This page is also available in French
This page gives an alphabetical listing of those persons of particular relevance to Berlioz’s relations with Russia during his career, from the 1830s down to the late 1860s, together with a documented outline of their known relations with Berlioz, and a selection of relevant letters arranged in chronological order.
It serves as a companion to the other pages on Berlioz and Russia: the main page, the separate pages on the three Russian cities he visited (St Petersburg, Moscow, and Riga), and the page transcribing in full the original French text of Octave Fouque’s extensive essay of 1882 on Berlioz and Russia. It is thus similar in purpose to the page Berlioz in London: friends and acquaintances, though a comparison with that page will immediately reveal one important difference. In the case of London the number of persons who come under the heading of ‘friends and acquaintances’ is much higher than it is with Russia – 30 names for London as against 15 in the case of Russia (the same is true for Berlioz’s numerous contacts in the German-speaking world). One reason for this is the continuity of Berlioz’s relations with London over a period of years (and likewise for Germany): Berlioz spent many months there spread over five visits, in 1847-8, 1851, 1852, 1853 and 1855, whereas in the case of Russia, far more distant and difficult of access from Paris as compared with London, his two stays of 1847 and 1867-8 were separated by an interval of 20 years. Moreover, the number of close friendships that Berlioz formed in Russia is very limited: only one Russian musician, General Lvov, can be described as being in any way close to Berlioz over a long period of time, and it was only with Berlioz’s second trip to Russia that he was brought into contact with a circle of enthusiastic young Russian musicians – notably Balakirev, Cui and Stasov – who could have become close friends had he lived longer, or had made the trip to Russia several years earlier. Yet in spite of this, and paradoxically, Berlioz’s long-term influence on Russian music was far greater than it was in the case of London, where at the end of his career Berlioz’s relations with London had become increasingly distant and not a single English composer can be said to have been influenced by Berlioz.
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
Glinka = M. I. Glinka, Memoirs trans. R. B. Mudge (University of Oklahoma, 1963)
NL = Nouvelles lettres de Berlioz, de sa famille, de ses contemporains (2016)
Stasov = Vladimir Stasov, Selected Essays on Music trans. Florence Jonas (London, 1968)
|Balakirev, Mili||Grand-Duchess Yelena Pavlovna||Odoievsky, Prince|
|Cui, César||Guedeonov, Alexander||Romberg, Heinrich|
|Damcke, Berthold||Kologrivov, Vassily||Stasov, Vladimir|
|Derffel, Josef||Lenz, Wilhelm von||Tajan-Rogé, Dominique|
|Glinka, Mikhail||Lvov, General Alexei||Wielhorsky, Count Mikhail|
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Balakirev, Mili (1837-1910; portrait), the leading figure in a group of five Russian composers which besides Balakirev comprised Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. They came together from the late 1850s onwards with the encouragement of the writer Vladimir Stasov and formed a circle of composers who took Glinka as their model and inspiration, and sought to promote a specifically Russian school of music (Stasov, pp. 90-110). Balakirev met Glinka in 1855 and Stasov the following year. Like others in the group Balakirev prided himself on his independence: he was self-made, did not study at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, and saw himself as standing in opposition to the cosmopolitan musical establishment of the imperial capital. In 1862 he founded the Free Music School in rivalry to the official Russian Musical Society which had been founded three years earlier: as well as performing works of leading contemporary composers, the Free Music School was intended to promote the music of the young Russian composers which the Russian Musical Society neglected. Balakirev was conductor of the Free Music School from 1867 to 1872.
From an early date Balakirev was an admirer of Berlioz’s music, as was Stasov, and became familiar with all the published works of Berlioz. For example he studied closely the score of the Te Deum which had been published in 1855, and one may detect his hand in the request put by Stasov to Berlioz in 1862 to donate to the Imperial Library in St Petersburg the autograph score of the work (CG nos. 2650, 2676, 2676bis; cf. Fouque, p. 230 and Stasov, p. 162). He went on later to put on a performance of the complete work, including the then unpublished 3rd movement, at a concert of the Free Music School (CG no. 3375). In the summer of 1867 he was appointed conductor of the Russian Musical Society, but at the suggestion of the Grand-Duchess, patron of the society, six of the ten concerts of the season were entrusted to Berlioz, though Balakirev was to assist Berlioz at rehearsals and be in charge of the chorus (CG nos. 3282, 3282bis, 3289; Fouque, p. 234). It was through the insistence of Balakirev and Kologrivov that Berlioz was persuaded after his arrival in St Petersburg to include more of his own music than he had originally planned for his concerts (Fouque p. 241; Stasov, p. 164). During his stay in St Petersburg Balakirev was one of those with whom Berlioz had most contact, at rehearsals and on social occasions (Fouque, p. 245; Stasov, p. 166), and before he left St Petersburg Berlioz significantly donated his baton to Balakirev (Stasov, p. 168). Balakirev continued to champion Berlioz’s music in Russia subsequently (cf. CG no. 3375), and in 1878 published an arrangement of the symphony Harold in Italy for piano with 4 hands.
Berlioz thought highly of Balakirev, and was upset when in the summer of 1868, after his return from St Petersburg, he was asked to recommend for the following season of the Russian Musical Society the German conductor Max Seifriz, whom he had met in Löwenberg in 1863. But this was on the understanding that he would also criticise Balakirev, something he was not prepared to do (CG nos. 3364, 3373, 3375; Stasov, pp. 168-9). The following year Balakirev was all the same removed from his post.
There are no extant letters of Berlioz to Balakirev, though he is mentioned in a number of other letters (CG nos. 3282, 3282bis, 3289, 3346, 3373). Only one letter of Balakirev to Berlioz survives (CG no. 3374), which was translated for Berlioz by Stasov: Balakirev was not fluent in French. In this letter, of September 1868, Balakirev urged Berlioz not to give up composition, a plea Berlioz had heard repeatedly in St Petersburg (cf. CG no. 3346; Stasov, p. 166), and suggested Byron’s Manfred as a suitable subject for a symphonic work. Very ill by this time, Berlioz almost certainly did not reply: the last letter of Berlioz known to Stasov dates from the previous month (CG no. 3373; Stasov, p. 169). Years later, in 1882, Balakirev put his suggestion to Tchaikovsky, and this time with success: completed in 1885, Tchaikovsky’s Manfred symphony received its first performance in Moscow the following year.
Cui, César (1835-1918; portrait), Russian composer and music critic, and the first to join Balakirev and Stasov in what became in the late 1850s and early 1860s a group of Russian musicians dedicated to developing a national school of Russian composers (Stasov, pp. 97-101). They all shared a common admiration for Glinka, whom they regarded as the true founder of the Russian school, but also had a special admiration among contemporary composers for Berlioz, Liszt and Schumann, all three of whom had visited Russia in the 1840s, the first two with considerable public success. From 1864 Cui contributed to the movement as a critic and writer in the Russian press.
His first personal contact with Berlioz came in August 1867 when he visited him in Paris and requested permission to make a copy of parts of the unpublished full score of Les Troyens, in which Russian musicians had a keen interest; this was intended for performance at Balakirev’s Free School of Music in St Petersburg. The two men evidently found each other congenial, and Berlioz at first accepted the request, but then quickly changed his mind in view of the questions of copyright involved (CG no. 3268, cf. 3303 which probably refers to Cui; Fouque, p. 246; Stasov, pp. 162-3). The question of Les Troyens was to be raised again with Berlioz during his stay in St Petersburg. On his return to Russia Cui published an article in the St Petersburg Gazette relating his meeting and Berlioz’s views on fellow composers and conductors, and his objection to having his works performed in excerpts (Stasov, p. 163 quotes from the article). The article no doubt helped to prepare the ground for Berlioz’s visit to St Petersburg the following winter.
Cui was one of the circle of Russian musicians with whom Berlioz had frequent contacts during his stay in St Petersburg. He reviewed Berlioz’s concerts enthusiastically, praising Berlioz’s originality as a composer, and then goes on to comment on his prowess as a conductor (quoted by Stasov, p. 166):
There is not another conductor whose performances are truer to the composer’s intentions, who has a greater understanding of the spirit of a work, who preserves so completely all of its nuances… What a grasp he has of Beethoven; how meticulous, how thoughtful his performances are; how effective yet free of the slightest concession to false, tawdry brilliance. As an interpreter of Beethoven, I prefer Berlioz to Wagner who, despite excellent qualities, is sometimes affected and here and there inclined towards sentimentality. For us Gluck became utterly new, alive, unrecognizable. Even though he is now outmoded, it cannot be denied that he was a brilliant innovator, a genius. As for Berlioz’s own works, the magnificent performances under his direction have revealed many wonders that we not even suspected were there, even after the most careful study of his enormous, complex scores. And how simple, how restrained Berlioz is on the podium; yet how amazingly precise his gestures are! And how modest he is! […] Of all the conductors we have heard in St Petersburg, Berlioz is certainly the greatest; as an artist wholly dedicated to music, he deserves our admiration, respect and unbounded affection.
Soon after Berlioz’s departure Cui published an announcement in the St Petersburg Gazette of the agreement concluded with Berlioz to allow a copy to be made of the full score of Les Troyens: Cui expressed the hope that the work would be performed complete at the Mariinsky Theatre the following season, possibly under the supervision of Berlioz himself (Stasov, p. 168). But the plan came to nothing, and it was not until 1899 that the work received its first performance in Russia. Back in Paris Berlioz remained in correspondence with Cui (CG no. 3359) as with his other new Russian friend Stasov, and Cui is mentioned in several of the letters of 1868 (CG nos. 3346, 3356, 3373). But in view of Berlioz’s age and deteriorating health it was no longer possible for these relationships to blossom as they might have done years earlier, and within a year Berlioz was dead.
Damcke, Berthold (1812-1875; portrait), German musician and composer, born in Hanover. Berlioz first met him in St Petersburg in 1847 when Damcke took part in a performance of the Symphonie Fantastique in Berlioz’s last concert by playing on the piano the part of the bells in the last movement, a fact which Berlioz made a point of mentioning in his Memoirs (chapter 56). But it was only years later that the two became very close when Damcke settled in Paris in 1859 and became professor at the Conservatoire. From this time onwards he and his wife Louise became very close friends of Berlioz; they lived at 11 rue Mansart (CG no. 3308), very near Berlioz’s apartment in rue de Calais, and Berlioz was a frequent visitor at their place (Memoirs, Voyage en Dauphiné). Berlioz praised Damcke’s merits as musician and composer in several of his feuilletons (Journal des Débats 3 January and 7 April 1861; 26 January 1863). When away from Paris the Damckes were among the select circle of friends to whom Berlioz would write freely about personal matters (cf. CG nos. 2886-7 [Berlioz’s elevation to the rank of Officer of the Legion of Honour], 3036 [a letter from Geneva concerning his meeting with Estelle Fornier], 3192, 3275 [his forthcoming trip to Russia: ‘If it kills me at least I will know that it was worth it’], 3308, 3312 [he asks Damcke to send his personal copy of the Memoirs to the Grand-Duchess in St Petersburg; in practice it was Stephen Heller who sent his copy, cf. CG no. 3326]). The summer before he went to Russia Berlioz appointed him one of his two testamentary executors (together with Edouard Alexandre, the instrument-maker), with the words: ‘I am too poor to be able to leave them a memento of any value … but I ask B. Damcke to take all the engraved copies of my scores he will find in the bookcase in my study’.
Derffel, Josef (1823-1884), Austrian pianist and composer; in February 1865 he was appointed court pianist of the Grand-Duchess Yelena Pavlovna and played an important part in organising Berlioz’s visit to Russia in 1867-1868. A number of letters addressed by Berlioz to him in connection with this visit (CG nos. 3282, 3285, 3287, 3341, 3347 in CG vol. VII; CG no. 3291bis in NL p. 660, cf. p. 665) have been attributed to his near namesake, the German musician and publisher Alfred Dörffel (1821-1905). Alfred Dörffel had published in 1864 his German translation of Berlioz’s treatise on orchestration (cf. CG no. 2870); he was also known to Berlioz in connection with the music of Gluck. Dörffel had prepared for the publisher Heinze in Leipzig an edition of Gluck’s Orphée which Berlioz had declined to do himself. The edition appeared in May 1866 and a copy was sent by the publisher to Berlioz for comment (CG nos. 3134, 3146); in his reply Berlioz commended the work of Dörffel for its painstaking accuracy (CG no. 3164). But it was the pianist Josef Derffel, and not the publisher Alfred Dörffel, who corresponded with Berlioz in connection with his trip to Russia (CG nos. 3282, 3285, 3287, 3291bis), helped to organise the trip and accompanied Berlioz and the singer Anna Regan on the train journey from Berlin to St Petersburg (CG nos. 3287, 3304), where he was the soloist in Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 5 in the concert on 25 January 1828. Derffel stayed on in St Petersburg after the departure of Berlioz, who wrote to him after his return to Paris (CG nos. 3341, 3347). This last letter mentions a project for an edition of Gluck in which Derffel and the Grand-Duchess were in some way involved; the project was only undertaken by others after Berlioz’s death. — We are very grateful to Grigory Moiseev, who made the correct identification of Josef Derffel, for drawing our attention to the point; the results of his researches were first published in Musicology vol. 5 (2017), pp. 39-50 [in Russian], then in The Berlioz Society Bulletin 203 (September 2017), pp. 51-64, and are now available on this site.
Glinka, Mikhail (1804-1857; portrait), the foremost Russian composer of his day and a strong influence on the next generation of Russian composers. The relations between Berlioz and Glinka may be considered at two levels, the musical and the personal. The two most important composers of their own time in their respective countries, Berlioz and Glinka came to appreciate each other’s music, in which they found much common ground. But it was more a question of temperamental affinity than of any marked reciprocal influences: by the time they came to know each other more closely they had each developed separately their own individual style and composed some of their most significant works — the operas A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Ludmila for Glinka, the four symphonies, Benvenuto Cellini and the Requiem for Berlioz. At the personal level their mutual appreciation did not develop into a lasting friendship: it was only for a few brief months, in the winter and spring of 1844-1845 that the two men became close and saw each other in Paris regularly, but thereafter they went their separate ways and did not apparently meet again.
Their first encounter took place coincidentally in Rome in the autumn of 1831. Berlioz had been obliged to leave Paris for Italy as a result of winning the Prix de Rome competition of 1830. Glinka on the other hand had himself made the decision to come to Italy to study the musical scene there, as previous Russian musicians had done. In the end he was disappointed with Italian music, as was Berlioz, and the result was that he conceived the ambition of writing music that would be Russian in character (Glinka, pp. 82-3; Stasov, pp. 67-9). The first meeting of the two men in Rome had no lasting significance for either of them: Berlioz only mentioned it briefly a decade and a half later in a newspaper article, but is silent on the subject in his extant correspondence and his later Memoirs, and as for Glinka the meeting seems not to have left any trace at all in any of his writings.
For years afterwards neither paid any further attention to the other’s music. Glinka may not have heard any work of Berlioz till his visit to Paris in 1844-1845. It does not seem that he was present at the performance of Berlioz’s Requiem organised and conducted by Heinrich Romberg in St Petersburg in June 1841: on his own admission he was at the time preoccupied with the breakdown of his marriage (Glinka, p. 163; Stasov p. 158). But at least Glinka will have been aware of the growing interest in Berlioz that was developing in Russia at the time, and when he met Liszt in St Petersburg in the spring of 1842 during the latter’s first visit to Russia, and again during Liszt’s second visit the following year (Stasov, pp. 118-42), he may have heard from him about Berlioz. At any rate his decision in 1844 to go and spend some months in Paris was motivated in part, as he wrote in a letter of April 1845, by the wish to study Berlioz’s music at first hand (the account in Glinka’s Memoirs, written in 1856, over a decade later, does not make clear his purpose in going to Paris). The same was true on Berlioz’s side: he had little opportunity to get to know Glinka’s music until the visit of 1844-1845. His attention may have been drawn to Glinka by Liszt, the first western musician of stature to have declared his support for the Russian composer (Stasov, pp. 135-40), though there does not appear to be any specific evidence for this. Berlioz may have also picked up echoes of the Russian musical scene during his travels to Germany in 1842-1843, and it is likely that he will have seen an article by Henri Mérimée published in Paris in 1844 in which Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar was highly praised (‘it is more than an opera, it is a national epic’: Glinka, pp. 182-3).
The meeting of Glinka and Berlioz in Paris had very positive consequences for both composers who came to appreciate each other for the first time, as can be documented from their writings. Extant is a letter of Berlioz to Glinka of March 1845 in which he asks him for information in preparation for an article on the Russian composer (CG no. 953; the information requested was in the event provided not by Glinka but by a friend); another letter of August 1845, addressed to Alexei Lvov, refers to Berlioz’s meetings with Glinka earlier in the year (CG no. 986). The article on Glinka appeared in Berlioz’s feuilleton in the Journal des Débats of 16 April (CM VI pp. 33-39), a large part of which was devoted to a warm appreciation of the Russian composer and of Russian music in general: the French musical public was invited to take note of the emerging composers from Northern Europe (in his article Berlioz also mentioned the Dane Niels Gade, whose music he first heard in Leipzig in 1843). The article was very well received in Russia, and Berlioz’s support for Russian composers and Russian music was not forgotten (see the citation of prince Odoievsky’s article in Fouque). Prior to the publication of the article Berlioz included pieces by Glinka in two of the large concerts he gave in Paris that year (16 March and 6 April). Glinka’s view of his experiences in Paris is illustrated by excerpts from two letters of 1845 cited many years later by Stasov (pp. 147, 158), one dated 6 April and the other not precisely dated, and by an important passage in his own Memoirs (pp. 191-4):
That winter [1844-45] many of my fellow countrymen arrived in Paris. Among them was Prince Vasily Petrovich Golytsin (the one I had lived with on the Black River). He and other friends and some Russian ladies urged me to introduce my music to Paris, and I foolishly agreed.
Souza, whom I often visited, learned of my intentions and offered his services. He introduced me to Hector Berlioz, who was then planning a trip to Russia, counting on a rich harvest, not of applause alone, but also of rubles. Berlioz treated me most kindly (which was not the rule among Parisian musicians, who were usually unbearably arrogant and supercilious), and I called on him two or three times a week, talking frankly with him about music and especially about his own compositions, which I liked, particularly those of an imaginative nature, such as the Scherzo, Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet, The Pilgrims’ March from Harold, Dies irae and Tuba Mirum spargens sonum from his Requiem. […]
In March, Berlioz gave two prodigious concerts at the amphitheatre on the Champs Elysées. He liked my Lezghinka, which I had transcribed for orchestra alone. Moreover, Berlioz and I asked Mme. Solovieva (née Verteuil, married to M. Melchior), who was then in Paris, to sing the cavatine from A Life for the Tsar – At An Open Field I Gaze – to which she readily agreed.
When we started rehearsing, I soon found that French musicians are not very good at paying attention – they prefer to talk and chat with their neighbours. I also noticed that sometimes, especially in the heavy passages, they resort to their snuffboxes and handkerchiefs. […]
At Berlioz’s concert in the amphitheatre my Lezghinka did not have its hoped-for success because many of the effects had been designed to be played between two orchestras – one on the stage, consisting of wind instruments, and another below the stage (in the orchestra) in which the strings predominated. Berlioz had a total of 150 musicians – consequently they were spread out too much and the listener could not grasp the whole, but only hear the sounds of those instruments near him. […] (Glinka here gives details about the performance and the various problems involved) […]
Despite all this the hall was filled: apparently the Russian ladies in Paris had agreed to adorn this concert given by their fellow countryman; they appeared in great finery, so that one paper, in referring to my concert, said: “Que c’était un parterre de fleurs.” Adeline sat in the third row, and when I came on stage to accompany Marras, she blushed prettily from excitement and concern.
The Parisian public could not, of course, really be made acquainted with my musical talent from the few pieces – and those not my best – that were performed at this concert. Nevertheless, I had a success (succès d’estime). Many papers wrote about me: the editor of the Revue Britannique wrote an extremely kind article about me, Maurice Bourge also wrote, and finally, Berlioz had a very long article with a brief story of my life entitled "Michel Glinka" in the Journal des Débats.
Melgunov had provided Berlioz with the data for this article. I have lost my copy but anyone wishing to read it can find it in the Journal des Débats for April or May, 1845 [16 April 1845].
I often called upon Berlioz, for I found his sharp, even caustic conversation always entertaining. Naturally, I did all I could to make his forthcoming trip to Russia a success.
The friendly relations started between the two men in Paris did not however lead to a lasting personal relationship and after 1845 they did not apparently meet again, nor did any correspondence develop between them (unlike that between Berlioz and Lvov). Glinka left Paris in May 1845 to travel to Spain, and only returned to St Petersburg in 1847 after Berlioz’s departure: his absence from the capital city during the visit of the composer who had supported him and whose work he admired was commented on at the time (see the article by prince Odoievsky reproduced in Fouque). Glinka later returned to Paris in August 1852, where he visited again Henri Mérimée and stayed until April 1854 (Glinka, pp. 231-9), but there is no indication that he sought at any time to see Berlioz again. Glinka also relates that in 1854 he orchestrated Weber’s Invitation to the Dance but curiously fails to mention the fact that Berlioz himself had written an orchestral version of the same work many years earlier (Glinka, p. 246). But their mutual admiration as composers endured. When Glinka died in 1857 his sister decided to offer to dedicate some of his works to other musicians who had particularly appreciated him; Berlioz was one of these, and was very pleased to accept (CG no. 2250). It is no accident that the group of young Russian musicians who arose in the late 1850s and early 1860s and who regarded Glinka as their model and inspiration should all have shared Glinka’s admiration for Berlioz (Stasov, pp. 66-116). In this respect the meeting of Berlioz and Glinka in Paris in 1845 was of long term significance both for Berlioz himself and for Russian music.
Grand-Duchess Yelena Pavlovna (1807-1873; portrait), sister-in-law of the emperor Nicolas and aunt of the emperor Alexander II. The Grand-Duchess was not Russian but of German origin: she was born in Stuttgart where she also died, and had been educated in Paris (among her many qualities Berlioz appreciated her fluency in French: CG no. 3274). Her original name was Frederika Charlotte Maria, but she changed this in 1824 when she married the Russian Grand-Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (1798-1849); after his early death she devoted her energies and considerable wealth (CG no. 3314) to a variety of charitable and artistic causes. As early as 1844 she was suggesting the foundation of a Conservatoire for music in St Petersburg, an idea that was only realised, with her backing, in 1862 (Stasov, p. 144). It does not appear that Berlioz met her personally before 1867 (there is no reference to her in Berlioz’s writings concerning the visit of 1847), but she was known to him before then: Berlioz mentions the salon she had in Moscow in a feuilleton of 1856 (Journal des Débats, 15 November), and the following year her name was mentioned in the Revue et gazette musicale (3 May 1857) as one of the subscribers to the full score of the Te Deum (cf. CG no. 2211 with CG V p. 434 n. 1). On her side the Grand-Duchess was evidently fully aware of Berlioz’s international reputation long before she issued in September 1867 an invitation to Berlioz to come and conduct a series of six concerts in St Petersburg.
The invitation, coming at a very late stage of Berlioz’s career, deserves comment: apart from Paganini’s gift of 20,000 francs in 1838 it was the most generous offer that Berlioz ever received, surpassing those of Frederick Beale in London in 1852 and Édouard Bénazet in Baden-Baden in the years 1856-1863. During his travels in Germany Berlioz had benefited from the support and encouragement of a number of cultured members of the German aristocracy (the royal families of Prussia and Hanover, the ducal family of Weimar): his career appropriately concluded with the trip to Russia, which was entirely paid for by the Grand-Duchess herself, who provided lavish hospitality in a splendid apartment in her own palace, with French-speaking domestics and free use of one of her carriages. As one newspaper put it, the invitation of Berlioz was an ‘imperial present’ to St Petersburg (CG no. 3310).
The background to the invitation is not entirely clear and has to be reconstructed from scattered hints. Berlioz had previously received an invitation from St Petersburg in the autumn of 1864, it is not clear from whom; but he declined it as he thought the terms were not sufficiently tempting and his health might not withstand the stresses of the journey and of the Russian winter (CG nos. 2920, 2930). The following two years he was receiving reports that his music was being performed in Russia and well received (CG nos. 3027, 3151). The Grand-Duchess may have concluded that in order to attract Berlioz to Russia she needed to make an offer so generous that Berlioz could not refuse. A series of concerts under probably the greatest conductor of his day, whose music was widely appreciated in Russian musical circles, was a worthwhile objective in itself: it would lend great lustre to the still young Russian Musical Society of which she was the patron (it was founded in 1859, and the St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1862).
But there was also an undercurrent of internal musical politics of which Berlioz was probably never fully aware. For some years Russian musical life had been divided between a cosmopolitan musical establishment, in which non-Russian musicians exercised strong influence (Anton Rubinstein was the first director of the Conservatoire), and a smaller group of young Russians, led by Stasov and Balakirev, who sought to promote a specifically Russian school of music. The Grand-Duchess, patron of the Russian Musical Society, was on the side of the musical establishment (it is not possible to say whether her German origins played any part in this). When Rubinstein resigned from the Conservatoire in August 1867, his position was split between a director (Zaremba) and a conductor for the concerts of the Russian Musical Society (Balakirev), but the Grand-Duchess suggested inviting at her own expense Berlioz to take charge of six of the ten concerts of the forthcoming season, thus reducing the participation of Balakirev (Fouque, p. 233). Writing to his niece Nancy Suat, and presumably reproducing the view expressed by the Grand-Duchess herself, Berlioz related that her intention was ‘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). What Berlioz did not know at the time was that the person leading the ‘Russian faction’ was none other than Balakirev himself. It so happened that during his stay in St Petersburg Berlioz formed a very favourable impression of Balakirev, who gave him unstinted support in the preparations for his concerts. The underlying tensions appear to have been kept from Berlioz while he was there, but on his return to Paris he received an unpleasant surprise: he was asked by the secretary of the Grand-Duchess to recommend for the following season of the Russian Musical Society the German conductor Seifriz, whom he had met in Löwenberg in 1863 (CG no. 3364), and soon after he was also asked to denigrate Balakirev, which he had no intention of doing (CG no. 3373). The following year Balakirev was removed from his post, and it seems that the Grand-Duchess and those who were advising her had achieved their objective.
Stasov’s presentation of the Grand-Duchess deserves comment in this context: never one to show restraint in expressing his likes and dislikes, Stasov is conspicuously reticent whenever he mentions the Grand-Duchess (Stasov, pp. 93, 144, 163-4, 167-9). He never makes clear the polemical background to the invitation of Berlioz in September 1867, though he will have been well aware of it, and does not make clear either what lay behind the move to replace Balakirev in 1868, though he commended Berlioz for his defence of Balakirev (CG no. 3375). To criticise openly a member of the imperial aristocracy was unthinkable, and Stasov will also have been aware of how highly Berlioz regarded the Grand-Duchess.
Not surprisingly there are few surviving letters of Berlioz to the Grand-Duchess herself, and they all date from after his return to Paris (CG nos. 3354, 3361, cf. 3364): persons of her standing normally communicated with others through intermediaries, such as the Count of Keyserling (CG nos. 3272, 3273), Kologrivov, Derffel, and her librarian Becker (CG nos. 3354, 3364). It is a mark of the high esteem of the Grand-Duchess for Berlioz that she enquired about him on his return and Berlioz responded directly (CG nos. 3354, 3361; it took him two days to write this last letter, cf. CG no. 3363). To the last known letter addressed to Berlioz by her secretary she added a few lines in her own hand (CG no. 3364). Berlioz on his side formed a very high opinion of the Grand-Duchess, who represented for him all that was best in the cultured German aristocracy of the age. While Berlioz was in St Petersburg, she did him the honour of asking him to read to her Hamlet in French, though it is unlikely that Berlioz had the strength to carry this out (CG nos. 3312, 3313, 3314, 3318). In letter after letter there is nothing but praise on the part of Berlioz for her generosity, her refinement and dedication to literary culture (see especially CG nos. 3274, 3305, 3310), and he paid her the ultimate accolade of comparing her to none other than his childhood idol, Estelle Fornier (CG no. 3314).
Guedeonov, General Alexander was director of the imperial theatres in St Petersburg at the time of Berlioz’s visit in 1847. Berlioz wrote to him before his departure (CG no. 1095), and according to the account in the Memoirs (chapter 55 and chapter 56) Guedeonov was helpful in facilitating Berlioz’s concerts. Berlioz makes a passing allusion to him in a feuilleton of 1855 (Journal des Débats, 26 January, p. 2).
Kologrivov, Vassily (b. 1820), was secretary of the Russian Musical Society at the time of Berlioz’s second trip to Russia in 1867-1868. The date of his death appears not to be known. Fouque gives the French text of three letters of Berlioz to him about the preparation of his concerts; the original of the first one has not been preserved (CG nos. 3289, 3293, 3304; cf. 3287); the first letter was written in response to a letter of Kologrivov (CG no. 3282bis) in which Kologrivov gave a description of the Russian Musical Society and of its activities. The letter of Berlioz is of special interest in that it gives the complete programme of the six concerts as originally planned by Berlioz following the suggestions of the Grand-Duchess (in the event Berlioz was persuaded to modify these to include far more of his own music than he had intended, partly at the insistence of Kologrivov, as well as Balakirev: Fouque, p. 241 and Stasov, p. 164). Fouque also cites the text of an agreement made between Berlioz and Kologrivov on behalf of the Russian Musical Society, allowing the Society to make a copy of the full score of Les Troyens with a view to performance in Russia, and of a receipt of Berlioz for the money received, dated 31 January 1868. Kologrivov was one of those present at the performance of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar which Berlioz attended on 5 February/24 January (Stasov, p. 166). He is also mentioned in a letter of Berlioz to Stasov (CG no. 3346).
Lenz, Wilhelm von (1809-1883), was an adviser to the Russian emperor, and at the same time an amateur musician and writer with a particular interest in Beethoven. Berlioz met him in Paris a few years before his trip to Russia in 1847 and Lenz was one of the first to greet Berlioz on his arrival in St Petersburg (Memoirs, chapter 55). During his stay in the city Berlioz had frequent opportunities to see him socially (CG no. 1242), and it is possible that at the time Lenz told Berlioz about his interest in Beethoven. Two years later Lenz approached Berlioz about a book on Beethoven he had written in French and was hoping to get published in some form in Paris; he suggested sending the manuscript to Berlioz (CG no. 1242). What then happened is not clear, but the book did eventually appear in St Petersburg in 1852 under the title Beethoven et ses trois styles; Lenz may have sent Berlioz a copy, which Berlioz used to review the book in a feuilleton in the Journal des Débats of 11 August 1852. The review does not specify who the publisher was, and according to Berlioz himself (CG no. 1496) the book was difficult to find in Paris. Berlioz was generally very warm in his praise of the work, and reproduced the review later that year in the Second Epilogue of his Soirées de l’orchestre, but with one significant omission: Berlioz was very critical of Lenz’s incorrect French, but the paragraph on this point was omitted from the Soirées de l’orchestre. In private Berlioz continued to voice that criticism of Lenz (CG nos. 1496, 2216). There is nothing to suggest that after this time Lenz and Berlioz maintained any regular correspondence, though relations remained cordial (cf. CG no. 2022 in 1855). Berlioz and Lenz met again several times during Berlioz’s visit to St Petersburg in 1867-1868, as shown by a letter of Lenz to Berlioz shortly after the latter’s return to Paris (CG no. 3340).
Lvov, General Alexei Feodorovich (1799-1870; portrait), violinist, composer and director of the Imperial Chapel in St Petersburg, a position he took over from his father in 1837 (his father had died the previous year). Of all the Russians Berlioz met before or during his first visit to Russia in 1847, Lvov was the one who became closest to him, and the two men maintained a correspondence that lasted for some twenty years. Berlioz apparently first heard of Lvov in Berlin in 1843; he probably also found out more about him from Glinka during the latter’s visit to Paris in 1844-1845. Glinka knew Lvov well and refers to him several times in his Memoirs (pp. 114-16, 131-2, 136, 138, 227); for example, his first recollection of Lvov was of him playing the violin, and he recalls ‘the sweetly delicate sounds of Aleksei Fedorovich’s entrancing violin [which] became deeply engraved on my memory’ (Glinka, p. 18). In Berlioz’s writings Lvov is first mentioned in the article on Glinka in the Journal des Débats of 16 April 1845:
I must mention at this point that the chapel choir of the Emperor of Russia is something wonderful, and if we are to believe all the Italian, German and French artists who have heard it, we are able to form only a very imperfect idea of it […] This choir, which Glinka left in an admirable state of splendour, has gained even more of late under the learned direction of General Lvov, a violinist and composer of great merit, one of the amateur musicians, one might say one of the most distinguished artists that Russia possesses, whose works I have often heard praised during my stay in Berlin.
The Russian musical public paid close attention to the French press. Lvov was delighted and encouraged by the article, and approached Berlioz directly; Berlioz responded very positively (CG no. 986). From the outset there was between the two men a natural convergence of musical sympathies as well as of interests: both musicians sought recognition in each other’s capital city, and both were in a position to assist one another.
It was natural therefore that in January 1847, before he set off for Russia, Lvov was one of the members of the Russian musical establishment whom Berlioz contacted (cf. CG no. 1095). The visit to St Petersburg in the spring of 1847 had the effect of cementing their relationship: the two men developed a personal liking for each other which ensured that their friendship would be lasting (unlike Berlioz’s much more distant relations with Count Wielhorsky). Berlioz praised Lvov warmly in his account of the visit of 1847 in the Memoirs (chapter 55), where he describes him as ‘a composer and virtuoso of the rarest merit, who from the start displayed to me as a musical colleague the utmost cordiality’ (cf. CG no. 1099). This was no mere courtesy on the part of Berlioz, as his steady correspondence with Lvov over the years 1847-1852 shows. Berlioz wrote to Lvov from Riga soon after leaving St Petersburg, thanking him for providing recommendations in Riga but also praising the music of his opera Ondine (CG no. 1112). It is fortunate that for once Lvov’s reply has been preserved (CG no. 1134bis; a few years later Berlioz gave some letters of Lvov to an autograph collector, cf. CG no. 1444bis [in vol. VIII]): it shows there was mutual friendship and esteem between the two men, and they were anxious to stay in touch. Berlioz remained in contact with Lvov during his trip to London in 1848, and now wrote in more personal terms (CG no. 1170). He wrote again in early 1849 when back in France; Lvov at the time was exploring the possibility of promoting himself in Paris as an operatic composer, and though nothing came of this Berlioz did what he could to assist (CG no. 1246, cf. 1251, 1261).
Apart from the musical and financial success of the visit of 1847, Berlioz was able to experience for himself the exceptional quality of the imperial chapel choir of St Petersburg. His reaction is most vividly expressed in a letter to his sister Adèle the day after (CG no. 1106); it was one of the most striking memories he brought back from his visit to Russia, and it lingered in his mind for a long time. A few years later he performed in Paris two choral pieces by Dimitri Bortniansky (1751-1825), a former director of the imperial chapel, with a Latin text he had supplied himself: the Chant des chérubins on 22 October and 12 November 1850 (he later performed the piece in one of his concerts in London in 1852), and the Pater noster on 21 January 1851. The two works were also published in Paris at the same time as the performances, and the performances were announced in advance by Berlioz in the Journal des Débats (19 October 1850 and 17 January 1851 respectively). In the latter article Berlioz also announced that Lvov was sending him a parcel of choral music of Bortniansky, and soon after he wrote again to Lvov on the subject (CG no. 1379). The material he received provided the substance for another, more developed article on the imperial chapel and the work of Lvov (Journal des Débats, 13 December 1851), which again prompted a warm response from Lvov (cf. CG no. 1443). The article also provoked another letter from an appreciative Russian in Paris who sent Berlioz further biographical information on Bortniansky, together with a portrait of the composer which was eventually published in L’Illustration of 7 August 1852 together with the letter (CG no. 1438).
A substantial part of what Berlioz had written in the various Débats articles on Bortniansky, the imperial chapel, and Lvov was reproduced by Berlioz in 1852 in the Soirées de l’orchestre (21st evening): he evidently wanted to give further publicity to Russian music, particularly since his account of his Russian travels of 1847 was still not completed (cf. CG no. 1631). Some years later Berlioz recalled once more the exceptional quality of the imperial chapel: ‘What a pity that it is not possible to let the Parisians hear even once the 80 singers of the court of the Russian emperor, to teach them at last what ensemble vocal music, sung with nuance, really is! But Paris is far, very far from St Petersburg’ (Journal des Débats, 3 July 1857; cf. also 2 October 1855; 11 November 1862).
After 1852 it seems that the correspondence between Berlioz and Lvov slowed down, as the immediate prospects of a return visit to Russia receded. Berlioz wrote to him again in 1855 recommending a singer who was visiting St Petersburg, though the brief note makes no mention of any hopes on Berlioz’s part to visit Russia again (CG no. 2021, 15 September 1855). There is then a long gap in the record. Early in 1863 Berlioz made a complimentary reference to Lvov’s opera Ondine which he had praised years earlier (Journal des Débats, 13 January 1863; cf. CG nos. 1112, 1170, 1379). Later in that year he was very touched to receive a letter of congratulations from Lvov on the occasion of the first performances of Les Troyens in Paris in November 1863, though also very upset at the news that Lvov had been afflicted with deafness (CG no. 2808). In the last known letter of Lvov to Berlioz, Lvov informed Berlioz that he had given up music altogether because of his ailment (CG no. 3233, 6 April 1867). Before he left for his second trip to Russia Berlioz implied that he might be seeing Lvov again during his stay there (CG no. 3303); it is now known from two letters of Berlioz to Lvov in January 1868 that the two men were able to meet again several times (CG nos. 3329bis and 3329ter in NL pp. 663, 664). In the first of these two letters Berlioz mentions that he performed Lvov’s Hymn for the Tsars at his first concert in Moscow; in the second letter he congratulates Lvov on his setting of the Stabat mater which Lvov had lent him.
Odoievsky, Prince Vladimir (1801-1869; portrait), a wealthy amateur musician and writer who, like his junior Stasov, supported both native Russian composers such as Glinka (Glinka, pp. 96 n. 3, 101, 107, 118, 228) or Dargomïzhsky (Stasov, p. 75), and foreign composers such as Liszt in 1842 (Glinka, p. 163; Stasov, pp. 129, 135) and Berlioz in 1847 (Stasov, pp. 131, 149-52, 155). Fouque cites at length two enthusiastic and perceptive articles published by Odoievsky in 1847 in celebration of Berlioz’s visit (Fouque, pp. 196-9 and 199-205). Berlioz met the prince soon after his arrival, as shown by a letter in which Berlioz included a detailed biographical note about himself for use in the St Petersburg press (CG no. 1097 [see vol. VIII for the original text]). But from the silence in the rest of his correspondence and in his other writings it does not appear that Berlioz developed any close relationship with him subsequently, which may surprise. Odoievsky is not mentioned in any of the extant letters of 1867-8, though it is known that he delivered a speech welcoming Berlioz to a reception at the Moscow Conservatoire in January 1868. A number of letters of Berlioz to the prince, 6 in all, dating supposedly from 1868 and 1869, the very end of Berlioz’s life, were published in Russia in 1937 and 1968-9, but their authenticity is highly questionable (see Richard Macnutt on this site). The silence of Stasov, who knew intimately the Russian musical scene, is a strong negative argument (cf. Stasov, p. 169 which indicates that CG no. 3373 of August 1868 is the last letter of Berlioz known to Stasov).
Romberg, Heinrich (1802-1859). Romberg came from a family of German musicians, to which Berlioz devoted part of one of his feuilletons in the Journal des Débats (24 August 1851). Like many other German musicians Romberg studied at the Conservatoire in Paris until 1825 in the violin class of Baillot; he may well have met Berlioz then, though Berlioz does not specify this. He then left for St Petersburg where he stayed for 20 years, starting in 1827 as leader of the orchestra of the Imperial Theatre and becoming later conductor of the Italian Opera. What brought him to Berlioz’s notice was the performance he conducted in May 1841 of the Requiem in St Petersburg; it is not known what prompted this remarkably ambitious undertaking (Berlioz was not involved), though Romberg clearly enjoyed significant support and financial backing from the Russian aristocracy. When Berlioz came to St Petersburg in 1847 Romberg was very supportive; this is mentioned by Berlioz in his Memoirs (chapter 55), and in the article of 1851 on the Romberg family he went out of his way to express his appreciation (cf. also CG no. 1135). According to Berlioz Romberg had many enemies among the musicians of St Petersburg, which Berlioz interpreted as a reflection of the strict standards he insisted on. Not long after Berlioz’s visit, in the autumn of 1847, Romberg in fact left St Petersburg, perhaps as a consequence of this hostility (CG no. 1134bis), and retired to Hamburg.
Stasov, Vladimir (1824-1906; portrait), Russian writer and critic, promoter of the well-known group of five Russian composers (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov), and one of Berlioz’s most energetic champions. Stasov’s relations with Berlioz may be considered under two headings: first, his relations at the personal level from 1847 to 1868, which only started to become close at the end of Berlioz’s life; and second, his work as critic and champion of Berlioz, where his influence was extensive and stretched over a long period, during Berlioz’s lifetime and after his death. Altogether Stasov did perhaps as much as any of his contemporaries, Liszt excepted, to promote Berlioz.
1. Personal relations. Berlioz and Stasov first met in St Petersburg in 1847 during Berlioz’s first trip to Russia, at a time when Stasov was still a young man. It was in fact in 1847 that Stasov published his first critical work, in a review of the musical season in St Petersburg which contains his first published comments on Berlioz and his music (see below). There is no record of their meeting in Berlioz’s own writings (Stasov’s name does not appear in the Memoirs or in any of Berlioz’s critical works), and the story is known only from Stasov’s later recollections, as recorded by Fouque in 1882 and by Stasov himself in 1889 (Stasov, pp. 161-2). They both quote a letter of Berlioz written in a hurry on 22/10 May 1847, the day of his departure from St Petersburg (CG no. 1111). Although the name of the recipient is not preserved, it can only be Stasov, since that is what Stasov himself related. Stasov had requested permission to copy the score of some pieces by Berlioz, and had also asked a question about the use of the organ with the orchestra. Berlioz was unable to accede to the request, since he needed the music, and on the second point suggested that in religious music the organ could be used effectively in opposition to the orchestra but not simultaneously (as Berlioz was soon to do in his own Te Deum). There was no further contact between the two men for years to come, and Stasov was away from Russia between 1851 and 1854 while in the service of Prince Demidov as his secretary. After his return to St Petersburg Stasov began in the mid and late 1850s to encourage the formation of a group of young Russian composers, at first Balakirev, then Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin: they all shared among other things a common admiration for Berlioz, whose published works they studied with great care.
This is the background to the next recorded meeting of Berlioz and Stasov, which took place in Paris in September 1862. Stasov, who had been working for the Imperial Public Library in St Petersburg since 1854, approached Berlioz with a view to securing for the library an autograph manuscript of one of his major works, and suggested the Te Deum, for which the Russian admirers of Berlioz, led by Balakirev, had developed a special fondness. Berlioz was happy to oblige, to the great joy of the Russians (CG nos. 2650, 2676, 2676bis; cf. 3375). In his letter of thanks to Berlioz Stasov pointedly drew attention to ‘young musical Russia here, in other words the small circle of those who genuinely appreciate the music of the present and your immense talent’, a clear reference to Wagner and the ‘music of the future’, and an indication of his awareness of Berlioz’s attitude to Wagner (CG no. 2676). Stasov himself was hostile to Wagner and his music (cf. CG no. 3375 and Stasov, pp. 38-51, 79-80, 85-90, 94). There is no further mention of Stasov in Berlioz’s extant correspondence until he arrived in St Petersburg in November 1867: Stasov was not as yet among Berlioz’s circle of friends (cf. CG no. 3303). Extant from the time of his stay is an invitation of Berlioz to Stasov to a dinner for a select group of musicians held at the Mikhailovski Palace on 24/12 November (CG no. 3306). Stasov’s own recollections are an important source for Berlioz’s stay in St Petersburg, and it was then that their relations started to become close (Stasov, pp. 161-9). But it was only after Berlioz’s return to Paris that their correspondence began to develop. The few preserved letters indicate a growing warmth between the two men in the course of 1868, and Stasov felt emboldened in his last letter to question Berlioz’s decision, taken as far back as 1864 (cf. Memoirs, Postface; CG no. 2857), to give up composition altogether (CG nos. 3346, 3356, 3373, 3375). But it was too late: Berlioz’s letter of August 1868 (CG no. 3373) was the last one he wrote to Stasov, and he had only a few more months to live.
2. Stasov the critic and champion of Berlioz. Paradoxically perhaps for a champion of Berlioz, Stasov as a critic differed from him in many ways in his style and outlook. Two particular characteristics may be singled out. Berlioz as a critic was usually objective, whatever the strength of his likes and dislikes, and he preferred irony to invective as his weapon of choice. Stasov on the other hand was by nature polemical and partisan in expressing his views, and liable to allow his temperament to get in the way of his judgement. Like Berlioz, he was opposed to the musical establishment of his day, but did so with less discrimination. For example, he included Count Wielhorsky and Lvov in the same blanket condemnation (Stasov, pp. 145-6, 192), whereas Berlioz had no difficulty in developing a genuinely warm and appreciative relationship with the latter. Stasov opposed the very idea of a Conservatoire of music, which he regarded as a bastion of conservatism (Stasov, pp. 81-4): ‘The conservatories have not furthered our musical culture; they have merely produced a tremendous number of musical artisans who have little to do with art, are infected with conservatory tastes and have a very poor understanding of music’ (Stasov, pp. 83-4). In Stasov’s view, one of the merits of Balakirev and the other members of the group of five was that they were self-made and had not gone through the St Petersburg Conservatoire (Stasov, pp. 92-3), and conversely Tchaikovsky’s music suffered precisely because he had (Stasov, pp. 111-12). Berlioz, whatever his own experiences in Paris, had a more nuanced view of the role of a Conservatoire (see for example his comments on Prague). It is noticeable that when mentioning to Berlioz the foundation of the St Petersburg Conservatoire Stasov was careful not to give voice to his own reservations (CG no. 2676).
Stasov’s attitude to the institution of the Conservatoire leads to his second characteristic, his fierce Russian nationalism. ‘Most deplorable of all is the fact that our conservatories have turned out to be purely foreign institutions – German. Within their walls Russian music, the Russian school, the Russian trend are never mentioned, and hundreds of young men and women are being taught to worship only what is worshipped at the conservatories in Leipzig and Berlin’ (Stasov, p. 84). Stasov’s overriding aim was to further the development of a truly national school of distinctly Russian composers, following in the footsteps of Glinka, whom he met in 1849 and who greatly appreciated Stasov (Glinka, p. 218: ‘an exceptionally well-grounded musician, a lover of the fine arts, and in general a highly cultivated person’). Stasov’s views are most fully developed in the chapter entitled ‘Twenty-five Years of Russian Art: Our Music’ where he reviews the progress of Russian music from Glinka to the early 1880s (pp. 66-116). His attitude to non-Russian composers was conditioned in part by his Russian nationalism. Stasov is quite open about his reasons for admiring Berlioz and Liszt: ‘We cherish Berlioz not only because he was a composer of genius, the direct successor to Beethoven and the creator of a new type of music, programme music; not only because all his life he was a vigorous fighter for a just cause; but also because, together with Liszt, he was the first to recognise the Russian school of music, beginning with its leader and founder, Glinka’ (Stasov, pp. 57-8). With this approach one may compare the international outlook of Berlioz, who wondered why he had been born in France (Memoirs, chapter 25), proclaimed himself a composer ‘three-quarters German’, declared Gluck, Beethoven and Weber to be his idols, together with the Italian Spontini, and in his speech at Strasbourg in June 1863 celebrated the influence of music which caused ‘national animosities to disappear’. Had Berlioz lived long enough to become closer to Stasov, one may wonder whether the deep differences between them could have been permanently kept below the surface.
Of Stasov’s published writings three articles are devoted in part or in whole to Berlioz: his first article entitled ‘Review of the Musical Events of the Year 1847’ and published in that year (Stasov, pp. 15-37; 23-30 on Berlioz), his review of Daniel Bernard, Correspondance inédite de Berlioz, published in 1879 (Stasov, pp. 52-61), and the study ‘Liszt, Schumann and Berlioz in Russia’, published in 1889 and revised in 1896 (Stasov, pp. 117-94; 146-69 on Berlioz). Stasov had already started to study Berlioz even before Berlioz’s first visit in 1847, as the questions he put to him show (see above on CG no. 1111). He was prepared to be impressed, but in his first article he drew an artificial distinction between Berlioz the conductor and orchestrator on the one hand, and Berlioz the composer on the other: ‘Before anything else, we must state that Berlioz’s works are utterly devoid of music; he has no gift for musical composition whatsoever. On the other hand, he is enormously gifted as a performer; his talent in this regard is fully on a level with the amazing talent of Liszt. Indeed, these two men are strikingly alike in every respect’ (Stasov, p. 24). All the same Stasov was fascinated by what he heard and had the highest expectations for the future: ‘All future music will be linked in the closest and most indissoluble way to the Columbus-like discoveries and undertakings of Liszt and Berlioz’ (Stasov, p. 29). Stasov later moved away from the rigid distinction he had initially drawn, though his published writings do not make it possible to trace the evolution of his views. By the late 1850s, if not earlier, he was thoroughly convinced of Berlioz’s greatness as a composer, as his correspondence with Berlioz in 1862 over the Te Deum shows (CG nos. 2650, 2676). The next article, dated 1879, reviews the first volume of Berlioz’s correspondence published after the composer’s death; it shows Stasov as a thorough-going champion of Berlioz, who defends his personal integrity and truthfulness, and only finds fault with Berlioz’s anti-republican views and support for the autocracy of the Napoleons (Stasov, pp. 53-4, cf. 157). The third article, the most valuable of the three, gives a detailed and documented account of Berlioz’s relations with Russia over his whole career; although new information has since come to light it retains its value to this day, as does the essay of 1882 by Fouque, which drew partly on material supplied by Stasov. In this third study Stasov, with years of reflection behind him, was able to modify the views he had expressed in 1847 (Stasov, p. 154), and to add the important observation that while in 1847 Berlioz’s initial influence on the Russian musical scene was slight, it laid seeds for the future that blossomed with the younger generation of Russian composers: ‘The great, the predominant qualities in the music of these composers – imagination, fire, depth of feeling, matchless poetry and descriptiveness – made our young musicians overlook [the] shortcomings [of these composers]. It is doubtful whether even the most ardent compatriots of Berlioz, Schumann and Liszt valued them as highly as this little group of young Russians did. It should be noted, however, that in this they stood alone’ (Stasov, p. 160). For his account of Berlioz’s second visit Stasov was able to provide first hand evidence: he will have been prominent among the ‘friends who come to see me, who have for my music a passion which looks very much like fanaticism’, as Berlioz put it in a letter (CG no. 3332). Stasov concludes his account thus: ‘Berlioz’ closest, most intimate relationships, on his second visit to Russia, were almost exclusively with the composers of the new Russian school. These young people appreciated his genius and understood his importance more than any of their countrymen. That is why his influence on them was so powerful and so profound’ (Stasov, p. 169).
Tajan-Rogé, Dominique (ca. 1803-1878), cellist and writer whom Berlioz had met in Paris years before his first trip to Russia. In 1847 Tajan-Rogé was playing in the imperial orchestra in St Petersburg, and Berlioz praises him in the Memoirs for the excellent support he gave in the preparation of concerts (chapter 55; cf. CG no. 1114). Some months after this Tajan-Rogé wrote to Berlioz, now in London; his letter has not survived but Berlioz’s very detailed reply has (CG no. 1135). As well as giving general news Berlioz confided to Tajan-Rogé the story of his idyll in St Petersburg with a Russian chorister, which apparently he had not mentioned to anyone else, and asked Tajan-Rogé to make discreet enquiries about the lady and forward a letter Berlioz had written to her. Tajan-Rogé’s very long reply is preserved (CG no. 1147): he carried out the commission, and in his turn forwarded a letter from the chorister to Berlioz, the contents of which are not known. He then went on to rebuke Berlioz for his self-conscious attitude to the chorister because of her modest social status… Nothing further is known of the episode. Tajan-Rogé eventually left St Petersburg where he was not happy (CG nos. 1114, 1135), but he and Berlioz remained in touch. He was in Paris in 1850 and 1851 and was a member of the Société Philharmonique which Berlioz founded in January 1850. On 18 March 1850 Berlioz proposed him as member of the committee of the society, on which he became very active, as can be seen from the minutes of the meetings of the committee. It was he, for example, who proposed at a meeting on 20 April 1850 that Berlioz’s Requiem should be performed at a ceremony at Saint-Eustache on 3 May in honour of the families of victims of a catastrophe which had taken place at Angers. In 1852 Berlioz secured his appointment in the orchestra of the Queen’s Theatre in London (CG no. 1457bis [in vol. VIII]); in 1855 Tajan-Rogé was in New Orleans (CG no. 1905) and in 1857 Berlioz mentioned his presence in New York (Journal des Débats, 26 April 1857). The extant letters shed no further light on their time together in St Petersburg.
Wielhorsky, Count Mikhail (1788-1856) and his younger brother Count Matvey Wielhorsky (1794-1866), both of them born in St Petersburg and resident in the same house, were amateur musicians and influential patrons of the arts over a period of many years. As Berlioz put it in flattering terms (Memoirs, chapter 55), ‘their house in St Petersburg is a small ministry of fine-arts, thanks to the authority conferred on them by their deservedly renowned good taste, the influence exercised by their great wealth and their numerous relations, and thanks finally to the official position they hold at court with the Emperor and the Empress’. Of the two the elder brother, himself a composer, was more prominent and socially active, and attracted more attention; the younger brother was an accomplished cellist who performed abroad as well as in Russia (‘an amateur whose rare talent deprives many professionals of sleep’, wrote Berlioz in 1856). Count Mikhail had patronised music actively for years before Berlioz’s visit of 1847. He was initially supportive of Glinka, whom he had met early (Glinka, p. 45) and facilitated the production of his opera A Life for the Tsar in 1836; Glinka was even prepared to listen to his suggestions about the work (Glinka, pp. 100, 102-3). But the Count was critical of Glinka’s next opera Ruslan and Ludmila and in 1843 disparaged the work in Liszt’s presence, to Glinka’s understandable annoyance (Glinka, pp. 171, 176). Other composers and players enjoyed the Count’s patronage. He was present in Rome in 1839 at the same time as Liszt and arranged a concert by him (Stasov, p. 119), and together with his brother entertained Liszt during his visits of 1842 and 1843 to St Petersburg (Stasov, pp. 120, 129). They did the same for Schumann in 1844 (Stasov, pp. 143-4).
The Count was briefly in Paris in 1844 at the same time as Glinka himself (Glinka, p. 188), though it is not known whether he and Berlioz met on this occasion. At any rate Berlioz had been made aware of his influence in St Petersburg before he set out for his Russian trip in February 1847 and wrote to him in advance (CG nos. 1091, 1095). In his Memoirs Berlioz gives warm praise to the hospitality he had received from the two brothers (chapter 55, cf. CG no. 1240); elsewhere he mentions Count Mikhail’s reminiscences about performances of Beethoven symphonies he witnessed in Vienna during Beethoven’s lifetime (Travels to Germany II, Letter II; Journal des Débats, 13 February 1861).
After his departure from St Petersburg Berlioz was evidently anxious to maintain contacts with Count Mikhail, to whom he wrote a detailed letter about his stay in Riga in May 1847 (CG no. 1113). He received no reply, and despite his reluctance to appear too insistent (cf. CG no. 1170), wrote again the following year with detailed news of his activities (CG no. 1240). Again, it seems Berlioz received no reply (cf. CG no. 1379). The only other known contact between them comes from a letter of 1855 in which Berlioz recommended to the Count a singer who was travelling to St Petersburg (CG no. 2022, cf. 2021). Mikhail’s younger brother the cellist receives occasional mention in Berlioz’s writings: he was present at the Prussian court in Berlin in June 1847 when Berlioz performed his Damnation of Faust (Memoirs, Sequel to the trip to Russia), then is found in Paris giving concerts in December 1856 (Journal des Débats, 19 December 1856), and again in November 1858 (cf. CG no. 2440).
It is perhaps no accident that the good relations established by Berlioz in 1847 with Count Mikhail failed to develop subsequently, unlike those with General Lvov. The social gulf between them was one difficulty (cf. CG no. 1170), though Berlioz did have at other times friendly relations with other cultured aristocrats (for example the King and Queen of Hanover or the ducal family of Weimar). But another obstacle was probably musical: the Count had his own ambitions as a composer, as Glinka found out, yet was probably out of his depth when it came to Berlioz – in 1847 he confided to Berlioz that he could not make sense of the Roman Carnival overture… (Memoirs, chapter 56; echoed by Balakirev in CG no. 3374). Dispensing generous hospitality to distinguished foreign visitors in St Petersburg was one thing, actively promoting their music was another. In fact Stasov was later very critical of the Count’s artistic conservatism and musical judgement, citing his failure to appreciate at their true worth Stasov’s own idols, Glinka, Schumann, Liszt, and Berlioz himself (Stasov, pp. 131, 135-6, 145-6, 156: ‘What a difference there is between a great musician and an insignificant amateur!’).
The following selection of translated letters relates specifically to
the persons mentioned in this page. A full chronological listing of all the
letters of relevance to Berlioz and Russia that are cited on other
Russia-related pages will be found in the home page Berlioz
All translations are © Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb.
Note on chronology: whereas western Europe followed the Gregorian calendar (first introduced in 1582), Russia continued until 1918 to use the Julian, which was 12 days behind. Accordingly, for letters written in Russia, whether by Berlioz himself or by his correspondents, dates have been given in two forms: the first is the more common Gregorian date, and the second is the Julian.
To Mikhail Glinka (CG no. 953; 25 March, from Paris):
It is not enough for me to perform your music and to say to many people that it is fresh, lively, and delightful in its verve and originality. I must give myself the pleasure of writing a few columns on this subject, all the more so as it is my duty. Am I not expected to tell the public about all the most remarkable things of this kind that are going on in Paris? So please give me a few notes about yourself, your earliest studies, the musical institutions of Russia, your works, and after studying with you your score to get a less imperfect idea of it I will be able to do something bearable and give to the readers of the Débats an approximate idea of your high eminence. I am dreadfully harassed by these damned concerts, by the pretensions of the musicians, etc., but I should find the time to write an article on a subject of this kind, and it is not often that I have one as interesting as this.
Glinka to N. Kukolnik (cited by Stasov, p. 147; 6 April, from Paris):
[…] Chance has brought me into contact with several nice people, and in Paris, I have found not many, but sincere and gifted friends. Certainly, for me the most wonderful thing that has happened has been meeting Berlioz. One of my purposes in coming here was to study his works, which are so denounced by some and so extolled by others, and I have had the good fortune to do this. Not only have I heard Berlioz’ music in concert and rehearsal, but I have also grown close to this man who, in my opinion, is the foremost composer of our century (in his own province, of course) – as close, that is, as one can to an extremely eccentric man. And this is what I think: in the realm of fantastic music, no one has ever approached his colossal and, at the same time, ever new conceptions. In sum, the development of details, logic, harmonic texture and finally, powerful and continually new orchestration – this is what constitutes the character of Berlioz’s music. When it comes to drama, he is so carried away by the fantastic aspect of a situation, that he becomes unnatural and consequently untrue. Of the works I have heard, the Overture to Les Francs-Juges, the March of the Pilgrims from Harold in Italy, the Queen Mab Scherzo, and the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum from the Requiem have made an indescribable impression on me. At present, I have a number of Berlioz’ unpublished manuscripts and I am studying them with inexpressible delight. […]
Glinka to N. Kukolnik (cited by Stasov, p. 158; no exact date, from Paris):
[…] The study of Berlioz’ music and the tastes of the Parisian public has had extremely important consequences for me. I have decided to enrich my repertoire with a few and, my strength permitting, many concert pieces for orchestra to be called Fantaisies pittoresques. It seems to me that it ought to be possible to reconcile the demands of art with those of our time and, by taking advantage of the improvements in instruments and performance, to write pieces equally accessible to connoisseurs and the general public. […]
To General Lvov (CG no. 986; 1 August, from Paris):
Please accept my most sincere thanks for all the kind things that you said in your letter; I cannot say how much I am flattered by your unhoped-for support and I would be very happy to be able to earn new claims to your enlightened esteem. It is beyond doubt that without the presence of the author and his immediate effect on the performers, certain works are more or less altered in performance. It also seems obvious to me that these changes are always to their disadvantage. That is why I have a keen desire to take advantage of the free time I have created for myself this winter by visiting St Petersburg. M. De Glinka has greatly encouraged me to carry out this project, similarly Leopold de Meyer, and a few other people who are very familiar with the musical habits of Russia have shared their opinion. I will then appeal to your kindness and your powerful patronage, and I would be most obliged if on receipt of this letter you would kindly write me a few lines about the main difficulties to be faced in St Petersburg during November and December, or later if there is need to wait a little.
It is difficult to make a sound assessment of such matters from a distance, and it is such a tiring and important journey, that advice such as yours would be of inestimable value for me. […]
If I am able to read your work, I will study it with great interest, but I have no more faith than you in piano reductions of orchestral music, and before publishing in my feuilleton an opinion on a work of such importance I will wait till I have been able to hear it, or to study it in full score with you. That is the only way I could gain an accurate and complete idea of it. The same thing happened with M. De Glinka; after hearing him play on the piano a few fragments from his operas I was very far from having the opinion of them I later formed by having them played at my concerts at the Cirque. Translators are all traitors, and the Italian proverb is only too true, but the piano is the most detestable of traitors. I hope I will make ample amends for this during my stay in St Petersburg. […]
To Vladimir Stasov (?) (CG no. 1111; 22/10 May, in St Petersburg)
I have only time to write a few lines in reply; I am leaving later today. I cannot possibly do without my scores, as I am going to Germany where I need them for my concerts. On the question of the organ, it can be used to good effect in certain cases of religious music by dialoguing with the orchestra, but I do not believe that it can be effective if used simultaneously with it. […]
See Fouque for the French text
To General Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 1112; 28/16 May, from Riga):
A thousand thanks, dear General, for the excellent recommendations you are sending me. I have already made use of them, and the family of the governor welcomed me like one of your friends. We are busy preparing with the concert, the success of which is in the lap of the gods. While waiting for my rehearsal which starts in an hour I must tell you again how struck I was with the beautiful things which your latest score contains in abundance. The subject of Ondine has inspired you to perfection, and the harmonic and melodic style of this great work shines as much through its truthfulness and expression as through its unfailing distinction and a youthful freshness that is rare nowadays. The overture is among the most felicitous inventions I know of, with its syncopated rhythmic effects which made me leap with joy. The first chorus, the aria of Ondine with its delightful colouring, the first finale, so direct and warm, the prayer with violin accompaniment, the splendid piece of the festivities, the second finale, the march, and so many other passages I might cite, attest to an inventiveness, taste and technique of the first order, and place you very high among present-day composers.
But to be frank, I was sure of this even before hearing your music: when someone loves and respects music as you do, talks about it as you do, and has your practical experience of the art, one cannot but compose like this. All this fits together. But it also a source of sadness, when one reflects of the means of performance which are becoming ever more difficult to find. And I do not know whether the Englishman who in one of our restaurants asked for a tenor or a melon as dessert was right to leave the choice to the waiter; I would always go for the melon, as it gives you a far better chance of avoiding a stomach upset: the vegetable is far less harmful than the animal.
Farewell, dear master, believe in my warm friendship and in all the joy I feel in having inspired in you a little of the same feeling. […]
To Count Mikhail Wielhorski (CG no. 1113; 1st June/20 May, from Riga):
See Riga, and Fouque for the full French text
General Lvov to Berlioz (CG no. 1134bis [vol. VIII]; 7 November, from St Petersburg):
[…] Since your departure I take pleasure in recollecting those few moments we spent together in my study, — we understood each other so well, — it is so rare to meet like-minded people — it would be too painful for me to think that this small incident could cool down your friendship for me! — Please write to me a few words to put my mind at rest. —
The Grand-Duke has been back for nearly a month. […] I took advantage of an opportunity to speak a great deal about you to Her Majesty the Empress, and described to Her what benefit to art and the economy would result from your employment in St Petersburg; I said everything, dear master, that duty and my friendship for you could inspire, — now I will have to speak to the Grand-Duke concerning vocal music in churches and the organisation of a school to train chorus masters, so that Russian church music is performed correctly and in a uniform way. On that occasion I would speak to Him about you, — I must speak, because I love truth, — I love music, — I love Berlioz’s great merits, — I love Berlioz himself. —
If you write to me, I will keep you informed of what is happening here: — Romberg has left, — it is painful to see how pleased all his colleagues are at this. — And that after staying 20 years in St Petersburg! […] (personal worries; his wife is unwell; he would like to see Berlioz) — […] I will find you everywhere, because to see you, talk with you, and hear your compositions is for me a source of extreme delight. — […]
To Dominique Tajan-Rogé in St Petersburg (CG no. 1135; 10 November, from London):
[…] All I will be publishing this winter during my stay in London will be the sequel of the letters on my musical excursions. You have probably seen the first three on Vienna and Pesth. I will now write those on Prague and on Russia. I have very keen memories of St Petersburg, and I confess that, despite your extreme desire to leave the city [cf. CG no. 1114] I would be very happy to return. Give my greetings to all your musical colleagues who gave me such warm support, to the Mohrer family, to madame Merss, to the excellent Cavos and to Romberg (to whom I must write soon), and especially to Guillou, this true artist, so cordial, intelligent and devoted, whom I am so glad to have met. Do tell him not to have too many regrets for Paris and that he would die here of suppressed anger, if he was obliged to live here now. […]
To General Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 1170; 29 January, from London):
[…] I am sorry that you may have thought I was upset by the publication of my letter on Ondine. It did not contain anything that I was anxious to keep secret: first my feelings of friendship for you, then my high regard for your rare abilities, and finally my remarks on the unhealthiness of the tenors to whom we are generally exposed, all those of us who have the misfortune of looking for intelligences that are served by a voice. My jokes at their expense will have earned me another few dozen extra close enemies; but they do not bother me any more than a comic opera on which I do not have to write a feuilleton. Better still, I am delighted: I like being detested by fools, which gives me license to repay them in kind.
[…] (the problems he faces in London) […] Only the choristers [of Drury Lane Theatre] are devoted to me almost as much as those of St Petersburg… Oh! Russia! who will give me back her cordial hospitality, her literary and artistic standards, the organisation of her theatres and her chapel, precise, clear and inflexible, without which in music, as in many other things, nothing good or beautiful can be achieved? Why are you so far away?…
[…] I hope that the worries you mention and which upset you are now gone and that madame Lvov has recovered. Please convey to her my respectful greetings. You are asking me where I intend to spend the summer; I do not know. I may possibly go to visit Nice again, as I always do when I have had a tough winter. In any case, they will tell you in Paris where I am; please do not fail to find me and make sure I can find you: I would be so happy to see you!….
It is so kind of you to have talked about me to Her Majesty and to keep alive the hope that one day I might settle near you. But I do not raise my hopes too high: everything depends on the emperor. If he wished, we could in six years turn St Petersburg into the centre of the musical world.
I have not had the slightest news of the Counts Wielhorsky; I wrote to Count Mikhail, but he has not replied. The fear that he might interpret my letters as motivated by self-interest prevents me from writing again: I am so frightened of looking like a supplicant!… And yet, God knows how much gratitude I have retained for all the kindness they both showed to me last year! […]
To Count Mikhail Wielhorski (CG no. 1240; 28 November, from Paris):
[…] The Opéra, in the hands of Nestor Roqueplan and Duponchel, is in a state of agony. It was already seriously ill when Pillet left it, but it has been finished off by the Nestoration (forgive the pun). All the same Meyerbeer has started the rehearsals for le Prophète; it takes courage to risk a work of such dimensions in present circumstances, when it would only take a riot, a change of government, or a ministerial change of policy to cut short the flood of its eloquence, great as it may be!
Halévy has just scored an enormous success with his Val d’Andorre at the Opéra-Comique. It is really good. There are in his score passages of real elevation and true feeling, and some delightful melodies. I said what I thought of it in my feuilleton [Journal des Débats, 14 November 1848; CM VI pp. 437-47]. It is the exact opposite with Jeanne la folle, which has neither ideas nor style, and is simply thick, silly and flat. You will say: how is it possible to combine thickness with flatness? I do not know how the author achieved this; it is one of the secrets of his trade…
I spent ten months in London, where I gave two concerts (it was a miracle to have managed this), and I was welcomed by the English as though I was a national talent. The entire press has adopted me with incredible warmth, except for an old fool at the Morning Herald, who has discovered that I do not know counterpoint.
Would you believe that the present-day English are a really musical people, who love greatness and have nothing but contempt for anything puny?… I have not yet written my letters on Russia; M. Bertin did not seem to me to be inclined to publish them in the Débats, and I cannot decide to give them to another paper. I will approach M. Bertin again; he may now have changed his mind. I do not know what his reasons may have been. I have so much to say about St Petersburg that I want a suitable platform. Perhaps M. Bertin thought I was too infatuated with them. I will convert him. […]
See Fouque for the full French text
To Wilhelm von Lenz in St Petersburg (CG no. 1242; 22 December, from Paris):
What do you mean, do I remember?… I would have to be very unfeeling and short of memory not to remember!… And our games of billiard at Count Mikhail’s, and all the puns and wordplay we indulged in! All the cigars we smoked, all the beer we drank, all the opinions on music we discussed.
No, dear Monsieur, I have not forgotten anything, and I beg you not to entertain such slanderous thoughts about me.
Had the tone of your letter not been rather sad I would now be telling you a thousand crazy things; you write to me in the manner of a dying man and talk of the risks of cholera… I found it painful and upsetting. With similar preoccupations in mind I wrote to Count Mikhail Wielhorsky a few days before receiving your courteous letter, to ask him for his news [CG no. 1240]. I hope all is well with him.
Our republican cholera is allowing us a little respite at the moment. […]
And you are still thinking about music! you barbarians! what a shame! At a time when you should be working on the grand project, the radical abolition of the family, of property, intelligence, civilisation, life, humanity, you are busying yourself with the works of Beethoven!!… you are dreaming of sonatas! you are writing a book about art!
Putting irony aside I am grateful to you. So there are still a few people like us who are devoted to what is beautiful! Rari nantes… [‘a few scattered swimmers’] but how can one get your work to be known in our gurgite [‘abyss’; an allusion to Virgil, Aeneid I.118]
We have only one musical journal left, the Gazette musicale. I communicated to M. Brandus, the director of this paper, what you wrote to me and he seems very well disposed to publish at least excerpts from your work, but he would like to have a look at it. On my side I would be delighted to write about it in one of my feuilletons in the Débats when at least part of the book has appeared in some form or another [see Journal des Débats, 11 August 1852; Soirées de l’orchestre, 2nd Epilogue]. As to getting your manuscript to me I do not know what method to recommend. It seems to me very delicate. The loss of a printed text is nothing, but when a manuscript goes astray it is irreparable. I think the safest way would be to entrust it to someone who has the misfortune of coming to France, with the recommendation that he should hand it to me without intermediaries. Look out for such an opportunity and do not doubt that I am anxious to fall in with your views.
All my respectful greetings to our excellent friends at Place Michel. I shake your hand. May God preserve you from the Republic and especially from republicans. […]
To General Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 1246; 23 February, from Paris):
I took to heart the friendly reproach you addressed to me at the start of your letter; I could see plainly that you are not fully aware of all the gratitude and friendly feelings I have for you, feelings that are very keen and sincere and that neither time nor absence will affect. I did not known on what terms you were with M. Lenz, and that is the cause of the silence for which you reproach me. Be entirely assured that it has nothing to do with either indifference or forgetfulness.
I have dealt with the two commissions which you kindly mentioned to me [a libretto for a new opera by Lvov, and a planned French version of Lvov’s opera Ondine; cf. CG no. 1261] […]
If you read the Gazette musicale and the Débats, you will know what musical activities are taking place this winter in Paris, so I will not tell you about them. Let me mention by the way that last Sunday, Spontini so moved and shook the audience at the Conservatoire with the second act of La Vestale that we resembled a gathering of madmen. I am still in tears as I write to you about it. I have just written two feuilletons on the subject, which you may come across; they will be appearing shortly in the Gazette musicale and the Débats [25 February and 7 March 1849; cf. Soirées de l’orchestre, 13th evening].
I am working at the moment on a large Te Deum for double chorus, with orchestra and organ obligato. It is taking on quite a shape. I need another two months of work; it will comprise seven large movements.
Farewell, dear General; do not forget me any more than I forget you: that is all I am asking of you.
To Saint-Georges (CG no. 1261; end April, from Paris):
[…] Are you dealing with the matter of general Lvov? Please do not forget him. […] Try to make it possible for me to send him a satisfactory reply. He is an excellent person, I am very fond of him, and I do not want him to believe me guilty of indifference. […]
To General Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 1379; 1 February, from Paris):
[…] Many, many thanks for your parcel and the kind letter which accompanied it. Without doubt I will write the piece you are suggesting in the Journal des Débats, and as soon as possible [Journal des Débats, 13 December 1851]. I would have started it this week had not an obituary come to claim a sad priority.
Spontini has just died, and I need to write a long article about him. Although this death had been expected for a long time, it has deeply upset me. By dint of admiration I had come to love this very unlovable man. Besides, the rough edges of his character had attracted me to him, perhaps because they fitted with my own …………
I thank you warmly for your those fine compositions of yours which you sent me; we will not fail to perform them at the Philharmonic Society as soon as the rehearsal schedule for the chorus allows it. Bortniansky’s biography will also probably be very well received. We performed his Pater (in Latin) at last Tuesday’s concert; it was very well sung, and even better received.
Be kind enough to convey my greetings to the musicians of the imperial chapel, and tell them that I preserve the most affectionate memory and the most sincere admiration for them. On the strength of my word I have succeeded at last in getting them known in Paris and having them appreciated at something of their true worth [Journal des Débats, 19 October 1850 and 17 January 1851]. No one believes any longer that the miserable castrati of the Sistine Chapel in Rome are the first and the only religious singers worthy of the name.
What news of Ondine? […]
P. S. Please give my greetings to the two Counts Wielhorsky and the other friends I left in St Petersburg.
See Fouque for the French text
To General Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 1443; 21 January, from Paris):
[…] If you think that I can be of any use to you through my feuilleton, please do not fail to inform me; it will always be a joy for me to discuss with the small number of serious readers we have in France the great and serious things that are being done in Russia. Besides, it is a debt I would like to be able to repay. Believe me, I will never forget the welcome I received from Russian society in general, and from you in particular, nor the kindness shown to me by the Empress and the whole family of your great Emperor. What a pity that he does not like music!
Farewell, dear master, give my greetings to your wonderful chapel choir, and tell the musicians who form it that I would need to hear them to be able to release the tears that I feel are welling up in me but which remain locked in my heart.
To Hippolyte Lecourt (CG no. 1496; 22 June, from Paris):
It is impossible to obtain in Paris the books by Lenz and Oubilichef [Oulibischeff]. But I believe Janin has the book by Lenz and does not want to keep it. I will ask him as though for myself and send it to you. This work is admirably done from the musical point of view, Beethoven is valued at his true worth, but it is horribly written, in French from Finland. The writer does not even know how to spell, and his book reminds you at every step of invoices from the laundry companies. He writes l’harpe and l’Hautbois, etc. etc.
The book by Oulibichef is less badly written but shows a fanatical bias for Mozart and an injustice towards Beethoven which one can only find revolting. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 2216; 18 March, from Paris):
[…] I have read the book by Oulibischeff which you mentioned; it is indeed very perfidious. The author makes fun of what he calls the Adepts of Beethoven, and he himself a most adept adept of Mozart, a real fanatic. But his book is well written (apart from a few mistakes he missed), while the book by Lenz he ridicules is really ridiculous and made the whole Paris press laugh. Lenz is not aware that he does not know French and that what he writes in this language is not readable. Then he indulges in jokes in appalling taste, which has given his opponent plenty of ammunition. […]
To Vladimir Stasov (CG no. 2650; 10 September, in Paris):
By good fortune I found one of my manuscripts in fairly good condition, and I am happy to offer it to the library in St Petersburg; it is precisely that of the Te Deum which you had told me about. If you will do me the honour of a second visit tomorrow Thursday at noon, I will hand it over to you. When I wrote this work I had faith and hope; now the only virtue left to me is resignation. But that does not prevent me from feeling keen gratitude for the sympathy shown to me by the true friends of art such as yourself. […]
See Fouque for the French text
Vladimir Stasov in St Petersburg to Berlioz in Paris (CG no. 2676; 5 December/24 November):
The letter of His Excellency the Director of the Imperial Public Library of St Petersburg [CG no. 2676bis], to which I take the liberty of adding these few lines, will convey to you all the gratitude and joy felt in our institution following the acquisition for us of your fine masterpiece the Te Deum in the autograph manuscript. […] This score has already been through the hands of the whole of young musical Russia here, in other words the small circle of those who genuinely appreciate the music of the present and your immense talent. More than ever we are convinced that this Te Deum is your finest creation, and that is saying a great deal at a time when after the second Mass by Beethoven (in D major) we do not know of any church music of the 19th century or even of many other centuries. We were particularly delighted to get to know an entire fine movement (the march) which is not to be found in the printed score, heaven knows why [the movement in question is in fact the 3rd movement, the Prelude]. […] We now have a Conservatoire of music. In our opinion, that is to say that of the little circle of young Russia, you should be the one in charge there of the class in orchestration, instead of Rubinstein, who may be an excellent pianist but has no understanding of the fine art of orchestration, in which you are at the moment completely unique in Europe.
Allow us to hope, Sir, that though our Public Library does not and may never own the original manuscripts of masterpieces such as the Queen Mab scherzo from Romeo and Juliet, the Tempest Fantasia from Lelio, the scherzo from Faust and so many other magnificent creations, at least you may one day deposit in St Petersburg, in the hands of a young race of sincere admirers, the original manuscript of your Trojans, from which we are expecting so many new wonders. […]
J. Delianov in St Petersburg to Berlioz in Paris (CG no. 2676bis [vol. VIII]; 5 December/24 November):
On his return from his trip to France and England M. Stasov has deposited with the Imperial Public Library of St Petersburg the autograph score of Your great Te Deum, and I hasten to convey to You the expression of my sincere gratitude for this magnificent gift which You presented to the Library. To this day it only possessed in its collection of autographs a letter of a few lines and a page of autobiography. Now that we are adding an entire score, and of a work as eminent as this Te Deum, we can boast of possessing a fine collection of autographs from one of the most outstanding men in the history of our time. […]
To General Lvov in St Petersburg (CG no. 2808; 13 December, from Paris):
Your letter caused me considerable joy. Thank you for all the cordial words it contains. It is a delightful thought on your part to send me your congratulations about the Trojans. I have indeed been forced to stay in bed for twenty-two days, as a result of the agony endured during the rehearsals.
But what is that compared to the misfortune which has afflicted you? It is strange that so many great musicians have been struck by a similar calamity: Beethoven, Onslow, Lvov and Paganini, who was unable to make himself heard.
I thank you for your kind offer of a subject for an opera, but cannot accept it, since I have the firm intention of not writing any more. I still have three operatic scores which the Parisians do no know, and I will never find favourable circumstances to get them performed here. It is now four years since The Trojans was completed and only the second part, The Trojans in Carthage, has now been staged. Still awaiting performance is The Capture of Troy. I will never write anything except for a theatre where I am obeyed blindly, without comment, and where I am absolute master. And this will probably not happen. […]
To Cesar Cui (CG no. 3268; 7 August, in Paris):
I have thought about our plan to make a copy of a few pieces from the Trojans, and I can see great disadvantages in it. The publisher might find this highly objectionable and form a very negative opinion of me.
I therefore urge you to give up the idea; do not send me anything and do not write to M. Choudens. […]
See Fouque for the French text
Vasily Kologrivov to Berlioz (CG no. 3282bis in NL pp. 657-9 [copy of the original]; 3 October/22 September, from St Petersburg):
[…] In conformity with your wish, the Management has asked me to convey to you the following details concerning the organisation of the concerts of the Musical Society.
During the winter season, the Management usually gives several concerts, whose aim is to develop the musical taste of the public. That is the reason why classical music is performed there as a matter of preference. Similarly, to encourage young Russian composers, the Management considers it its duty to perform occasionally some new works at the concerts of the Society.
Our Musical Society numbers every year some five to six hundred members; — they constitute the audience of the concerts, which is why a hall is chosen in proportion to this number. For the season which is about to begin, the Management has hired the fine hall of the Nobility (on Nevsky Prospect, near the Bridge of the Police).
The arrangement of the musical part of the concerts is entrusted to M. Balakireff, a young artist of distinguished talent, who is himself a composer and an admirer of your talent. Last year he was invited to stage in Prague Glinka’s two great operas, A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Ludmila. M. Balakireff’s duties also include training the chorus for the Society’s ordinary concerts. As regards the preliminary arrangements for the musical parts of the concerts which will take place under your direction, that is the chorus and orchestra, M. Balakireff is fully prepared to follow any instructions you may wish to give now on this subject.
The orchestra for the concerts is composed of 70 to 80 players from the leading musicians of the Imperial Theatres (12 first and 12 second violins, 8 violas, 7 cellos, 6 double-basses, etc., etc.).
The vocal solo parts are performed by students of the Conservatoire, by professional or amateur musicians. Before each concert there are usually two rehearsals with the orchestra, each of 3 hours, which has been just about sufficient; unfortunately we have neither the time nor the means to increase the number of rehearsals. However, if it is a case of performing your large-scale compositions, we will have as many rehearsals as you think necessary.
The Library of the Musical Society has almost all existing classical works; if by chance anything is lacking for your concerts, we can find it in St Petersburg or in Moscow, or fetch it from abroad.
Concerning your own compositions, we only have the symphonies: the Episode in the life of an artist, Harold in Italy, The Flight to Egypt [sic — not a ‘symphony’]. the overtures King Lear, Roman carnival, Les Francs-Juges, Benvenuto Cellini, all of them complete, with full score, 12 violins etc. etc., Romeo and Juliet (complete, with full score, but no duplicate set of string parts), Lelio nos 5 and 6, and finally the chorus Tibi omnes [from the Te Deum] but without the full score. […]
Finally, to inform you about our ordinary concerts, I must add to what I have just said the following small observation. The concert hall hired by the Management has a maximum capacity of 700 spectators.
Should we have as many members this year, the majority of the public of St Petersburg will be deprived of the pleasure of hearing you. To avoid this disadvantage would it not be possible to give the first four concerts under your direction in the Hall of the Nobility, and then the last two in the Great Hall of the Assembly of the Nobility? That is where your large-scale works with double orchestra and chorus could be performed, so that the entire musical public of St Petersburg could come to hear and admire the famous composer of our time. […]
To Vasily Kologrivov in St Petersburg (CG no. 3289; 10 October, in Paris):
I thank you for the details you kindly give me about the instrumental resources of the St Petersburg Conservatoire; the orchestra is very fine, though it could perhaps do with an extra cello and double-bass. But for my symphonic scores you need in addition a pair of timpani, two cornets or valve trumpets, a third flute, two bassoons, a cor anglais (played by one of the oboes), and four or at least two harps.
I am very grateful for the assistance which M. Balakirev is prepared to offer me; it will be much needed, particularly for the chorus and the singers.
As for your hall, my view is that we should stay there for all the concerts that I will be conducting. The concert which is to comprise exclusively scores of my composition, which is the last in the series of six, must not be given in the vast hall of the Assembly of the Nobility. I cannot accept that the public will be more eager to hear my compositions than those of the great masters.
I cannot hide from you that the two rehearsals of three hours held by the Conservatoire for each concert seem to me very inadequate, but since it is impossible to have more we will do our best to be satisfied with them. But for Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and the programme of my concert four rehearsals will be absolutely essential.
About the musical catalogue you sent me, let me point out that you must have several pieces which you do not mention, among them Haydn’s Quartet no. 77 and the chorus of the Sylphs from the Damnation of Faust, which has been performed several times in St Petersburg.
If you do not have a second set of string parts for my Romeo and Juliet symphony, it must therefore be that the fragments of this symphony have been performed several times also by another musical institution than the Conservatoire.
Please procure these three works, get a Russian translation of the double chorus of men (the song) which is at the start of the third movement (in A) of Romeo and Juliet, and get the choristers to learn this piece.
For the score of the Te Deum which contains the Tibi omnes, two people in St Petersburg have a copy.
Do not worry about the duet from Beatrice nor about the small vocal piece (Absence), I will bring the music. But tell me if you are unable to get the parts and the Russian translation of the piece from the Damnation of Faust; it would then have to be translated and you should ask for the music from Richault in Paris. Mademoiselle Budell, from the Russian theatre, must be made to learn as soon as possible the fragment from Armide, provided you are able to find another strong soprano for the role of Hatred in the same scene. Otherwise mademoiselle Budell will have to sing the fragment from Alceste, with a baritone and a male voice for the solo of the oracle.
Sir, I urge you to give all your care to these details and to make sure that the new copies contain no errors. It will also be necessary to copy the parts for the aria in F of the Countess in Act IV of Mozart’s Figaro.
Here are the programmes I propose to give:
Pastoral Symphony (Beethoven). — Chorus of the priests of Isis from the Magic Flute (Mozart). — Piano concerto in C minor by Mozart. — Ave verum, chorus by Mozart. — Aria of the Countess from Figaro by Mozart, sung by mademoiselle Regan. — Overture Oberon (Weber).
Overture Leonore (Beethoven). — Fragments from Iphigenia in Tauris (Gluck): Recitative and aria of Thoas (baritone); Chorus and Ballet of the Scythians. — Hymn to the Emperor of Austria from quartet no. 77 (Haydn), theme with variations played by all the strings. — Symphony in B flat (Beethoven).
Eroica Symphony (Beethoven). — Aria of Sarastro for bass voice, from the Magic Flute (Mozart). — Second act complete: Tartarus and the Elysian Fields from Orpheus (Gluck), sung by mademoiselle Lavrofsky. — Overture Euryanthe (Weber).
Overture Fingal’s Cave (Mendelssohn). — Romance for violin (Berlioz) played by M. Wieniawski. — Scene of Hatred from Armide (Gluck) : Armide, mademoiselle Budell, Hatred, mademoiselle *** ; chorus and dance airs. — Symphony in C minor (Beethoven).
Choral Symphony (Beethoven) with four solo voices. — Nocturnal duet from Beatrice and Benedict (Berlioz), sung by mesdemoiselles Regan and Lavrofsky. — Overture Der Freyschütz (Weber).
Fragments from Romeo and Juliet, symphony with chorus (Berlioz), nos. 1, 2 and 4. — Reviens, reviens, melody sung by mademoiselle Regan (Berlioz). — La Captive, melody sung by mademoiselle Lavrofsky (Berlioz). — Chorus of the Sylphs: Faust, tenor ; Mephistopheles, bass; chorus. — Harold in Italy, symphony with solo viola (Berlioz). The viola will be played by M. Wieniawski.
I will leave Paris on 12 November and be in St Petersburg on the 17th; we could therefore give the first concert on November 27/12. […]
See Fouque for the French text
To Vasily Kologrivov in St Petersburg (CG no. 3293; 22 October, in Paris):
I am very grateful to you for your thoughtfulness in writing to me recently, and still more for the kind reproach you make concerning the programmes. All I can say in reply is that I have merely followed the intentions of the Grand-Duchess and that I cannot agree to do otherwise. So do not make any changes to these programmes. I expect it will be possible to give the first concert under my direction on 16/28 November.
I will send you a telegram from Berlin, where I will be on the 14th. […]
See Fouque for the French text
To Vasily Kologrivov in St Petersburg (CG no. 3304; 12 November, in Paris):
I am departing in a few hours; I will be in Berlin tomorrow evening 13 November. I will stay at the hotel on the 14th, and depart on the 15th for St Petersburg where I will arrive, as the Grand-Duchess wishes, on the 17th. It should be easy for you to know the time of arrival of the train from Prussia on that day.
You can therefore schedule the two rehearsals for my first concert for a few days after my arrival. I assume you have found a pianist for the Mozart concerto, etc., etc. […]
M. Derffel and mademoiselle Regan will leave Berlin together with me.
See Fouque for the French text
Wilhelm von Lenz in St Petersburg to Berlioz in Paris (CG no. 3340; 21/9 February):
Dear Sir and Genius!
Please deposit the valuable book you promised to let me see at the Russian Embassy [probably a copy of the Mémoires] […]
Did you have a good trip? How are you after the huge climatic modulations you went through, for our greatest benefit? […]
We have 4 or 5 degrees of frost, which is good for sledges; we glide in the streets like fish in water — this compares favourably with April showers on the banks of the Seine!
I would like to think that these lines will not find you in bed, as I always found you at Mikhailovski Palace! […]
To Vladimir Stasov in St Petersburg (CG no. 3346; 1 March, from Paris):
[…] Yesterday I dragged myself to the Académie where I saw my sculptor and colleague Perrot. He informed me that Steinway the American had at last paid him for my bust and that they are busy at the moment casting three above life-size copies for New York and Paris. I believe it is you who expressed the wish to have a bronze copy for the Conservatoire of St Petersburg. If it was not you, it was Kologrivov, or Cui, or Balakirev. In any case pass on to them the information that M. Perrot told me that it was possible to cast more copies of this bust and that the casting would cost 280 fr. […]
Do not be too strict, write to me despite my own brevity, remember that I am ill, that your letter will do me good, and do not talk to me about composing, do not tell me anything silly… […]
Farewell, write to me promptly, your letter will bring me back to life, as will the SUN… Poor unfortunate! you live in the land of snow!……… […]
P. S. […] Tell me what is happening with the copy of the Trojans.
To the Grand-Duchess Helen in St Petersburg (CG no. 3354; 14 April, from Paris):
[…] Monsieur Becker [the librarian of the Grand-Duchess] also tells me that you would be very pleased to hear in my own words how I had the double accident which the newspapers mentioned after my return from Russia. […] (there follows a narrative of what happened to Berlioz in Monaco and Nice) […]
To Vladimir Stasov in St Petersburg (CG no. 3356; 23-24 April, from Paris):
In your last letter you called me Monsieur Berlioz, as did Cui; I forgive you both.
Can you imagine that you will have to rewrite both your letters. You are not aware that I nearly died. […] (a detailed narrative of his falls in Monaco and Nice follows) […]
Will you be kind enough to tell me why my score of the Trojans has not been returned to me. I imagine that it has now been copied and that you do not need it any more. […]
To César Cui in St Petersburg (CG no. 3359; 14 May, from Paris):
[…] I will write to you when I have recovered my strength. These two lines today are to ask you to tell me why the full score of the Trojans has not been sent back to me, which presumably you no longer need. Be kind enough to tell me the truth about this, I will be greatly obliged. […]
To the Grand-Duchess Yelena in St Petersburg (CG no. 3361; 4 June, from Paris):
[…] Will you be coming to Paris this autumn? Will I have the honour of seeing you? In the midst of this musical confusion I fear you will not be able to see very clearly. I fear that you may have great ideas about puny little things. Today I do not have any ideas at all. Everything is failing me at once, I feel I am dying. Yesterday I had a few musical fantasies, today they have gone. What would I do with them? […]
Charles Becker in St Petersburg to Berlioz in Paris (CG no. 3364; 22/10 June):
[…] The Musical Society still remembers with happiness the brilliant period it enjoyed last winter thanks to your participation; so we often ask ourselves what we might do to make sure that the next season does not seem too pale after the brilliance of the previous one.
The Grand-Duchess seems to recall that you mentioned to her favourably the orchestra in Löwenberg, and she asks me to ascertain from you whether you believe Monsieur Seyfriz is capable of conducting a few of our concerts next winter. According to our information this gentleman, without obliterating under a reputation of European dimensions our Russian conductors, would nevertheless by strong enough to generate a spirit of emulation which could only be of benefit to our young institution. Her Royal Highness would like to know your opinion on this subject. […]
[In the Grand-Duchess’ own hand:]
To these words I add my sincere compliments and regrets for the suffering that has afflicted you since your departure from Russia. I send you all my wishes for your recovery despite the medical art that you like so little and which I respect highly, and beg you to answer me directly as last time.
To Vladimir Stasov in St Petersburg (CG no. 3373; 21 August, from Paris):
My dear Stasov,
You see, I am dropping the ‘Mr.’ I am back from Grenoble where I was more or less dragged by force to preside over a sort of choral festival and attend the inauguration of a statue of the Emperor Napoleon I. There was drinking, eating and merry-making and I was still ill, they came to fetch me in a carriage, toasts were made to which I did not know what to reply. The mayor of Grenoble lavished gifts on me and presented me with a crown, but I had to stay for a whole hour at the start of the banquet. The day after I left; I arrived exhausted at 11 o’clock at night.
I am at the end of my tether, and I am getting letters from Russia and from Löwenberg where I am asked for impossible things. I am expected to sing the praises of a German artist [Seifriz], of whom I do indeed have a high opinion, but on condition that I denigrate a Russian artist [Balakirev] whom they want to replace with the German, and who on the contrary deserves high praise, and that is something I will not do. What devil of a world is this? I feel I am dying; I do not believe in anything, I would like to see you: you might revive me; Cui and yourself might give me energy. […]
Many greetings to Balakirev. […]
Mili Balakiref in the Caucasus to Berlioz in Paris (CG no. 3374; 22/10 September):
[…] After your departure from St Petersburg we thought a great deal about you, and you were constantly the subject of our conversations. Your stay with us will certainly remain for ever one of our fondest memories, though there is something that distresses us, namely your resolve not to compose any more. We for our part will never cease to protest with all our strength against this evil thought. We believe that you have the ‘obligation’ of writing a fine new orchestral work. We think that there is no lack of subjects for a symphony. You love Byron. Well then, there is an abundance of splendid subjects in him, subjects that would suit you to perfection. Take for example Manfred. A hero of his calibre deserves every sympathy, as does Byron himself whom you yourself resemble in so many ways. […] (there follows a detailed outline of the programme of a symphony in four parts, with analogies to Berlioz’s own symphonies) […] It seems to me that here is a subject tailor-made for you. But apart from this subject allow me to say to you, dear master, that it is truly a great sin for you not to compose, you who are without any doubt the leading musician in contemporary Europe. […]
Vladimir Stasov in St Petersburg to Berlioz in Paris (CG no. 3375; 17/5 October):
[…] For my part I am upset at not receiving any letters from you, and I am beginning to fear that you may not have received the one I wrote immediately after reading the letter you wrote to me on your return from Grenoble, after the fine success you scored there [CG no. 3373]. Our entire little colony in St Petersburg was moved by this letter; first because we found a few details there on your new triumphs, which can never fail to cause us the greatest pleasure; but in addition we have all been outraged at the impudent manoeuvres conducted against Balakirev by people whose identity we are not sure of but we suspect. When your letter was read there was a spontaneous outburst of gratitude and admiration on our part for the straight and noble course you followed in the face of this intrigue. We will know how to unmask it in due course, and for this all we are waiting for is the return of Balakirev, the Grand-Duchess and certain people. Though Balakirev is in the Caucasus he is broadly informed of the matter. […] It goes without saying that in these concerts [of the forthcoming musical season] we will hear a great deal of music by Berlioz, and in the two concerts of the Free School we will have at last the joy of hearing, and for the very first time, your Te Deum in its entirety, as well as the descriptive symphony from the Trojans [the Royal Hunt and Storm]. Just imagine the joy we anticipate at hearing these monumental works performed by the orchestra, when merely reading the score or trying out the music on our pianos makes us madly fall in love with them. Only it is a great pity that you are not among us when these beautiful days of infinite enjoyment and enthusiasm arrive. […] Forgive me for repeating once again what you do not want to hear: at the same time we are not giving up hope of hearing a new and colossal work from your pen. Do not forget us, we ask you with insistence, and write to us a few lines. […]
Octave Fouque: Berlioz en Russie (in French)
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; page Berlioz and Russia: friends and acquaintances created on 15 June 2010, revised on 1 February and 15 May 2018.
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