Berlioz’s first Paris Festival took place in August 1844 on the occasion of the Festival of Industry, with the opening concert on the 1st, at which the Hymne à la France was premièred. His letter to Robert Griepenkerl, written a few days before the concert, gives a brief glimpse of the immensity of the task involved:
I am writing to you these few lines in the midst of a musical storm, but a storm I can ride and which, one must hope, will not shatter my ship. I have just organised the first Paris Festival; I have to conduct and instruct 500 choristers and 480 instrumental players. You can imagine the fever coursing through my bloodstream… [...]
(Correspondance Générale no. 915, 26 July 1844)
This page reproduces a contemporary report of this concert which appeared in the news column of The Times on the 5th of August. We have transcribed the text from a print-out of an image of the report in a database accessed at the British Library in London (Colindale site); the syntax and spelling of the original have been preserved.
MONSTER CONCERT IN PARIS — The grand monstre concert or festival got up by M. Berlioz in the large building in the Champs Elysée erected for the late exposition of national industry, came off yesterday with great success. The audience was immense, though, from the extraordinary extent of what was on this occasion transformed into the salle, there were numerous places unoccupied in the space allotted to the highest priced seats (10 francs). Those at 3 francs were completely occupied, and the appearance of the assembly, including the performers, who amounted, vocal and instrumental, to the extraordinary number of 1,025, was imposing in the extreme. The singers and the orchestra, as may be imagined, were recruited from every theatre in Paris, the Royal Conservatoire and every one of the many churches in the capital supplying the choruses, among whom were to be found every singer of eminence, male and female, known to the musical world. The tenors, of whom there were 100, comprised the names of Duprez, Chollet, Poultier, Masset, Bordogni, Alexis Dupont, the clever veteran Porchari, &c.; the basses comprised Barhoilet, Levasseur, Massol, and others of equal reputation; and the soprani list contained the names of Mesdames Stoltz, Dorus-Gras, Anna Tillon, Prevost, Potier, and a host of well known célébrités; in fact, no singer or instrumentalist of note was absent. The programme was well selected, containing morceaux from Gluck, Spontini, Weber, Beethoven, Mayerbeer [sic], Rossini, Halévy, and Berlioz. The most remarkable effect produced by this colossal union of voices and instruments was the full chorus in a hymn to France, composed by Berlioz for this occasion, and the effect of the words Dieu protège la France! which forms the refrain, was positively electric. Rossini’s well known “Prière,” from his opera Moses, was likewise most effective, and was encored; but the air which received the most enthusiastic applause was not for any beauty in the composition, or the execution, but simply because it exhibits an anti-English feeling — this was Halévy’s “Chant National, ” from the opera of Charles VI., in which the now well-known couplet,
“Jamais en France
Jamais l’Angleterre ne règnera !”
was followed by rapturous and long-reiterated plaudits, and afterwards a call for its repetition, which was again the signal for renewed transports. This was decidedly the feature of the concert. As a whole, though the immense masses of sound were certainly imposing, the building is so little adapted for the purposes of music that it was scarcely so powerful as might be expected from such gigantic resources. The receipts were about 40,000f. A second concert on a smaller scale is to take place on Sunday, when the lively strains of the celebrated Strauss, with an orchestra of 400, will be the attraction of the day. The admission will be a couple of francs, and this low price will probably secure a greatly crowded attendance.
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 1 December 2009.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
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