The Hector Berlioz Website

Berlioz: Predecessors and Contemporaries

Berlioz and Gluck

Christoph Willibald Gluck Introduction

Discovery

The champion of Gluck

Influences

Available scores of Gluck

Notes on the available scores

 

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Introduction

There are two supreme gods in the art of music: Beethoven and Gluck. The former’s realm is that of infinite thought, the latter’s that of infinite passion; and though Beethoven is far above Gluck as a musician, there is so much of each in the other that these two Jupiters form a single god, and all we can do is to lose ourselves in admiration and respect for him

Letter of 12 January 1856 to Théodore Ritter (Correspondance générale no. 2080, hereafter CG for short)

    Admiration for Gluck is a thread that runs through the entire career of Berlioz. Though other gods, Beethoven above all, were to join Berlioz’s Pantheon and open up worlds of expressiveness that Gluck had not dreamed of, Berlioz never wavered in his conviction of Gluck’s greatness. It originated in his early days at La Côte-Saint-André, before he had even heard Gluck’s music or seen his operas on stage. He tells in the Memoirs (chapter 4) how his imagination was fired by reading the articles on Gluck and Haydn in Michaud’s Biographie universelle, a copy of which was in his father’s library (the relevant volumes appeared in 1816 and 1817). The library also contained fragments of Orphée which gave him a first impression of Gluck’s music (Memoirs chapter 5). Haydn did not subsequently become one of Berlioz’s idols, but Gluck did and remained so for the rest of his life. At the very end of his career, on his final concert tour in Russia in winter 1867-8, Berlioz made a point of giving Gluck a large share in his programmes. The success of Gluck with the Russian public delighted Berlioz:  ‘Ah! it is an immense joy for me to reveal to them the masterpieces of this great man’ (CG no. 3315; 15 December 1867, to Edouard Alexandre). Berlioz’s admiration for Gluck is one of the points that his friend Ernest Legouvé dwelt on in the Recollections he published in 1886, years after Berlioz’s death.

Discovery

    It can easily be imagined that when he left La Côte for Paris in October 1821, the young Berlioz was keenly looking forward to seeing Gluck at the Opéra. The Memoirs (chapter 5) give the impression that he had to wait some time before this could happen. In reality the chance came very early. It is worth quoting at length a passage from the first preserved letter of his from Paris, to his sister Nanci, dated 13 December 1821 (CG no. 10):

[…] The Opéra is something different (sc. than the lectures he had been attending); I doubt I can give you even the slightest idea of what it is like. Short of fainting I could not have been more moved than when I saw a performance of Gluck’s masterpiece Iphigénie en Tauride. Imagine for a start an orchestra of eighty players performing with such ensemble that you would think they are a single instrument. The opera begins: in the distance you can see a vast plain (yes! the illusion is complete) and further away the sea is visible. The orchestra announces a storm, black clouds are seen descending slowly and cover the entire plain. The theatre is only lit by flashes of lightning which tear the clouds, all done with a realism and perfection that have to be seen to be believed. There is a moment of silence when no actor steps forward. The orchestra murmurs softly, as though you could hear the wind blowing […]. Gradually the scene becomes more agitated, a storm breaks out, and you see Orestes and Pylades in chains brought by the barbarians from Tauris, who sing the terrifying chorus: “Il faut du sang pour venger nos crimes” [“We demand blood to avenge our crimes”].  It is unbearable; I defy even the most insensitive person not to be deeply moved by the sight of these two unfortunates each clamouring for death as the greatest blessing. And when finally she is rejected by Orestes, well, it is his sister, Iphigenia, the priestess of Diana who must slaughter her brother. It is terrifying, you see. I could never describe to you with any degree of truth the feeling of horror one experiences when Orestes collapses to the ground saying: “Le calme rentre dans mon cœur” [“Calm returns to my heart”]. He is asleep and sees the shade of the mother he slaughtered wandering around with various ghosts brandishing in their hands two infernal torches. And the orchestra! it was all in the orchestra. If you heard how it depicts every situation, especially when Orestes seems to be calm; well, the violins hold a note that suggests repose, very softly; but underneath you can hear the basses muttering like the remorse which, despite his apparent calm, is still to be heard in the parricide’s heart. […]

    As well as grasping immediately the importance of the orchestra in Gluck’s writing (he does not yet mention individual singers), Berlioz sensed the need to study the composer’s written text. He searched out the scores of Gluck, which were available to the public at the library of the Conservatoire (Memoirs chapter 5, cf. chapter 9). Copies of large parts of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride and Iphigénie en Aulide in Berlioz’s hand survive, dating from this period. In an article published in 1825 and defending Gluck’s Armide against criticism Berlioz made the proud boast ‘I know the whole of Gluck by heart, I have copied several of Gluck’s scores to study them, and I believe I know him as well as is possible’ (Le Corsaire, 19 December; Critique Musicale I p. 9). Equipped with this knowledge, and assisted by a band of like-minded enthusiasts whom he instructed, he would act as self-appointed watchdog at performances at the Opéra. Any deviation from the sacred text of the master would be greeted with furious and embarrassing interruptions from the fearless young man (Memoirs chapter 15). Many years later he was able to stand up to the detailed arguments of a specialist, François Delsarte, whose edition of an aria from Gluck’s Alceste Berlioz had accused of inaccuracy. To establish his point Berlioz went to consult the autograph manuscript at the Opéra, the parts that Gluck himself had used for his performances, and he could also appeal to his memories of the performances he heard more than thirty years earlier in the 1820s (CG nos. 2226, 2228; 28 and 30 April 1857).

The champion of Gluck

    Gluck for Berlioz was a mission, and not just an admiration. His music needed to be championed and promoted, for a number of reasons.

    For one thing the popularity of Gluck at the Opéra was already waning in the early 1820s, just when Berlioz had just started to discover him: Rossini and Italian music were providing an alternative and (to Berlioz) meretricious attraction which he felt he had to combat. The great Mme Branchu, in Berlioz’s view the greatest exponent of the tragic roles in the operas of Gluck and Spontini, retired from the stage in 1826 (CG no. 61, 15 July 1826). Soon the operas of Gluck disappeared altogether from the Opéra (letter of 10 January 1828 to his sister Nanci; CG no. 79).

    Another reason was that Gluck’s originals had been increasingly corrupted in performance: changes and additions were made to his music, the orchestration modified for greater effect, and so on. Gluck himself was partly to blame: in Berlioz’s view he had betrayed his own genius through frequently careless orchestral writing (for example he often did not bother to write out the viola parts properly, and allowed them to double the bass part even if this resulted in harmonic nonsense). He did not either take the trouble to supervise carefully the publication of his scores, which were thus littered with mistakes and obscurities. On these points Berlioz was remarkably open in his criticism of his idol and voiced the demand for a new critical edition of Gluck’s major operas (in the chapter entitled ‘Vanité de la gloire’ in Les Grotesques de la musique of 1859 and again in the chapters on Gluck in À Travers chants of 1862).

    Part of the stimulus for Berlioz’s work as a critic and writer on music was thus his championship of Gluck, as the article of 1825 already illustrates. He published biographical articles on Gluck in 1834, several articles on Iphigénie en Tauride in the same year and on the two versions of Alceste the next year (Journal des Débats, 16 October and 23 October 1835), as well as other articles. More followed later, but not all of these were re-issued in his collections of articles in Les Grotesques and À Travers chants. In his concerts he included music by Gluck, as at the Conservatoire on 16 December 1838, the Opéra on 1st November 1840 (Memoirs chapter 51, misdated), the great concert at the Palais de l’Industrie on 1st August 1844 (Memoirs ch. 53), several of his concerts in London in 1852, then later in Baden-Baden (in 1856, 1857 and 1860). But it was only late in his career that Berlioz came into his own as an acknowledged authority on Gluck. He supervised the celebrated production of Orphée at the Théâtre Lyrique in 1859 with Pauline Viardot in the title role; Berlioz endeavoured to restore the score to its original state, though the part of Orphée had to be adapted to suit Pauline Viardot’s voice. The production, which opened on 18 November, was a considerable success and a source of personal satisfaction to Berlioz despite his reservations. This was followed up by a revival of Alceste at the Opéra in 1861, supervised by Berlioz. Alceste was staged again at the Opéra in 1866 in a new production which opened on 12 October to great acclaim, and this time Berlioz was able to restore the original pitch for the title role and re-instate the music that had been cut in 1861. Among the appreciative letters Berlioz received on this occasion were two from his former opponent, the scholar and critic Fétis; the letters exchanged between the two now aged men make moving reading (CG nos. 3169, 3170, 3171, 3173).

    What Gluck meant to Berlioz was well expressed in an article entitled ‘Aperçu sur la musique classique et la musique romantique’, published in Le Correspondant of 22 October 1830 (Critique Musicale I, 63-68), dating thus from the time when Berlioz had encountered all his major musical influences and had been able to assimilate them. Though Gluck belonged to an earlier generation, Berlioz claims him as a romantic composer and innovator who was the first to liberate himself from the shackles of routine:

He innovated in almost every field, though in so doing he was only following the irresistible impulse of his dramatic genius. I do not think that his primary goal was to expand the art of music. But he was gifted with an extraordinary feeling for expression and a rare understanding of the human heart, and his sole aim was to give passions a true, profound and powerful language, and he used all available musical resources for this sole purpose. When rules did not stand in the way of his inspiration he followed them, but he discarded them when they became an obstacle. Only his harmonic language remained restricted; he only knew a limited number of chords, which he would often use in the same way. On the other hand he introduced many new rhythms, which Mozart subsequently adopted. Several of these have found their way into modern compositions, and musicians of our time have not been able to avoid them. They are still subject to the tyranny that this dark and powerful genius exercises over all forms of expressive music. He was the first to make this art a genuine poetic language; and had he not sacrificed everything to his system, had he shown greater variety, one might have regarded him as the Shakespeare of music.

    On Gluck’s ‘system’ Berlioz published subsequently a detailed study in the Journal des Débats (2 October 1835; Critique musicale II, 297-303). One may also compare a passage from a letter of Berlioz to Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2163, 12 August 1856):

Therein lies Wagner’s crime; he wants to dethrone music and reduce it to expressive accents, and exaggerates the system of Gluck (who fortunately did not succeed himself in following his impious theory). I am for what you yourself call free music. Yes, free, proud, supreme and conquering, I want it to take over everything etc.

Influences

    Although Berlioz did not name Gluck as one of the ‘three modern masters’ whose scores helped him to learn the art of instrumentation (Memoirs, chapter 13) he made his debt clear in the Treatise on Orchestration where the first examples cited are taken from Gluck and together they are as numerous as those from Beethoven. The most important influences on his orchestral writing were evidently Weber and Beethoven. But there are numerous affinities between Berlioz’s sound world and that of Gluck – the economy of his instrumental writing, his attention to the individual character of instruments, the general leanness of his orchestral sound. Berlioz may also have derived from Gluck his taste for sharp contrasts – for example, the juxtaposition in Act II of Orphée et Eurydice of the frantic Dance of the Furies with the serene Dance of the Blessed Spirits recalls the similar juxtaposition of the Pandemonium in the Damnation of Faust with the final scene in heaven. There are also numerous echoes in Berlioz of individual passages in Gluck, which will be indicated in particular cases.

    The most visible impact of Gluck on Berlioz’s music came later in his career, with the writing of Les Troyens (1856-1858), where as well as the influence of Spontini, Gluck was present in his mind. For example, in the final Act the fury of Dido abandoned by Aeneas who yields to the call of duty recalls strikingly that of Armide when similarly abandoned by Renaud at the end of Gluck’s opera. The similarity extends to verbal echoes in the libretto, doubtless intentional. It is worth quoting from a letter of Berlioz to his sister Adèle (CG no. 2283, 11 March 1858):

I assure you, dear sister, that the music in Les Troyens is something noble and elevated; it is also compelling and truthful, and if I am not much mistaken there are a number of novelties which will arrest the ears of musicians throughout Europe and perhaps make their hair stand on end. It seems to me that were Gluck to come back to life, he would say of me on hearing the work: “Here in truth is my son.” Hardly modest, you will say. But at least I am modest enough to admit to be lacking in modesty.

    It should be remarked, however, that the influences that Berlioz acknowledged and emphasised most consistently in the writing of Les Troyens were not musical but literary. Even before he started the work, he described it in the Memoirs as ‘a great opera, designed on Shakespearean lines, for which Books Two and Four of Virgil’s Aeneid would provide the subject-matter’. His correspondence regularly presents the opera as ‘Virgilio-shakespearean’, not as inspired by Gluck and Spontini, though both composers evidently influenced the style and musical design of the work (for example CG no. 2341 to Adolphe Samuel, 1st January 1859, ‘the score was dictated at once by Virgil and by Shakespeare; have I understood my two masters correctly?..’).

    Gluck, it might be said in conclusion, was for Berlioz the touchstone of all musical civilisation. What had made life at the Villa Medici bearable during his period in Italy in 1831-2 was that both Horace Vernet, the director, and Carle Vernet his father, admired Gluck and enjoyed Berlioz’s singing of the operas to the accompaniment of his guitar (CG no. 232, 24 June 1831, to his family). Berlioz praised the King of Prussia for staging magnificently the operas of Gluck in Berlin (Memoirs, Travels in Russia, Sequel). Conversely, he was shocked to discover that the Viennese were ignorant of Gluck when they should have known him by heart (Memoirs, Travels in Germany II, 2nd letter). In the Soirées de l’orchestre, Gluck’s music forms the climax of the sequence of evenings: in the 22nd Soirée, Iphigénie en Tauride is performed by the musicians with religious respect, and in the 23rd they are still under the impact of the great work. In the 25th and final evening which introduces Euphonia, the imaginary city devoted solely to music, Gluck is the object of a cult: a special festival is celebrated in his honour, and it is an exceptional distinction for even the greatest singers to be allowed to perform in the title roles.

Available scores of Gluck

An *asterisk indicates that the score is cited by Berlioz in his Treatise on Orchestration

*Alceste, Act I, Ballet (Pantomime) (duration 3'08")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Armide, Overture (duration 4'20")
— Score in large format
(file created on 2.3.2003)

Armide, Act III Dance of Hate (1) (duration 48")
— Score in large format
(file created on 13.4.2003)

Armide, Act V Sicilienne (duration 2'41")
— Score in large format
(file created on 13.4.2003)

*Iphigénie en Tauride, Act I Scene 1 (excerpt) (duration 2'31")
— Score in large format
(file created on 19.7.2003)

*Iphigénie en Tauride, Act I, Ballet (duration 3'06")
— Score in large format
(file created on 18.12.2002)

Orphée, Act I, Pantomime (Funeral Rites) (duration 2'16")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Orphée, Act I, Ritournelle (duration 1'1")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Orphée, Act II, Dance of the Furies (1) (duration 40")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Orphée, Act II, Dance of the Furies (2) (duration 4'17")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Orphée, Act II, Ballet 1 (Dance of the Blessed Spirits) (duration 2'20")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

*Orphée, Act II, Ballet 2 (Pantomime) (duration 2'12")
— Score in large format
(file created on 11.12.2002)

Orphée, Act II, Ballet 3 (duration 2'10")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Orphée, Act II, Dance of the Heroes (duration 3'08")
— Score in large format
(file created on 23.1.2003)

Notes on the available scores

Alceste

    Pantomime from Act I: the movement is cited in full by Berlioz in his Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the flute. The tempo has been set at minim = 46.

Armide

    In his Memoirs (Travels in Germany I, 8th letter) Berlioz gives a detailed and enthusiastic description of a fine performance he heard of Armide in Berlin in 1843 conducted by Meyerbeer.

    Overture. The tempi have been set as follows. Moderato: crotchet = 104. Allegro: crotchet = 126. (Note: because of a bug in the software it has been necessary to omit grace notes in the parts for oboe, bassoon and violin in bars 8 and 10.)

    Act III, Dance of Hate (1). This piece invites comparison with the Dance of the Sooth-Sayers from Part I of L’Enfance du Christ.

    The tempo has been set at Andante: crotchet = 80.

    Act V, Sicilienne. The grace notes preceding the flute trills have been omitted, as the software is not able to play them back satisfactorily.

    The tempo has been set at Andantino: quaver = 132.

Iphigénie en Tauride

    Act I Scene I (excerpt): Berlioz cites two passages from the orchestral introduction in his Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the trumpet and the chapter on the piccolo. The tempi have been set as follows: Grazioso un poco lento, quaver = 96; Allegro moderato, crotchet = 116 accelerating from bar 37 to reach 126 at bar 45.

    Ballet from the end of Act I: this movement is cited in part by Berlioz in his Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the triangle. The tempo for the whole sequence of pieces in the ballet has been set at minim/crotchet = 92.

Orphée et Eurydice

    Act I, Pantomime (Funeral Rites): the tempo has been set at crotchet = 60

    Act I, Ritournelle: the tempo has been set at crotchet = 72

    Act II, Dance of the Furies (1): the tempo has been set at crotchet = 126

    Act II, Dance of the Furies (2): the tempo has been set at crotchet = 138

    Act II, Ballet 1 (Dance of the Blessed Spirits): the tempo has been set at crotchet = 72. There is a possible Berliozian echo of this piece in the main theme of the 3rd movement of the Symphonie Fantastique: key, melody, tone colour (the blend of flute and violin sound, common both in Gluck and Berlioz), and the general mood all have similarities in both works.

    Act II, Ballet 2 (Pantomime): the movement is cited in full by Berlioz in his Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the flute, with an eloquent commentary on Gluck’s use of the flute in this passage. The tempo for this piece has been set at crotchet = 48.

    Act II, Ballet 3: the tempo has been set at minim = 80

    Act II, Dance of the Heroes: the tempo has been set at crotchet = 92

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997.
The Berlioz and Gluck page was created on 11 December 2002.

© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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