The first visit (1847)
The second visit (1867-1868)
Selected letters of Berlioz and others
Cities visited by Berlioz
This page is also available in French
CG = Correspondance
Générale, 8 volumes (1972-2003)
CM = Critique Musicale, 8 volumes to date (1996-2016)
Fouque = O. Fouque, Les Révolutionnaires de la musique (1882); chapter 2 (‘Berlioz en Russie’, pp. 185-256) is reproduced in full on this site
NL = Nouvelles lettres de Berlioz, de sa famille, de ses contemporains (2016)
Stasov = Vladimir Stasov, Selected Essays on Music trans. Florence Jonas (London, 1968)
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There must exist a special bond of sympathy between Berlioz’s
music and the Russian soul
(Prince Odoievsky in 1847)
Russia holds a special place in the story of Berlioz’s musical travels outside France. Berlioz only made two trips there, the first in 1847, several years after he had already made two extensive tours of Germany (in 1842-3) and central Europe (in 1845-6), and the second twenty years later in 1867-8 at the very end of his active career. Yet both trips were of great significance, partly for Berlioz himself at critical stages in his career, and partly for the stimulus he provided indirectly for the remarkable development of Russian music in the latter part of the 19th century. For historical as well as geographical reasons Russian music had been slower to establish its identity than was the case with Italy, Germany and France. Berlioz’s contemporary Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was, if not the first Russian composer to speak with his own voice, but at least the first major figure of note on the Russian musical scene. From the late 1850s a circle of young Russian composers led by Balakirev began to follow in his footsteps. One element that Glinka and his successors all shared in common was a wholehearted admiration for Berlioz’s music (as well as for that of Liszt and Schumann), and it was thus in Russia that Berlioz’s long-term influence was perhaps most directly felt.
It so happens that Berlioz did come into contact with Russian musicians early in his career. While on his trip to Italy in 1831 he met in Rome Glinka as well as the tenor Nikolai Ivanov, who had arrived in Italy in May 1830; they stayed at first in Milan, then in September 1831 moved to Rome where the meeting with Berlioz took place. Glinka was to remain in Italy until August 1833. Glinka and Ivanov were not the first Russian musicians to travel to Italy. Ever since Russia had started to open up to western influences in the 18th century under Peter the Great (1721-1725) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796), Russian musicians had looked to western Europe for models, at first Italy, then later France and Germany as well. Dimitri Bortniansky (1751-1825), who was to become director of the imperial chapel in St Petersburg, and whose choral music Berlioz later came to admire, had himself spent ten years of study in Italy. But in the case of Glinka the stay in Italy had an unexpected effect: it convinced Glinka that his future as a composer lay not in following Italian models but in seeking to find an authentic Russian voice.
Berlioz’s encounter with these Russian musicians in 1831 seems to have had no immediate effect, and left no trace in his writings apart from a reference to the meeting in an article on Glinka he published in the Journal des Débats in 1845 (see below). Comparison with Berlioz’s much more fully documented meeting with Mendelssohn in Rome at the same time is instructive: the impression Mendelssohn made on Berlioz was immediate and lasting. In 1831 Glinka had not yet written any of his major works, and on his side he was in no position to form a view of Berlioz’s potential as a composer. To judge from the apparent absence of references to Russia in any of his critical writings throughout the 1830s, Berlioz did not at the time devote to Russia the same kind of attention as he was giving to musical life in the German-speaking world and in England. Russia was far away, conditions of travel at the time were arduous before the development of railways later in the century, and the ferocity of the Russian winter was an added deterrent (Mozart, for example, never travelled to Russia). Berlioz’s travel plans during the 1830s were concentrated on the long-delayed project of visiting Germany, on which he only embarked towards the end of 1842.
Two events were to change Berlioz’s attitude to Russia. The first was an unexpected and very successful performance of the complete Requiem in St Petersburg in May 1841. Since the mid-1830s Russian musicians, alert to developments in western Europe and attentive to reports in the French and German press, had been paying attention to Berlioz’s career. There were even journals published in French and German in St Petersburg, languages widely read in educated Russian circles at the time. When the full score of the Requiem appeared in Paris in 1838, the first major work of Berlioz to be published and thus made available for performance (the symphonies were published later), the Russians seized the opportunity. In 1841 the German violinist and conductor Heinrich Romberg (1802-1859) took the remarkable initiative of organising a complete performance of the Requiem in St Petersburg; it required two months of preparations and was the first performance of the work since its première in Paris on 5 December 1837. It appears that Berlioz was unaware of the performance until after it had taken place. Romberg evidently enjoyed the support and financial backing of the wealthy Russian aristocracy. The performance was a considerable success both artistically and financially; a very complimentary report from a correspondent on the spot appeared in the Gazette Musicale in Paris and excerpts from it were reproduced in the Journal des Débats on 19 July 1841. It is not known whether Berlioz, a regular contributor to the paper for a number of years, prompted the publication of this article, but he mentioned the report to his family and friends and made enquiries of his own about the occasion (CG nos. 751bis, 755). Russia (or more exactly St Petersburg, the imperial capital and the centre of artistic activity) was interested in his music, and what is more, music-making there could be financially rewarding. At a stroke new possibilities opened up and Berlioz was encouraged to turn his thoughts to Russia. In his feuilleton in the Journal des Débats of 18 December 1841 he mentioned St Petersburg, apparently for the first time, as a regular destination for opera singers like other European cities, and in the same article announced Liszt’s arrival in Russia on his first tour there (prematurely, as it turned out, since Liszt only arrived in St Petersburg in April 1842 where he made a great impression: CM IV pp. 597, 601; cf. CG no. 1108). In September 1842 while completing his Treatise on Orchestration Berlioz approached a publisher in St Petersburg in the hope of selling him the rights for Russia (CG no. 775); nothing apparently came of this, though the work was widely read in Russia later and became influential (cf. CG nos. 1111, 2676). The following year, in the course of his travels in Germany, Berlioz evidently made enquiries about the Russian musical scene: it was during his stay in Berlin that he first heard of General Lvov, the director of the Russian imperial chapel, and a composer and musician with whom he was to become close later (Journal des Débats, 16 April 1845). His experiences conducting movements from the Requiem in Berlin also brought back to his mind the performance of the work given by Romberg in St Petersburg two years earlier (Memoirs, Travels to Germany I, Letter 9). Berlioz may well also have had reports from Liszt about the great success of his own visits to Russia in 1842 and 1843. Thus on his return from his first trip to Germany Berlioz was thinking seriously of Russia as his next destination (cf. CG no. 847).
The second event that changed Berlioz’s attitude to Russia was his meeting with Glinka the following year (June 1844), their first since their encounter in 1831; Glinka stayed in Paris for nearly a year, and he and Berlioz saw each other frequently in winter and spring 1844-1845. By this time both composers had travelled a long way. Glinka was now established as Russia’s leading composer, with two major operas to his credit, A Life for the Tsar (1836) and Ruslan and Ludmila (1842), the first of which had been an instant success, though Glinka was disappointed with the equivocal reception given to the second. Berlioz on his side had now completed among other works his four symphonies and the opera Benvenuto Cellini, as well as the Requiem. He was also an influential writer whose articles were widely read in musical Europe, and his recent tour of Germany in 1842-3, which he soon publicised in a series of ten open letters relating his experiences, further enhanced his growing international stature.
During Glinka’s stay in Paris he and Berlioz had occasion to see each other frequently, and this time there was a meeting of minds such as had not happened at their first encounter many years earlier in Italy: both now declared a keen interest in each other’s music. Berlioz performed music by Glinka at two concerts in 1845 (16 March and 6 April) and followed this up with an article in the Journal des Débats (16 April; CM VI pp. 33-39) which extolled the merits of the Russian composer. Glinka on his side later passed on his enthusiasm for Berlioz to the next generation of Russian musicians (Balakirev and his circle of followers). Not long after Berlioz and Glinka had met, General Lvov, who had himself been favourably mentioned in the same article, wrote to Berlioz (cf. CG no. 986): this was the start of a friendship between the two men which lasted for over twenty years till nearly the end of their active careers. With encouragement from these new Russian friends, Berlioz expected St Petersburg to be his next destination in the winter of 1845-6 (CG nos. 962, 985, 986; cf. the letter of his uncle Marmion dated 25 April). With a forthcoming trip in mind he dedicated in May-June 1845 the first edition of the Symphonie fantastique to the emperor Nicholas I of Russia (cf. CG no. 1094), who the following year sent him a diamond-incrusted ring, no doubt in appreciation (CG no. 1034).
But the planned trip to Russia was temporarily put aside as a result of the visit Berlioz made to the Beethoven celebrations in Bonn in August 1845; apparently there was only one representative from St Petersburg (the editor of the paper l’Abeille du Nord), and in his report Berlioz noted the absence of Glinka among other composers (he was now on an extended visit to Spain). But a group of admirers from Vienna persuaded Berlioz to embark on another trip to Germany and central Europe, with Vienna as his main destination (CG no. 992). On his return in May 1846 Berlioz was occupied with the completion and performance of his new work, the Damnation of Faust, but the comparative failure of the work at its first performances in Paris in December and the financial ruin this meant for Berlioz prompted him to return to his original plan of travelling to Russia, partly to recoup his fortunes but partly also to vindicate the new work. All the indications were that he would be well received. The decision was taken apparently before the end of the year (cf. CG no. 1085bis [vol. VIII]), and early in the new year Berlioz was actively preparing his trip; the composer’s correspondence sheds light on his hopes and the preparations he made (CG nos. 1089, 1092, 1094, 1095, 1096), which included getting a German translation of Faust for use in performances in Russia (CG nos. 1089bis [vol. VIII], 1090, 1092, 1093; the translation turned out to be inadequate and had to be done again on his arrival, cf. CG no. 1098; Memoirs chapter 55). He departed by train on 14 February, and stopped on the way in Berlin where the King of Prussia provided him with a valuable letter of introduction to his sister the Tsarina (Memoirs ch. 55; CG no. 1100).
The two-week trip to Russia through heavy snow was the most arduous that Berlioz had experienced in his many travels. The first part, by railway with stops in Brussels and Berlin, was relatively straightforward, but after Berlin it was back to travel by stage-coach, and for the last four days in a covered sledge travelling through frozen wastes. Berlioz’s extant letters provide very little information on the journey itself, but a detailed narrative was given by him years later (first published in 1855-6, then incorporated in the posthumous Memoirs); the ordeal of the last part of the journey reminded him of the fate of Napoleon’s army (chapter 55). But once he had arrived the reception was warm and the trip lived up to expectation. Berlioz stayed nearly three months in all; most of the time was spent in St Petersburg, except for three weeks in Moscow in April. The composer’s correspondence provides extensive evidence of his experiences there (see esp. CG nos. 1100, 1101, 1102, 1103, 1106); the letters are supplemented by the account in the Memoirs (chapters 55 and 56), as well as by the detailed chapter on Berlioz and Russia published by Octave Fouque in 1882 in which he cites extensively the contemporary Russian press.
It was the need for money that had driven Berlioz to Russia, and from this point of view the trip was highly successful: he may not have earned the astronomical sums Balzac had optimistically predicted (Memoirs, chapter 55; cf. CG nos. 1096, 1334), but success in Russia was indeed financially more profitable than anything Berlioz had ever experienced elsewhere (cf. CG no. 1114), and he never forgot that it was Russia that had saved him from bankruptcy (cf. Memoirs, chapter 59 [end], dated 18 October 1854). The success of the Damnation of Faust (or at least the first two parts, which alone were performed) vindicated the work after its unfortunate start in Paris, and the two performances of the complete Romeo and Juliet on May 5 and 12 were remembered by Berlioz as one of the high points of his career (Memoirs, chapter 56). Audiences were enthusiastic, the press generally very complimentary, and socially Berlioz was received as a celebrity who was showered with gifts by members of the aristocracy and the imperial family. During his stay he was able to meet some of the Russian musicians and music-lovers he had met in Paris or had started to cultivate before the trip (General Lvov, count Mikhail Wielhorsky and his brother, General Guedeonov, the writer Wilhelm von Lenz), though Glinka himself was away in Spain on an extended trip. Berlioz’s only contact with Glinka was through his music when he attended a performance of the opera A Life for the Tsar in Moscow. Heinrich Romberg, the conductor of the 1841 performance of the Requiem in St Petersburg, was very supportive. New friends were made, notably the German musician Berthold Damcke (1812-1875), and Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, who coincidentally had recently become close to Liszt during a visit he made to Kiev in February 1847. He also met Prince Odoievsky, a devoted champion of his music, though this did not lead to a lasting personal relationship. But it is unlikely that Berlioz met at this time the Grand-Duchess Yelena Pavlovna who was to invite him to St Petersburg twenty years later (she is not mentioned in the Russian chapters of the Memoirs; cf. CG no. 3274).
Another person of great importance for the future who is not mentioned by Berlioz, the young writer and critic Vladimir Stasov, he did certainly meet: Stasov himself recalled the occasion years later (Stasov, pp. 161-2). In 1847 Stasov was overwhelmed by Berlioz’s mastery as a conductor and orchestrator, but remained as yet undecided about his merits as a composer. Berlioz at this time took little notice of him, but Stasov was to become in subsequent years Berlioz’s most devoted advocate in Russia, and in the late 1850s he started to gather around himself a circle of young Russian composers (at first Balakirev then Cui and others) who regarded Berlioz as their idol. For the long-term impact of Berlioz on Russian music this was perhaps the most significant result of the visit of 1847, though he will not have been aware of this at the time.
Another side of Berlioz’s stay that is not revealed by the Memoirs is the personal aspect, on which the composer’s correspondence sheds some light. Berlioz originally intended to travel alone to Russia without Marie Recio, as he did later in the year when he went to London, and to this end he took elaborate steps to prevent her from being aware of his plans (CG no. 1089). What then happened is not known, but it seems clear from allusions in later letters that Marie Recio was in fact with him in Russia (cf. CG nos. 1109, 1114, 1134bis, 1135). This raises further questions about another aspect of his personal life – a short-lived idyll with a Russian chorister during his stay in St Petersburg – that is known only from an exchange of letters with the cellist Tajan-Rogé who had played under Berlioz at the time (CG nos. 1135, 1147). The idyll was not mentioned by Berlioz to anyone else, not even his family and closest friends (cf. CG nos. 1106, 1108).
When Berlioz left St Petersburg in May 1847, stopping in Riga where he gave a concert before proceeding to Berlin for a complete performance of the Damnation of Faust, he had every expectation of returning in the not too distant future. In the event it was to be a full twenty years before he came back, though this time in very different circumstances.
During Berlioz’s stay in St Petersburg there had been talk of appointing him to an influential musical position in Russia on a long-term basis (CG no. 1106). His newly-acquired friend General Lvov interceded at court on his behalf later in 1847 (CG no. 1134bis), but Berlioz wisely did not raise his hopes too high: in the imperial autocracy of Tsarist Russia everything depended on the emperor, and music for him was not the highest priority (CG nos. 1170, 1443). In the end nothing came of the idea. It was disappointing also that of all the personalities Berlioz had met during his stay in St Petersburg, only General Lvov remained in continuous contact with him, whereas Count Wielhorsky, to whom he wrote twice after his departure (CG nos. 1113, 1240), did not apparently respond, and Berlioz was reluctant to insist (CG no. 1170). In October 1853 Berlioz remarked that he had not had any news from Moscow since his visit in 1847 (CG no. 1631).
One of the deepest musical impressions Berlioz had experienced during his trip was hearing for himself the celebrated imperial chapel choir of St Petersburg, of which Lvov had been for some time the director, and the impact of this was lasting. In 1850 and 1851 Berlioz was prompted to perform two choral pieces by Bortniansky, a former director of the choir, at concerts in Paris, and at the same time he gave publicity in his feuilletons in the Journal des Débats to the imperial choir, to the music of Bortniansky and to the work of Lvov himself as its director (19 October 1850; 17 January and 13 December 1851). The substance of these articles was reproduced by Berlioz in the Soirées de l’orchestre in 1852 and thus given wider circulation in the musical world of Europe.
A more difficult question is that of the possible connection between the monumental Te Deum and the trip to Russia. The first mention of the composition of the work occurs in a letter to Lvov in February 1849 (CG no. 1246), but neither this reference nor any of the others in the composer’s correspondence reveal what had prompted Berlioz to undertake writing this particular work at this particular time (see for example CG no. 1552, the most detailed description of the work). Berlioz’s other writings, including his Memoirs, do not shed any further light. In this respect the Te Deum is unusual as compared with most of Berlioz’s major works, where the source of the original inspiration is not normally in doubt. Unlike other large-scale works that required large forces (the Requiem, the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale), there was no state commission involved, and the prospects for performance in Paris were not favourable after the upheaval caused by the 1848 revolution: the Te Deum had to wait till April 1855 to receive its first and only complete performance in Berlioz’s lifetime (the Requiem, by contrast, received four complete performances in Paris). It may be that hearing the imperial chapel choir turned Berlioz’s attention to the writing of choral music, though that choir was an élite body of only 80 singers without women’s voices, and not the large mixed double chorus of 200 required for the Te Deum (not to mention the 3rd chorus of children Berlioz added later). There is also a hint of a Russian connection in the question that Stasov put to Berlioz shortly before his departure from St Petersburg in May 1847, concerning the use of the organ in relation to the orchestra: the response that Berlioz gave (CG no. 1111), that in religious music the organ should best be made to dialogue with the orchestra and not play simultaneously with it, describes precisely what Berlioz went on to do in the Te Deum. Be that as it may, the work was later taken to heart by Berlioz’s Russian admirers: they studied the published score closely and thought of it as Berlioz’s greatest work, and were rewarded in 1862 with the gift by Berlioz of the original manuscript to the Imperial Public Library of St Petersburg, where it has remained since (CG nos. 2650, 2676, 2676bis; cf. 3375).
As with his visits to Germany of 1842-3 and 1845-6, Berlioz had every intention of writing an account of his Russian journey and publishing it in the Paris press in the hope of influencing public opinion in his favour; in the event this took much longer to complete than expected. When he arrived in London in November 1847 Berlioz had yet to complete the writing of the letters on his visit to Prague before he could move on to the trip to Russia (CG no. 1135). The letters on Prague appeared in July and August of 1848 in the Revue et gazette musicale, and not in the Journal des Débats as with all the earlier ones (cf. CG no. 1186). By November 1848 Berlioz had not yet written the projected Letters on Russia: Armand Bertin, the editor of the Journal des Débats, was reluctant to accept them for publication, but Berlioz on his side preferred publication in the Débats to the other journal (CG no. 1240). As a result the writing of the Russian trip was delayed, and it was not till the autumn of 1853 that Berlioz was working on this, by which time the story was losing some of its topical interest and Berlioz seemingly did not envisage any immediate publication (CG no. 1631). By this date some of Berlioz’s reflections on his Russian experiences had appeared in journals in previous years and in his Soirées de l’orchestre in 1852. In 1855 a publisher suggested to Berlioz that the Russian chapters might be turned into a book, but Berlioz was dubious (CG no. 1939), and they were eventually issued in 5 instalments between November 1855 and April 1856 in an unexpected place, the fashionable monthly journal Magasin des Demoiselles. Accordingly only a brief summary of the Russian trip, with a reference to that publication, was included in the serialisation of excerpts of his Memoirs which appeared in Le Monde Illustré in 1858-9 (3 September 1859, p. 154). The Russian chapters only acquired book form in the posthumously published Memoirs as chapters 55, 56 and the Suite du voyage en Russie.
For some years after the trip of 1847 Berlioz continued to hope for a return visit to Russia, as a letter of September 1850 shows (CG no. 1340). He did receive an invitation to St Petersburg a year later, but the terms offered did not seem to him attractive enough (CG no. 1437). In the meantime he kept his links with Russia alive, as shown by his correspondence with General Lvov and his articles on Russian music. In 1853 he toyed with the idea of a production of Benvenuto Cellini in Russia and a concert visit to accompany it (CG no. 1620); he talked optimistically of ‘returning to Russia’ to ‘make a little haul of roubles’ (CG no. 1631) though nothing came of all this. Gradually the Russian option seemed to recede, and Berlioz in the meantime was busy with activities in London and a series of visits to Germany. The hostility to Russia generated in western Europe by the Crimean War of 1853-6 did not help either. Berlioz’s correspondence with Russians seems to slow down after 1853 and two brief letters to correspondents in Russia in September 1855 do not make any mention of any plans to return there (CG nos. 2021, 2022). From 1856 onwards Berlioz committed himself to composing Les Troyens, and then trying to have the work performed, and this curtailed the possibility of travels abroad. But Russia remained there in the background, and is referred to from time to time in Berlioz’s feuilletons (Journal des Débats 2 October 1855; 15 November 1856; 3 July 1857; 6 November 1862; 13 January and 26 January 1863). When the Te Deum was published in 1855 Berlioz sought subscribers from among the princely families of Europe, including Russia, and with some success: in addition to Prince Youssoupov to whom he had written (cf. CG no. 2212), the Empress of Russia and the Grand-Duchess were among the subscribers.
In the early 1860s the Russian musical scene was stirring. New institutions were being developed: the Russian Musical Society was founded in 1859, and the St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1862. No less important was the rise of a group of young Russian musicians under the guidance of Stasov, who all shared a common enthusiasm for the music of Berlioz. Berlioz had the first indications of this when in 1862 he received the visit in Paris of Stasov and donated the manuscript score of the Te Deum to the Imperial Public Library of St Petersburg (see above). Late in 1863 he received congratulations from General Lvov on the first performances of Les Troyens in Paris, an indication of the growing Russian interest in the work (CG no. 2808). In 1864 he received an approach, it is not known from whom, to come and conduct in St Petersburg the following spring, the first known approach from Russia for many years; but at this stage Berlioz was not yet convinced (CG nos. 2920, 2930). The following two years he received reports of successful performances of his music in St Petersburg and Moscow (CG nos. 3027, 3151). In the summer of 1867 he had another visit from a Russian, the composer Cui, who sought his permission to copy excerpts from the unpublished full score of Les Troyens; Berlioz hesitated but then refused for copyright reasons (CG no. 3268). Then the following September he was approached by no less a figure than the Grand-Duchess of Russia, who was in Paris at the time: Berlioz was presented with an offer to conduct a series of six concerts in St Petersburg the following winter, and the terms were the most generous he had received in all his travels. After consultation with his friends in Paris Berlioz accepted (CG no. 3274).
Berlioz’s decision to set out again for Russia, twenty years after his first visit, the practical preparations needed for his trip, and his shifting moods as he contemplated the difficulties that lay ahead, are all documented in abundant detail in his correspondence. The evidence stretches over a period of several weeks, from the moment of his acceptance on 18 September to the day of his departure on 12 November (CG nos. 3274, 3279, 3282, 3283, 3286, 3287, 3289, 3290, 3293, 3294, 3299, 3302, 3303, 3304). The reasons given by Berlioz for accepting what could only be a very stressful commitment given his frail condition, were partly the need for money (CG nos. 3286, 3290, 3294), and partly the advice of his friends that it would be beneficial for him to be involved in musical activity once again (CG nos. 3274, 3283, 3294). His relatives, on the other hand, voiced alarm at the strain the trip would place on him (CG nos. 3279, 3299). Since 1863 Berlioz had only made two musical trips abroad, to Vienna in December 1866 and Cologne in February 1867, and in June 1867 he suffered the terrible blow of the unexpected death of his son Louis (CG no. 3290). Whatever the stresses of the trip, it certainly galvanised Berlioz’s energies: the abundance of letters that survive for the weeks before his departure and for the three months of his visit are an indication of that.
Thus twenty years after his first visit Berlioz returned to St Petersburg, but in very changed circumstances. The conditions of travel had improved considerably: there was now a railway line all the way from Berlin to St Petersburg, with comfortable and heated carriages (CG no. 3279). But Berlioz himself was in very poor health, and it is astonishing that he was able to undertake the journey at all and make a success of it: the six concerts in St Petersburg were reckoned to be a landmark in the musical life of the capital (CG nos. 3364, 3374) and the two concerts he was eventually persuaded to give in Moscow surpassed by far the single concert of twenty years earlier (CG no. 3326). The standards of musical performance in Russia had greatly improved since 1847, as they had elsewhere in western Europe, and as Berlioz had already been able to see in Germany in the 1850s. But Berlioz’s frail physical condition severely restricted the range of his activities and social life, and he needed constant rest between and after rehearsals (CG nos. 3302, 3310, 3314, 3330, 3331, 3332). He was galvanised by the music-making and gratified by the reception of the public (CG no. 3310, 3314, 3315), but he was not prepared to commit himself to any more concerts in St Petersburg beyond the six he had agreed to conduct (CG nos. 3319, 3331, 3334). Unlike the trip of 1847 Berlioz was no longer interested in publicising his successes in the Paris press, and the numerous reports he sent in his letters were purely for the benefit of his friends and relatives. And though constantly pressed to do so Berlioz would not contemplate going back on his decision not to compose any more (Stasov, p. 166; cf. CG nos. 3346, 3374, 3375).
Of his old acquaintances of 1847 several were no more (CG nos. 3274, 3303), and of those who were still alive he definitely met General Lvov (CG nos. 3329bis and 3329ter in NL pp. 663, 664) and Wilhelm von Lenz (CG no. 3340), though he presumably saw Prince Odoievsky in Moscow. The Grand-Duchess, herself highly cultured and literate, was the most lavish and congenial host he could possibly have wished. But the new element which gave to the visit of 1867-8 its special character was the recent emergence of a band of young Russian musicians wholly dedicated to Berlioz and thoroughly familiar with his music: the nearest analogy in Berlioz’s previous career was the band of ‘Neo-Weimarians’ who had greeted him in Weimar in 1855 (cf. CG nos. 1899 and 1903), though Berlioz subsequently declined to take sides in their crusade (CG no. 2274). Stasov, whom he had met in 1847 and seen again in 1862, was now on his way to becoming close to him, and Berlioz also met the young Russian composers of Stasov’s circle. These will have been among the ‘friends who come to see me, who have for my music a passion which looks very much like fanaticism’, as Berlioz wrote in one letter (CG no. 3332). But between these young Russian musicians there was a hierarchy in their degree of closeness to Berlioz: the names of Stasov, Balakirev and Cui appear in Berlioz’s correspondence, but not those of Borodin, Mussorgsky or Rimsky-Korsakov, and to their disappointment the latter three were apparently not invited to the dinner for Russian musicians offered by Berlioz at the Mikhailovski palace on 24 November. How Berlioz’s relations with all these might have evolved had he lived is impossible to say. During his stay in St Petersburg it is unlikely that he heard any of their music: the only Russian music he heard was that of Glinka (part of a performance of A Life for the Tsar on 5 February 1868: CG no. 3335), and an excerpt from that opera, together with a hymn by Lvov, was the only Russian music he conducted in just one of his concerts (Moscow, 8 January 1868). Liszt, by contrast, was to live long enough to get to know and appreciate the music of the young generation of Russian composers (Stasov, pp. 179-94).
There was a striking difference between the programmes of Berlioz’s concerts in 1847 and those of 1867-8. In 1847 Berlioz conducted exclusively his own music, including two parts of his latest score, the Damnation of Faust, which had just received its first performances in Paris a few months earlier and was as yet unpublished. In 1867-8, by contrast, the programmes drawn up initially by Berlioz for his six concerts in St Petersburg excluded his own music from the first five concerts, apart from two excerpts; only the last concert was to be devoted to his music, but this was to comprise works that by now were all published and well-known, not his most recent compositions (CG no. 3289). The question arises how far Berlioz had been granted discretion by the Grand-Duchess to compose his own programmes at will, and the evidence suggests that the overall framework (five concerts of classical music, one of music by Berlioz) had been suggested by the Grand-Duchess, with Berlioz left free to arrange the details. That is the implication of the letter to Kologrivov, secretary of the Russian Musical Society, in which in reply to the objection that he was not including enough of his own music, Berlioz stated that he ‘had merely followed the intentions of the Grand-Duchess’ and that the programmes could not be changed (CG no. 3293). It appears therefore that the Grand-Duchess, who could set the terms as she was paying herself for all the expenses, wanted to give the concerts a primarily classical flavour, with only one concert devoted to Berlioz. Berlioz was quite happy with the suggestion: performing Beethoven and especially introducing Gluck to Russian audiences was for him one of the highlights of his tour, though it will have been a disappointment that because of the weakness of the chorus he was not able to put on Beethoven’s Choral symphony and repeat what he had done in London in 1852 (CG nos. 3310, 3314, 3315, 3318, 3319, 3332). One other implication is that the Grand-Duchess did not want to have any Russian music included: it will be recalled that, according to Berlioz’s account of his meeting with her, the Grand-Duchess ‘wants to show to the Russian faction, which at the moment tends to dominate St Petersburg’s small musical world, that it is nothing but vain and ridiculous’ (CG no. 3274). In the event, once in St Petersburg, Berlioz was pressed by Kologrivov and Balakirev to include in the programmes far more of his own music than originally planned: only the 5th concert did not have anything by Berlioz. The reaction of the Grand-Duchess to this does not seem to be known, but in the circumstances she was hardly likely to raise any objections, if she had any. It should be added that Berlioz’s choice of his own music was restricted to works already published, and several of these will probably have been known to the Russian musical public. The only piece from a recent composition that was heard in Russia was the nocturnal duet from Béatrice et Bénédict, and that was only in an evening performance in the salon of the Grand-Duchess with piano accompaniment, not in the fifth concert with orchestral accompaniment as originally planned (CG no. 3318, contrast 3289).
This raises the question of Berlioz’s opera Les Troyens. The work excited special interest among Russian musicians even before it was first performed, as though they sensed its special significance in Berlioz’s output: when Stasov thanked Berlioz for the manuscript of the Te Deum in 1862, he hinted that Berlioz should seriously consider depositing one day the manuscript of Les Troyens at the Library in St Petersburg (CG no. 2676). The following year General Lvov congratulated Berlioz on the first performances of the work (CG no. 2808). In the summer of 1867, Cui paid a visit to Paris and tried to persuade Berlioz to allow him to make a copy of excerpts from the (as yet unpublished) full score of the work, though Berlioz had to refuse for copyright reasons (CG no. 3268). But the Russians showed a fascination for the work that was unmatched anywhere in Europe at the time, and would not take no for an answer. On arriving in St Petersburg Berlioz was reproached by them for not having brought any of the music of Les Troyens with him, and was pressed to ask for a copy of the complete full score to be sent to St Petersburg (CG no. 3308). On its arrival a contract was drawn up with the agreement of the publisher Choudens, who owned the copyright, for a copy to be made with a view to future performances of the work in Russia, though Berlioz would not agree to perform any excerpts during his stay in St Petersburg (CG nos. 3313 [no. 3316bis in NL p. 661], 3332). Fouque cites the text of the contract, drawn up between Berlioz himself and Kologrivov on behalf of the Russian Musical Society, and also the receipt that Berlioz signed. The event was publicised by Cui in the St Petersburg Gazette. In the event nothing came of this. After his return to Paris Berlioz enquired several times about the copy of Les Troyens which had originally been sent from Paris and wanted to have returned (CG nos. 3346, 3356, 3359). It is not known for certain whether the copy was sent back, though as there is no further mention of the matter in the remaining correspondence between Berlioz and the Russians, the presumption must be that it was returned while the Russians kept the copy that they had made (CG nos. 3373, 3374, 3375).
‘If it kills me at least I will know that it was worth it’, wrote Berlioz to Damcke before he left for Russia, in full knowledge of what lay ahead (CG no. 3275).
The trip to Russia both galvanised and exhausted Berlioz; it marked the end his career as an active musician, and he knew it. He had no intention of conducting again on returning to Paris, but looked forward to beating the last bar of Harold in Italy, to going back to France and go and rest in the sun in his beloved Nice (CG nos. 3319, 3327, 3330, 3334). The sixth concert in St Petersburg was thus the last time he ever conducted. Stasov recalls that he donated his baton to Balakirev, and gave to the Russian Musical Society a special pair of little cymbals (cymbales antiques): these he had had made in Paris for use in the Queen Mab scherzo, and had taken around on his concert tours over many years (Stasov, p. 168).
The Russian tour exhausted him. Two weeks after his return, and on the day he was leaving for Monaco and Nice, he wrote to Stasov in answer to a request made before he left Russia: the St Petersburg Conservatoire wanted to acquire a bronze bust of him (CG no. 3346; a copy was eventually made). But the trip to the south of France that he had long been looking forward to turned to tragedy: he fell twice in the rocks and suffered a stroke, and from this he was never able to recover fully. His preserved correspondence for the rest of the year 1868 dwindles sharply. Writing letters was now too much of an effort: it took him two days to compose one to the Grand-Duchess in April telling him of his accident (CG no. 3354, cf. 3363), and he is last known to have written to her in early July (CG no. 3368). Between 25 March and 14 June he did not write to Estelle Fornier (cf. CG nos. 3348, 3362, 3363), and had difficulty completing his last known letter to her in late July (CG no. 3369). But it is perhaps appropriate that in his correspondence the final letters of substance dealing with musical matters should have been exchanged with Russian musicians (CG nos. 3373, 3374, 3375). In these last two letters Balakirev and Stasov told him of the effect of his visit, their plans for the future, and urged Berlioz to resume composition: but almost certainly Berlioz did not reply, and a few months later he was dead.
Note: the chronology of Berlioz’s stays in Russia is complicated by the fact that whereas western Europe followed the Gregorian calendar (first introduced in 1582), Russia continued until 1918 to use the Julian, which was 12 days behind. To take this into account double dates have been given below for the periods Berlioz spent in Russia; the first is the Gregorian date, and the second (in brackets) the Julian.
September: Berlioz meets the Russian composer Glinka in Rome
May: first performance of the Requiem at St Petersburg, conducted by Heinrich Romberg (who later helps Berlioz in St Petersburg)
April: Liszt arrives in St Petersburg
April: Liszt arrives in St Petersburg for his second trip; he also performs in Moscow
4 August: Glinka settles in Paris for a year
16 March: Berlioz performs pieces by Glinka at a concert at the Cirque Olympique
25 March: Berlioz writes to Glinka asking him for information about himself and his music for an article he is writing (CG no. 953)
6 April: Berlioz performs more music by Glinka at a concert at the Cirque Olympique
16 April: Berlioz devotes a large part of an article to Glinka in the Journal des Débats
May-June: First edition of the Symphonie fantastique, dedicated to Nicholas I of Russia
Summer: Berlioz is planning to travel to Russia in the autumn
October: Berlioz departs for Vienna, with the intention of proceeding to Russia afterwards (the plan was not followed up)
6 and 20 December: the first two performances of La Damnation de Faust in Paris leave Berlioz deep in debt
January: Berlioz prepares to make a trip to Russia, with financial support
from several friends and advice from Balzac
14 February: Berlioz leaves Paris for Russia, apparently on his own
15-17 February: Berlioz stays in Brussels
18-20 February: Berlioz stays in Berlin, where he receives a letter of introduction from the King of Prussia for his sister the Tsarina
21-27 February: Berlin travels from Berlin to St Petersburg, by sledge for the last four days
28 February (16 February): Berlioz arrives in St Petersburg and stays in a private house on Nevsky Prospect
14 March (2 March): Prince Odoevsky publishes an article on “Berlioz in St Petersburg” in the Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti
15 March (3 March): First concert of Berlioz in St Petersburg
25 March (13 March): Second concert of Berlioz in St Petersburg, with the same programme; the concerts are financially profitable and enable Berlioz to cover his debts
27 March (15 March): Performance of the last movement (Apothéose) of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale at a musical festival for the benefit of invalids
31 March (19 March): Berlioz departs for Moscow by sledge; the journey takes four days
ca 5 April (24 March): Berlioz arrives in Moscow
ca 10 April (29 March): Concert of Berlioz in Moscow; the Moskovskiye Vedomosti calls Berlioz the Victor Hugo of music
April (late March - early April): Berlioz attends a performance in Moscow of Glinka’s first opera, A Life for the Tsar
20 April (8 April): Berlioz returns to St Petersburg
April - early May (April): Idyll with a young Russian chorister
4 May (22 April): Berlioz meets Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein for the first time
5 May (23 April): Third concert of Berlioz in St Petersburg: complete performance of Roméo et Juliette at the Imperial Theatre, together with the overture Le Carnaval romain and the first two movements of Harold en Italie
6 May (24 April): Berlioz hears a special performance of mass at the Imperial Chapel
12 May (30 April): Fourth concert of Berlioz in St Petersburg; second complete performance of Roméo et Juliette at the Imperial Theatre, together with Part II of La Damnation de Faust
ca 20 May (8 May): Farewell concert by Berlioz in St Petersburg, with the Symphonie Fantastique and other pieces
22 May (10 May): Berlioz departs for Riga
ca 24 May - 2 June: Berlioz stays in Riga
29 May: Berlioz gives a concert in Riga, with Harold en Italie, excerpts from La Damnation de Faust and other pieces
ca 4 June: Berlioz arrives in Berlin
19 June: Berlioz performs La Damnation de Faust in Berlin
ca 25-30 June: Berlioz returns to Paris
11 September: Berlioz donates the autograph score of the Te Deum to Vladimir Stasov for the municipal library in St Petersburg
Early August: César Cui asks Berlioz for permission to make a copy of parts
of the score of Les Troyens
18 September: Berlioz accepts a generous invitation from the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna to give a series of 6 concerts in St Petersburg
27 September: Berlioz turns down a lucrative offer from Steinway to visit New York
2 October: Wieniawksi, leader of the court orchestra of St Petersburg, asks Berlioz to let him play the Rêverie et caprice at a concert in St Petersburg and the solo viola part of Harold en Italie (CG no. 3282; the latter request did not materialise)
October: Preparations for the trip to Russia
12 November: Berlioz leaves Paris for Russia
14 November: Berlioz stays in Berlin
15 November: Berlioz leaves Berlin for St Petersburg
17 November (5 November): Berlioz arrives at St Petersburg, and stays at the Mikhailovski Palace
26 November (14 November): Berlioz writes to Damcke in Paris asking him to send a copy of the full score of Les Troyens
28 November (16 November): First concert in St Petersburg
7 December (25 November): Second concert in St Petersburg
11 December (29 November): Celebration for Berlioz’s birthday in St Petersburg; he is made Honorary Member of the Russian Musical Society
14 December (2 December): Third concert in St Petersburg
28 December (16 December): Fourth concert in St Petersburg
1 January (20 December 1867): Berlioz
leaves St Petersburg for Moscow
8 January (27 December 1867): First concert in Moscow
11 January (30 December 1867): Second concert in Moscow
12 January (31 December 1867): Reception in honour of Berlioz
13 January (1 January 1868): Berlioz leaves Moscow for St Petersburg
25 January (13 January): Fifth concert in St Petersburg
5 February (24 January): Berlioz goes to a performance of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar but leaves during the 2nd Act
8 February (27 January): Sixth and last concert in St Petersburg
13 February (1 February): Berlioz leaves St Petersburg
17 February: Berlioz back in Paris
21 August: Last letter of Berlioz to Stasov (CG no. 3373)
22 September (10 September): Letter of Balakirev to Berlioz (CG no. 3374)
17 October (5 October): Letter of Stasov to Berlioz (CG no. 3375)
8 March: Death of Berlioz
Letters that are relevant to Berlioz’s
relations to Russia but are cited on other pages of this site are listed at the
end of each year with the links to them.
All translations are © Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb.
To his sister Nancy (CG no. 751bis; between 23 and 25 August, from Paris):
[…] You have probably seen in the papers that the work of mine which arouses the greatest interest (the Requiem) was recently performed in St Petersburg with considerable success. I received detailed information these last few days from a musician who has arrived from Russia. To the singers of the Imperial Chapel (the finest choristers in the world) were added the choruses of the two opera houses and those of a regiment of the guard (they are first rate), plus all the orchestras in St Petersburg. Heinrich Romberg did not flinch from the huge expense of such an enterprise and even made a profit of 5,000 francs. Here in Paris I would not cover a third of the expenses. It seems that the Lacrimosa and the Dies Irae made a shattering impact on the audience, and that if I were to go to Russia at this time I would be well received.
But before I can think of realising my perpetual travel plans I must complete the score of La Nonne Sanglante. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 755; 3 October, from Paris):
[…] You probably know of the tremendous success of my Requiem in St Petersburg. It was performed complete in a special concert given by all the opera houses together with the imperial chapel and the choristers of two regiments of the imperial guard. According to those who heard it the performance, which was conducted by Heinrich Romberg, had incredible majesty. Despite the financial risks of the undertaking, the excellent Romberg, thanks to the generosity of the Russian nobility, still managed to make a profit of 5,000 francs after deduction of the expenses. Tell me about authoritarian governments when it comes to the arts!… Here in Paris it would be folly of me to consider putting on this work complete, or I would have to resign myself to losing as much money as Romberg earned. […]
To Moritz Bernard in St Petersburg (CG no. 775; 10 September, from Paris):
In a few weeks I will be finishing a complete Treatise on Modern Orchestration; the articles I have published on the subject in the Gazette Musicale de Paris represent as it were only a summary. I believe this work will be of value to all amateur and professional musicians who occupy themselves with composition. […]
Sir, I would be delighted if you were to agree to acquire the property rights of this work for Russia. For this I would ask 2,000 francs. Please answer me promptly in case we are able to reach an agreement. […]
To his sister Nancy (CG no. 847; 6-7 September, from Paris):
[…] If I had not sold my Treatise on Orchestration I would not have made my trip to Germany, though it must have such a great influence on my future. If I had money at the moment, enough to carry out a project I have, you would be hearing of something grand… but there is nothing, nothing at all to be done with our stupid representative government. If the emperor of Russia wants me I am up for sale; I must make enquiries… […]
See CG nos. 953, 986
To Joseph d’Ortigue (CG no. 1034; 16 April, from Prague):
[…] The emperor of Russia and the prince of Hechingen have just sent me each a very fine present – a diamond ring and a snuffbox.
[On the reception at the court of St Petersburg in February-March 1846 of the score of the Symphonie fantastique with its dedication to the emperor, see G. Petrova and L. Braun, ‘Berlioz und Russland – neue Ansätze, neue Quellen’, Die Musikforschung 69.3 (2016), pp. 216-18]
To A. Roquemont (CG no. 1089; January or early February, in Paris):
Haste and secrecy! I want to leave for Russia on my own. You must help me to achieve this. Please therefore go tomorrow without fail to Sax’s and make a bundle of the works I want to take with me… […] (details follow on how to organise this) […] You understand that you must not say a word about this to anyone and that you are just as ignorant. […]
To his sister Nancy (CG no. 1092; 21 January, from Paris):
[…] There is nothing to be done in this dreadful country, and I can only wish to leave it as quickly as possible. I am waiting for the German translation of Faust to be finished to set off on my travels again and find cities that are more welcoming than this sink of Paris. I am like a bird of prey obliged to find my livelihood far away; only farmyard birds live comfortably on their dung-heap. Despite the severity of the season I have made up my mind, and next month I will go by land to St Petersburg. I have to be there at the start of Lent. It will be hard but there is no room for hesitation. After this I will probably go by sea to England when the ice makes navigation possible. You see that I have no reason to be satisfied, forced as I am to go abroad to make a living when I am surrounded with idiots who hold simultaneously up to three generously paid positions, like Carafa, for instance, a rubbishy musician whose only redeeming feature is that he is not French. […]
To J.-F. Kittl in Prague (CG no. 1093; 22 January, from Paris):
[…] Faust went well, as you know; I am now waiting for the German translation to be completed before I set off for Russia. Since M. Meissner did not come to Paris as I had been led to hope, I have turned to another writer who, I am assured, is rather better than the translator of Romeo and Juliet. […]
To an unknown correspondent (CG no. 1094; 26 January, from Paris):
[…] The keen desire to introduce some of my compositions to the public of the capital of Russia has prompted me to travel this winter to St Petersburg […] My intention is to perform fragments if not the entirety of my two major works, Romeo and Juliet and the Damnation of Faust, and especially my Fantastic Symphony the dedication of which His Majesty the emperor of Russia deigned to accept last year […]
To Heinrich Ernst (CG no. 1095; 28 January, from Paris):
[…] I am due to write another article soon in which I will announce your splendid trip to Berlin and Kœnigsberg and your arrival in St Petersburg [Journal des Débats 5 February 1847, p. 1; CM VI p. 279]; it is just a matter of finding the time to write the article and a free day to have it printed. The debates in the two chambers take up all the time, and the curse of politics, may God confound it, is inflicting on us, as on everything concerning the arts, considerable harm. At any rate this can only be a temporary delay.
Now let me inform you that we are going to meet in St Petersburg; like you I am undertaking this grand trip so often planned and so often put off. I have written to Count Wielhorsky, to General Lvov and to M. Guedeonov to warn them of my arrival and to obtain three days for my concerts in Lent.
When you have settled your own affairs be kind enough to cast a glance at mine and have a word with these gentlemen on the subject.
You could for example write me a few lines either in Berlin at the Russia Hotel, or poste restante at Kœnigsberg, to let me know how matters stand with me.
Here I am still waiting for the German translation of the Damnation of Faust to be completed; I intend to perform at least some fragments from the work in St Petersburg. […]
To Honoré de Balzac (CG no. 1096; 14 February, in Paris):
You have been good enough to offer me your fur coat; could you kindly send it to me tomorrow at 41 rue de Provence. I will treat it with care and will return it to you faithfully in four months. The coat I was counting on seems to me much too short and I am particularly worried about getting my legs cold. […]
Cf. CG no. 1334
See also CG nos. 1100, 1101, 1102, 1103, 1105, 1106, 1108, 1111, 1112, 1113, 1134bis, 1135
To Joseph d’Ortigue (CG no. 1185; 1 March, from London):
[…] In short I will stay here for as long as possible, as it takes time to create and build up a position; fortunately circumstances are favourable and sooner or later such a position will turn up and will, I am told, be solid. For my musical career I can only think of England or Russia; I had long given up on France, and the latest revolution makes my resolve stronger and more essential. Under the former government I had to battle against the hostility caused by my feuilletons, against the ineptitude of those who manage our theatres, and against the indifference of the public; on top of this I will now have to face the crowd of great composers who have just hatched thanks to the Republic, with their popular, philanthropic, national and economic music. The arts in France are now dead, and music in particular is already beginning to rot; bury it quickly, as I can smell the stench from here…
It is true that I always feel a certain instinctive urge to turn to France when something happy occurs in my career, but it is an old habit which in time I will shake off, a real prejudice. From the musical point of view France is nothing but a country of fools and scoundrels, and one has to be terribly chauvinistic not to admit this. […]
See also CG nos. 1170, 1240, 1242
See CG nos. 1246, 1261
To Honoré de Balzac (CG no. 1334; 12 June, in Paris):
I hear simultaneously of your marriage and your return. I have not seen you since the day before my departure for Russia, three enormous years ago. […]
[Note: Balzac was seriously ill and died on 18 August 1850]
To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 1340; 1 September, in Paris):
[…] If I could travel again, and make a second trip to Russia, I would quickly solve my problems; but the moment is not convenient, and in any case I cannot leave Louis before I have secured his position for at least a year, nor (and even less) his mother because of the dreadful uncertainty of her health, and the risk that she runs at every moment of being swept away by a new and final stroke. So I need money and my efforts to earn some are paralysed. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 1437; 8-9 December, in Paris):
[…] I received recently an invitation from St Petersburg to go there in March and conduct a festival, but the sum offered for such a trip seemed to me paltry, and given the dangers of being absent in such circumstances, I had to refuse. […]
Alexandre de Wolkow in St Petersburg to Berlioz (CG no. 1438; 30 December [18 December]):
Sir: in one of your interesting feuilletons you had the kind idea of devoting a few lines to the imperial chapel choir of St Petersburg, the sacred arch, as it were, of spiritual music, and to the memory of Bortniansky [Journal des Débats, 13 December 1851; reproduced in Soirées de l’orchestre, 21st evening]. He is the great master who succeeded in raising this chapel choir to the eminent degree of perfection which earned your admiration. These words from your pen, a testimony to your high musical intelligence which is duly appreciated in the artistic world, have been read by us in Russia with special interest, and have earned you a great deal of goodwill.
In your article you say that you do not know the precise period at which Bortniansky lived, and that you believe that the imperial chapel choir was for a few years under his direction. Allow me, Sir, to come to your help. With this in mind I have the honour of sending to you a short biographical note on this remarkable composer, which I have translated into French following the Dictionary of Russian Conversation. I enclose with this biography a very faithful portrait of Bortniansky.
I have long desired to see this portrait reproduced in the French paper l’Illustration. After what you have said of the imperial chapel choir and of Bortniansky, you will easily understand this desire of one of his compatriots, and I am convinced that you will be pleased to satisfy it. […]
See also CG no. 1379
See CG nos. 1443, 1496
To Liszt (CG no. 1620; end July, from Paris):
[…] Tamberlick and Tagliafico, who have an annual contract for the season in Russia, were telling me recently of their wish to have Benvenuto staged at the Great Theatre in St Petersburg. They are both excellent in the roles of Cellini and Fieramosca. This could perhaps be feasible if the Grand-Duchess would write to the Emperor about it. If the Emperor was sympathetic to the idea, I would then go to Russia and with two concerts I would be virtually certain of making a useful trip.
Besides the Emperor might find it appropriate to have me invited to conduct the work. It is well known that the poor conductor (Boveri) who reigns at the moment does not govern. […]
To his sister Adèle (CG no. 1631; early October, from Paris):
[…] The idea is to perform my score of Faust everywhere in Germany; two editions are being prepared, one in England, the other in France. You can imagine that, before losing through publication the exclusive privilege I still have of performing this work in public, I would like to make the most of it. Soon all the theatres and concert halls in Germany and Russia will have a copy and will thus be able to dispense more or less with me. […]
Here I have been interrupted by a Danish musician who brings me five letters of recommendation or introduction, given to him by my friends in Moscow. I had not received any news from this large semi-asiatic city since I left it in 1847. What a strange thing these distant relations are… I was precisely writing up my trip to Moscow a few weeks ago, in a volume of Memoirs I started a long time ago….. […]
If the business in England comes off I will invite you all to a great dinner in Vienne or Grenoble or La Côte within the next two years. And we will have a good laugh.
If the London business falls through I am capable of returning to Russia, make a little haul of roubles, and we will have our dinner when I get back. […]
To Adolphe Samuel (CG no. 1939; 14 April, from Paris):
[…] I have received a letter from M. Briavoine [proprietor of the Belgian journal L’Emancipation] concerning my trip to Russia. He thinks it can make a book, but it is far from that. It will provide material for several feuilletons, but I do not know exactly how many. Still less do I know when I will have time to deal with this. […]
See CG no. 2216
See CG nos. 2650, 2676, 2676bis
See CG no. 2808
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2920; 28 October, from Paris):
[…] I am also being asked to go to St Petersburg in March; but I will only decide to go if the sum offered by the Russians makes it worth my while to face once again their terrible climate. It will then be for Louis’ sake that I would go; for my part a few thousand francs extra cannot make any significant difference to my life. […]
To his niece Mathilde Masclet (CG no. 2930; 10 November, from Paris):
[…] In a few months I too might go on a long journey; I am getting proposals for St Petersburg. If I am well enough to face the snow and frost I will make that decision; but if I am no better than now, no amount of money would make me go back to Russia given the pain I am enduring almost from morning to evening. […]
To his son Louis (CG no. 3027; 18 July, from Paris):
[…] They performed recently my Harold symphony in Moscow with electrifying success. That is where you will find impressions of nature, of the beautiful and serene nights. You have never heard this work. It is the wild Italy, the Italy of the Abbruzzi, where I wandered so much. […]
See also CG no. 3032
To his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 3151; 31 July, from Paris):
[…] Henri Wieniawski, that fiery violinist you heard with such pleasure at the Massarts, has just arrived from Russia. He tells me that several of my scores are frequently performed in St Petersburg and Moscow, with Russian enthusiasm. It is almost like the enthusiasm of the Viennese. […]
To his niece Nancy Suat (CG no. 3274; 19 September, from Paris):
[…] The day after I had a visit from the secretary of Grand-Duchess Yelena of Russia who was coming to put to me on behalf of the princess some musical proposals. I asked for two days before giving my reply, but all the friends I have seen, Hiller, Heller, Bressant and others, have all expressed the view that I ought to accept, that it would do me more good than harm, etc. and so in the end I agreed. Last night I went to see the princess who had asked to see me. She is one of the most charming elderly ladies I have ever met, a cultured musician who speaks our language with rare perfection. Consequently I will depart for St Petersburg on 15 November next to conduct six concerts at the Conservatoire, one of which will be composed exclusively of my music. I will be staying at Mikhailovski Palace with the Grand-Duchess, who in addition will pay my travel expenses, provide me with one of her coaches and guarantee me the sum of 15,000 francs. I signed the contract yesterday. It will be stressful, but the princess (she is not Russian, but German, the sister-in-law of Emperor Nicholas and aunt of Emperor Alexander) wants to show to the Russian faction, which at the moment tends to dominate St Petersburg’s small musical world, that it is nothing but vain and ridiculous. She therefore thanked me warmly for accepting her proposal. She is leaving this evening for Switzerland, but not before sending a cable to St Petersburg to announce my acceptance.
So here is another musical enterprise in spite of my pain. The journey itself is not the stressful part; Russian carriages are heated, with beds and everything needed for comfort. It could indeed be the case that this strenuous work will do me good. Unfortunately, with the exception of Prince Nicholas and of the Emperor whom I met long ago, I will not find any of my acquaintances of 1847; these people are all dead. […]
To his niece Nancy Suat (CG no. 3279; 29 September, from Paris):
[…] Your comments on my Russian trip are very true, all too true; but I have signed, and there is nothing more I can do than to leave. You should only know that in St Petersburg one does not notice the cold, and that after Berlin the railway carriages are heated rooms, with beds and everything required. What I dread is the fatigue and musical impossibilities. But perhaps all this will disappear.
I have had another proposal from Steinway, the wealthy piano manufacturer from New York; he came the day before yesterday, and before leaving asked me to come at least next year to America, and do you know what he offered me?
ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND FRANCS!
About time, now that I am good for nothing!
And yet I will try in Russia to do something good. Ah! if only I had the strength. […]
To Josef Derffel (CG no. 3282; 2 October, from Paris):
[…] I have just seen Wieniakwski, who came to ask me to let him play in one of our programmes my Romance for violin [Rêverie et caprice] which I had not included and the solo viola in Harold which was intended for another player. This proposal from the virtuoso pleased me greatly and consequently I modified two programmes for him. But this morning he brought me some very unpleasant news which I ask you to convey to the Grand-Duchess so that she can put it straight if it is true. He told me that he had just read in the German press that the first concerts of the St Petersburg Conservatoire would be conducted by a certain M. Bourakoff or some such name [Balakirev] and that I would only be coming later. Now I have signed a contract to conduct the first concert on November 27/15 and I must depart from Paris on 15/3. This would mean staying in St Petersburg doing nothing. I also had considerable trouble in putting together the six programmes I am to conduct, and the Russian conductor must not come and use them in part before me. I implore you, please ask the Grand-Duchess to put all this back in good order. […] Please send me a few lines in answer and make sure that nothing silly is done in St Petersburg. […]
To Estelle Fornier (CG no. 3283; 4 October, from Paris):
[…] I was telling you about the coup d’état I have just carried out: the Grand-Duchess Yelena of Russia was here a few days ago, and she so badgered me with proposals that after two days of reflexion and following the advice of all my friends I finally accepted.
This involves going to St Petersburg in November to conduct six concerts at the Conservatoire, five of them devoted to the great masters and one to be made up exclusively of my works. This will detain me in Russia until February. The Grand-Duchess will give me lodgings at the Mikhailovski Palace, provide me with one of her coaches, pay for my return journey, and guarantee 15,000 francs. I will be exhausted but all the same I will make the effort. She is a woman of artistic tastes (she is German and not Russian), understands music and has considerable influence on the Russian musical world.
Everything is coming my way now that I am exhausted. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 3286; 8 October, from Paris):
[…] I am earning nothing in Paris, I have difficulty making both ends meet in my annual budget, and I let myself gain a little momentary affluence, in spite of my unceasing pain. It may be that these musical activities will do me good instead of finishing me off. […]
To Josef Derffel (CG no. 3287; 9 October, from Paris):
[…] Your kind letter which arrived this morning filled me with joy, but that from M. Kologrivov which arrived this evening calmed me down. I see that in Russia as elsewhere it is not possible to maintain artistic standards. I believed it was possible to let the Russian public hear flawless performances of exceptional quality, and I am a fool, we will do what we can and it will not be much. M. Kologrivov tells me that they do two rehearsals for a concert, and that it is not possible to do more. He assures me that exceptionally for my sake they will do more. For heaven’s sake it is not about me! If they cannot rehearse my scores they will not be performed, that is all. Rehearsals of three hours!! these are READINGS not STUDIES. I will reply to him and thank him for all the details he is giving me [CG no. 3289]. You do not have much orchestral material in St Petersburg and I will be obliged to bring some. TWO READINGS!! […]
I am very pleased to hear that you will be in St Petersburg at the same time as I, and we will commiserate with each other. I will leave Paris on 12 November; I will ask for 3 months leave of absence, from December 1st to March 1st. Do not worry about Wieniawski, he will do his duty, I can answer for that. […]
[The letter of Kologrivov to which Berlioz alludes is CG no. 3282bis in NL pp. 657-9]
To Princess Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 3290; 11 October, from Paris):
[…] Since this dreadful blow [the death of his son Louis] I am more tormented than ever by my old ailments, and I spend almost all my time in bed, I do not take interest in anything and I refuse almost every musical activity that comes my way.
And yet next month I am going to Russia; the Grand-Duchess Yelena, who was recently in Paris, insisted so much that she persuaded me to go to St Petersburg to conduct a few classical concerts at the Conservatoire. It is the need for money that made me undertake this stressful journey; I expect to suffer cruelly in all sorts of way. But the need for a little affluence induces me to make this effort, and to face the routine I will have to combat in Russia as everywhere else. All the same the Duchess is promising wonders. So long as I can stand up to all these accumulated pressures… […]
To his niece Joséphine Suat (CG no. 3294; 23 October, from Paris):
[…] I wanted to write to you these last few days, but I had so many things to put in order before my departure for Russia that I did not know what to deal with first: purchases of every kind, music to obtain, long letters to write, telegrams to send; and then I stay 18 hours in bed and I suffer like a wretch. It is only because I have signed a contract that I am persisting in making this trip. And yet the Grand-Duchess has asked me to request leave of absence from the Conservatoire for an extra month, because she knows that they want to ask me for a seventh and an eighth concert when I arrive in St Petersburg. Does one have to need money?… and love music?…
God grant that they do not annoy me too much with these Russian musical celebrations! I am promised wonders, but there is not much I believe now. […]
To his brother-in-law Marc Suat (CG no. 3299; 1 November, from Paris):
[…] I thank you for your concern, but I have to make this trip and cannot do without it. Everything is in hand, music is being copied and rehearsals are in progress in St Petersburg awaiting my arrival. Two musicians of my acquaintance [cf. CG no. 3304] will come to pick me up in Berlin on the 14th of this month, and from there we will journey together. I have bought here very cheap some excellent fur coats which I found by chance, and all I await now is the money promised before my departure. I will be leaving Paris on the 12th of this month and will probably stay in St Petersburg until 15 February.
I received leave of absence from the Conservatoire the day before yesterday; the Minister (Maréchal Vaillant) informed me that during this period I would not be losing my salary and he was most gracious in his comments [CG no. 3297]. […]
To Estelle Fornier (CG no. 3302; 9 November, from Paris):
[…] Thank you! Forgive me for tormenting myself, your letter removed a mountain from my chest. Now I will depart feeling more at peace, and will write to you much later so as not to bore you. I am not hiding from myself that this is going to be a very strenuous journey. Once I have started conducting my concerts in St Petersburg everything will go better, particularly if the Grand-Duchess allows me to have my evenings free and does not invite me too often to come to her salon. I need to sleep and rest after a day spent in rehearsals. It may be that everything will be easier than I imagine; but I confess that I would have preferred to stay simply at a hotel and not have so many people under my orders. […]
To his uncle Félix Marmion (CG no. 3303; 11 November, from Paris):
[…] I am full of enthusiasm for my trip to Russia in the afternoon, but it is something different in the morning when I am in pain. When I get involved in rehearsals I will have more control over my pain. The Grand-Duchess let me know that after the concerts of the Conservatoire I am going to be asked for another two; I do not know whether I will have the strength to do so much. But Her Highness is a model of kindness; she has already had 6,000 francs paid to me, and it is only tomorrow that I am leaving.
I will not find any of my Russian acquaintances of 1847, almost everybody is now dead. Only General Lvov is still alive but he is completely deaf [CG no. 2808]. I will have the Italian singers Mario, Tamberlick and Tagliafico, who are threatening to come and cheer me up when they are not performing… I know an officer from the engineer corps who will do a better job of entertaining me and who is a genuine music-lover. We recently spent a few hours together in Paris [César Cui, cf. CG no. 3268]. […]
Antoine Choudens to Berlioz in St Petersburg (CG no. 3313; latter part of December):
You will do what you can and I leave it to you to make any agreement you think suitable. Up till now I have not been able to find a Russian director with sufficient conviction to stage your masterpiece (Les Troyens) and I do not want my own interests to stand in the way of the success of this work.
See Fouque for the French text
See also CG nos. 3268, 3289, 3293, 3304, 3305, 3308, 3310, 3314, 3315, 3318 (Moscow, St Petersburg), 3319
See CG nos. 3326, 3327, 3330, 3331, 3332, 3334, 3335, 3340, 3346, 3354, 3356, 3359, 3361, 3364, 3373, 3374, 3375
[See also Concert in the Manège (in English translation) and Концерт в Манеже (in the original Russian)]
Riga (in Russia in Berlioz’s time)
Related pages on this site:
Berlioz: Voyage en
Russie (1847) – Magasin des Demoiselles, XII,
1855-1856 (in French)
Octave Fouque: Berlioz en Russie (in French)
Berlioz and Russia: Friends and Acquaintances
The Russia that Berlioz visited, by Dr Linda Edmondson
Hector Berlioz as reflected in the Russian press of his time, by Dr Elena Dolenko
Berlioz, Dörffel and Derffel, by Grigory Moiseev
Berlioz Mémoires (in the original French)
Index of letters of Berlioz cited
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18
The Berlioz in Russia pages were created on 7 December 2003; revised and enlarged on 15 June 2010 and 1 February 2018.
© (unless otherwise stated) Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the photos, engravings and information on Berlioz in Russia pages.
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