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Berlioz and his music: self-borrowings

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Table of known or probable self-borrowings
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    Composers through the ages have not infrequently borrowed from themselves: music written or sketched earlier is re-used for later works, and often adapted in the process. One well-known example is the main theme of the last movement of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony of 1804 (bars 76-107 etc.). The theme was already used by Beethoven in his ballet Prometheus op. 43 of 1800-1 and in the Variations and fugue for piano op. 35 of 1802. There is of course nothing reprehensible with the practice: composers are free to do what they like with their own music.

    The same applies to Berlioz who made substantial borrowings in his later works from music he had composed earlier, often for a very different purpose. This page provides a conspectus of these self-borrowings, and a summary in tabular form below. It forms part of a complete listing of all the musical works of Berlioz available elsewhere on this site.

    We are grateful to our friend John Ahouse for some comments of detail which have been incorporated below.

    Self-borrowing and self-quotation

    A distinction should be drawn at the outset between self-borrowing and self-quotation. Self-borrowing refers to the re-use of earlier music that was deliberately discarded; once the music had found a new home in a new work, that was final and the music was not subsequently re-used by Berlioz. Self-quotation is different. Again, other composers have alluded in later works to music they had written earlier, but the earlier works continued to have their independent existence. Mozart for example quoted Figaro’s celebrated aria “Non più andrai” from the Marriage of Figaro in Act II of Don Giovanni. Richard Strauss quoted extensively from his earlier works in his symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben, and in the fourth of his Four Last Songs quoted the transfiguration theme from his symphonic poem Tod und Verklärung.

    Berlioz also quotes himself on occasion, though as often he is characteristically allusive, as though challenging the listener to pick up the references and their significance. Known or probable cases include the following (the list is not exhaustive):

    Composition and self-borrowing

    Berlioz occasionally informs us when a particular piece of music first occurred to him. For example in his Memoirs (chapter 54) he tells in detail about the composition of La Damnation de Faust in 1846 — the introduction, “Le vieil hiver a fait place au printemps” was written in an inn at Passau on the Bavarian border, the scene on the Banks of the Elbe (Part II) was written in Vienna, as was the Hungarian March etc. The composition of Les Troyens can be followed closely through Berlioz’s correspondence, especially with Princess Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein in 1856-8. In the Memoirs (Postface) he relates that the nocturnal duet for Hero and Ursula which concludes the first act of Béatrice et Bénédict was written not “by moonlight in some romantic place” but at a session at the Institut during a speech by a colleague…

    Berlioz sometimes tells us about self-borrowings which could not have been traced otherwise. In his Memoirs (chapter 4) he relates his earliest attempts at musical composition, including the writing of two quintets for flute and strings (1818/19):

A few years after writing the two quintets I burnt them, but it is striking that when years later in Paris I was writing my first orchestral composition, the melody my father had approved in my second effort came back to mind, and I adopted it. It is the theme in A flat played by the first violins, soon after the start of the allegro of the Francs-Juges overture.

Later in the same chapter he relates:

Among other pieces I wrote a very sad one on words which expressed my despair [...] Here is the first stanza:

Je vais donc quitter pour jamais
Mon doux pays, ma douce amie,
Loin d’eux je vais traîner ma vie
Dans les pleurs et dans les regrets!
Fleuve dont j’ai vu l’eau limpide,
Pour réfléchir ses doux attraits,
Suspendre sa course rapide,
Je vais vous quitter pour jamais.

I burnt this romance, as well as the sextet and the quintets, before my departure for Paris, but the melody came discreetly back to my mind when in 1829 I undertook to write my Symphonie fantastique. It seemed to me to express exactly the overwhelming grief of a young heart in the first pangs of a hopeless love, and I adopted it. It is the melody sung by the first violins at the beginning of the largo in Part I of this work, which has the title: Dreams and Passions. I have not changed it in any way.

    As John Ahouse suggests, Berlioz may have been drawing attention in this way to the autobiographical character of the Symphonie fantastique. Elsewhere in the Memoirs (chapter 11), writing about his opera Les Francs-Juges, he gives a hint as to his approach to his early attempts at composition:

[Humbert Ferrand] had written for me a libretto for a grand opera, Les Francs-Juges, and I wrote the music for it with matchless enthusiasm. The libretto was later refused by the committee of the Royal Academy of Music, and as a result my score was condemned to obscurity, from which it has never emerged. Only the overture has become known. Here and there I used the best ideas from the opera in a developed form in my later compositions; given a suitable opportunity the same fate probably awaits the rest of the music, or it will be destroyed.

    For precise identification of individual self-borrowings we depend of course on the survival of the earlier work. Part of the manuscript of Les Francs-Juges has been preserved, though some parts which Berlioz re-used elsewhere were torn out. From this it is possible to see that the opera was extensively quarried for later compositions: the Marche des Gardes in the opera became the Marche au supplice (4th movement) of the Symphonie fantastique with the addition of part of the idée fixe at the end; a theme from the opera’s finale (no. 14) was reused in the carnival scene of Benvenuto Cellini (towards the end of Act I); and the slow movement for trombone solo and wind band of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale was adapted from Arnold’s recitative and aria at the start of Act III (as John Ahouse suggests, both passages are invocations to sleep, though in the case of the symphony to eternal sleep). But at the same time several fully composed pieces were never re-used by Berlioz.

    Other self-borrowings are also readily traceable. In particular, the four Prix de Rome cantatas written between 1827 and 1830 were never regarded by Berlioz as intended for publication, and he freely utilised music from them in later compositions, as the table below shows. A letter to his friend Humbert Ferrand dated 3 July 1831, written from Rome, gives a detailed example concerning the re-use of music from the cantata Orphée of 1827 for Le Retour à la vie which he was composing at the time (Correspondance générale no. 234):

For the Chant de bonheur I have used a phrase from La Mort d’Orphée, which you have at home, and for the Last sighs of the harp the short orchestral piece which concludes this scene immediately after the Bacchanal. Please therefore send me this page, but only the adagio which follows the Bacchanal, where the violins put on mutes and play a tremolando to accompany a melody for a distant clarinet and a few fragmentary chords on the harp. I do not remember it well enough to write it from memory, and I cannot make any changes to it [the final version did include a few changes and was transposed a semitone up]. As you can see, La Mort d’Orphée is being sacrificed; I have extracted from it everything that I wanted, and I could never get the Bacchanal performed. So when I am back in Paris I will burn the score, and the one you have will be the last and final copy, provided you preserve it. It would be much better for you to destroy it after I have sent you a copy of the [Fantastic] symphony and of the Melologue.

    A rather special case is that of the Huit Scènes de Faust, written in 1828/9; Berlioz published it in 1829 but then promptly withdrew the work. He evidently felt that there was much more that he could do with the Faust legend, and so preferred to bide his time until he felt ready to return to the subject years later, in 1846. All the music of Huit Scènes was utilised again in the Damnation de Faust for the same pieces (the Peasants’ Dance, Marguerite’s Romance etc.), but invariably in an expanded and revised form.

    The evidence suggests that in his student years the young Berlioz was exceptionally fertile in new musical ideas, though they needed refinement before they could reach their final form, sometimes many years later. The evidence also suggests that the later works of the 1850s and early 1860s – L’Enfance du Christ, Les Troyens, down to his last major work Béatrice et Bénedict – were less reliant on music written earlier than had been the case till then. But here too there are surprises – the Sicilienne and Entr’acte of Béatrice utilise a theme from an early song of 1819, but as John Ahouse points out it is now in a minor, not a major key as in the original, as though at the end of his career the composer intended it to have a valedictory quality. It may in fact be the case that even more of Berlioz’s ideas originated early than can be demonstrated. For example it has been suggested that the idée fixe of the Symphonie fantastique, which first appears in the cantata Herminie of 1828, had already occurred to Berlioz long before, and it does bear a similarity to the theme from the quintet of 1818/19 which was re-used in the Franc-Juges overture mentioned above.

    This hypothesis has been strengthened by the remarkable rediscovery in 1991 of the lost Messe Solennelle. Berlioz indicated himself that he had salvaged the Resurrexit from the Messe while discarding the rest, though he later destroyed the Resurrexit as well (Memoirs, chapter 8). Borrowings from the Resurrexit in later works – the Requiem, Benvenuto Cellini, and the Te Deum – were thus readily traceable. The rediscovery of the Messe showed that the borrowings were far more extensive than could have been guessed: they include notably the main theme of the Scène aux champs (3rd movement) of the Symphonie fantastique, one of the main themes of the carnival scene in Benvenuto Cellini (well known from the Roman Carnival overture), the main theme in the Offertorium of the Requiem, and much of the music of the Te ergo quaesumus in the Te Deum.

    On this subject readers may also wish to consult the study by Hugh Macdonald, “Berlioz’s Self-Borrowings”, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 92 (1965-66), pp. 27-44 and D. Kern Holoman’s Catalogue of the Works of Hector Berlioz (Bärenreiter1987, volume 25 of the New Berlioz Edition). It should be noted that both works were written before the rediscovery of Berlioz’s Messe Solennelle of 1824-5 which added new evidence to the debate.

    The table below provides a summary of the known borrowings, arranged under three headings: the source of the borrowing, the destination of the passage borrowed, and comments.

Table of known or probable self-borrowings

Note: the letter H followed by a number refers to the numbering in Kern Holoman’s Catalogue

Source/date Destination/date Usage/Commentary
Quintet for flute and string quartet (1818/19 – H3) Overture Les Francs Juges
(1826 – H26D)
The second subject (bars 119-173, 343-390, 530-570) is taken from the quintet (Berlioz, Memoirs ch. 4)
Le Dépit de la bergère
(1819 – H7)
Romance for voice and piano
Béatrice et Bénédict
(1862 – H138)
The melody of the Sicilienne (no. 2bis and Entr’acte) is adapted from Le Dépit
Je vais donc quitter pour jamais (1819 – H6)
Setting of a text by Florian for voice and accompaniment (now lost)
Symphonie fantastique
(1830 – H48)
The opening theme of the first movement (bars 3-16 and 27-42) reproduces the melody (Berlioz, Memoirs ch. 4)
Messe solennelle
(1824/5 – H20)
Resurrexit (Le Jugement dernier)
(1829 – H20B)
In a considerably revised form the Resurrexit from the Messe was performed twice at the Conservatoire (26 May 1828, 1 November 1829)
(Same) Symphonie fantastique
(1830 – H48)
The main theme of the 3rd movement (Scène aux champs) is taken from the Gratias (3rd movement) of the Messe
(Same) Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem)
(1837 – H75)
(1) The main subject of the fugue in the opening Kyrie was adapted as another fugue in the Offertoire (7th movement) of the Requiem
(2) The brass fanfare and Et iterum venturus est which interrupt the Resurrexit (no. 8) in the Messe at bar 76 were extensively developed and transformed into the Requiem’s Tuba Mirum (2nd movement)
(Same) Symphonie funèbre et triomphale
(1840 – H80)
The fanfare which introduces the finale of the Symphonie funèbre echoes a passage (from bar 88) in the “Domine, salvum” of the Messe
(Same) Te Deum
(1849 – H118)
(1) Bars 32-75 of the Resurrexit from the Messe (“Et ascendit in coelum”) were adapted in the Te Deum (no. 4, “Christe, rex gloriae”), starting at bar 95 on the words “Tu ad dexteram Dei”
(2) Bars 8-87 of the Te ergo quaesumus in the Te Deum (no. 5) are substantially the same as the Agnus Dei of the Messe (no. 11)
(Same) Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
(1) The “Laudamus te” from the Gloria in the Messe (no. 2, starting at bar 63), was adapted to become one of the main themes in the Carnival scene in the opera’s second tableau, and was later used also in the overture Le Carnaval romain
(2) “Et iterum venturus est” from the Resurrexit (no. 8, starting at bar 101) was adapted as “Assassiner un capucin…” towards the end of the first Act(3) “Cujus regni non erit finis”, also from the Resurrexit (from bar 158), was adapted as “Ah! cher/maudit canon du Fort Saint-Ange” at the end of the same Act
Version I of Scène héroïque (La Révolution grecque), for chorus and orchestra
(1825 – H21A)
Symphonie funèbre et triomphale
(1840 – H80)
The arpeggio figure in the second movement (on the words “la voix du dieu des armées”, from bar 215) is adapted in instrumental form in the third movement of the Symphonie (from bar 155)
La Mort d’Orphée
Cantata for the Prix de Rome (1827 – H25)
Le Retour à la vie, later called Lélio
(1831 – H55)
(1) The fourth movement, the Chant de bonheur, is based on the main theme of Orphée’s air “Ranime mes accents, seconde mon délire”
(2) The fifth movement, the Aeolian Harp, is an adaptation of the concluding “Tableau musical” for orchestra of Orphée, transposed a semitone up
Les Francs-Juges
(1825-1834 – H23)
(uncompleted opera)
Symphonie fantastique
(1830 – H48)
The 4th movement, Marche au supplice, is based on the Marche des gardes from the opera (no. 9), with the insertion of the beginning of the idée fixe at bars 164-8
(Same) Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
A theme from the finale (no. 14, “Le bonheur aujourd’hui sourit avec l’aurore”) reappears in the latter part of the carnival scene at the end of Act I
(Same) Symphonie funèbre et triomphale
(1840 – H80)
Arnold’s recitative and aria at the start of Act III of the opera was extensively reused for the second movement of the symphony, the Oraison funèbre with solo trombone
Cantata for the Prix de Rome
(1828 – H29)
Chant Sacré
(1829, rev. 1843 – H44)
The music is based on the Prière in Herminie (“Dieu des chrétiens”)
(Same) Symphonie fantastique
(1830 – H48)
The idée fixe which pervades the symphony is a more developed version of the opening theme of Herminie
Huit scènes de Faust
(1828/9 – H33)
La Damnation de Faust
(1845/6 – H111)
All eight movements of the Huit scènes were extensively reworked and incorporated in La Damnation
Cantata for the Prix de Rome
(1829 – H36)
Le Retour à la vie, later called Lélio
(1831 – H55)
(1) The Chœur d’ombres (no. 2), is a reworking of the Méditation in Cléopâtre (“Grands Pharaons”)
(2) The melody starting at bars 230 of the Fantaisie sur la tempête de Shakespeare (no. 6) is an extended version of the allegro theme that follows the Méditation in Cléopâtre (“Du destin qui m’accable”)
(Same) Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
The second part of the theme in the duet between Teresa and Cellini in Act I (bars 39-43 etc.) is based on a phrase in Cléopâtre’s opening aria (“Où sur le sein des mers”)
Chanson des pirates (now lost)
(1829 – H34)
Le Retour à la vie, later called Lélio
(1831 – H55)
This composition could have been reused in the Chanson de brigands (no. 2)
Le Ballet des ombres, for chorus and piano
(1829 – H37)
Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
Part of the music was used in an earlier version of the carnival scene, but subsequently discarded
(Same) Roméo et Juliette
(1839 – H79)
Bars 615-661 of the Queen Mab scherzo are adapted from Le Ballet
Ouverture de la Tempête
(1830 – H52)
Le Retour à la vie, later called Lélio
(1831 – H55)
The Ouverture was incorporated in Le Retour à la vie as the final movement (no. 6) under the title Fantaisie sur la tempête de Shakespeare
Sardanapale (1830 – H50)
Cantata for the Prix de Rome (some fragments survive)
Roméo et Juliette
(1839 – H79)
(1) The beginning of the oboe theme starting bar 81 of the second movement (Roméo seul) is found in the surviving fragments of Sardanapale (bars 149-157)
(2) The beginning of the main theme of the Fête chez Capulet (bar 128 onwards) has similarities with a passage from Sardanapale (bars 160-180)
(Same) L’Impériale
(1854 – H129)
The opening theme of the cantata, which returns at the end (bar 258 onwards), derives from Sardanapale, bars 174-186
(Same) Les Troyens
(1856-63 – H133)
The theme in bars 26-9, 49-66 in Cassandre’s air in Act I (no. 10) is derived from a theme in Sardanapale (bars 89-107, 217-233)
Intrata di Rob-Roy MacGregor, also known as the Rob Roy Overture
(1831 – H54)
Harold en Italie
(1834 – H68)
(1) The theme for cor anglais which appears at bars 260-4 in the overture becomes in the symphony the motto theme associated with Harold himself throughout the work. The passage from bars 275 to 321 was reused in a modified form in the first movement of the symphony, with a solo viola replacing the cor anglais (bars 38-94)
(2) The theme which first appears in the overture at bar 170 became the second subject of the symphony’s first movement (bars 168-180 etc.)
Je crois en vous (1834 – H70)
Romance for voice and piano
Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
The Ariette d’Harlequin in the carnival scene in Act I, also used in the overture (bars 36-64, 78-88), is adapted from Je crois en vous
Chansonette de Mr Léon de Wailly (1835 – H73)
Voice and piano
Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
The De profundis sung by the chorus of Cellini’s friends early in Act I is a reworking of the Chansonette
Fête musicale funèbre
(1835 – H72)
(incomplete and lost)
Symphonie funèbre et triomphale
(1840 – H80)
The first and third movements of the symphony may be derived from the Fête musicale funèbre
Benvenuto Cellini
(1838 – H76)
Rêverie et Caprice
(1841 – H88)
The first version of Teresa’s aria in Act I was discarded and adapted for use in the Rêverie et Caprice for violin and orchestra
(Same) Overture Le Carnaval romain
(1843 – H95)
The overture Le Carnaval romain is developed from material in Act I of the opera: the duet of Cellini and Teresa in the first tableau and the carnival scene in the second tableau
Erigone (1835-9 – H77)
“Intermède antique” for voices and orchestra, incomplete
Les Troyens
(1856-63 – H133)
A phrase from the sketches reappears in the opening chorus of Les Troyens (bars 83-9, “Que le cri des batailles ne va plus déchirer”)
Les Troyens
(1856-63 – H133)
Marche troyenne
(1864 – H133B)
Berlioz reworked music from Acts I (the finale, no. 11) and V (nos. 43, 44) as a separate concert piece

Related pages

Berlioz: A Listing of his Musical Works
Berlioz: Musical and Literary Works (contains a detailed listing of the contents of the New Berlioz Edition)
Berlioz Biography
Berlioz Mémoires (in the original French)
Berlioz Libretti
Berlioz Music Scores

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997;
Berlioz and his music: self-borrowings page created on 1 November 2004, revised on 1 December 2022.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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