After his death
Biographers and critics
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Je crois qu’en fait
de vengeance, il faut laisser faire le temps. C’est le grand vengeur (Berlioz, Mémoires Post-Scriptum)
(As far as revenge is concerned, I believe time should be allowed to take its course. Time is the great avenger)
‘Other great men were ignored in their lifetime; there are few for whom posthumous amends were more sudden and more unanimous’, wrote Adolphe Jullien in 1882 in connection with Berlioz. In retrospect the statement seems somewhat premature, though it must have seemed justified at the time in the light of the remarkable revival of interest in Berlioz and his music that took place in France in the 1870s and 1880s. In practice there was still a long way to go, and Berlioz himself was probably nearer the mark. In chapter 59 of the Memoirs, written in 1854, he commented: ‘Men and things do change, it is true, but so slowly that it is not within the short span of a human life that these changes can be noticed. I would have to live two hundred years to experience the benefit’. Ten years later, near the end of the Postface, he was slightly more optimistic, and nearer the mark. On being informed of recent performances of his music in America, Russia and Germany, he remarked: ‘My musical career might end up being delightful, if I could live only 140 years’. In the event it took over a century and 3 centenary anniversaries, that of his birth in 1903, that of his death in 1969, and the bicentenary of his birth in 2003, before Berlioz could be said to have finally arrived. By that date he was widely accepted in the musical world as a great composer and received frequent performances worldwide, during the bicentenary celebrations in 2003 and in subsequent years, and the wider public was much better informed about him than before. Most of his music was henceforward available in modern recordings preserved in a durable format, a new critical edition of his musical works was nearing completion, as was the publication of his correspondence, and a complete edition of his critical writings was well under way.
This page is devoted to the pioneers and champions of Berlioz, those whose cumulative efforts over a period of several generations made this result possible. Only a selection of the most important names is included; more may be added in due course, but this is not intended as a survey of everything that has been said, written or done for Berlioz since his death. Included are those who not only showed appreciation and understanding of Berlioz, but actively sought to defend him against misrepresentation, and worked to promote understanding of his music and his work, whether through critical writings, editions of his works, or actual performance. By these criteria Edmond Hippeau or George Bernard Shaw, for example, are not included in their own right though they deserve mention otherwise, whereas Julien Tiersot or Tom Wotton have an unquestionable claim to be reckoned among the champions of Berlioz in France and Britain. But by these same criteria the inclusion of some names may be questioned, such as that of Adolphe Boschot, though his importance in the development of Berlioz studies suggests that he should not be omitted. The opportunity will also be taken to rescue from neglect a number of unsung heroes of the Berliozian cause, who may not figure prominently in the record but made significant contributions behind the scenes.
The period covered extends from the time immediately after the composer’s death to the 1960s, but not beyond. It was in the first two decades of the post-war period that the final drive to full recognition gathered momentum, with the centenary and bicentenary dates of 1969 and 2003 providing focal points. Berlioz was gaining an increasing circle of admirers worldwide, the work of rehabilitation was nearing completion, and the age of the pioneers was now drawing to a close. After this time many have made significant contributions to promoting the cause of Berlioz; they are not included individually in the present survey though may well receive mention otherwise, and their omission from the list of pioneers and champions is in no way intended to diminish the importance of their work.
As any reader of the Memoirs knows, Berlioz had enemies almost from the start of his career, but he also had devoted friends, and the Memoirs balance the hostility he encountered in some quarters with the devoted support he received in others. At the end of chapter 54, relating the failure of The Damnation of Faust at its first performances in Paris in 1846, he records the financial assistance he received from a number of friends which made it possible for him to undertake his trip to Russia. He then adds: ‘I believe I have already made this point, but I have no hesitation in repeating it, that if I have come across many scoundrels and rascals in my life, I have been singularly fortunate in the opposite direction, and that few creative artists have encountered so many generous and devoted supporters as I have’.
The ranks of Berlioz’s supporters started to grow from early in his career, and many of these early champions have been mentioned elsewhere on this site. It was in December 1830, shortly before the first performance of the Symphonie fantastique in Paris, that Berlioz was first introduced to Franz Liszt, who was to become one of his most active supporters: for example, his transcription for piano of the Symphonie fantastique helped to spread knowledge of the work in Germany in the 1830s, long before the full score was published, and later in his career Liszt was responsible for the revival in Weimar in the early 1850s of the opera Benvenuto Cellini which had failed at its first performances at the Opéra in 1838. In 1832, not long after his stay in Italy, Berlioz met the young writer Ernest Legouvé who became a life-long friend; by advancing money to Berlioz at a critical moment he enabled him to proceed with the composition of Benvenuto Cellini. During the 1830s Berlioz gained many influential allies in Paris, among them the Bertin family, who assisted him in various ways and notably by giving him a powerful position as music critic for the prestigious Journal des Débats, a position he held from 1834 till 1863. He found many supporters among writers: notably Jules Janin, himself a regular contributor to the Débats who penned many articles in his support, and wrote a personal tribute to Harriet Smithson after her death in 1854, which moved Berlioz much and which he cited at length in his Memoirs (chapter 59); Joseph d’Ortigue, also a contributor to the Débats, who was no less supportive; and Théophile Gautier, whose poetry Berlioz set to music in Les Nuits d’été. A selection of what they wrote in defence of Berlioz is reproduced on this site. Among musicians, Berlioz won the support of the great violin virtuoso Paganini, whose gift of 20,000 francs in 1838 enabled him to compose Roméo et Juliette. Less conspicuous than Paganini, but in the long run one of his most devoted friends was Auguste Morel, whom he met around 1837. Another musician he met later, around 1854, was Ernest Reyer, who was destined to become one of his most articulate champions after his death. Mention of the young Saint-Saëns could also be made here. Virtually all of these (with the exception of Gautier, Reyer and Saint-Saëns) are mentioned in the Memoirs, where their services to Berlioz are acknowledged.
As Berlioz started to travel abroad from late 1842 onwards the circle of his friends and supporters expanded; only the most important of these can be mentioned here. In Germany early converts were Johann Christian Lobe in Weimar, even before Berlioz travelled there, and Robert Griepenkerl in Brunswick from the moment of Berlioz’s first visit in 1843. On a visit to Weimar in November 1852 Berlioz met among others the young Hans von Bülow, a protégé of Liszt, who became an active champion of his music for years to come, and Peter Cornelius who translated several of his works. In Vienna the conductor Johann von Herbeck promoted the music of Berlioz in the early 1860s and was instrumental in inviting him to conduct the Damnation of Faust there in December 1866. During his first trip to Russia in 1847 Berlioz met the young writer Vladimir Stasov who later did much to promote the cause of Berlioz in Russia and influence a new generation of Russian composers. A series of visits to London from late 1847 onwards brought Berlioz a large number of new friends there, the most active of whom was the publisher and impresario Frederick Beale, who arranged for Berlioz to give a highly successful series of 6 concerts in London in 1852. Another impresario whose name looms large in the latter part of Berlioz’s career was Édouard Bénazet, the manager of the casino in Baden-Baden, who invited Berlioz to conduct there in 1853 then every year from 1856 to 1863, and commissioned an opera from him; the commission was in the end fulfilled indirectly with the composition of Béatrice et Bénédict. To all these many supporters in different countries of Europe one should add a number of royal or princely families, notably in Hanover, Berlin and Weimar, and particular mention should be made of the role of two aristocratic patrons, Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein who persuaded Berlioz to undertake the composition of Les Troyens, and the Grand-Duchess of Russia who invited him to St Petersburg on the last concert tour of his career.
Among those who had supported Berlioz in his lifetime a few continued to be active on his behalf after his death; prominent among these in France was from the start Ernest Reyer, then a few years later Auguste Morel. In Germany Hans von Bülow resumed his championship of Berlioz in the 1870s, while at the same time in England Wilhelm Ganz (from 1879 onwards) and especially Charles Hallé (from 1880 onwards) helped to introduce English audiences to some of his music. In Paris the revival had started before this: the conductor Jules Pasdeloup, who had already performed shorter excerpts of Berlioz at his Concerts populaires in the 1860s, continued as a supporter of the composer after his death and was soon followed, then overtaken, by Édouard Colonne. Increasingly the task was taken up by a new generation of musicians and writers. A brief survey divided by countries may be given here; more detail will be added in the pages on individual figures listed below, and in these pages names not singled out for separate treatment will also receive mention. The reader is also referred to the retrospective view given by David Cairns from the vantage point of the bicentenary year 2003, which is reproduced on this site.
Most striking was the rehabilitation of Berlioz that took place in France – or more exactly Paris, though the rest of France followed the lead of Paris – within a few years of the composer’s death. This development is examined in detail in other pages on this site which provide a list of performances of his works in Paris in the years 1869 to 1884 and reproduce contemporary reviews and comments on these performances in the Paris press (the terminal date of 1884 is selected for purely practical reasons and does not indicate a waning of interest in Berlioz after this date). The revival, it should be stressed, took place in the concert hall and involved primarily Berlioz’s orchestral works: the opera houses continued to shun Berlioz as they had done in his lifetime, and the rehabilitation of Berlioz was left incomplete. In this respect Germany was well ahead of France. The credit for the revival in Paris belongs in the first place to two conductors and the orchestral societies they directed, first Jules Pasdeloup then Édouard Colonne, who eventually eclipsed his older colleague and went on to conduct more performances of Berlioz in the concert hall than probably any other contemporary or subsequent conductor before Colin Davis. In the first half of the 20th century other French conductors continued to champion the composer, notably Pierre Monteux, Jean Fournet and Charles Munch.
The renewed interest in Berlioz after his death, and the growing familiarity of Paris audiences with his music, prompted an upsurge of studies and books in France concerning him. These included the first detailed and authoritative biographies to be devoted to the composer; particular mention should be made here of the work of Adolphe Jullien and later Julien Tiersot. As well as the posthumous publication of the Mémoires in 1870 this period also saw the beginning of the publication of the composer’s correspondence. First came a volume of letters covering much of the composer’s life (1879), followed a few years later by a volume which contained many of the letters addressed by Berlioz to his lifelong friend Humbert Ferrand (1882). In addition many letters were published piecemeal in journals over the years. With the exception of the letters of Berlioz addressed to Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, which were published in Germany (1903), and a collection of new letters published bilingually in the United States by Jacques Barzun (1954), the publication of the complete correspondence of Berlioz took place in France over a long period of time. First came the enterprise by Julien Tiersot in 3 volumes published in Paris (1904, 1919 and 1930), which was left unfinished, and then the edition in 8 volumes of all the letters, published in Paris between 1972 and 2003, the work of a team of scholars under the general editorship of Pierre Citron. It should be placed on record that the moving spirit behind the whole enterprise was Thérèse Husson (1928-2005), whose name does not appear on the title page, but who without ever drawing attention to herself did so much behind the scenes to promote the cause of Berlioz in France (she was general secretary of the Association nationale Hector Berlioz from its foundation in 1962 till shortly before her death). In addition to the complete correspondence and new editions of Berlioz’s books, the publication of all his critical articles was undertaken; initially the fruit of a transatlantic collaboration, the project soon established its centre in Paris, and seven volumes out of ten have appeared to date (1996-).
In one crucial respect, France fell short: it was in Germany that the publication of the complete musical works of Berlioz was first attempted to coincide with the composer’s centenary, and when it came to his bicentenary it was a German publisher who issued the second and this time complete edition of his music. Having said that, the contribution made over time by French musicians and writers to the rehabilitation and promotion of France’s greatest composer has not always received sufficient recognition. For instance, the introduction to Jacques Barzun’s Berlioz and the Romantic Century (volume I, pp. 3-22) dates the turning of the tide in the posthumous reputation of Berlioz and the start of the ‘New Berlioz criticism’ to as late as the 1920s. But this passes over what had been achieved in France and Germany before this time, and no mention is made at this point of the critics Ernest Reyer, Adolphe Jullien and Julien Tiersot (their role is only acknowledged later in Barzun’s work). Barzun’s survey of Berlioz’s afterfame in France (volume II, pp. 301-6) gives a less than complete picture of the work accomplished, as a comparison with the detailed record of the years 1869-1884 suggests. One fact which contributed to the perception of Berlioz as a composer who was not appreciated in his own country, is that side by side with the genuine champions of Berlioz in France, there existed from the late 19th century onwards an influential body of opinion which instinctively denigrated the composer. An article by Pierre-René Serna on this site addresses this point with regard to France (see also an 1893 article by Adolphe Jullien). The same preconceived hostility to Berlioz can be traced in other countries, though perhaps not to the same extent, and may never entirely disappear. Ignorance and prejudice are seemingly indestructible. Berlioz’s very originality and independence of mind are liable to generate adverse reactions on the part of those who find comfort in the safety of convention. It is a problem that Berlioz himself was all too aware of: in a passage in his Memoirs (chapter 59) he refers, in connection with hostile critics in the German press, to ‘people with fixed ideas, who at the mere sight of my name on a poster or in a newspaper fly into a rage, like bulls when shown a red rag’.
Vale, Germania, alma parens! With these words Berlioz ended the series of open letters he published in 1843 and 1844 concerning his first trip to Germany. Even before he had arrived there he was already beginning to gather an increasing circle of admirers: from the start, Germany held a special place in his musical affections. Whatever the shock of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, a war that Berlioz mercifully did not live to witness, there was at the musical level no permanent break in relations between the two countries. The leading supporters of Berlioz in France in this period – Ernest Reyer, Adolphe Jullien – were at the same time admirers of Wagner, and the same holds good in Germany. Hans von Bülow, Felix Mottl, Felix Weingartner and other conductors were at one and the same time admirers of both the German and the French masters and saw no incompatibility between the two. Berlioz was for them like an ‘honorary German’. Performances of the music of Berlioz continued in the 1870s and beyond: for example, to mention a few of the more notable occasions, the Requiem was performed in Leipzig in 1872 and 1874, Hans Richter conducted Harold en Italie in Vienna in the winter season 1875-6, Béatrice et Bénédict was performed at the Weimar court in January 1876, and the Symphonie fantastique was performed in Hanover in May 1877. At the end of 1877, in connection with a forthcoming performance of Roméo et Juliette in Berlin, a French critic remarked ‘It is not only in France that Berlioz’s scores are nowadays highly rated. In Germany, where the music of the French master has always received greater acclaim than among us, hardly any concert of importance takes place without the name of Berlioz appearing in the programme’ (Le Ménestrel 9/12/1877 p. 13). Ferdinand Hiller, an old friend of Berlioz, gave the first complete performance of l’Enfance du Christ in Cologne in December 1878, and the following year he published a long article of reminiscences about Berlioz, which he included in a collected volume soon after (Künstlerleben, 1880). A few years later Richard Pohl, another former friend of Berlioz, published a sympathetic volume of studies and memories of the composer (Hector Berlioz: Studien und Erinnerungen, 1884).
In one very important respect Germany was ahead of France: whereas the Berlioz revival in France took place solely in the concert hall and was the work of orchestral conductors, Germany performed the operas of Berlioz on stage in addition to playing his orchestral works. It was in Germany that Benvenuto Cellini had been revived under Liszt in 1852, and that Béatrice and Bénédict received its first performances in 1862 and 1863 in Baden-Baden then also in Weimar, all under Berlioz himself; the tradition continued after the death of the composer. For example Benvenuto was revived and performed seven times between January and May 1879 in Hanover under Hans von Bülow, and received a series of performances in Leipzig in 1883 under the young Arthur Nikisch. The next step was the first staged performance of the complete Les Troyens, which took place at the Ducal theatre in Karlsruhe in 1890, though split between two evenings on 6 and 7 December. The credit for this achievement belonged to the young conductor Felix Mottl, a dedicated champion of Wagner who was no less zealous in promoting Berlioz: in 1887 he had already staged Béatrice et Bénédict there. It was an achievement that, as Adolphe Jullien stressed, put the opera directors of France to shame. The example of Mottl with Les Troyens was followed later in other German cities, and the other operas of Berlioz similarly continued to be staged elsewhere in Germany (Benvenuto Cellini was performed in virtually every major musical city in Germany). It was a fitting culmination to the devotion of German musicians to Berlioz that it should have been in Leipzig that the first attempt at a complete edition of his musical works was published between 1900 and 1907, to coincide with the centenary of the composer’s birth. One of the editors was the conductor Felix Weingartner, a champion of Berlioz in Germany and abroad. Though incomplete (it lacked in particular Benvenuto Cellini and Les Troyens) and flawed in its editorial principles, this edition represented nevertheless a significant stage in the diffusion of Berlioz’s music: it included a number of previously unpublished works, most important of which was the full score of the opera Béatrice et Bénédict.
Germany was thus a sympathetic environment for the French composer. The leading German composers and conductors around the turn of the century respected Berlioz and performed his works. For example, the influence of Berlioz on Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss is manifest and was freely acknowledged by them. Strauss conducted music by Berlioz at centenary celebrations in London, Paris and Dresden in 1903, and in 1905 he published a new edition of the treatise on orchestration in an updated version, in which the original text is reproduced without change and his own additions clearly marked as such (but Berlioz would no doubt have objected to being presented as a precursor to Wagner, and to seeing Wagner given precedence over Gluck and Beethoven in the choice of musical examples).
Germany’s embrace of Berlioz might have continued indefinitely, but for a historical break that seems to have been brought about by the rise of the IIIrd Reich, as Pierre-René Serna has argued (Serna, Berlioz de B à Z , p. 34-5). The exclusive promotion by the régime of German music, and of Wagner above all, at the expense of non-German composers seems to have had one important negative result as regards Berlioz. Whereas up to the time of the second World War it was normal in Germany for conductors to include Berlioz as part of their standard repertoire, this tradition now seems to have gone into sharp decline. It is noticeable that most of the leading German conductors of the post-war period no longer have any special association with the music of Berlioz. Among conductors, the leading champions of Berlioz in this period come now from France (Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Jean Fournet), and increasingly from Britain (Thomas Beecham, then Colin Davis).
The posthumous fame of Berlioz followed a different path in Britain than in France and Germany. In his lifetime Berlioz had found a very sympathetic reception in his visits to London between 1847 and 1855, and some perceptive critics immediately grasped his significance. After his very first concert in London on 7 February 1848 the critic Edward Holmes concluded a review entitled ‘A first impression of the genius of Hector Berlioz’ with the words ‘We feel convinced that renewed hearings of his works will confirm him in opinion as an artist capable of fulfilling the vast responsibilities of his mission, that he will extend the sphere of music, and place its powers in a new light — a consummation devoutly to be wished’. Yet, as has been argued in the page on Berlioz in London, the initial promise of London was not in the end fulfilled during the lifetime of the composer. By the time of his death Berlioz had been largely forgotten in Britain and his music was little performed. It was not until the end of the 1870s that performances started to be given, and it seems that London was responding here to the upsurge of activity that had been taking place for several years in Paris. In any case, the leading role in performing Berlioz in Britain in this period was initially played by German musicians, who had either already settled in Britain (Hallé, Ganz) or came as visitors from the continent (Hans Richter, August Manns).
For the development of interest in Berlioz in Britain and the United States from the late 19th to the mid-20th century the reader is referred to the valuable survey on this site by Michael Wright. After his death, Berlioz took longer to become known and receive recognition in Britain than in either France or Germany, and 1903, the centenary year of the composer’s birth, was not greeted with any special ceremony in London; it was left to German conductors — Hans Richter, Richard Strauss and Felix Weingartner — to give commemorative concerts. It was not until the 1920s that a movement in his favour began to make itself felt. But once that movement had started it grew steadily in time and eventually reached the point where in the post-war period it was in Britain above all that the decisive breakthrough in Berlioz’s fortunes took place. A few names of particular significance might be singled out here. Among conductors two in particular stand out as dedicated advocates of Berlioz, Hamilton Harty and Thomas Beecham; they created and sustained a new interest in his music and started a tradition among British conductors which blossomed in the post-war period and has not faltered since. Among critics and writers particular mention should be made of Tom S. Wotton, the first unequivocal champion of Berlioz in Britain whose views on the composer and his music were based on a deep study of his life and works, as his 1935 book shows. Wotton in his turn was an important influence on Jacques Barzun, French-born but settled in the United States and writing in English, and author of the most comprehensive work published on Berlioz up till then (2 vols., 1950, 3rd revised ed. 1969). Barzun then exercised a major influence on the next generation of Berlioz-scholars in the English-speaking world. By this time the movement in favour of Berlioz was growing and becoming international in scope. Many participated, but three names, all three British, may be singled out as leading champions of Berlioz in the post-war period: the conductor Colin Davis, the writer and critic David Cairns, and the musicologist Hugh Macdonald. Their complementary talents provided Berlioz with an advocacy such as he had not enjoyed before, and the time for the decisive breakthrough had at last arrived. The centenary of the composer’s death in 1969 and the bicentenary of his birth in 2003 were the focal dates around which the movement naturally organised itself.
For the sake of convenience, the coverage of Berlioz champions has been divided into three categories: Biographers and critics, Editors of the musical works, and Conductors. The categories inevitably overlap to some extent, and some individuals were of course active in more than one field. Some have already been covered on the site in different contexts and links are provided to them; all those listed below will be covered in due course.
A prolific writer himself, Berlioz also attracted a profusion of critical interest from early in his career, ranging from uncomprehending hostility (such as that of the notorious Pierre Scudo, the ‘lunatic from the Revue des Deux Mondes’) to perceptive admiration (such as that of Edward Holmes or Ernest Reyer). A selection of articles by contemporaries of Berlioz is reproduced on this site.
From the early 1830s Berlioz started to write articles of an autobiographical kind, and his first book, the Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie of 1844, which covered (in reverse sequence) his trip to Italy of 1831-2 and his travels in Germany in 1842-3, included much material that subsequently found its way into the Memoirs. Biographies of Berlioz started to appear in his lifetime, such as the small book published under the pseudonym of Eugène de Mirecourt by Charles Jacquot (1812-1880), and entitled simply Berlioz (Gustave Havard, Paris, 1856). Though well-intentioned and generally sympathetic to Berlioz, it was full of factual errors, even though Berlioz himself had provided the author with the biographical information (CG nos. 2134, 2186; cf. Memoirs, Post-Scriptum, addressed to Mirecourt, though he is not named). It was precisely the existence of such unreliable biographies which prompted Berlioz, as he says, to set the record straight by writing his own autobiography (Memoirs, Preface). Authoritative biographies of the composer based on serious research only started to appear after his death, and it was in France that the first steps were taken. The following list includes only the most important names (the bibliography on Berlioz is very large), but others will be mentioned incidentally.
(1809-1881) (see also: Auguste
Morel and Berlioz (1869-1881) ; Auguste Morel: documents
on his career ; 3 articles on
(the last 3 documents in French).
Ernest Reyer (1823-1909) (see also: Ernest Reyer and Berlioz (Introduction in English and French); 26 articles by Ernest Reyer (in French)
Adolphe Jullien (1840-1932)
Georges de Massougnes (1842-1919)
Julien Tiersot (1857-1936)
Tom S. Wotton (1862-1939)
Adolphe Boschot (1871-1955)
Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)
David Cairns (1926- )
The majority of Berlioz’s musical works were published in his lifetime, with the conspicuous exception of the full scores of his three operas Benvenuto Cellini, Les Troyens and Béatrice et Bénédict (in the case of the first two the publisher Choudens simply failed to honour his contract with Berlioz). The publications were supervised by himself, and numerous letters have survived from his correspondence with his various publishers. It so happens that the very first letter to have been preserved, dated 25 March 1819 when the young Berlioz was still living in La Côte-Saint-André, is addressed to the music publishers Janet and Cotelle in Paris offering various works for publication: not only was Berlioz composing music from an early age, he was also intending in all seriousness to have these youthful compositions published without delay…
Most of Berlioz’s works were published either by the firm of Schlesinger in Paris, which was taken over in 1846 by Brandus, or by the firm of Richault, also in Paris. As well as publication in Paris many of the works were issued simultaneously in editions in Germany and England: at the time copyright only applied in the country were a work was published (cf. CG no. 1690). For example, the full score of the Damnation of Faust was published in 1854 by Richault in Paris, and at the same time by Cramer & Beale in London and Hofmeister in Leipzig (for the detail of the publication of Berlioz’s scores see the catalogues of Hopkinson and Holoman, both listed in the Bibliography on this site).
In 1854 and 1855, at a time when he was travelling frequently to Germany to give concerts, Berlioz conceived the idea of a complete edition of all his musical works, to be published in Germany in Leipzig, where several publishing houses had their seat. The plan is first mentioned in a letter of 26 June 1854 to his friend Auguste Morel: ‘I am dreaming of a careful German edition by Kistner in Leipzig of all my works. This would cost 20 000 francs’ (CG no. 1771). A letter to his brother-in-law Marc Suat in February of the following year gives more detail about the plan: Berlioz thought of it partly as an investment for the future, in spite of the considerable initial outlay, and partly as a means of preserving his works for posterity in accurate editions; Liszt offered his good offices to help with the project (CG no. 1901; cf. 1907, 1908). Further letters to Liszt in 1855 discuss the plan (CG nos. 1918, 1927, 1965); Berlioz did not have a single publisher in mind, and as well as Kistner he mentions Hofmeister and [Breitkopf and] Härtel, all of them based in Leipzig. In the end the plan fell through, and it was only long after the composer’s death that the plan was taken up again to coincide with the centenary of his birth.
Charles Malherbe (1853-1911) and Felix Weingartner (1863-1942)
Hugh Macdonald (1940- )
‘I find it … very upsetting to hear the majority of my works played under any other conductor except myself’ writes Berlioz in the Memoirs (Post-Scriptum), and he continues: ‘I nearly had a fit when I heard in Prague my overture King Lear conducted by a Kapellmeister of indisputable ability. It was about right… but in this case ‘about right’ is completely wrong’. He spells out the difficulties in giving a faithful rendering of his works: ‘It is precisely their inner fire, their expressiveness and rhythmic originality which have caused them the greatest harm, because of the qualities they require in performance. To play them well the musicians, and especially the conductor, must feel as I do. They require extreme precision combined with irresistible verve, a controlled fire, a dreamlike sensitivity, and an almost morbid melancholy; without these the main features of my works are betrayed or completely obliterated’. His advice to composers was: ‘Do not forget that the conductor is the most dangerous of your interpreters’ (Memoirs, chapter 48), and the point was elaborated in the treatise he wrote on the art of conducting. It was Girard’s incompetent conducting of Harold en Italie in 1834 which impelled Berlioz to take up conducting himself (Memoirs, chapter 45). Hence also the reluctance of Berlioz to publish his scores before he had tested them in performance and been able to demonstrate in his foreign tours how they should be played. His correspondence testifies to his unwillingness to let others take charge of his music (e.g. CG nos. 1543, 1631). He evidently had reservations about Liszt’s conducting of his works in the 1850s, but in Weimar Liszt would not let Berlioz conduct even one performance of Benvenuto Cellini (cf. CG no. 2104).
Liszt may have feared a comparison that would not have been to his advantage. Berlioz was indeed a conductor of exceptional ability, as contemporaries attest. To quote Charles Hallé for example: ‘What a picture [Berlioz] was at the head of his orchestra, with his eagle face, his bushy hair, his air of command, and glowing with enthusiasm. He was the most perfect conductor that I ever set eyes upon, one who held absolute sway over his troops, and played upon them as a pianist upon the keyboard’. But prowess also incited jealousy: ‘For a number of years I have been making new enemies through the superiority I am credited with in the art of conducting orchestras’ wrote Berlioz in 1856 (Memoirs, Post-Scriptum; for one example in Dresden in 1854 see CG no. 1726).
One of the rare conductors to have earned the approval of Berlioz as an interpreter of his music was Johann von Herbeck, who invited him to conduct the Damnation of Faust in December 1866. After the success of the performance Berlioz wrote: ‘So here is one of my scores that is saved. They will perform it now in Vienna under Herbeck’s direction, and he knows it by heart’ (CG no. 3200). But on the other side Berlioz was wary of Jules Pasdeloup as a conductor of his music, though Pasdeloup, undeterred, went on to become a leading advocate of Berlioz after his death. So here is a sobering thought. We shall never know what the music of Berlioz sounded like under his own direction, and we cannot tell what he would have thought of the numerous interpreters whose devoted efforts over many decades helped to make his music known and famous.
Conservatoire and Berlioz: 1869-1914
Berlioz’s operas in France, 1869-1914
Jules Pasdeloup (1819-1887)
Charles Hallé (1819-1895)
Hans von Bülow (1830-1894)
Wilhelm Ganz (1833-1914)
Charles Lamoureux (1834-1899) (see also: Articles and reviews relating to Lamoureux’s concerts [in French])
Édouard Colonne (1838-1910) (see also: Édouard Colonne: textes et documents (1) ; Édouard Colonne: textes et documents (2) [both in French, introduction in English])
Felix Mottl (1856-1911) (see also: Felix Mottl: textes et documents [largely in French; introduction and a few texts in English])
Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) (see on this site: An autograph document of Felix Weingartner)
Pierre Monteux (1875-1964)
Hamilton Harty (1879-1941)
Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)
Charles Munch (1891-1968)
Jean Fournet (1913-2008)
Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996)
Colin Davis (1927-2013)
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir
Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997;
Page Berlioz: Pioneers and Champions created on 15 March 2012; substantial additions made since.
Copyright notice: Unless otherwise stated all the pictures in these pages have been scanned from original photos, engravings, postcards, concert programmes, 19th and early 20th century newspapers, and other documents in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights reserved.
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