Humbert Ferrand was a lawyer and writer from Belley in the Ain Département in the Rhône-Alpes region. He was born into a middle class family and studied law in Paris from 1823 to 1827. He met Berlioz in August 1823 at one of the weekly reunions of the Dauphinois in Paris. Their friendship lasted until Ferrand’s death in September 1868, and Berlioz mentions him several times in his Memoirs (see chapter 11 and the links provided there).
Although there were some differences of views between the two men, especially on religion, Ferrand was Berlioz’s closest friend and one of his most ardent admirers. He wrote the text for several early works of Berlioz, among them the Scène héroïque (La révolution grecque) and the libretto of the opera Les Francs-Juges (which was never completed; Berlioz dedicated his second symphony Harold en Italie to him. The six letters concerning his second trip to Germany and central Europe in 1845-1846, which Berlioz reproduced in his Memoirs, are addressed to Ferrand.
Because of their constant professional and private preoccupations, Berlioz and Ferrand met only a few times throughout the period of their friendship, notably in August 1823, September 1838, August 1843 and December 1854. But they kept in touch by correspondence, more frequently on the part of Berlioz.
Berlioz’s letters to Ferrand, of which numerous excerpts are reproduced in translation on this site, were posthumously published in a volume entitled Lettres intimes, prefaced by Charles Gounod (Paris, Calmann Lévy, 1882), and his known letters now span the 8 volumes of the Correspondance générale published to date (Paris, Flammarion 1972-2003). The first is a letter dated 10 June 1824 (CG no. 24); Berlioz’s last letter is dated 22 October 1867 (CG no. 3292). He would often sign off his letters with ‘Your friend for life’ or ‘Your faithful friend’. The original of one of these letters is reproduced on this site.
Of Ferrand’s letters to Berlioz only one has survived – CG no. 1862, dated 24 December 1854, written after he had attended the second performance of L’Enfance du Christ at Salle Herz, conducted by Berlioz. Ferrand was so moved by this work that he was unable to meet up with Berlioz after the concert, even though on 23 December Berlioz had said he must absolutely see him on the night after the performance (CG no. 1860).
In his letter Ferrand writes:
My dear Hector, I would have been very happy to embrace you after your concert and renew all the thanks that I owe to Madame Berlioz for her thoughtfulness in finding me a good seat. But I was so deeply moved that I let you go out and pass by me without stopping you.
The nervous affliction from which I suffer makes me impressionable to an intolerable degree. Given this special occasion, your wonderful music so melted my heart that from scene 5 onwards I could not stop weeping. It is a celestial work, far above everything you have written. I am transported by it. Receive therefore all my congratulations, not for your success, but for the work which deserved it. My respectful greetings to Madame Berlioz; to you, my dear Hector, my ever increasing admiration as well as my friendship.
Ferrand died on 11 September 1868, and according to Hugh Macdonald (CG VII p. 612 n. 1), it is not known whether Berlioz was aware of the sad end of his life. Ferrand’s adopted son, Jean-François Blanc-Gounet, convicted of theft with suspended sentence, had murdered Madame Ferrand on 25 May 1868. Ferrand died shortly after hearing of his son’s execution on 5 September. It seems no one had the cruelty to break the news to Berlioz (Lucien Chamard-Bois and Thérèse Husson in Cahiers Berlioz No 5, page 167), who at the time was very ill and frail, and would die in a few months time.
We would like to express our gratitude to the Association nationale Hector Berlioz for granting us permission to reproduce on this page Humbert Ferrand’s photo from Hector Berlioz – Humbert Ferrand: une amitié énigmatique, Cahiers Berlioz No 5, 2004, published by the Association nationale Hector Berlioz.
We are most grateful to Monsieur Michel Verjus for sending us the photos of the tomb of Humbert Ferrand and his wife in Conzieu, and for granting us permission to reproduce them on this page. M. Verjus holds the copyright for the photos.
© (unless otherwise stated) Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the texts and images on Berlioz Photo Album pages.
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