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Berlioz in Paris

The Société Philharmonique, 1850-1851

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Berlioz 1851

Contents of this page

Concerts of the Société Philharmonique
Selected letters
Table of meetings of the committee of the Société Philharmonique

This page is also available in French

See also the page La Société Philharmonique, 1850-1851: textes et documents (in French)
Berlioz in Paris: Concerts and performances 1825-1869
Berlioz in Paris: Concerts and performances 1825-1869 — texts and documents


CG = Correspondance générale (1972-2003)
CM = Critique musicale (8 volumes published, 1996-2016)
NL = Nouvelles lettres de Berlioz, de sa famille, de ses contemporains (2016)
RGM = Revue et gazette musicale 
Tiersot  = Julien Tiersot ‘Berlioz directeur de concerts symphoniques’, Le Ménestrel 1909-1910


    Late in 1849 Berlioz founded a new musical society, the Grande Société Philharmonique de Paris, to give its full title. It comprised over 200 musicians, with an orchestra of up to 100 players and a chorus of 120, and was intended to give orchestral, vocal and choral concerts every month on Tuesday evenings during the concert season, in the recently built Salle Sainte-Cécile. The foundation of the society represented a major new initiative on the part of Berlioz, in which he invested considerable time and energy; it was the realisation of a long-standing ambition, that of providing Paris with a large-scale musical society comparable to those of other musical capitals of Europe, such as London, Vienna or St Petersburg. As well as providing regular concerts for a wider musical public and employment for some of the many professional musicians who were based in Paris, it would give Berlioz added scope, both as composer and conductor. In the event the society did not live up to the expectations of its founder and his supporters in Paris. The opening concert on 19 February 1850 was an undoubted success and the society subsequently gave a number of notable performances, but difficulties emerged already during the first season. Though it went on to complete a second season in 1850-1851 it gradually lost momentum and Berlioz finally abandoned it in autumn 1851 without having been able to launch a third season.

    The Société philharmonique was discussed by Julien Tiersot in his study ‘Berlioz directeur de concerts symphoniques’ which was published in Le Ménestrel in 1909 and 1910 as part of his pioneering series of studies entitled Berlioziana which is reproduced on this site (not all of the evidence relating to the Société philharmonique was available to Tiersot at the time). The subject is of course treated in general studies of Berlioz, such as David Cairns’ two-volume biography of the composer (vol. II pp. 446-53). But despite its importance in the career of Berlioz and the abundant source material available, the Société philharmonique has apparently not received a comprensive study in its own right. The reason for this may be that after the demise of the society Berlioz himself said little about the episode. Strikingly, his Mémoires are completely silent on the subject: they mention occasionally various philharmonic societies in cities abroad — Hamburg, Vienna, Pesth, London — but there is not a single mention of the philharmonic society he himself founded and directed over a period of nearly two years. Berlioz’s silence is an indication of his disappointment: he may not have wished to dwell on what had been a major failure in his career. In any case after the year 1848 the coverage of the details of his career is greatly reduced. At the start of the somber chapter 59, which is dated 18 October 1854, Berlioz states his eagerness to conclude his Mémoires rapidly: his career from this point can only be a repetition of what has come before.

    This page, and its associated page of texts, aims to provide a documented conspectus of the history of the Société philharmonique with particular reference to contemporary sources (Berlioz’s own writings, the Paris press of the time, and documents emanating from the Société philharmonique itself). A section on this page lists in chronological order all the concerts given by the society, with the details of their programmes. Links are provided to relevant sources, which are found partly on this page and partly on the companion page of texts and documents.

Berlioz’s writings

   The history of the Société philharmonique is well documented, starting with Berlioz’s own writings. His correspondence provides sidelights on the evolving history of the society from its foundation late in 1849 till its last gasp in the autumn of 1851. A selection of letters is reproduced below in English translation (all translations are by Michel Austin). The letters selected are for the most part addressed to relatives and friends of the composer; they represent in practice only a small number of those dealing directly or indirectly with the society. With a few exceptions these have not been included in the selection; they are often brief and deal with practical matters such as (the list is not exhaustive):

    In addition to his correspondence, Berlioz’s writings as a music critic provide further evidence, notably his feuilletons for the Journal des Débats; they are all reproduced on this site in the original. Berlioz used his position as a writer for the journal to advertise the society in general terms (5 February 1850; 19 October 1850), occasionally to publicise particular performances or artists in advance, and sometimes to comment retrospectively on concerts that had taken place. What he did not do was to advertise or comment on performances of his own works, even though they formed a substantial part of many of the concerts he gave. References to all the relevant passages are included in the listing of individual concerts below.

The contemporary Paris press

    Throughout his career Berlioz paid particular attention to his relations with the press, and corresponded frequently with journalists and editors of journals, many of whom he knew personally. The history of the Société philharmonique is abundantly documented in the Paris press of the time. Selections are reproduced on a separate page of excerpts from three different journals, L’Illustration, Le Ménestrel, and the Revue et gazette musicale (RGM). These are of course only a sample of the very active press that flourished in 19th C. Paris, but they provide a representative spread of opinions by different writers and music critics. Passages reproduced have been divided into two categories, announcements and programmes of forthcoming concerts first, and secondly reviews of concerts that had taken place. (This division only affects the last two journals mentioned.)

    Of these three journals, L’Illustration was not a specialist musical publication (its subtitle was Journal universel), but it included regularly a column of music criticism under the title Chronique musicale, which was signed in this period by Georges Bousquet. Bousquet was a laureate of the Prix de Rome; he composed operas, but also worked as a conductor and chorus master; he is mentioned several times in Berlioz’s feuilletons in the Journal des Débats from 1844 onwards, and generally sympathetically (see especially 29 October 1844; 7 January 1849; 25 December 1852; 7 January 1853; 6 March 1857). Mentions by Bousquet in his column of concerts by the Société philharmonique vary in length and frequency: some concerts are reported briefly or not at all, while others get extensive treatment. Bousquet was generally well-disposed and receptive to Berlioz’s music, with one notable exception (the concert on 22 October 1850). Bousquet, it might be noted incidentally, evidently kept an eye on the reviews that appeared in the Revue et gazette musicale: one review of his (10 May 1851) carries a direct echo of a review published a week earlier in RGM of 3 May 1851.

    Le Ménestrel for its part was devoted exclusively to music and the theatre; it appeared weekly on Sundays, but at this time comprised only 4 pages in a smaller format than either of the two other journals. Reviews were normally signed; of the two critics whose name appears in the selected passages, Edmond Viel was more sympathetic to Berlioz than his colleague Jules Lovy, who though often appreciative could not resist an occasional barb at the expense of Berlioz and other composers.

    Much the fullest of the 3 journals was the Revue et gazette musicale (RGM); like Le Ménestrel it appeared weekly on Sundays, but it comprised 8 pages in a larger format, and was devoted exclusively to musical news which it provided in much greater detail than the other two papers. Berlioz had close relations with it over a period of many years and published a number of his own articles there. It was his platform of choice for publicising the activities of the Société philharmonique: a copy of the manifesto for the opening concert of the society, with annotations in Berlioz’s own hand, is extant in the Bibliothèque nationale de France; it was sent by Berlioz to the editor Brandus, who duly published it in RGM of 3 February 1850 (see the illustration on a separate page). The previous week (27 January 1850) RGM had published an article announcing the foundation of the new society by the journalist Léon Kreutzer, a long-standing friend and supporter of Berlioz who clearly reflected his thinking. Kreutzer published subsequently a number of extended reviews of particular concerts. Other reviews of the society’s concerts were contributed by Maurice Bourges and (less frequently and more briefly) by Henri Blanchard, both of whom were sympathetic to Berlioz, especially Bourges. For the history of the Société philharmonique RGM is by far the most informative of the three journals mentioned here: it made a point of announcing every concert in advance, sometimes with updates on forthcoming programmes, and publishing a review afterwards.

The documentary evidence

    Of particular interest for the history of the Société philharmonique is the documentary evidence it has left of its workings. One of these documents — the prospectus for the launching of the society with manuscript additions by Berlioz himself — was mentioned above. Many of the others are now in the Hector Berlioz Museum at La Côte-Saint-André: they belong to the Chapot collection which is housed there, which means that they formed part of Berlioz’s own papers which passed down to the family of his sister Adèle Suat after his death. This carries an important implication: despite the eventual failure of the Société philharmonique and Berlioz’s reluctance to dwell on it retrospectively, he nevertheless kept the papers associated with the society. These include miscellaneous items, such as lists of the recipients of complimentary tickets for particular concerts (these were given out in significant numbers; one example is illustrated on a separate page), or correspondence relating to the society (two examples are CG nos. 1358 and 1387). Much the most important item is a manuscript book which contains the complete minutes of the meetings of the committee of the society, dating from 22 January 1850 to 4 November 1851. The book is some 100 pages in length; at some later date the odd pages were numbered in pencil (by a different hand) from 1 to 99 in the top right-hand margin. The title page on p. 3 carries the simple heading ‘Société philharmonique. Procès Verbaux des Séances du Comité’. The table below gives a chronological listing of those meetings over the two years of the society’s existence. The minutes are in various hands, some more legible than others, and a number of minutes (not the majority) were written by Berlioz himself; on the table below the minutes in Berlioz’s hand are indicated by an *asterisk. This is a document of exceptional interest which is not as widely known as it deserves to be and has yet to be fully exploited; it provides a wealth of curious detail about the functioning of the society which would otherwise be unknown. Excerpts from the minutes have been transcribed by us from the originals at the Hector Berlioz Museum and are reproduced on the associated page of texts and documents; they will give some idea of the kind of information that may be gathered from this source. A number of pages are illustrated on separate pages (see below).

The foundation of the society

    The full title of the new society was Grande société philharmonique de Paris. The title, it should be said, was not prompted by mere grandiloquence, but was probably designed to distinguish the society from a much older one, the Société philharmonique de la ville de Paris, which had been in existence for a quarter of a century. This latter society was a small-scale affair, consisting of amateur players who gave concerts of generally light music, at no charge to the public (on it see for example RGM 19 January 1851).

    The new Société philharmonique was entirely Berlioz’s idea; he was its organiser, composer, conductor, and president; he was the soul of the society which could not exist without him. In his correspondence Berlioz was candid about this (CG nos. 1289, 1297, 1312), and so was his friend and supporter Léon Kreuzer in the manifesto he published to announce the launching of the society (RGM 27 January 1850). As newspapers and reviews show, it was generally taken for granted that the society was Berlioz’s and completely identified with him.

    The precise moment when Berlioz took the decision to found it can be fixed precisely to December 1849: this emerges from the evidence of CG no. 1289 and of Kreutzer’s article of 27 January 1850, where he states that it is ‘barely a month since M. Berlioz started to implement a project which he had been thinking about for a long time’. This statement calls for comment. Berlioz had indeed long deplored the absence in Paris of an equivalent of the philharmonic societies of the great European capital cities. There was of course the Société des concerts du Conservatoire founded by Habeneck in 1828, through which many of Berlioz’s works received their first performance in the 1830s. But after 1843 Berlioz was in practice excluded from it, both as composer and conductor; furthermore, the audience of the Conservatoire was limited in size and conservative in its tastes, the repertoire of its concerts did not easily welcome new music but was firmly rooted in the established classics, and the use of the hall was the jealously-guarded privilege of the Société des concerts. Then early in 1849 came a new development; an article which Berlioz published in RGM on 29 January 1849 started thus [CM VII pp. 21-28]:

We must begin by announcing the great news: Paris now has a concert hall!!! an excellent concert hall, with a perfect acoustic, sufficiently large in size, located in the best quarter of Paris, not too expensive to hire, and suitable for every kind of music, from string quartets to oratorios to the largest choral symphonies.

    The hall in question was the newly built Salle Sainte-Cécile at 49bis Chaussée d’Antin. Berlioz went on to explain in detail why in practice the Conservatoire hall was not available to musicians, and why the best available alternative, the Salle Herz, was because of its modest dimensions of limited value for anything other than small-scale concerts. The bulk of the article was devoted to reviewing the first concert given there by a newly formed orchestral society, the Union musicale under the direction of Jean Manéra, himself a member of the orchestra of the Société des concerts. The foundation of this society was a significant event: it was the first attempt to challenge the monopoly of the Conservatoire, and within less than two years the example was followed by two others, the Société Philharmonique founded by Berlioz at the end of the year, and the Société Sainte-Cécile founded in late 1850 (RGM 3 November 1850). All three societies were to fail eventually, but in retrospect they can be seen to have paved the way for the successful launching in October 1861 of the Concerts populaires of Jules Pasdeloup (he had been a timpanist in the Société PhilharmonqueCG no. 2077), which in turn provided the inspiration in the 1870s for the Concerts Colonne and then the Concerts Lamoureux.

    It is by no means clear that these two related developments — the opening of the Salle Sainte-Cécile and the creation of the Union musicale — had any immediate influence on Berlioz. In April 1849 Berlioz’s hopes for the Conservatoire were briefly raised when on 15 April, for the first time in years, it performed some of his music (two excerpts from La Damnation de Faust; see CG no. 1256), but in the event this was not followed up. For much of the year until September Berlioz was busy completing the score of the Te Deum which he had started the year before, and it is clear that in late September he was thinking, not of founding a new concert society, but of how to get his new work performed (CG no. 1280). It so happened that Jean Manéra, the founder of the Union musicale, had died suddenly not long before, on 3 August; his place was taken by François Seghers, a musician whom Berlioz regarded well. In the Journal des Débats of 27 October 1849 Berlioz wrote in very encouraging terms on rehearsals Seghers had conducted with the new orchestra in preparation for concerts in the new year, and he gave a warm welcome to its first concert on 20 January 1850 (Journal des Débats 5 February 1850). This makes it all the more striking that in December Berlioz should have taken the decision to launch his own venture, despite the existence of another — potentially rival — society. One consideration may have been that from past experience Berlioz was very reluctant to entrust his own music to conductors other than himself. Be that is it may, Berlioz now moved rapidly: within a matter of weeks friends and sympathisers were alerted, and an orchestra and chorus was recruited from the large pool of musicians in Paris whom Berlioz had got to know over a period of many years.

The venue: Salle Sainte-Cécile

    All the regular concerts of the Société philharmonique were given in Salle Saint-Cécile, with the exception of two special performances which took place in churches (3 May 1850 and 1st March 1851). The concerts were on Tuesday evenings, not an ideal time, but the only practical one available (cf. CG no. 1361). In the event the Salle Sainte-Cécile did not have a long history, and there do not appear to be any contemporary images of it. It was larger than the Salle Herz and even the Conservatoire, and could accommodate performing forces in excess of 200 musicians, but its exact size is apparently not known. It was evidently not able to accommodate the large forces required for the Te Deum, which Berlioz never seems to have considered performing at the concerts of the Société philharmonique. Initially Berlioz welcomed the opening of the new hall as the answer to his prayers, but prolonged use caused him to revise his view. In an article in the Journal des Débats of 19 October 1850 Berlioz remarked that the society had been obliged to refuse additional volunteers, because the existing 200 musicians were more than enough for the Salle Sainte-Cécile, and it would be dangerous to overload the acoustic of the hall. In May 1850, after the conclusion of the first season, the committee of the society had in fact decided to approach the Minister of the Interior to ask for permission to use the hall of the Conservatoire during the following season. A letter was duly sent to the Minister, but his response was negative and reaffirmed the status quo (see the minutes of the meeting of 12 May and the note there); the 1850-1851 season was therefore held in Salle Saint-Cécile. But when in October 1851 Berlioz was considering starting a third season of concerts, he stated that he wanted to do this in a new hall (CG no. 1433): this can only refer to the recently opened Salle Barthélémy, but this fell through in circumstances which will be examined below.

Programmes and repertoire

    It should be pointed out at the outset that throughout the two seasons of the society's existence the chorus played a significant part in every concert: the choristers formed half of the society.

    The declared aim of the society was to ‘initiate the public to the principal compositions of all periods without exception’ (RGM 3 February 1850), and in his review of the first concert of the society Kreutzer stated that ‘the Society promised to bring to its public […] the works of the great masters without any exception’ (RGM 24 February 1850). On the other hand Berlioz writing to his sisters in the concluding months of 1849 made clear that his priority now was to have his existing works performed (CG nos. 1280, 1289). In his opening manifesto for the Société philharmonique Léon Kreutzer himself made no mystery of the fact that one of its functions was to promote performance of Berlioz’s own works (RGM 27 January 1850) and he reaffirmed this in a review of the second concert of the second season: ‘the Société philharmonique will enable us to appreciate the majority of M. Berlioz’s all too rarely heard works’ (RGM 24 November 1850). There was thus from the outset an ambiguity in the mission of the new society: to bring to the public good music of all ages, but also to provide Berlioz with the regular platform for his own music which he lacked in Paris.

    Berlioz did indeed figure prominently in many of the programmes of the society. Of the 11 regular concerts given over the two seasons only two did not include any of his music (17 December 1850, 29 April 1851): the Paris public was treated to an extended Berlioz festival such as it had not heard before and was not to hear again till after his death. In little over a year Berlioz managed to perform the first two parts of La Damnation de Faust (the first part twice, and the Marche hongroise three times in all), the Symphonie fantastique (twice), Harold en Italie (the second movement twice), the first four parts of Roméo et Juliette (twice), the cantata Le Cinq mai, the Francs-Juges overture, La Belle voyageuse, an aria from Benvenuto Cellini, and his own orchestration of Weber’s Invitation à la valse (twice). In addition he was able to give first performances of several shorter works (the orchestrated version of Sara la baigneuse [twice], La Menace des Francs) and had the satisfaction of mystifying the public and critics by passing off successfully his own Adieu des bergers à la sainte famille as the work of the imaginary 17th C. composer Pierre Ducré (concert of 12 November 1850). On top of this the Requiem was chosen for performance at Saint-Eustache at a special ceremony in honour of the victims of a disaster at Angers, when a bridge collapsed causing numerous casualties in the army (3 May 1850). To judge from the reviews, Berlioz’s works were generally well received, sometimes even repeated by demand, though one reviewer did complain of an excess of his music in a single programme (L’Illustration 1-8 November 1850); it may be in response to criticisms of this kind that Berlioz decided to keep the concert of 17 December 1850 completely free of his own music (CG no. 1360). But in three of the following concerts Berlioz’s music figured again prominently.

    Leaving Berlioz aside, the programmes of the society’s concerts were in practice quite varied. They often reveal Berlioz’s personal preferences: his idol Gluck was present in four programmes, as was Weber (not counting L’Invitation à la valse), and Berlioz made a point of launching his very first concert with Beethoven’s neglected Leonora no. 2 overture, though otherwise he avoided competition with the Conservatoire and Beethoven had a limited share in the programmes (one performance of the fifth symphony, and one of the Appassionata sonata). Berlioz’s hand can also be detected in his inclusion of pieces by his master Lesueur (22 October and 17 December 1850), an aria by Dalayrac (25 February 1851), two choral pieces by the Russian Bortniansky (22 October and 12 November 1850, 28 January 1851), and the introduction to the Paris public of Mendelssohn’s Athalie overture (23 April 1850). It was Berlioz also who made the society commit itself to the performance of music by winners of the Rome prize competition (minutes of 14 February 1850): the beneficiary was Léon Gastinel, whose music was performed on two occasions (30 March 1850, 25 March 1851) (Gastinel became a member of the committee on 10 September 1850, when he replaced Auguste Morel on the latter’s departure to his native Marseille after many years in Paris).

    The programmes also reveal the pressures the society was under. It was natural that its own members should expect to have their works performed; apart from Léon Gastinel this applies to Dietsch (30 March 1850), Félicien David and Cadaux (both 23 April 1850), Membrée (28 January 1851), and also to several instrumental solos: the cellist Jacquart (23 April 1850), the flautist Petiton (25 March 1851). And it was probably inevitable that concessions had to be made to popular taste. Hence in particular the prominent part played in many of the concerts by vocal or instrumental showpieces performed by famous singers (such as Pauline Viardot, Mme Frezzolini, Mme Ugalde and others) or instrumentalists (such the violonists Joachim and Wieniawski and others). Hence the frequently hybrid and fragmented appearance of many of the programmes. One noteworthy feature of several programmes was the introduction of very young players: child prodigies could be expected to cause a sensation, such as the violonists Jullien (17 December 1850) and Reynier (28 January 1851), the pianist Wilhelmine Clauss (25 February 1851) and the cellist Massart (25 March 1851).

    One of the declared ambitions of the society was to take its concerts to provincial cities in France by making use of the railways (Léon Kreutzer, RGM 27 January 1850). In this one may detect once more Berlioz’s way of thinking (compare the speech he made at Kehl in June 1863): he had long shown interest in the development of transport in his time, from which he had himself been able to benefit in his travels to Germany in 1842-3 and again in 1845-6, and in his flights of fancy he imagined a future when travel would be by air... As recently as October 1848 he had taken his musicians by train to give a concert in Versailles (Kreutzer seems to be alluding to this in his article). Plans were formulated for concerts in Rouen, Amiens and elsewhere (see for example Kreutzer in RGM 24 February 1850 [at the end] and the minutes of 27 April and 1st May 1850), though in the end they came to nothing.

The demise of the society

    The beginnings of the society were very promising. The first concert was a notable success and was very well received by the press; in particular there was praise for the high standard of performance achieved under Berlioz’s direction. Many of the later concerts also received favourable notices, but it was not long before the society ran into difficulties. Tensions broke out into the open at the general meeting of 27 April 1850; Berlioz offered to resign, though the orchestra would not accept this. He explained ‘what were his aims in creating the society to further progress and art, and added that in the first four concerts he had only performed a small part of his works’. This implies opposition within the society to the share his own compositions were taking in the programmes: the opposition came in fact not from the orchestra but from some members of the chorus who had asked that Sara la baigneuse should be withdrawn from the third concert (it was not performed till the autumn, on 22 October 1850). It then transpires that the leader of the opposition was the chorus-master Dietsch, who insisted on conducting the chorus during the forthcoming performance of the Berlioz Requiem at Saint-Eustache. Some choristers were reported as having said that ‘the performance of the works of M. Berlioz was tiring for the singers’. In the event Dietsch refused to take part in the performance and resigned from the society together with a number of choristers (meeting of 5 May 1850). In his review of the performance, published on the same day as the meeting, Léon Kreutzer commented defiantly: ‘We had no need to regret the absence of the chorus-master, M. Dietsch; orchestra and chorus rivalled each other in talent under the single direction of M. Berlioz’ (RGM 5 May 1850).

    Over time the initial enthusiasm and impetus of the society began to wane. It is noticeable that whereas in 1850 Berlioz insisted that he could not leave Paris during the summer because of the needs of the society to which he was committed (CG nos. 1335, 1343, 1344), he did not hesitate in May of the following year to leave Paris to serve as member of a panel of judges at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, from which he did not return till the end of July. There is a similar evolution in the attitude of Léon Kreutzer’s articles in RGM, from the initial missionary enthusiasm of January and February 1850, through the more guarded tone of October and November 1850, to the defensiveness of the last article in April 1851: concert societies such as the Société philharmonique cannot expect to make money, and have to be satisfied with glory. As the second season progressed, the number of meetings of the committee dwindled considerably, and in 1851 there was only one meeting of the general assembly (see the table below).

   Another development which was going to affect the future of the society was the foundation late in 1850 of a new concert society, the Société Sainte-Cécile under the direction of the previously-mentioned François Seghers (RGM 3 November 1850, 5 January 1851). It had slightly smaller forces than the Société philharmonique (initially a total of 130 as against 200), gave concerts in the same Salle Sainte-Cécile, but fortnightly and not monthly, and on Sunday afternoons when the Conservatoire was not performing, not on a weekday. This gave it at the outset certain advantages. In the long run the new society was more successful and outlasted Berlioz’s rival society. But it should be noted that in public Berlioz never blamed the new society or its conductor Seghers for the demise of his own: on the contrary, he gave his full support to it and to Seghers in his feuilletons (see Journal des Débats 21-22 April and 27 November 1851; 21 February 1852; 7 January and 26 July 1853).

    The fundamental problem, as Kreutzer noted, was one of money: the concerts of the Société philharmonique did not generate enough profit to be sustainable (cf. CG no. 1311). Expenses were high, including the hire of the hall, copying of parts, rehearsals, fees to artists, and the large number of complimentary tickets that had to be handed out to the press and to members of the society and their friends. The minutes of the meetings of the committee provide a wealth of detail about the finances of the society, which cannot be reproduced in full here. To give one illustration, the minutes of the general assembly on 27 April 1850 summarise the net profit for the first 3 concerts; the minutes of earlier meetings provide additional detail. The first concert took in 4119 frs. from the sale of tickets, and left a healthy surplus of 2772.30 frs. But there was a steep decline with the second concert: it netted gross takings of 1428 frs., which left a profit of only 441 frs. The third concert was even worse: gross takings were a paltry 897 frs. and the profit was reduced to 156.55 frs. As the minutes of 27 April show, the society received from the Ministre des Beaux-Arts a subsidy of 1000 frs. for its first season, but this was not repeated for the second. Granted that the profits were shared out between all 200 or so members of the society, the return for every participant was minimal; Berlioz himself, the conductor and president, only made a miserly 84 frs. from the whole of the first season (CG no. 1343).

    In the second season the society found itself forced in the end to rely on emergency funding: the 4 last concerts in which it participated were only made possible by heavy subsidies. The last concert it gave in Salle Sainte-Cécile on 29 April was most unusual: there were none of the usual attractions of earlier concerts, such as popular works or showpieces by singers or virtuosos. Apart from an overture by Berlioz’s friend Auguste Morel, the whole programme was taken up by a single work entitled Le Moine which lasted two and a half hours, by the (little known) composer Henry Cohen: he had given 1000 francs to the society and his offer could not be refused (CG nos. 1401, 1411). The concert was a disaster; the hall was almost empty, and even the most polite critic had difficulty in finding much to praise in Cohen’s work. Two further concerts, of which very little is known, were given at the Jardin d’Hiver on 1st May and 4 May, thanks to another subsidy of 1000 francs provided by a charitable society. This was the last time that Berlioz conducted the society’s orchestra. The very last concert in which the Société philharmonique participated took place on 24 June, well outside the normal concert season; it was intended to celebrate the inauguration of the newly built Salle Barthélémy, and was made possible by a donation of 1500 frs. by Ernest Reyer for the performance of his work Le Sélam, which in the event he conducted himself (Berlioz did not return from London for this concert).

    But Berlioz had not given up altogether on the society. At the beginning of October he was intending to restart the concerts in a new hall, though obviously without any enthusiasm (CG no. 1433). The ‘new hall’ which he was referring to was no doubt the Salle Barthélémy: years earlier he had praised the plan to build the new hall (Journal des Débats 12 October 1847). M. Barthélémy had previously been in touch with the society over a period of months in connection with the inauguration of the hall (which eventually took place on 24 June). In September 1851 the managers of the hall approached the society with a view to giving two concerts in the hall with a guarantee of 3000 frs. (minutes of 26 September 1851), but as the minutes of the next meeting on 16 October show, a disagreement arose over the financial terms of the deal and the society refused to budge. The next piece of evidence is a letter of Barthélémy himself addressed to the RGM and dated 26 October, in which he extolled the merits of his new hall and claimed that he had the support of leading cultural figures (Berlioz, Félicien David, Lacombe, Méry) for a concert which was to take place in it on 1 November… (RGM 26 October 1851, p. 350). No such concert took place, and the next that is heard is that the Salle Barthélémy had been turned into a dance hall for use by the Bals Arban (Arban was a noted cornet player at the time), for which use it proved very popular (RGM 9, 16 and 30 November 1851): a sad and inglorious ending for a hall in which its creator had invested so much time, imagination and money.

    The demise of the hall coincided with the demise of the Société philharmonique. The last known meeting of the committee, on 4 November 1851, was attended by only 4 members (including Berlioz, who wrote the minutes). The only topic discussed was a dispute with the composer Niedermeyer over payments for the performance on 1st March that year of his mass; there was no further talk of planning any concerts. When the RGM came to publish its review of the year 1851 it took for granted that both the Société philharmonique and the Union musicale had come to an end: out of four concert societies in action in 1851, only the Société Sainte-Cécile and the perennial Société des concerts du Conservatoire were now left in the field.

Concerts of the Société Philharmonique

Note: the listing of programmes below is intended to include the works that were actually performed at each concert, in the order in which they were played. Both are at times uncertain, as the actual concerts not infrequently diverged from the programmes published in advance (for instance, because of the illness of a singer), and reviews do no always mention all the works that were played at the concert, nor make clear in what order they were performed.


  19 February (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Beethoven, Leonora no. 2 (overture); La Damnation de Faust (I, II; Roger, Levasseur); Ernst, Fantasia on Rossini Otello (Joachim, violin); Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride (aria and chorus; Mme Viardot); Gluck, Écho et Narcisse (Act III, scene I); Cello solo (Demunck); Méhul, Joseph (aria, Roger); Meyerbeer, Les Huguenots (Bénédiction des poignards).
See CG nos. 1291, 1295, 1296, 1297, 1299 (before the concert); CG nos. 1307bis [see vol. VIII], 1308bis [NL p. 349], 1312, 1315 (after the concert)
Journal des Débats 5 February 1850
L’Illustration 2 March 1850 (review)
Le Ménestrel 17 February 1850 (programme), 24 February 1850 (review)
RGM 27 January 1850 (manifesto), 3 February 1850 (programme), 24 February 1850 (review)

  19 March (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Weber, Der Freyschütz overture; Palestrina, Adoremus; Harold en Italie (Massart, viola); Unaccompanied XVIth C. chorus; Violin concerto (excerpt; Herman); Gluck, Alceste Act I (excerps; Mme Julienne, Arnoldi); Rossini, Moïse (finale; Mme Julienne, Arnoldi).
See CG nos. 1308, 1315
L’Illustration 30 March 1850 (review)
Le Ménestrel 17 March 1850 (programme), 24 March 1850 (review)
RGM 3 March 1850 (programme), 24 March 1850 (review)

  30 March (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Dietsch, Credo; Unaccompanied XVIth C. chorus; Gastinel, Symphony (excerpts); Niedermeyer, O Salutaris and Agnus dei; Violin solo (Wieniawski); Harold en Italie (II); Weber, Konzertstück (Mme Massart, piano); Spontini, aria from Fernand Cortès (Mlle Dobré); Vogel, Démophon overture.
See CG nos. 1310, 1311bis [see volume VIII], 1319
Journal des Débats 13 April  and 19 October 1850, 9 February 1853
L’Illustration 6 April 1850 (review)
Le Ménestrel 24 March 1850 (programme), 7 April 1850 (review)
RGM 24 March 1849 (programme), 7 April 1850 (review)

  23 April (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Mendelssohn, Athalie overture; La Damnation de Faust (I; Roger); Rossini, aria from La Donna del Lago (Mme Grisi); Félicien David, March from Moïse au Sinaï; Cello solo by Servais (Jacquart); Aria (Mme Laborde); Méhul, Joseph (aria; Roger); Cadaux, Chœur de chasseurs; Violin pieces on Meyerbeer, Robert-le-Diable (A. de Kontski, violin); Weber, Invitation à la valse orch. Berlioz.
See L’Illustration 4 May 1850 (notice)
Le Ménestrel 21 April 1850 (programme), 28 April 1850 (review)
RGM 21 April 1850 (programme), 28 April 1850 (review)

  3 May (Église Saint-Eustache)

Berlioz, Requiem
See CG nos. 1320bis [see vol. VIII], 1321, 1325, 1326, 1327bis, 1331
Le Ménestrel 28 May 1850 (announcement), 5 May 1850 (notice)
RGM 28 April 1850 (announcement), 5 May 1850 (review)
See Saint-Eustache and the minutes of the meetings of the committee on 20 April, 27 April and 5 May 1850

  22 October (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Beethoven, Symphony no. 5; Sara la baigneuse (choral version, first performance); Schubert, Serenade and arias by Donizetti and Bellini (Mme Frezzolini); Bortniansky, Chant des chérubins; Les Francs-Juges overture; Le Cinq mai (Barroilhet); Halévy, aria (Mlle Lefebvre) and boléro (Barroilhet); Lesueur, chorus.
See CG nos. 1344, 1357 
Journal des Débats 19 October 1850
L’Illustration 1-8 November 1850 (review)
Le Ménestrel 27 October 1850 (review)
RGM 13 October and 20 October 1850 (programme), 27 October 1850 (review)

  12 November (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Symphonie fantastique; Bortniansky, Chant des Chérubins; Donizetti, aria (Mme Ugalde); ‘Pierre Ducré’ [= Berlioz!], Les adieux des Bergers à la sainte famille; Sara la baigneuse; Verdi and Donizetti, arias (Mme Ugalde); Piccinni, chorus; Weber, L’Invitation à la valse orch. Berlioz.
See CG nos. 1358, 1359bis [NL p. 362], 1360
Les Grotesques de la musique (on ‘Pierre Ducré’)
Le Ménestrel 10 November 1850 (programme), 17 November 1850 (review)
RGM 3 November 1850 (programme), 24 November 1850 (review)

  17 December (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Weber, Oberon overture; Gluck, Armide (excerpts); Weber, Oberon (chorus); Violin solo (Jullien); Lesueur, excerpts from La Caverne and Alexandre à Babylone; Méhul, La chasse du Jeune Henri, overture; piano solo (Mme Mattemann); Rossini, Moïse (prayer).
See CG nos. 1366antebis [NL p. 363], 1360, 1370
Journal des Débats 17 January and 13 April 1851
Le Ménestrel 15 December 1850 (announcement)
RGM 15 December 1850 (programme), 22 December 1850 (review)


  28 January (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Roméo et Juliette (I-IV; Mme Maillard, Roger); Bortniansky, Pater noster; Membrée, Polyphème et Galathée (Roger, Mlle Dobré); Donizetti, aria (Mme Maillard); Zimmerman, O Salutaris (Mlle Dobré); Violin solo by Alard (Reynier); Stradella, aria (Roger); Gluck, Armide (choral excerpt).
See CG nos. 1371, 1376, 1379
Journal des Débats 19 October 1850 and 17 January 1851
Le Ménestrel 19 January 1851 (programme) and 2 February 1851 (review)
RGM 19 January and 26 January 1851 (programme), 2 February 1851 (review)

  25 February (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Roméo et Juliette (I-IV; Mme Maillard, tenor?); Dalayrac, aria (Mme Maillard); Mlle de Reyset, Symphony (excerpt); Pergolèse, aria (Mme Viardot); Weber, Preciosa (March and chorus); Beethoven,, Sonata op. 57 and piano piece by Wilmers (Mlle Clauss); Rossini aria and Spanish songs (Mme Viardot); Marche hongroise from La Damnation de Faust.
See CG nos. 1382, 1385, 1388, 1392
Journal des Débats 23 February 1851
L’Illustration 14-21 March 1851 (review)
Le Ménestrel 23 February 1851 (programme), 2 March 1851 (review)
RGM 16 February 1851 (programme), 2 March 1851 (review)

  1 March (Église Saint-Thomas d’Aquin)

Niedermeyer, Messe
See CG nos. 1387, 2125
L’Illustration 14-21 March 1851 (notice)
RGM 23 February 1851 (announcement), 9 March 1851 (review)

  25 March (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Symphonie fantastique; Piano solo (Reinecke); Benvenuto Cellini, aria (Mme Gras-Dorus); Auber, aria (Massol); La belle voyageuse; Flute solo (Petiton); Gastinel, overture; Auber, aria (Mme Gras-Dorus); Cello solo (Massart); La Menace des Francs (first performance).
See Le Ménestrel 23 March 1851 (programme), 30 March 1851 (review)
RGM 23 March 1851 (programme), 6 April 1851 (review)

  29 April (Salle Sainte-Cécile)

Programme: Morel, Overture; Cohen, Le Moine (Hermann-Léon, Jourdan, Mlles Dobré and Vavasseur).
See CG nos. 1396, 1399, 1401, 1411
Journal des Débats 21-22 April 1851
L’Illustration 10 May 1851 (review)
Le Ménestrel 27 April 1851 (programme), 4 May 1851 (notice)
RGM 27 April 1851 (programme), 3 May 1851 (review)
L’Argus des théâtres 10 May 1851 (review of Morel’s overture)
See also the minutes of the meeting of the committee on 15 March 1851

  1 May (Jardin d’Hiver)

Programme: uncertain, possibly the same as that of the concert on Sunday 4 May (next entry)
See CG no. 1411
J. Tiersot, Le Ménestrel 29 January 1910
(?) RGM 3 May 1851 (notice of this concert?)
See also the minutes of the meetings of the committee on 15 March and 6 May 1851

  4 May (Jardin d’Hiver)

Programme (Fête musicale des crèches): Roméo et Juliette (II), Weber, Invitation à la valse orch. Berlioz; Marche hongroise from La Damnation de Faust; Solo for cornet (Denault).
See CG no. 1411
J. Tiersot, Le Ménestrel 29 January 1910
See also the minutes of the meetings of the committee on 15 March and 6 May 1851

  24 June (Salle Barthélémy)

Programme (concert conducted by Ernest Reyer): Choral piece (École Chevé); Mendelssohn, Athalie overture; Vieuxtemps, Violin concerto (Vieuxtemps); two Italian arias (Mme Taccani); Ernest Reyer, Le Sélam
On Salle Barthélémy see Journal des Débats 12 October 1847; on Le Sélam see Journal des Débats 13 April 1850
Le Ménestrel of 29 June 1851, p. 1 has a disparaging account of the inauguration of the hall but gives no details about the concert itself.
RGM of 29 June 1850, pp. 213-14 gives a full account of the inauguration, but most of the review concerns the hall itself and not the concert
See also the minutes of the meetings of the committee on 15 March, 25 March and 9 June 1851

Selected letters


To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1280; 24 September)

[…] I have been working a great deal of late; I have completed several large-scale works. At the moment I am toying with the idea of getting some of these performed towards the end of November. But the expense, the taxes, and the indifference for music of these Parisian toads give me a great deal of food for thought. I would not want to lose the slightest amount of money in this sort of venture. I have received a request from London for the score of my Te Deum, but I do not send my manuscripts to people I know little. […]
Yet I have an inordinate desire to see or rather to hear at work this great musical engine, which, unless I am flattering myself absurdly, is not lacking in horsepower. Well, time will tell. […]

To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 1289; 29 décembre)

[…] I am working hard without doing anything, in other words without composing any music. My only objective now is to perform what has been composed. To this end I have just organised a large Philharmonic Society on the analogy of those in London, Vienna and St Petersburg; I am its soul and head and I can perform there anything I want. But the copying and writing out of the separate parts of my latest scores are ruining me, and since I have not given any concerts in Paris since my return from England I do not even have enough money to provide for that. My income barely suffices to meet my monthly expenditure. Please ask Camille if he could find a way of borrowing a sum of two thousand francs against what belongs to me; I am going to have an urgent need for it. Better still if he could manage to sell a plot of land from my share. […]


To Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (CG no. 1291; around 1 January)

I have just organised a large musical society which is called the Paris Philharmonic Society. It is composed of 200 musicians (90 orchestral players and 110 choristers). We will only give one concert a month on Tuesday evenings at eight o’clock. The society will give its inaugural concert in Salle Saint-Cécile, rue du Mont-Blanc, on Tuesday 19 February next, with rehearsals on the 14th, 16th and 18th. Would it be convenient for you to perform in Paris on that day? Belloni led me to hope that you would be within reach at the time. At any rate if you are held up with commitments in England next month, remember that our second concert is scheduled for 19th March and the religious concert for holy Saturday (a special concert) for the 30th of the same month. The venture looks promising and is receiving keen support, without counting the opposition from the Conservatoire and the Société de l’Union. We have powerful patrons. The orchestra and chorus are full of zeal. […]

To Franz Liszt (CG no. 1295; 8 January)

I have just organised a philharmonic society composed of 200 members (110 choristers, 90 orchestral players). We are giving our first concert on 19 February. The sessions will take place on the second Tuesday of every month at 8 in the evening in Salle Saint-Cécile, rue du Montblanc. Things look promising from every point of view. Will you give us permission to put your name at the head of our list of honorary members? This will give encouragement to the society to perform some of your new works when you come to Paris.
I am only writing you a few lines in a hurry; we have an uninterrupted series of meetings, and all sorts of debates.
I have the greatest difficulty in adjusting to these forms of representative government which make us take 8 days to do what I could do in an hour. […]

To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1296; 12 January)

[…] Farewell, I am leaving you for a meeting of the committee of my new Philharmonic Society, we are opening in one month, and we must make good use of the weeks that remain.
We can only begin by causing a stir; I am trying to stimulate interest in this venture on the part of the ministers of the Interior and of Education, the Préfet of the Seine department, the Institut and the leading music-lovers, such as Prince Poniatowski at whose place I dined the day before yesterday, Princess Czartoriska, her husband, her father, the Duchess of Rauzan, the Princess of Chimay (?) Rodriguez, La Moskowa and (?) members of the aristocracy whose names will look very well on a Republican poster. […]

[Note: there are no minutes of any meeting of the committee of the society before 22 January]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1297; 12 January)

[…] You ask me whether I am not giving any concerts. Heaven forbid! I will no longer play that game in France! You have to risk 4000 fr. to earn 400. All I have done is to organise recently a large Philharmonic Society of 200 performers of which I am the head. We will be giving one concert every month and will share the takings. In this way I do not run any risk. And yet I would greatly need to earn some money; I have the greatest difficulty in the world in making both ends meet. […]

To Charles de Bériot (CG no. 1311; undated)

[…] One has to come to terms with the fact that, save for circumstances that may arise by chance, or by joining hands with inferior arts that always demean music to a greater or lesser extent, our art is not productive in the commercial sense of the term. It addresses itself too exclusively to the exceptions within intelligent societies, and requires too many preparations and resources to manifest itself to the wider world. There must therefore be a sort of honorable ostracism for the minds that cultivate it without any regard for interests that are alien to it… […]

To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1312; 3 March)

[…] It is very kind of you and Nancy to talk to me about my musical ventures in the midst of your own painful preoccupations. I have indeed scored a very great success as a composer, conductor and organiser. The takings we made were very good, and as with subsequent takings, they will be shared out among the 220 members of the society in equal shares. I am given 4 shares, and that is the only monetary advantage I get. […]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1315; 16 March)

[…] Be that as it may, I have founded a great musical institution which has scored a magnificent success, which has a future and is supported by the entire press. With the exception of two Italian rascals among the critics, everyone has warmly applauded and praised me.
The first two acts of my Faust have been praised to the skies. I will give the other two later.
Next Tuesday [19 March] we will have another magnificent concert, where I am only giving my second symphony (Harold); the performance will exceed everything I have secured for it to this day. […]

To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 1319; 3 April)

[…] Always rehearsals, always concerts, and very fortunately always great successes! This very success eve drives to distraction the two or three enemies I still have. There is one in particular, who not content with attacking my music furiously in l’Ordre and in the Revue des Deux Mondes, has, I am told, just published not a pamphlet, but a whole volume to prove that I do not know music and that everything I write is abominable and stupid. The name of this gentleman is Scudo, and he hopes that I will answer him and contribute thereby to make him known as well!… I am careful not to, that is an old trick and I will never let myself fall for it.
Besides our concerts of the Philharmonic Society, I secure others from time to time for our musicians and get them to earn money in this way, without taking any part myself in these ventures of wealthy amateurs which are always more or less risky. […]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1325; 29 April)

[…] I am in the process of organising the performance of my Requiem for the victims of Angers. This ceremony will take place at St Eustache next Friday [3 May] and I am at a loss where to turn and what to do. I need to rehearse 400 musicians, to have the services of ladies for the collection, to write hundreds of letters, etc. […]

To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 1327bis [see vol.VIII]; 2 May)

It is tomorrow Friday at 11 o’clock that my Requiem will be performed at the church of St Eustache. A conspiracy on the part of my chorus-master [Dietsch] has today prevented more than eighty choristers from coming to the rehearsal. But never mind — we will go ahead without them, and he will swallow his shame. […]

[On the role of Dietsch see the minutes of the meetings of the committee on 20 April, 27 April and 5 May 1850]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1335; 23 June)

[…] As a consequence of the foundation of the Philharmonic Society, which rehearses every week during the summer under my direction, I cannot leave Paris, without letting everything drift apart. […]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1343; 24 September)

[…] My share in the profits of the Philharmonic Society, which are divided between its 200 members, amounted last winter to 84 fr. Besides, this musical institution causes me to waste an enormous amount of time, as conductor, composer and president of the committees. But in time things should improve, and in any case it is something I have founded and which I cannot and must not abandon now. […]

To Ferdinand Hiller (CG no. 1344; 26 September)

[…] It would be very difficult for me to leave Paris this winter, even for one week. I have on my hands the Philharmonic Society which I founded last year and there is no way in which it can be left to its own devices this season; we are already rehearsing twice a week. Our first concert will take place on 22 October next. […]

To Auguste Morel (CG no. 1357; 15 November)

[…] Our concerts are in full swing; the second took place the day before yesterday and left me so drained that I have only just got up now for the first time since Tuesday evening. We did seven rehearsals for the Symphonie Fantastique and twice I was moved to declare to the orchestra that I was giving up trying to make it work. I wanted to postpone the concert for a forthnight. But they did so much that by promising me a supplementary and ATTENTIVE rehearsal on Tuesday, the day of the concert, I agreed to let the concert continue to be advertised. Very fortunately this rehearsal was enough to reassure me. The performance was indeed excellent and full of qualities which our orchestra had not yet demonstrated. The public displayed excessive enthusiasm, they asked for the Ball to be encored (but I did not want to repeat it), the adagio was greeted with three or four rounds of applause, and as for the March to the Scaffold the shouts were so insistent that we had to do it again. After the finale the ladies of the chorus played the trick on me of presenting me with an enormous and fantastic crown of oak, laurel and privet (Virgil’s albaque ligustra) which I promptly withdrew from the gaze of the Parisians in the hall, which would have caused them too much amusement. […]
We are now besieged with requests from the lady singers. The ovations given to Mme Frezzolini and Mme Ugalde have gone to their head and they are all aspiring more or less to divine status. From this point of view I am fortunate in having a responsible committee. Nor are the composers dozing off and you have no idea of the works they are sending us. Then come the child prodigies, the pianists and the flute-players. Famae sacra fames!… [accursed hunger for fame!] […]

[Auguste Morel was an assiduous member of the committee of the society throughout its first season and gave Berlioz unstinted support; towards the end of August 1850 he left Paris after many years in the capital and returned to his native Marseille; he was formally replaced as a committee member by the composer Léon Gastinel at a meeting on 10 September]

Albert Sowinski to Berlioz (CG no. 1358; 15 November)

I have many compliments to make to you on your magnificent compositions and on the way they were performed at the last concert [on 12 November]. You must also be thanked for having founded such a remarkable philharmonic society, which can only prosper with a man of your merit at its head. As I am due to spend this winter in Paris, I have in mind to follow your fine concerts, and if this is not too indiscreet on my part, I would request your good offices for an overture which I would be happy to see admitted to one of your concerts. […]

[Sowinski’s offer was not accepted; see the minutes of the committee meeting on 26 November 1850]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1360; 25 November)

[…] You ask me for news of our philharmonic concerts; up till now they have been very fine and we have large audiences. I had a huge success at the second concert [12 November], with my Symphonie Fantastique and the triple chorus of Sara la baigneuse; there were shouts of encore, crowns, etc. But it is donkey’s work. For the symphony alone I had to do seven rehearsals and before the last one I believed I would not be able to get it to work. Yet the performance was excellent and compensated me for my efforts. At the next concert the programme does not contain any of my compositions. I insisted on it being so to give more space to others. […]

To an unknown composer (CG no. 1361; 26 November)

[…] If you give a concert on a weekday, during the day, you will not get any audience; if you give it on a Sunday at 2 o’clock, you will face competition at the same hour from the Conservatoire, or the Société de l’Union, or the Société de Ste Cécile. If you want to give a concert in the evening (as is done by the Philharmonic Society which I conduct), it will still be very difficult to get an orchestra because of their commitments at the theatres, given that the Philharmonic Society has collected almost all the musicians who are able to get leave of absence in the evening. […]


To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1370; 4 January)

[…] At our last concert [17 December 1850] I included in the programme a violin solo by a 10 year old child called Julien, whom you may know. He comes from Vienne (in the Isère), his father is a craftsman, a locksmith I believe or a carpenter. This child is prodigious, he scored an enormous success, he was showered with bouquets, and more importantly he played like an accomplished musician and a great virtuoso. […]

[See Journal des Débats 17 January and 13 April 1851]

To Philarète Chasles (CG no. 1371; 9 January)

[…] We are organising relentlessly for Tuesday the 28th the performance of the first four parts of my choral symphony Roméo et Juliette. I hope we manage to bring off the large ensemble movements, but the queen Mab is so extravagantly wicked [in English in the original] that she makes me dream every night of an orchestra in disarray, wrong notes and discordant trumpets. […]

[Note: there are no trumpets in the Queen Mab scherzo!]

To Émile Deschamps (CG no. 1372; 9 January)

[…] We are performing at the end of this month (Tuesday 28th) at the concert of the Philharmonic Society, the first four parts of Roméo et Juliette, and I would like to count you among those in our audience. Tell me if you will be back in Paris at this time. Besides, it will be a fine concert, I hope; have a look at the programme. So do try to make sure you come to it. […]

To Auguste Morel (CG no. 1376; vers le 31 janvier)

[…] You will know that our last concert (last Tuesday [28 January]) was admirable. The first four movements of Roméo made a huge impact and we will repeat them at our next concert. […]

To General Alexis Lvov (CG no. 1379; 1 February)

[…] Borniansky’s biography will  probably also be very well received. We performed his Pater (in Latin) at last Tuesday’s concert [28 January]; it was quite well sung and even better received. […]

To Alexis Dupont (CG no. 1380; 10 February)

[…] Would you be kind enough to sing in the prologue the tenor solo (Mab la messagère) which you sung with so much wit a few years ago at the Conservatoire for the first time [in November and December 1839]. […]

[Note: Dupont did not sing in the concert on 25 February]

To James Pradier (CG no. 1382 [see vol. VIII]; 15 February)

Would you be so kind as to come next Tuesday [25th February] to hear part of my symphony Roméo et Juliette? The rest of the programme of this concert is in any case very fine and may compensate you for the boredom I am quite capable of causing you. […]

To a journalist (CG no. 1385; 18 February)

I thank you a thousand times, Sir, both for your last article and for the very gracious letter which preceded it. I would be very happy if it was possible for you to attend the next concert of our Philharmonic Society [25 February]. The programme does contain a few pieces which may interest you, and two artists of great ability are due to appear there for the first time. […]

Léon Niedermeyer to Berlioz (CG no. 1387; 1 March)

I do not want to wait till tomorrow to express my warm gratitude for the magnificent performance which I owe you. You made me experience a delight which is very rare in an artist’s life, that of hearing his work performed as he conceived it; none of my intentions escaped you, you sense everything as the great artist that you are.
Please convey my thanks to the wonderful orchestra and the excellent chorus which responded so well to the energetic impulse which you stamped on them.
Thanks to you and to them the 1st of March is a date I will never forget. […]

[See the concert of 1st March 1851]

To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1388; 3 March)

[…] I have scored some very great successes these last two months; have you read in the papers my last story? A gold crown was offered to me by two beautiful ladies followed by a number of amateur musicians, right in the middle of the concert [25 February] after the second movement of Roméo et Juliette. And what a storm of applause! Besides, the crown must be worth a considerable amount. […]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1392; 17 March)

[…] You have heard of the ovation which was inflicted on me at our last concert [25 February]; the superb gold crown presented by two beautiful ladies during the performance of Roméo et Juliette, the terrific applause of the public and of the musicians etc., etc. They say the crown is worth 2000 francs. […]

To Auguste Morel (CG no. 1401; 16 April)

Of course you will get tickets!… Send me straight away the list of persons we must send them to. The concert will take place on the 29th. We begin with your overture. The whole of the rest of the programme is taken up by a work of M. Cohen called Le Moine [The Monk] and which lasts two and a half hours. But M. Cohen has given a thousand francs to the Society as an indemnity for the rehearsals. You can imagine that this argument could not be resisted. […]

[See the concert of 29 April 1851, the minutes of the meeting of the committee on 15 March 1851, and the image of the list of complimentary tickets for this concert]

To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1433; 1 October)

[…] Our Philharmonic Society is also going to resume its sessions in a new hall which we will be inaugurating. This will not bring me much money. I am worried and tormented by not being able to pay at least the interests on what I owe to your husband and to Camille Pal. Be kind enough to give me a precise idea of what these interests now amount to. […]

Table of meetings of the committee of the Société Philharmonique

(1) The mention (GA) after a date denotes a general assembly of the society.
(2) An *asterisk after a date indicates that the minutes of that meeting are in Berlioz’s own hand.


January 22, 26, ? May 1 (GA), 5, 7, 12*, 14*, 16*, 22, 28*, 31 September 3*, 10*
February 6, 8, 11, 14, 19*, 20* June 25 October 1*, 8*, 15, 21, 23, 26, 29
March 3*, 6, 9*, 11, 14, 18, 21, 23, 25, 30 July 2, 9, 11 (GA), 16, 18 November 5, 11, 14, 16, 19, 23 (GA), 26
April 4, 9, 10*, 19*, 20, 22, 24*, 27 (GA) August 1 (GA), 13*, 20, 27* December 3, 14, 24, 29


January 7, 21, 27 May 6, 13 September 26
February 1, 8, 11 June 6 (GA), 6 (committee), 9 October 16
March 3*, 8, 15, 25 July November 4*
April 1, 26* August December

For excerpts from the minutes of the meetings of the society, see the page La Société Philharmonique, 1850-1851: textes et documents. For some illustrations see below.


The following illustrations are provided on separate pages:

© (unless otherwise specified) Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the pictures and information on this page. This page created on 1st January 2017.

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