Berlioz and Halévy

Halévy’s career

Relations with Berlioz

Available scores of Halévy

Notes on the available scores

This page is also available in French

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Halévy’s career

    The career of Fromenthal Halévy, one of the most successful French composers of his day, shows up by contrast the difficulties and resistance that Berlioz had to contend with in Paris. Born in Paris in 1799 from Jewish parents, Halévy showed early his musical abilities and was admitted to the Conservatoire at the age of 9 (Berlioz was only formally registered as a student there in 1826, at the age of 23). As early as 1811 Halévy became a pupil of Cherubini, to whom he remained devoted; Cherubini’s support facilitated his subsequent career. He won a second prize for the Prix de Rome competition in 1816 and 1817, and the first prize in 1819 (with a cantata on Herminie). Already in 1827 he was appointed professor at the Conservatoire (for harmony and accompaniment), then in 1833 professor of counterpoint and fugue, and in 1840 professor of composition. He was chorus master at the Théâtre Italien from 1826 to 1829, and at the Opéra from 1829 to 1845. He was elected at the Institut in 1836, of which he became first secretary in 1854 which he remained till his death in 1862. At every stage of his career, the contrast with Berlioz’s slower progress or lack of success is striking.

    Halévy’s prolific output consisted mainly of operas, and success in this field came in 1835 with La Juive, his best known work, at the Opéra, and L’éclair at the Opéra comique, though he remained second in popularity to Meyerbeer in grand opera and Auber in comic opera. Over the next two decades a steady stream of operas followed, many of which were reviewed by Berlioz, at first in the Rénovateur (1835) and the Revue et gazette musicale (1838), and then in the Journal des Débats (from 1839 to 1858). Available in the published volumes of Critique Musicale are his reviews of La Juive (1835 – vol. II pp. 73-8), Guido e Ginevra (1838 – vol. III pp. 411-20), Le Shérif (1839 – vol. IV pp. 139-45), Le Drapier (1840 – vol. IV pp. 219-27), and La Reine de Chypre (1841 – vol. IV pp. 609-20).

Relations with Berlioz

    Berlioz would have been only too conscious of Halévy’s success at the Opéra by contrast with his own difficulties. In 1836 and 1837, when Berlioz was trying to have Benvenuto Cellini staged, he had to witness Halévy being given precedence with his opera Guido e Ginevra, even though its composition was much less advanced than that of Benvenuto Cellini. The two men had many occasions to meet, as was to be expected in the restricted musical circles of 19th C Paris. Halévy, for example, assisted as chorus master in the rehearsals for the performance of the Requiem in 1837 and Benvenuto Cellini in 1838, and both he and Berlioz were on the panel that was sent by the French government to judge musical instruments at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. From the time of Berlioz’s election to the Institut in 1856, when Halévy supported him, they had frequent opportunities to meet there. But though Halévy was personally sociable, the two men never became particularly close. References to Halévy in Berlioz’s correspondence are scattered and mostly brief, and there are only two published letters of Berlioz to Halévy from near the end of their acquaintance (Correspondance générale nos. 2440 and 2574, hereafter CG for short). Their different relations with Cherubini were also a point of possible friction – Berlioz tells in the Memoirs (chapter 46) the story of Halévy’s intercession with M. Bertin on behalf of Cherubini in 1837, at the time of the intrigues over the commission of the Requiem.

    Berlioz’s comments on Halévy’s music, in his correspondence and in his reviews, show a mixture of reactions. He could sometimes be critical and dismissive; a letter to Humbert Ferrand of 15 April 1835 refers to ‘this miserable Juive’ (CG no. 429 – there is incidentally never the slightest trace of anti-Semitism in Berlioz’s relations with Halévy, and the same is true of his relations with Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer). In his published review of the opera, though he praised a number of pieces, he was particularly critical of the extravagantly lavish production which virtually obliterated the music (Critique Musicale II pp. 75-77). But he was always prepared to give praise where praise was due, and the polish and professionalism of Halévy’s music were undeniable. Berlioz referred to Le Shérif as a ‘delightful comic opera’ (letter of 23 September 1839 to Hippolyte Lecourt; CG no. 666 and see the published review referred to above), and says of Le Val d’Andorre: ‘Halévy has scored a huge success … It is really good. There are things in his score which show elevated and genuine feeling, and there are delightful melodies’ (letter of 28 November 1848 to Count Michel Wielhorski; CG no. 1240). He appreciated Halévy’s orchestral writing, a field in which Halévy, though not immune from conventional mannerisms in his use of percussion instruments, had nevertheless showed particular skill (Critique Musicale IV pp. 143f. on Le Shérif; IV pp. 614-16 on La Reine de Chypre; review of Nabab in Journal des débats, 4 September 1853). But all in all Halévy’s impact on Berlioz remained very limited and cannot be compared to that of Meyerbeer.

Available scores of Halévy

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

La Juive, Introduction to Act I (duration 5'49")
— Score in large format
(file created on 13.9.2004)

*La Juive, Act IV, orchestral ritornello of Eléazar’s aria (duration 1'8")
— Score in large format
(file created on 11.12.2002)

La Juive, March from Act V (duration 3'56")
— Score in large format
(file created on 13.9.2004)

Notes on the available scores

La Juive, excerpts

Orchestral introduction

    There is no metronome mark in the score; the tempo has been set at crotchet = 72.

Orchestral ritornello from Act IV

    In the Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the cor anglais, Berlioz quotes the orchestral ritornello of Eléazar’s aria in Act IV of La Juive, "Rachel, quand du Seigneur la grâce tutélaire" (the aria is included in a collection of French songs sung by Ben Heppner, issued in 2002; Deutsche Grammophon 471 372-2).

    The tempo for this piece has been set at crotchet = 60.

March from Act V

    It will be noted that in places in the Introduction and the March the written timpani part is dissonant, notably in bars 71-8 of the March where the A natural clashes with the chord of F sharp major in the rest of the orchestra. This is apparently not an engraving error (though the score published by Schlesinger contains numerous misprints) but probably reflects the practice of the time of treating timpani occasionally as an unpitched percussion instrument, because of the difficulty of retuning the instrument quickly. This is a practice which Berlioz himself generally avoided (though there is a passage in the overture to Benvenuto Cellini – bars 335-7 – where the three timpani play a chord of G major against a chord of E flat major in the rest of the orchestra).

    The tempo for this piece has been set at crotchet = 88.

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997.

The Berlioz and Halévy page was created on 11 December 2002.

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