure, and if I am replying rather late it is because since your departure I have had a very tough time, numerous visits, numerous dinners, numerous piano trios, correspondence in the Musical World with the amateur choristers I would not let sing in Romeo and Juliet [CG no. 1988], lunch with Beale, piano rehearsals at Glover’s, riots in Regent’s Park, a hundred men arrested, the workmen wanting to liberate their brrrrothers, several casualties, my wife returning home in a panic, migraine, reading of Handel’s Samson, the migraine gets worse, yesterday a dreadful rehearsal at Exeter Hall, Glover’s Cantata very nicely written, but difficult, it made me sweat so much that the Strand river rose, and the Finale of Harold, and a ferocious concerto by Henselt performed in free style which made me dance on a loose rope for an hour, and Cooper our leader who could not bear it and exclaimed: « Sempre tempo rubato! » and the cornets who were unable to come because of the pomp and circumstance of the brass bands in l’Etoile du Nord [by Meyerbeer] which kept them at Covent Garden… again l’Etoile du Nord, evening at Glover’s where Meyerbeer was supposed to come, apologies from the great man excusing himself because of a dreadful stomach upset, quotation from the book by Heine, The Marquess of diharrhoea (or dyharrhoea*) or whatever the spelling, then at last Meyerbeer arrives when everyone had finished commiserating, congratulations on the end of his stomach upset, wanderings in the streets of London by moonlight, I go to join my wife at Ernst’s, Mme Ernst asks me whether I like Molière, you bet I do! and there, I am going to recite or declaim a passage. A scene from le Misanthrope, after which there they start working themselves to death with these stupid combinations until three in the morning, matinée of Ella where the said Ella introduces to his public Meyerbeer between two Bishops, departure of Wagner after the good M. Hogarth has introduced him in his turn to M. Meyerbeer, asking these two famous figures whether they knew each other, joy of Wagner at leaving London, fresh upsurge of fury against him from all the critics after the last concert at Hanover Square, he does indeed conduct in free style as Klindworth plays the piano, but his ideas and conversation are very captivating, we go to drink punch at his place after the concert, he reiterates his professions of friendship, he embraces me furiously, saying that he had had a mass of preconceptions against me, he weeps, he jumps up and down, hardly has he left that the Musical World publishes the passage from his book [Opera and Drama] where he tears me to pieces in the most comical and witty fashion, delirious joy of Davison in translating this to me, THE WORLD IS A THEATRE, Shakespeare and Cervantes have said it, Ella presents me with a superb volume, the works of this same Shakespeare, a Poet, as they thoughtfully inform the visitors to Crystal Palace […]
* I know very well that it is diarrhoea!!!

    The reference to Wagner touches on one of the most interesting aspects of Berlioz’s stay in London in 1855: it was on this occasion that the two men, who had first met in Paris as far back as 1839,  were now able to get to know each other better. Their relations are treated in detail elsewhere on this site (see also the page Hinde Street).

    One important commission resulting from the stay in London is mentioned in two letters he wrote after his return to Paris, first to Auguste Morel (CG no. 1996, 21 July):

[…] I was asked in London for a small book: The Art of the Conductor. It is to be added to the revised and enlarged English edition of my Treatise on Orchestration. This will keep me fully occupied for the whole of next month. […]
Bennet and his son (Théodore Ritter) had accompanied me to London. After hearing the Adagio from Romeo and Juliet by our large orchestra of Exeter Hall, Bennet père is beginning to believe that the piano cannot approach this expressive power, something he did not believe before.
His son is a wonderful and charming boy; I believe he will soon be a great artist. He replaced you in Queen Mab by playing the little cymbals in B flat. […]

    Secondly, a letter to the young Belgian composer and critic Adolphe Samuel (CG no. 1999, 24 or 27 July):

[…] My London season was magnificent; I had another concert to conduct at Covent Garden after the two evening concerts of the New Philharmonic. Mme Viardot sang there la Captive and Mme Didiée Ascanio’s aria from the opera Benvenuto Cellini.
At our first concert the Festivities from Romeo and Juliet was despatched with incomparable verve by our vast orchestra in Exeter Hall (46 violins, etc.) and encored amidst shouts and a persistence which would have delighted you. Then Ernst performed like a great master the solo viola from Harold, which as a whole has never been better performed.
I have been asked for a new work (The Art of the Conductor) which will appear in English with the enlarged and revised edition of my Treatise on Orchestration. […]

    The commission for The Art of Conducting was an appropriate recognition of Berlioz’s success in London as a conductor. It is first mentioned in a letter of 30 June to the publisher Alfred Novello in which he accepts the commission (CG no. 1990). Berlioz found writing the essay on conducting hard work (CG no. 2020); he completed his manuscript early in September, sent it to Novello on the 13th (CG no. 2016) and had confirmation of its arrival by the end of the month (CG nos. 2026, 2028). Mary Clarke, sister of Novello, did the English translation (CG no. 2030), though Berlioz spotted several serious errors and asked that the translation should be carefully checked: ‘My knowledge of English is insufficient and I may miss more errors of the same kind. They can only be spotted by comparing the English with the French text’ (CG no. 2049). He corrected proofs over the winter (CG nos. 2071, 2075), and the new English edition appeared in 1856. At the same time Berlioz arranged for a French edition of the enlarged work (CG nos. 2043, 2064, 2197).


    Berlioz’s visit to London in 1855 was the shortest of the five visits he made, and its results fell significantly short of what he might have hoped for. On his departure he had every intention of returning in the near future, but a series of contingencies over the coming years prevented this from happening. London gradually receded from his horizon, and the 1855 visit thus remained the last one he ever made to England.

Unfulfilled plans

    Berlioz’s evolving relations with London over the next few years can be documented from his letters. In October 1855 he was in correspondence about the possibility of a large-scale concert at Crystal Palace, which by then had been moved to Sydenham, but nothing came of this (CG no. 2036). In November he was discussing with Davison the plan for two concerts at St Martin’s Hall, for which he had the support of Beale; they would have given London its first performances of the Te Deum and l’Enfance du Christ (CG no. 2055). The project appeared to be taking shape (CG nos. 2057, 2074), but then in early January 1856 everything had to be called off, as he wrote to his sister Adèle (CG no. 2076; cf. 2075, 2081):

[…] My trip to England has been turned upside down, and I must forget about it for this year. The performances by Jenny Lind have made all music-making in London impossible till the end of the season. The Lind fever has started all over again and the English public has gone mad. Jenny Lind is being give 400,000 francs for four months. Before her everything must give way and everyone must fall silent… […]

    In spite of this Beale still had hopes of getting Berlioz to conduct l’Enfance du Christ in London. During the summer he was in touch about plans for a performance the following year (CG no. 2162). Later in the year the project became more definite. The performance was planned for May 1857 and the occasion would be the inauguration of a new concert hall that was being built (St James’ Hall), though by this time Berlioz was less anxious to return to London, as he was deeply immersed in the composition of Les Troyens (CG no. 2188). There was also the old worry about getting enough rehearsal time in London (CG no. 2204). A month later he heard that the project had to be cancelled after all: the hall was not ready, and Berlioz was relieved at the news (CG no. 2211, 25 February 1857). Over the next few years and till at least 1864 he remained in occasional contact with friends and acquaintances in London (notably Hallé in Manchester, Holmes, Silas, Ella and Davison), but for the time being had no further plans of going there himself. Early in 1859 he accepted a nomination as honorary member of a newly formed Musical Society of London (CG no. 2356, 23 February) but on the same day he wrote to his acquaintance George Osborne, a member of the committee of the society, to dissuade him from putting on a performance of the Symphonie Fantastique (CG no. 2357):

[…] A German musician wrote to me recently that there was vague talk of performing my Symphonie Fantastique at one of the concerts of this new Society. Among my works this is indeed one which I would most like to introduce to the English public, but it is also one of the most difficult, one of the most impossible to perform well without a certain number of rehearsals. To perform it after a single rehearsal, according to the practice which is common in London, would be complete murder. I consequently urge you to dissuade the committee from this plan, if it does exist. I hope that Benedict, Davison, Beale, Molique and Henry Smart will support you. Ask them for my sake. […]
I know that the Society must have a good orchestra and that M. [Alfred] Mellon is an excellent conductor. But time and study are essential if a work of this kind is to be performed properly. Were I to conduct it myself, I would not be able to guarantee a good performance with only two rehearsals. Just imagine what result might be achieved in performance after only one rehearsal under a conductor who does not know the score by heart. […]

    The symphony was apparently dropped from the programme (it was not performed complete in London till 1881, under Wilhelm Ganz), though the society did at least perform the King Lear overture (CG no. 2362). Later in the year the possibility arose of Berlioz returning to London. The occasion was the celebrated series of performances of Gluck’s Orphée at the Théâtre Lyrique starting in November 1859, with Pauline Viardot in the title role; Berlioz had been deeply involved in the preparations. James Davison came from London to attend a performance (CG no. 2432) and reviewed the production in the Musical World of 26 November. Early the following January Berlioz mentioned plans to invite him to supervise a production of the work in London (CG no. 2462). But nothing came of this, and when a single concert performance of Orphée was given in London in July Berlioz was not involved. In January of the following year (1861) a more definite project appeared, though it did not involve him travelling to London. Berlioz mentions this to his niece Joséphine (CG no. 2529, cf. 2534):

[…] To finish me off the director of the Choral Societies of France has just extracted from me a promise which I am now carrying out. Some six or eight thousand French choristers will be making their second visit in June to their counterparts in London, and I am writing a duet for the two peoples [Le Temple Universel], part of which will be sung in French, part in English, and the third in both languages at once. Naturally the two rival peoples say all sorts of nice things about each other. If well performed this could be grandiose. But in any case I shall not be going to hear it, as I am not in the mood to cross the Channel for this. And yet this will be curious, a duet for 12,000 men! […]

    Berlioz did complete the work and took part in rehearsals in Paris (CG nos. 2532, 2534, 2536, 2540), but then cancelled the performance in Paris as he was not satisfied with the singing. The projected London performance automatically lapsed, and Le Temple Universel remained unperformed in the composer’s lifetime.

    Seemingly the first performances of Beatrice and Benedict in Baden-Baden in August 1862 did not attract much interest in London – Baden-Baden was much further away than Paris – unlike those of Les Troyens at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in November and December 1863. It is not clear whether Davison did come to these (CG no. 2775) but one visitor from London was James Mapleson, the then director of Her Majesty’s Theatre. He was impressed by the new opera and immediately opened negotiations with Berlioz over the staging of the work in London the following year and the question of performing rights (CG nos. 2789, 2805, 2806, 2807). It is not clear whether it was envisaged that Berlioz would come in person to London to supervise the production. In the same context Berlioz sold to the publisher Boosey and Sons the rights for an English edition of the work (CG nos. 2793, 2805, 2809). In the event none of this led to anything: the English edition was never published, and the production at Her Majesty’s Theatre did not materialise. Berlioz, very sensitive on the question of performing rights (cf. CG no. 2849 below), thought the terms unacceptable, and it seems that the director quietly dropped the matter without ever informing Berlioz (CG nos. 2827, 2829, 2830, 2840). Not long after Berlioz turned down a request from George Hogarth for a free loan of music from Romeo and Juliet for performance in London by the Royal Philharmonic Society. His letter to Hogarth is polite in tone (CG no. 2848; 28 March 1864), but the next day he showed his true feelings in a letter to his son (CG no. 2849):

[…] I have just received a letter from London asking me to lend the orchestral parts and the score of my Romeo and Juliet symphony, as the [Royal] Philharmonic Society wants to play excerpts for the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.
I will not be sending them this music, which in any case I no longer have since I have given everything to the Conservatoire and they can buy what they need.
What rats!
And that to be conducted by M. Sterndale Bennet! and one rehearsal! They are mad. […]

    Sterndale Bennet had been appointed conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Society after Wagner’s departure in 1855. He had been with Berlioz a member of the jury examining musical instruments of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

    After 1864 there are few allusions to London in the rest of Berlioz’s correspondence. Letters of 1865 repeatedly comment on the frequency of performances of his music in different parts of Europe, notably Germany, and even in the United States (CG nos. 2982, 3032, 3057, 3203, 3241) but strikingly there is no mention in this context of London. Berlioz’s refusals of the previous year and before may have had a discouraging effect. Letters of summer and autumn 1867 show Berlioz receiving a series of offers from New York, which he refused (CG nos. 3244-5, 3278-9, 3284, 3286, 3299), but he did accept an offer from Russia. Again, there was nothing similar coming from London. But for all that London did still evoke pleasant memories for Berlioz. In July 1865 he had the joy of an unexpected meeting in Paris (CG no. 3025):

[…] I went out and wandered for two hours on the Boulevard des Italiens and the Boulevard des Capucines. At half past eight I began to feel hungry and entered the Café Cardinal to eat something. I immediately heard my name being called and I saw a cheerful face smiling at me; it was Balfe, the Irish composer who had just come from London and asked me to dinner with him. Then we went to the Grand Hôtel where he is staying and smoked a most excellent cigar, though it made me feel unwell this morning. We talked so much about Shakespeare; he says he has only started to understand him well these last ten or twelve years. […]

    (Berlioz had first met Balfe in London in 1847.) In July 1866 Berlioz also had the satisfaction of seeing his friend the Dutch composer Eduard Silas, who had settled in London, winning a prize at a competition in Louvain at which Berlioz was a judge (CG nos. 3149, 3151). And in October 1867, before departing for his last concert tour in Russia, he could not help recalling the performances of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony he had conducted in London in 1852: ‘When I gave Beethoven’s Choral Symphony which brought the musical world of London to its feet with enthusiasm, we had done seven rehearsals’ (CG no. 3287).

Retrospect and prospect

    In retrospect the history of Berlioz’s relations with London is one of expectations and promises that were not fulfilled. His first visit in 1847-8 started with high hopes but soon turned to the débâcle of Jullien’s bankruptcy and the 1848 revolutions. In 1851 Berlioz’s commitments as a juror prevented his stay from being musically productive. The 1852 season was Berlioz’s one unqualified success in London and the peak of his achievement there; it should have led to a consolidation of his musical position, but this was nullified by the personal and institutional rivalries that characterised London’s musical scene. In 1853 Benvenuto Cellini fell to a hostile coalition of Italians, the followers of Lumley, and possibly the conductor Costa. Berlioz’s success in his one concert with the Royal Philharmonic Society was a promising development, but that too was not destined to flourish. Berlioz’s last season in London 1855 turned out to be a pale reflection of what it could have been, and this may well have been the result of sabotage on the part of Henry Wylde. Berlioz could have become chief conductor of the New Philharmonic Society in 1853 or of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1855 and go on to establish a lasting base in London, but none of this happened. It is hard not to compare Berlioz’s chequered career in London, despite all the support and sympathy he found there, with his much more positive experiences in Germany over a period of over twenty years, from his first trip in 1842-3 to his last visits to Vienna in 1866 and Cologne in 1867. Besides, there was no real counterpart in the English aristocracy to the enlightened music-loving princes and kings of the German world. The King and Queen of Prussia, for example, stood in striking contrast to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

    One might mention in this connection that London only heard a limited part of Berlioz’s repertoire performed under the composer’s own direction, and here again Germany provides a contrast. Among the major works of Berlioz that London never heard under his own baton were: the Symphonie Fantastique (CG no. 2357), the complete Symphonie funèbre et triomphale, the complete Roméo et Juliette, the complete Damnation of Faust, the complete Requiem, the Te Deum (though dedicated to Prince Albert, cf. CG nos. 1418, 2211), l’Enfance du Christ, despite the existence of an English edition (CG nos. 2055, 2076) or his last two operas Les Troyens and Béatrice et Bénédict, even though plans for the performance of some at least of these works were formulated at various times. By the later years of Berlioz’s life very little of his music appears to have been receiving performances in London. Berlioz was losing touch with London, and London was losing touch with him. It is perhaps no accident that the news of his death produced only a muted reaction in the London press as compared with the outpouring of articles in Paris. The obituary notice by his friend Davison was oddly non-committal about his merits as a composer. The Illustrated London News of 13 March 1869 reported briefly on his death without mentioning any of his connections with London. A few weeks later, on 3 April, it devoted a short article to the composer, which only mentioned his last visit of 1855 and noted that his operas ‘are little known in England’. In Britain, performances of his works in subsequent years were few and largely the work of German musicians either resident (Ganz and Hallé) or visitors (Hans Richter). In Paris, by contrast, there was an immediate outpouring of obituary notices in the press, and a Berlioz revival started to gather momentum in France within a year, with the active support of friends and colleagues (for examples see the obituaries by Gautier and Gérôme, the pages Berlioz: Contemporary Performances and Articles and Paris and Berlioz: the revival). Germany on its side was to provide major landmarks in the posthumous rehabilitation of Berlioz, as for example the first performance of the complete Trojans at Karlsruhe in 1890 and the publication of the first (though flawed) attempt a complete edition of the composer’s music (1900-1907). The Berlioz revival in Britain, on the other hand, was only to come later; it was not the result of Berlioz’s visits to London between 1847 and 1855 but belongs to the twentieth century.

List of residential addresses

    Since Berlioz visited it in the mid-19th century London has continued to change and expand. While a few streets and buildings have remained substantially as they were in Berlioz’s time, many others have changed or even disappeared altogether. In our listing of places of relevance we have sought wherever possible to indicate what has survived and what has not. Places that have survived, even if at times in a modified form, are identified in the lists below with a black asterisk (*) and where possible are illustrated with photographs.

    This and the following list serve as a concise guide in chronological order to all the locations of relevance to Berlioz in London and provide links to individual pages, each devoted to a particular building or location. On those pages you will find more detailed information on the relevant buildings, as photographs and engravings to illustrate them, and citation of excerpts from Berlioz’s letters which refer to particular concerts and performances.

*76 Harley Street  Berlioz lived here during the best part of his first visit in 1847-48 [later no. 27 and since rebuilt].

26 Osnaburgh Street  Berlioz lived here during the last two and half months of his first visit in 1848 [since demolished and replaced by a block of flats].

*27 Queen Anne Street  Berlioz lived here during his second visit in 1851 [now no. 58].

10 Old Cavendish Street, Oxford Street (and off Cavendish Square)  Berlioz lived here during his third visit in 1852 [since demolished].

17 Old Cavendish Street  Berlioz stayed here on his fourth visit in 1853 [since demolished].

13 Margaret Street  Berlioz stayed here on his fifth and final visit in 1855 [apparently now demolished].

    The following are some of the residences where Berlioz paid social visits while in London:

*8 Hinde Street, Manchester Square. The home of the violinist Prosper Sainton where Berlioz dined with Wagner in 1855.

*80 Harley Street (later no. 19) A few doors away from Berlioz’s first residential address in London (1847-48); it  was the house of Louise Dulcken, a pianist; in 1848 Berlioz was one of the invitees to her ‘at-homes’ on Sunday evenings (Ganz [1913], pp. 52-4).

2 Manchester Square  Around the corner from Hanover Square Rooms; Sir Julius Benedict, a British composer of German origin whom Berlioz had long known, lived here.

List of public buildings

    An asterisk (*) before an address indicates that the place is still extant, though it may have undergone modifications since the time of Berlioz. 

Exeter Hall  Berlioz heard and conducted many concerts here during his visits to London [no longer extant].

Hanover Square Rooms  Berlioz heard and conducted many concerts here during his visits to London [no longer extant].

(See also A concert in June 1848 in Hanover Square Rooms)

*Theatre Royal Covent Garden  Now the Royal Opera House; Berlioz conducted Benvenuto Cellini there on 25 June 1853, but withdrew the work after a single performance. He also attended many performances of other operas.

*Theatre Royal Drury Lane  Berlioz was engaged here as conductor during his first visit in 1847-1848.

(See also A concert in February 1848 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and an article on Berlioz published in London in February 1848)

Freemason’s Tavern, Great Queen Street.  Berlioz attended the annual banquet of the Society of English Musicians, presided by the Duke of Cambridge, Queen Mary’s grandfather, in February 1848.

Musical Union – Willis’s Rooms  Berlioz conducted the Hungarian March there on 7 April 1848; he also attended the Musical Union’s matinées which were held here and was a close friend of John Ella who organised them; many years later the place became an auction room.

*St Paul’s Cathedral  Berlioz attended a Charity Children annual performance here in 1851 which inspired him to include a children part in the chorus of his Te Deum.

Crystal Palace, 1851 Exhibition  Berlioz was on the international commission examining musical instruments at the Great Exhibition; the Exhibition closed on 15 October; a few months later the building was taken down, over a period of two years, and re-erected at Sydenham, in south-east London; it was destroyed by fire in 1936.

(See also Berlioz: Report on the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.)

*Her Majesty’s Theatre  Berlioz heard there the celebrated singer Jenny Lind in 1848; he also saw a number of operas there in 1851. 

*Theatre Royal Haymarket  In 1851 Berlioz heard there Mendelssohn’s youthful opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho.

*Westminster Abbey  In June 1851 Berlioz attended there a Purcell Commemoration, an annual event.

Caldwell’s Rooms  Berlioz held a rehearsal there on 8 March 1852 (Ganz [1950], p. 123).

Blagrove Rooms  Berlioz held rehearsals here for his fifth concert of the New Philharmonic Society’s orchestra in 1852 (CG nos. 1486, 1487); the concert itself took place on 28 May at Exeter Hall.

Robert Addison’s, the music publisher at 47 King Street.  Berlioz asked two of his musicians to meet him there to try over a passage for the antique cymbals which was to be played in one of his concerts in 1852 (Ganz [1913] p. 61 and Ganz [1950], p. 124).

See also Concerts in a period of two weeks in May 1850.

Related pages on this site:

Berlioz in London: friends and acquaintances
Berlioz Biography
Berlioz Mémoires (in the original French)
Index of letters of Berlioz cited

The Hector Berlioz website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997;
Berlioz in London pages created on 1 January 2002; French version created on 8 March 2002. New version, considerably enlarged, on 1 January 2009.

© (unless otherwise stated) Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb for all the photos, engravings and information on Berlioz in London pages.

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