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Weber: Invitation to the Dance (op. 65), orchestrated by Berlioz (H 90)

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    Berlioz’s discovery of the music of Weber, and the influence it had on him, is discussed at length in the page Berlioz and Weber, to which the reader is referred. In relation to Berlioz’s attitude to the German composer, one point deserves emphasis here: Berlioz’s extreme sensitivity to any departure from the exact text of what Weber had written, and his determination to defend the integrity of the original music. This puritanical attitude on the part of Berlioz had its origins in the circumstances in which he first heard the music of Weber (the opera Der Freischütz) in late 1824. As is well known, what Berlioz heard at the time was not Weber’s original but a travesty under the title of Robin des bois, due to the pen of the critic Henri Castil-Blaze (1784-1857), who ironically was Berlioz’s predecessor as music critic at the Journal des Débats. Castil-Blaze made a speciality of arranging the works of other composers (Mozart was another of his victims), to guarantee their success with the public – and enrich himself in the process through royalties from performances. Castil-Blaze became for Berlioz his bête noire whom he traduced in his writings, coining the word ‘castilblazade’, to describe any tampering with the composer’s original (Memoirs chapter 16; see further the page on Berlioz and Weber).

    Apart from the French travesty by Castil-Blaze, performances of Weber’s Der Freischütz in Paris in the original German were a rarity, as they depended on the presence of visiting German companies (June 1829, April 1842). But in early March 1841 there was a new development, which Berlioz relates in his Memoirs (chapter 52):

M. Pillet, the director of the Opéra, conceived the project of staging Der Freischütz. But in this work the musical numbers are preceded and followed by dialogues in prose, as in comic operas, and the customs of the Opéra required that everything in its repertory of tragic dramas and operas should be sung, hence the spoken passages had to be turned into recitatives. M. Pillet offered me the task.
« — I do not believe, I said to him in reply, that one should add to Der Freischütz the recitatives that you are asking me to compose. However, as this is a precondition without which the work cannot be performed at the Opéra, and as if I did not write them you would give the task to someone less familiar with Weber than I probably am, I accept your offer, but on one condition: that Der Freischütz will be performed exactly as it is, without any changes in the libretto or the music.
— That is indeed my intention, M. Pillet replied. Do you believe me capable of repeating the scandal of Robin des Bois?
— Very well. In that case I will get down to work. » […]

Émilien Paccini, who was to translate the German libretto, also gave me the same assurance, and so I agreed, not without suspicion, to undertake the compositon of the recitatives. The feeling which had led me to demand the preservation of the complete Freischütz, a feeling which many described as fetishism, disposed completely of any pretext to change, disturb, cut and correct the work, which doubtless would have been indulged in with alacrity. But another result of my inflexibility was to cause a serious disadvantage: the spoken dialogue, when set to music in its entirety, seemed too long, in spite of all the care I had taken to make it as swift as possible. I never managed to get the actors to give up their slow, ponderous and emphatic way of singing the recitatives; and particularly in the scenes between Max and Gaspard, the musical pacing of their conversation, which is essentially simple and familiar, assumed all the pomp and solemnity of a scene from a tragic opera. This did some harm to the general impact of Der Freischütz, which nevertheless achieved a resounding success. I did not wish to be identified as the author of those recitatives, in which the musicians and the critics found all the same some dramatic qualities, one special merit, that of having a style which, they said, was in perfect harmony with that of Weber, and a restraint in the orchestration which even my enemies were forced to acknowledge. […] (a passage on the singers is omitted here) […]

To return to Der Freischütz.
Inevitably the director wanted to introduce a ballet into Der Freischütz. All my efforts to prevent him were in vain, so I suggested composing a choreographic scene as indicated by Weber himself in his rondo for piano The Invitation to the Dance [in the German original Die Aufforderung zum Tanz], and I orchestrated this charming piece. But the choreographer, instead of following the ready-made outline found in the music, could only think of commonplace dance patterns and banal combinations which were unlikely to delight the public. In order to substitute quantity to quality, the director demanded another three dance pieces. Now the dancers got it into their heads that I had in my symphonies movements that were eminently suitable as dances and which would provide a perfect complement to the ballet. They talked to M. Pillet about it; he was very much in agreement with the suggestion and asked me to introduce into Weber’s score the bal from my Symphonie fantastique and the festivities from Roméo et Juliette.
The German composer Dessauer happened to be in Paris at the time and was a frequent visitor to the back-stage of the Opéra. All I said in answer to the director was this:
« — I cannot agree to introduce into Der Freischütz music that is not by Weber, but to prove to you that this is not due to any exaggerated and unreasonable respect for the great master, here is Dessauer walking around over there at the back of the stage. Let us submit your idea to him; if he approves it I will follow his advice, but if not I ask you not to mention it to me again. »
The moment the director mentioned the idea, Dessauer turned quickly to me and said:
« — Oh! Berlioz, don’t do anything of the sort.
— You hear him », I said to M. Pillet.
The matter was therefore dropped. We took some dance pieces from Oberon and Preciosa, and in this way the ballet was completed with music by Weber. But after a few performances the pieces from Preciosa and Oberon disappeared; then random cuts were made to the Invitation to the Dance, though this piece had been highly successful in its orchestral version. When M. Pillet had departed as director of the Opéra, and while I was in Russia [in 1847], they cut out from Der Freischütz part of the finale of the third act; they then had the audacity to remove from this same third act the whole of the first tableau, which contains the sublime prayer of Agathe, the scene of the two young girls, and the very romantic aria of Ännchen with the solo viola accompaniment.
And that is how Der Freischütz is dishonoured and staged nowadays at the Paris Opéra.

    In order to launch the new production Berlioz devoted a whole article in the Journal des Débats to present the work (13 June 1841). He started with reminiscences of the mid 1820s: his deep disappointment at failing to meet Weber in Paris in February 1826, then went on to a glowing eulogy of Weber’s genius as demonstrated in Der Freischütz and Oberon, and followed with a detailed review of the new production and the performance, commenting favourably on the contribution of all the participants, singers, chorus and orchestra. He stressed that the work had been performed complete and without cuts, and with scrupulous respect for the composer’s intentions. But he was silent on his own crucial part in the production, made only an oblique reference to the recitatives, and no mention at all of the ballet and the Invitation to the Dance. There is in fact no mention in any of his feuilletons of the fact that the piece had been orchestrated by himself: a review of November 1861, concerning the launching by Jules Pasdeloup of his Concerts populaires, praises the conductor for introducing to popular audiences music by the great masters, including the orchestral version of the Invitation to the Dance, which he presents as being purely a work by Weber (Débats 12 November 1861).

    As could be expected, Berlioz’s orchestration is scrupulously faithful to Weber’s original, as can be seen from a comparison of the two versions, the original version for piano and his own orchestral arrangement, except that the music is transposed up a semitone from the original D flat to the key of D major, more manageable for the strings, and which also sounds more brilliant in the orchestra (thanks in part to the natural resonance of the open strings of the stringed instruments). The orchestration is a fine example of Berlioz’s mastery in this field – imaginative and varied, it enhances Weber’s original without ever drawing attention to itself. It invites comparison with some of Berlioz’s own music, notably the 2nd movement (Un bal) of the Symphonie fantastique.

    One distinctive feature of the orchestration is its use of harps, an instrument for which Berlioz had a special fondness. ‘There is nothing that is more appropriate for the idea of poetic festivals or religious celebrations than the sounds of a large number of harps when deployed in an imaginative way’, he says in his Treatise on Orchestration in the chapter on the harp. Berlioz used harps in music of a festive character and they give to the music a special glitter (other examples are the second movement of the Symphonie fantastique, the second movement of Roméo et Juliette, the end of the last movement of the Te Deum, and the Trojan March). Berlioz recommended that the two harp parts should be played by as many players as possible; he himself performed it in Paris and London with at least 16 harps (CG no. 2201).

    The piece was published quickly by Berlioz and appeared in 1842. He anticipated that it was likely to be a successful concert piece, as shown by a letter to the publisher Maurice Schlesinger (CG no. 753; 28 August 1841):

I believe it is better not to publish the full score of Freischütz just yet; but the separate parts of the Invitation to the Dance will certainly sell well; this piece is easy to play and will be performed everywhere, at concerts, at the theatre and at bals. For this and for the recitatives I would ask you for 500 francs. See whether you can publish this at that price; I doubt whether it is possible to make more modest demands.

Performances conducted by Berlioz

    The first performance of the Invitation as a concert piece in its own right (apart from the performances as part of Weber’s opera on stage) took place at a concert in Paris on 1 February 1842, though the piece was overshadowed by the performance at the same concert of the revised version of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (cf. CG no. 765). Berlioz conducted the work on a number of occasions subsequently, in Paris, in France, and in his trips abroad. Here is a chronological listing:

1844: Paris, Salle Herz, 3 February (but the evidence for this performance is uncertain)
1845: Paris, Cirque Olympique, 16 March; Lyon, 20 & 27 July
1846: Prague, 7 April
1848: London, 29 June; Versailles, 29 October
1850: Paris, 23 April & 12 November (Société philharmonique)
1851: Paris, 4 May (Société philharmonique)
1852: London, 28 May
1856: Baden-Baden, 14 August
1863: Paris, Salle Martinet, 8 & 22 February (CG no. 2699)

Performances by other conductors

    The known performances under other conductors are fewer in number:

1842: Vienna, December (conductor unknown)
1847: London, November (conductor Louis-Antoine Jullien)
1853: Boston (USA), 22 October (conductor unknown)
1858: New York (USA) (conductor C. Anschütz)

    Special mention should finally be made of the conductor Jules Pasdeloup, the founder in 1861 of the Concerts populaires in Paris which were to revolutionise music-making in France and abroad. Pasdeloup championed in his way the music of Berlioz and other contemporary composers (Wagner included), as well as making the great classics more accessible to the general public than they had been before. Berlioz’s orchestration of the Invitation to the Dance was one of his favourite pieces, which he performed almost year after year in Berlioz’s lifetime: in 1861 (3 November & 29 December), 1862 (30 November), 1863 (22 November), 1864 (28 February), 1865 (10 December), 1866 (21 October) and 1868 (5 April & 6 December). After Berlioz’s death the work continued to turn up frequently in his concert programmes in the 1870s and 1880s. In public Berlioz welcomed Pasdeloup’s work and praised him for performing, among other pieces, the Invitation to the Dance. But Berlioz’s correspondence reveals an important detail: Pasdeloup performed the work in a truncated version, by omitting the quiet concluding andante so as not to dampen the applause of the audience (CG nos. 2581, 3072). That was precisely the kind of ‘castilblazade’ which Berlioz had denounced all his life, and he was indignant that anyone should imagine that he, a lifelong champion of Weber, might have been responsible for it. It is sad to record that Pasdeloup set here an example which was widely followed after him; the piece had established itself as a favourite with audiences and was frequently performed by the leading concert societies of the time, but more often than not without the concluding andante (in addition to the page on Pasdeloup see also the pages on Édouard Colonne and Charles Lamoureux).

    Neither Weber’s original nor Berlioz’s orchestration contain any metronome marks. In this version the Moderato has been set at crotchet = 80 and the Allegro vivace at dotted minim = 72, with an increase to dotted minim = 80 at the Vivace (bar 202).

    Weber: Invitation to the Dance, orch. Berlioz (duration 9'21")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 25.09.2001)
    — Score in pdf format

   Weber: Invitation to the Dance, original piano version (duration 9'21")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 10.10.2001)
    — Score in pdf format

© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page.

This page revised and enlarged on 1 March 2022.

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