Waverley and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: The tattoo of the timpani

By Diana Bickley

© 2003 Diana Bickley

    In his book The Music of Berlioz (OUP, 2001), Julian Rushton writes in the Preface:

…these discussions contribute to an agenda which I will not deny, which is to continue the revaluation of a composer whose music, or nearly all of it, I love, and who still appears to be undervalued in some quarters – or evaluated unevenly…(p. v.)

    He writes about Berlioz’s overture Waverley as part of his revaluation and intention to ‘put music first’ and this article about Berlioz’s compositional process is – as it were – a footnote to one of these observations. I aim to use the autograph of Waverley to show how Berlioz worked with meticulous attention to detail and to make connections between his own compositions and those he heard by others. In this I hope that what follows is in the spirit of putting the music first.

    Waverley is the first of five concert overtures by Berlioz (Waverley, Le Roi Lear, Intrata di Rob-Roy MacGregor, Le Carnaval Romain and Le Corsaire – the overture to Les Francs Juges is not included in this category, since although it came to be used as a concert overture, it was conceived as the overture to the opera of the same name) and is of particular significance for several reasons. It is the first work not only conceived by Berlioz solely as an orchestral work, but also the first orchestral work that he considered to be worth performing and publishing, which is important within the broader framework of Berlioz’s compositional output. Secondly – and more important within the context of this article – the autograph is the earliest extant document of such a work: since he became famous in his own lifetime as an orchestrator (among other things), his first essay in purely orchestral writing must be of interest. (The only other works prior to the composition of Waverley for instruments alone – with the exception of Les Francs-juges, which, as already mentioned, was conceived as part of an opera – are lost chamber works, numbers 1, 2 and 3 in Holoman’s catalogue.)

    All Berlioz’s concert overtures except Le carnaval Romain, were subject to a greater or lesser degree of literary influence. In the case of Waverley, it was, on the face of it, to a greater degree. Sir Walter Scott was extraordinarily popular in Paris during the 1820-s and 1830-s, and Berlioz is known from his letters to have been enthusiastic about Scott’s novels from c. 1825. On the title page of the autograph of Waverley, most probably dating from around early 1827, Berlioz quoted passages from Defauconpret’s 1822 translation, which can be seen to relate to the overture in a programmatic fashion. By the time it came to publication in 1839, he had decided not to include them on the printed title page; instead he quoted two lines of verse taken from the English version of the novel: ‘Dreams of love and ladies’ charms/Give way to honour and to arms’. Essentially this does the same job as the longer quotations, indicating the two main sections of the work, namely the slow, lyrical introduction – ‘ladies’ charms’, in particular those of Flora MacIvor – and a fast allegro section – the call ‘to honour and to arms’ of battle. There is in the introduction, however, something that could be interpreted in the context of the ‘programme’ as an ominous presage of the battle to come, to which Julian Rushton refers as follows on p. 244 of his book:

When Berlioz repeats the cello melody (bar 55) the tattoo of the timpani, for all its soft drumsticks, is another intimation of battle, particularly as it strikes a tonic D against dominant harmony – most remarkably in bar 74 where the bass is a dominant pedal. Can Berlioz really have conceived this before hearing Beethoven’s Fifth?’

    The short answer to this question, which is referring to the passage where Beethoven links the third and fourth movements, is ‘no’, but the question that must then follow is ‘how do we know?’, since it is clear that by the time the overture was published, Berlioz had, indeed, written the timpani part just as Rushton describes, showing, albeit briefly, a similar juxtaposition of a tonic pedal on the timpani against a dominant pedal on the double bass, as used by Beethoven in the famous linking passage of the Fifth Symphony. (Beethoven adds the ’cellos to the double bass part.) It is interesting to see that while many other people have written about the Fifth Symphony, few have thought to comment on this. For example, Grove quotes the passage of music showing the G against the C but makes no further comment (Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies, London, 1896). E. T. A. Hoffmann, on the other hand, does write about this passage in his extraordinary review of the work dating from 1809/10 (see end for details), but it seems unlikely that Berlioz would have seen this.

    In addition to setting Waverley in the context given above, a chronology of relevant events involving Berlioz, Waverley and Beethoven is needed to give a connecting framework between these three. In the table below two main points reveal themselves with particular reference to our topic. First, regarding Beethoven’s influence on Berlioz at this time: even though there is no doubting the long-term influence of Beethoven on Berlioz, it is clear that when Waverley was first performed, he (Berlioz) had had no thought of using the simultaneous pedal effect. Secondly, it is difficult to be precise about the evolution of Waverley between 1828 and 1839. Evidence found in primary sources like letters, newspaper reports and other writings, has been pieced together to suggest when revisions seem more likely than not to have been made and – of particular importance here – when Berlioz may have added the part for timpani, although there is not space here to explain the background to these conclusions. One reason for the paucity of this evidence is that, despite the number of performances it was given, the significance of Waverley to Berlioz and the critics who reported the concerts in which it appeared was slight in comparison to other works being performed. Nevertheless, it is interesting to notice the interaction of Berlioz with Beethoven and the Fifth Symphony, in particular in relation to the history of Waverley as outlined here:


The score to Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio, was published in Paris and the overture was also performed there but it is not known whether or not Berlioz was present. Other performances of Beethoven up to this time included his First Symphony.

1827, early Waverley was composed
1827, November 30 Berlioz definitely heard an overture by Beethoven, although there is no record as to which one.
1828, April 13

The first performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Paris was given at the Société des Concerts, followed by two more on 4 and 11 May. Although there is no extant contemporary record either confirming that Berlioz attended or suggesting any reaction by Berlioz to the impact the performances may have made, it is hard to imagine that he would not have been there. The anecdote recounted in chapter 20 of the Memoirs, written – of course – some years after the event, in which Berlioz persuades his teacher, Lesueur to be taken to hear a performance of the Fifth, makes it seem most likely that Berlioz heard at least two out of the three performances. Of the seven extant letters between 13 April and 26 May, six are to officials concerning plans for his concert (see below); clearly, at the time he was preoccupied by other matters.

1828, May 26

Waverley receives its first performance and the autograph shows that there was no part for timpani at all in bars 72-77 of the introduction at this point.

1828, December

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony performed at the Société des Concerts. There is evidence that Berlioz planned to attend this performance but not firm evidence that he did. See CG I, no. 107, p. 221 and n.2.

1829, February Second performance of Waverley.
1829, May Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony performed at the Société des Concerts.
1829, August

The first instalment of Berlioz’s biography of Beethoven appears, followed by two more on 2 August and 6 October.

1829, c October

Structural changes to the peroration, shown by different paper type, probably made in time for third performance of Waverley on 1 November.

1830, April/May

Two performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the Société des Concerts; there is no evidence in Berlioz’s letters or other writings that he heard either.

1831, Feb/April

Two performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the Société des Concerts, but Berlioz was in Italy at this time.

1833, May 2

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony performed at the Société des Concerts; there is no evidence in Berlioz’s letters or other writings that he heard this.

1833, May 5

Fourth performance of Waverley.

1834, January

Article by Berlioz: ‘Traité de composition de Beethoven’ for Le Rénovateur in which he refers in particular to details from the second movement.

1834, April 27

Review by Berlioz in the Gazette musicale de Paris, ‘Concerts du Conservatoire: cinquième, sixième et septième concerts’, which includes reference to the Fifth Symphony as Beethoven’s ‘chef-d’œuvre’.

1834, April 27

Review by Berlioz in Le Rénovateur entitled ‘Revue musicale: concerts: Beethoven, Cherubini, Hauman, Poncard’, which includes extended coverage of the Fifth Symphony. He refers to the link between the 3rd and 4th movements as ‘l’harmonie sinistre du scherzo’.

1834, May 11

Review by Berlioz in Le Rénovateur entitled ‘Revue musicale et littéraire’, with a brief but admiring passing comment about the Fifth Symphony.

1835, April 18

Review by Berlioz in the Journal des Débats which concentrates on the Fifth Symphony. (Readers may be curious to compare this with the review for Le Rénovateur from 24 April, 1834 and notice how many expressions are similar; they may also note that the paragraph he wrote here (i.e. for 18 April) about the scherzo is reproduced exactly in his analysis of the Fifth Symphony which appeared in the Gazette musicale de Paris of 28 January, 1838. There are also similar parallels with some sections of the Memoirs.)

1835, June

The instrumentation for Waverley was reduced.
Changes were made to the part for trompette à pistons, originally a three-valve instrument, so it could be played on a two-valve instrument instead (this is supported by the appearance in 1834 of a trumpet method book by Dauverné, recommending the two-valve version because the tuning was better than the three valve instrument, for which he had written a similar method which had appeared in c. 1828, a fact which is not made clear in Grove 2).
Parts for timpani (55 – 78) and natural trumpet (46 – 54) were added for the first time to hitherto empty bars in the introduction.
All these probably done in time for fifth performance of Waverley on 25 June.

1838, November

Hasty and often untidy changes made to the score, especially to the introduction and including revisions to the natural trumpet and timpani parts which had been added c. 1835.

1839, early

The score and parts of Waverley were definitely at the engraver’s by 2 January (see letter to Ferrand in CG II, no.616, p.513) and published quite soon afterwards.

    Now is a good time to look at exactly what Berlioz did write about the famous linking passage in his review of 18 April, 1835 (and later in the Gazette Musicale on 28 January, 1838) and I am quoting here at length from the translation by Elizabeth Csicsery-Rónay (The Art of Music and other essays, Indiana University Press, 1994) to remind the reader of the full context of the passage:

The Scherzo motif appears pizzicato; little by little, silence is restored until nothing is heard but a few notes plucked lightly by the violins and the odd clucking noises produced by bassoons playing a high A-flat, which is jostled in the same range by an octave G, the root of the dominant minor ninth chord. Then, interrupting the cadence, the strings gently bow the chord of A-flat and seem to fall into slumber while holding it. The timpani alone keep the rhythm alive by light strokes from sponge-covered sticks, a faint pulse beating against the immobility of the rest of the orchestra. The notes the timpani play are all Cs, and the key of the movement is C minor; but the A-flat chord, held for a long time by the other instruments, seems to introduce another key, while at the same time the lone throbbing of the timpani on C tends to maintain the feeling of the original key. The ear hesitates, it cannot tell where this harmonic mystery is going to end. As the muffled beating of the timpani grows more intense, the violins come back to life, changing the harmony to the dominant seventh chord – G, B, D, and F – while the timpani stubbornly continue their tonic C. Then the entire orchestra bursts into the triumphal march theme in the major and the finale begins.

    It is clear from this that by 1835 Berlioz knew this passage and its interesting harmonic implications intimately. What can also be seen from close examination of the autograph is that when Berlioz first added a timpani part, it began in the manner of a tonic pedal, supporting the double bass part from bars 54 to 71, changing to a dominant pedal, as did the double bass, at bar 72, where it remained until bar 78. That is, except for bar 75, which shows the (tentative) introduction of the tonic:

    The final version, however, shows that the tonic pedal was also introduced in the timpani against the dominant pedal in the double bass in bars 73 and 74, making three bars of this effect altogether. This last set of changes also shows that the rhythm was subtly altered to give a syncopated effect as the music died away at the approach of the allegro:

    What may never be known for sure is the time lapse between these two layers of revision. But, given the way in which the Fifth Symphony was clearly in the forefront of Berlioz’s mind around 1835, it makes sense to suggest that this was when the timpani part was added for the first time, showing the tonic against dominant effect for only one bar. By the time he re-visited the Fifth Symphony for the publication of the analyses in 1838 he had several substantial works of note in his portfolio and a growing reputation, too. So perhaps – still struck by the effect in the link passage in the Fifth – he felt more confident about extending the effect in a work which he had decided was worth publishing, and this caused him to be more daring in his use of combining tonic and dominant pedal notes. It was a passage which came to his mind again because Berlioz used it as an example when writing about the timpani in his Grand Traîté d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes, first published late in 1843, but in this case to demonstrate the effectiveness of pianissimo using baguettes d’éponge, rather than its use as a tonic pedal against the dominant in the basses. It might, However, be suggested that Berlioz could, with little difficulty, have found other examples when Beethoven employs pianissimo timpani, but that this is the one which came to Berlioz’s mind most readily when preparing his Treatise because it had made such an impression on him over the years since its first performance in Paris.

Diana Bickley


Grateful thanks to Julian Rushton, the reading of whose book, The Music of Berlioz, prompted me to write this article. Thanks to him, also, for reading this and making some very helpful suggestions.

Suggested further reading:

Bent, I (ed.), 1994, Music Analysis in the Nineteenth Century, Vol. 2, ‘Hermeneutic Approaches’, Cambridge University Press, See page 145 ff. for translation of the above review.

Bickley, D, 2000, A critical edition of the concert overtures of Hector Berlioz, with particular reference to the historical and literary background, Ph. D. thesis, University of London. (Contains detailed history of Waverley and also a chapter on the arrival of the valve trumpet in Paris)

Bickley, D (ed.), 2001, New Edition of the Complete Works of Hector Berlioz, volume 20: ‘The concert overtures’, Bärenreiter, Kassel. (general editor: Hugh Macdonald)

Bloom, P (ed.), 2000, The Cambridge Companion to Berlioz, Cambridge University Press. (Contains a chapter on the concert overtures)

Holoman, D K, 1987, New Edition of the Complete Works of Hector Berlioz, volume 25, ‘Catalogue of the works of Hector Berlioz’, Bärenreiter, Kassel. (general editor: Hugh Macdonald)

Hoffman, E T A, Review from Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, 12 (1809/10), No. 40 (4 July 1810), cols 630-42, No. 41 (11 July 1810), cols 652-9

Rushton, J, 2001, The Music of Berlioz, Oxford University Press.


CG Hector Berlioz: Correspondance générale, Paris, 1972 – 2003, eight volumes, general editor Pierre Citron.

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