The Hector Berlioz Website

Promenade concerts.

The Times, 31 October 1878.

    The closing concert in the 1878 autumn promenade concerts in London took place on 30th October, conducted by the French conductor Jules Rivière (1819-1900) and a review of it was published the next day in The Times. The programme included three orchestral pieces from La Damnation de Faust. The reviewer does not mention the venue of the concert, but it is most likely that it was held at Covent Garden. London’s autumn promenade concerts were given in the opera house in Covent Garden in the second half of the 19th century up to 1895, when they were abandoned, probably because of the increasing musical activity towards the end of the century (Grove Dictionary, 1980, vol. 11).

    We have transcribed the text of this review from a print-out of an image of the article in a database accessed at the British Library in London (Colindale site); the syntax and spelling of the original have been preserved, but we have corrected obvious typesetting errors.


    M. Rivière’s series of promenade concerts will come to a close next Saturday, on which occasion extracts from a popular opera will be sung “in costume,” not to mention numerous other attractions of a similar kind. The last “classical” concert was given yesterday evening, the most interesting feature of the programme being some extracts from Berlioz’s “Damnation de Faust.” The work, barring a few omissions, was, as our readers will remember, performed last June at Her Majesty’s Theatre under the direction of M. Pasdeloup, the celebrated conductor of the Concerts Populaires. The scanty audience on that occasion sufficiently proved how little Berlioz’s compositions are known and appreciated in this country, and for that reason alone thanks are due to M. Rivière for introducing specimens of the gifted, though eccentric, French master’s work at his popular entertainments. His choice of pieces also cannot but be approved. Owing largely to the whimsical choice of his subjects, Berlioz’s works have little chance of meeting with general appreciation in this or any other country. Musicians may perhaps find something to admire in the structure and orchestral accompaniment of a “chorus of demons,” avowedly designed to depict “Pandæmonium,” but the healthy taste of the multitude naturally recoils from such high-spiced food. Excepting, perhaps, Faust’s “air dans la chambre de Marguerite,” the ballad or “Chanson gothique” of “The King of Thule,” and Marguerite’s song “D’amour l’ardente flamme,” there are few vocal pieces which would bear separate performance at a concert, and the same remark applies to the orchestral movements, with the exception again of three—those performed last night. The first of these, a well-known Hungarian march, brilliantly scored by Berlioz, has nothing whatever in common with the Faust legend or its treatment by Goethe. When taken to task for this arbitrary insertion, Berlioz calmly replied that he conducted his hero to Hungary merely because it suited him to embody this particular march, and that he would have taken him to any other country under the sun for a similar reason. The instrumentation of the march is somewhat noisy but effective, and well played as it was last night it could not fail to create a perfect sensation among a numerous audience. The second number of the selection is of a very different character. It is a “Ballet des Sylphes,” in valse rhythm, treated with a delicacy of touch and a variety of fanciful imagery equalled by few composers and surpassed only by Mendelssohn, the absolute ruler in the realms of musical fairies. The theme of his valse Berlioz has ingeniously adapted from the preceding piece, “Faust’s Dream,” thus prolonging the impressions of that charming reverie. The quaint effect of the muted violoncello sounding the bass note D throughout the movement has been previously noticed by us. Of a similar character as the valse and equally charming, although perhaps less melodious, is the piece chosen from the third part, the “Menuet des Follets.” At first sight it might appear strange that the follets could adapt their revels to anything so eminently regular, not to say respectable, as the measured dance of the 18th century. But, although strictly adhering to the minuet rhythm, Berlioz has contrived to introduce quaint effects of instrumentation and phrasing of which no ignis fatuus need be ashamed, and the effect of the whole movement is as new and striking as can well be imagined. We have mentioned the three pieces in the order in which they occur in the score. At the performance last night this order was reversed, and not without good reason. For after the brilliant march the delicate fairy dances must needs have lost much of their effect. As it was, the public seemed scarcely to appreciate their charm, while after the march the applause was unanimous. Of the remainder of the programme it will suffice to mention Weber’s overture to Oberon, Haydn’s symphony surnamed “The Surprise,” and a fragment somewhat pretentiously called “Lament,” from a “Fantasia Symphonique,” by O. Tennant. Signor Urio, Miss Adele Vernon, Mr. Thurley Beale, and Mrs. Weldon were among the vocalists, and Miss Fanny Albert repeated her performance of the scherzo from M. Saint-Saëns’ second pianoforte concerto. The second part of the concert was, as usual, devoted to operatic selections, popular ballads, and the like.

    The final performance on Saturday above referred to will be given for the benefit of M. Rivière, the conductor, and there will be an additional concert on Monday next week for the benefit of Mr. Hayes. At the latter Mr. Sims Reeves will sing arias by Mozart and Mendelssohn, and Davy’s popular ballad “The Bay of Biscay.”

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 20 September 2011.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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