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Berlioz in Russia

Berlioz’s Requiem in St Petersburg

(From the Journal des Débats, 19 July 1841, p. 4)

Translated by Michel Austin

    — A correspondent of the Gazette Musicale has sent in an article from St Petersburg, concerning a performance of M. Berlioz’s Requiem in that city, from which we reproduce the following extracts:

    « We owe it to Heinrich Romberg, the leader of the orchestra of the German theatre and one of our best musicians, that we have heard the Requiem of M. Berlioz. Romberg did not flinch from any of the difficulties of such an undertaking. After two months of study, and although there was time for only two rehearsals, the Requiem was performed under his direction with enough precision and ensemble by the choristers of the two great theatres, the singers of the imperial guard, and the élite of our orchestras, for everyone to have been able to appreciate the beauties of this great composition.

    » The Requiem of M. Berlioz is an altogether exceptional work which has no precedent in art.

    » Nothing could be more imposing that the entry of those four orchestras of brass instruments in the Tuba mirum. As in the liturgy of the Dies irae, everything there is beautiful and everything is grand; you can feel your flesh creep; M. Berlioz has risen here to heights never reached by anyone before. And yet he surpasses himself in the Lacrymosa. In it the timpani and bass drum play a very important role, and without having heard this piece it is impossible to have an idea of the tremendous effect they produce in this vast ensemble. No piece of music has made a greater impression on me than this Lacrymosa. It is a masterpiece which by itself earns M. Berlioz the title of creator, if not of a school, at least of a new style of writing. The Sanctus with its tenor solo and its accompaniment of four muted solo violins over a tremolo of the violas, is, after the Dies irae and the Lacrymosa, the most beautiful movement in the score. On several occasions, and especially after the pieces I have mentioned, the audience manifested its enthusiasm with the most enthusiastic applause.

    » One cannot yet say where the innovations introduced into art by this composer will lead. In any case, beware of imitators. »

© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb

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