When dealing with the works of a musician it is always difficult to know upon which to concentrate. Should the writer be an admirer of the composer, he wishes naturally to dwell on those works which exhibit the highest qualities. On the other hand, as in most cases these are the best known, to discuss them at length savours of supererogation. As regards Berlioz, however, the writer has the dubious satisfaction of knowing that the major portion of his output is not sufficiently familiar to render an account of it superfluous. But one’s difficulties are not lessened on that account. To arouse enthusiasm in the breast of a reader for an unknown work of art, even with copious examples or illustrations, is more than difficult. It verges on the impossible.
The approach to Berlioz is less easy than that to other composers of the nineteenth century, since his principal works cannot be studied at the piano. Wagner declared that his own operas would become popular through the medium of the keyboard instrument, and any one who remembers the early days of the Wagner cult will realize that there was a great deal of truth in the remark. Amateurs learnt more of (say) Tristan and Isolda from Hans von Bülow’s arrangement than from actual performances. Nobody can realize the beauty of The Trojans from the vocal score. It is true that the composer’s own arrangement is bad, but it is doubtful whether a better one would make much difference, for many of Berlioz’s purely orchestral passages cannot be translated adequately into the language of the piano. In one of his letters to Liszt,1 he objected to the latter’s transcription of a passage for the violins in the King Lear overture.
He complained: ‘Whenever this figure appears you use octave triplets. Now, the triplet is quite insufficient to produce the effect of the quavers ; ternary rhythm is there irreconcilable with the deranged mind (caractère échevelé) that I wish to illustrate.’ The triplets also obscure the derivation of the figure from one of the second subjects of the work ; but to play the part as written at the proper tempo (minim = 168) is excessively difficult on the piano. When composing or arranging for the instrument Berlioz was fully aware of his own shortcomings. As regards Cellini, he told Liszt in a letter of 18532 that he himself had undertaken the piano arrangement ‘which I will afterwards submit to some pianist of my acquaintance that he may correct the gaucheries.’ Nevertheless, he preferred to arrange some of his works, since he distrusted arrangers after his experience with Les Francs Juges Overture — see his letter to Hofmeister in the Correspondance inédite [CG no. 472].
In spite, however, of Berlioz’s pianistic clumsiness, I am inclined to think that we shall gain a better insight into the real Berlioz, if we approach him through his songs. By so doing we shall lose something of his wonderful variety, his excursions into fairyland, his colouring, and his illustrations of the grand, the grotesque, or the terrible. But, on the other hand, the variety that remains is great ; we find facets of his genius differing from those in his orchestral works ; and, after a study of those songs, it would seem impossible for any one to deny him the gift of melody, though it may not be always of conventional pattern, or to credit him with that ‘eccentricity’ attributed to him by his opponents for the past hundred years. It is to be regretted that there is no English edition of his songs published at a reasonable price.
Volume xvii of the German edition of his works is devoted to songs for a single voice, of which the piano accompaniments are by the composer himself, with the exception of that to the final version of The Captive, which was originally reduced from the orchestral score by Stephen Heller. This has been replaced in the German edition by an arrangement by one of the editors, with the plea that Heller’s ‘had to be discarded, since it presents differences from the full score’. Possibly ! none the less it was approved by Berlioz. In the volume there are twenty-nine melodies, of which three figure in larger works — the contralto solo, Premiers transports, from the prologue to the Romeo and Juliet Symphony, and from Lélio the Song of Happiness and The Fisherman. (The last named is described as the second version, but this is a slip of the editors. The second version of the song is in the published score of Lélio which appeared in 1855 : that in vol. xvii was first published in 1833.) The volume also contains two versions of The Song of the Bretons composed originally for male chorus, and as such included in the previous volume, but finding a place here on the strength of a direction of Berlioz’s to the effect that it may be sung by a solo voice taking the part of the first tenors. The fine, bold melody would be perhaps more effective transposed a third lower to C, and sung by a baritone. M. Tiersot tells us3 that in the library of the Conservatoire there is a copy of the song for chorus and orchestra marked ‘Orchestration copied by M. Weckerlin for the concerts of the Saint Cecilia Society’, but whether the instrumentation is by Berlioz himself I do not know.
During his lifetime Berlioz brought out five collections of songs — or rather vocal pieces, since they included some duets and choruses — Mélodies irlandaises (afterwards called Irlande), Fleurs des Landes, Les Nuits d’été, Feuillets d’album, and finally 32 (afterwards 33) Mélodies, which included most of the earlier numbers with the addition of The Captive, The Fifth of May, and some others. As it was more reasonable to separate songs for a single voice from choruses, these heterogeneous classifications have been widely ignored in the German edition, and the songs have been arranged in chronological order, not always, it must be confessed, with complete success. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to fix the precise date of composition of many of the songs, and the editors at times give the date of publication, when that of composition may have probably been some years previously. The only one of the primitive collections that displays any homogeneity is Summer Nights (Les Nuits d’été), in which the words are all by Théophile Gautier, and all the songs treat of some phase of love. They require, however, two or three different voices for their adequate performance. These six melodies are amongs the finest that Berlioz ever wrote,4 and, though they are considerably more effective in their orchestral dress, they are charming enough in their original form with piano accompaniment to win adherents to Berlioz, as the present writer can testify. The variety found in the several numbers is wonderful. What greater contrast could we have than that between No. 1, the Villanelle, joyous as the breath of spring, and No. 5, At the Cemetery, with the cold glitter of the moonlight so admirably expressed, not by any cunning orchestral device — there are only two flutes and two clarinets in the score in addition to the strings — but by the harmony and the rigid rhythm of the opening ? Or take No. 3, On the Lagoons, with the recurring C natural, Db, a sort of intermittent pedal on the dominant of the key of the piece (F minor), but persisting throughout the modulations to F major, A major, and A minor. The reiterated wail is in perfect keeping with a Lamento (the sub-title of the song). From a harmonic point of view the proceeding was a bold one at the date of composition,5 and is an example of Berlioz’s foreshadowing of modern methods. There is another at the end of the song, which concludes with the common chord on the dominant of the key of the piece, suggesting a grief that refuses to be comforted. With a change of key to Bb, the middle portion rises to a passionate outburst that the composer seldom surpassed. No. 4, Absence, is certainly one of the songs of the world, despite the carpings of ‘correct mediocrities’ at the irregular resolution of the tritone in the third bar, to which I have already referred. Probably many, like Ernest Newman, will find in the opening phrase a suggestion of distance, as though the lover were calling to his mistress across some vast space. No. 2, The Spectre of a Rose, is the most elaborate of the collection, and for that reason may not make such an immediate appeal. It is a perfect setting of the beautiful words, from which the composer has ‘sucked all the poetry’. And it is difficult to believe that any unbiased lover of music would fail to appreciate the delicate charm of No. 6, The Unknown Land.
The German edition gives two versions of The Spectre of a Rose and At the Cemetery, the latter having apparently caused the composer the greatest trouble in moulding the song to his satisfaction, judging by the variants of particular passages recorded in the commentary to the volume. Some of Berlioz’s corrections were made after he had scored the melodies, and in so doing he reversed the ordinary procedure. Without being in any way dependent on the piano, many composers are tempted to ‘try over’ doubtful passages on the instrument. Berlioz, on the other hand, was only able to express himself freely when unhampered by the keyboard.
The first three songs of vol. xvii are immature, and unlikely to be of much interest to any save students of Berlioz, with the exception of Toi qui l’aimais. This, in spite of its stiff accompaniment, possesses a real charm. As M. Tiersot has pointed out, we find in it an early illustration of Berlioz’s practice of modulating from the major to the minor instead of the usually reverse process. The composer on the title-page announced himself as a ‘pupil of M. Lesueur’, which suggests that the song was published before August 1826, when he was admitted to the Conservatoire and was no longer a private pupil of Lesueur. The last two songs in the volume are settings of identical words — Morning and Little Bird, the latter being a joyous melody in F minor ! Like La Belle Voyageuse and The Young Breton Shepherd, it has that strong affinity with folk-song which, as Schumann observed, is to be found in many of Berlioz’s nelodies. Morning, also commencing in the minor and only passing to the major at the end of each verse, is a more elaborate setting. There is a quaintness in the opening phrase, due principally to the major ninth resolving upwards, and the end of the song supplies a curious instance of tone-painting. To illustrate the warbling of the bird, above an arpeggio of the chord of the dominant the voice holds a high G (the 7th), while the piano trills, first on the B (the 9th) and then on the A (the root).
Amongst other songs in the volume must be noted Les Champs (The Fields or Country), an aubade. It is hard to understand how any one can deny its melodiousness or its joyousness, the latter being a characteristic to be found in many of the songs, and less rarely than in the choral or orchestral works. In these there are many pages that reflect gaiety, cheerfulness, happiness ; but few exhibit the sheer joyousness of The Fields, Little Bird, The Young Breton Shepherd, and the Villanelle. Under what circumstances these songs were composed we do not know, but in the fitness of things Berlioz should have been inspired by the tunes during one of his long tramps in the country, of which he was fond. The melodies give us a glimpse of what he might have given us had his life been ordered differently. The Danish Huntsman is a rousing melody of a somewaht conventional type, suggesting little of the composer save in its instrumentation and the last couplet, in which the notes of the theme are given in augmentation, a device Berlioz uses at times to express something in the nature of a prayer. The orchestral balance is curious, with only eighteen strings (5-5-3-2-3) against the usual wood-wind (with four bassoons), no trumpets, four horns, three trombones, and drums.6 Zaïde is a bolero and is one of Berlioz’s few attempts at local colour, the others being the Siciliana in Beatrice and Benedick and the dance of the Nubian slaves in The Trojans, to which we might add the Rustic Serenade to the Madonna amongst the three pieces for harmonium, and the first theme of the Serenade in the Harold in Italy Symphony. In the Rob Roy Overture he introduces Scots wha hae, but there is nothing Scottish in the treatment of the theme. Some have found an Italian atmosphere in portions of Benvenuto Cellini and elsewhere, but it is hardly local colour in the modern sense. In Zaïde Berlioz caught the Spanish spirit, and the melodiousness of the song is sufficient to make us wonder at its neglect. In vol. xvii there are two versions of it for piano, the orchestral score being in vol. xiv, where it was published for the first time. From a letter to Desmarest7 dated from Vienna, 16 December 1845, we learn that Berlioz sold the German rights to Haslinger, who apparently never exercised them. The former begged Desmarest to offer the French ones to Bernard Latte, who refused them. To prevent their being lost, a hastily engraved edition was published by Berlioz himself, a pitiable necessity for a master at the zenith of his powers ! Two hundred francs was all he asked for the song, his usual price for his Romances.
The Captive and the Elegy stand apart from the rest of the songs for dissimilar reasons. The first should appeal to any musical public ; the second may prove too hard a nut to crack for many of even Berlioz’s admirers, though, in the hands of a clever singer with a sensitive accompanist — the composer thought they had better be one and the same — much might be made of this whirlwind of passion. The song was regarded by Berlioz with something like superstitious awe. As he says in his Memoirs [chapter 18], ‘I believe that I have seldom been able to attain such poignant truth as in its melodic accents, plunged in a tempest of sinister harmonies.’ All composers, for intimate reasons, have a predilection for certain of their compositions.The Elegy was composed when Berlioz had returned from the last of his aimless wanderings some time in January 1830, and, although in his letter to Ferrand of 7 February he speaks of his suffering from the absence of Harriet [CG no. 152], I suspect (entirely without evidence) that Camille was already attracting him in spite of himself, though he would be loath to hint at this even to his best friend. He was undergoing a severe mental struggle. That he commenced his Fantastic Symphony very shortly after the composition of the Elegy, and that the programme of the former was based on his belief in the affreuses vérités he had heard concerning Harriet, would seem to bear out my idea. French writers have taken the ‘F.H.S.’ that heads the first edition of the Elegy as an abbreviation of For Henrietta Smithson, but F is also the initial letter of Farewell. To quit the realms of fancy, the Elegy, whatever may be the reason for Berlioz’s peculiar regard for it, cannot be numbered amongst his best compositions, if only because the turmoil of his emotions could not be adequately expressed in music. The Captive, apart from its melodious merits, is of interest both because it can be considered as a miniature symphonic poem, foreshadowing the methods of Liszt and Strauss, and because it is a good example of the development of a musical thought. The German edition gives three versions. The first, much as was jotted down in the inn at Subiaco, and sung by Mlle Louise Vernet at the Villa Medici ; the second, as sung by Mlle Falcon at Berlioz’s concert of 23 November 1834, with a ’cello accompaniment played by Desmarest ; the third, in is orchestral shape and practically a new composition, as the composer insisted to Liszt, sung first in London (29 June 1848) by Madame Pauline Viardot.
Of Berlioz’s duets for solo voices only one is of real musical value — The Snare (Le Trébuchet), a delicious little scherzo in 6/8 time for soprano and contralto. With this we may connect two pieces for female chorus in two parts — the Morning Prayer, a setting of Lamartine’s words, and The Death of Ophelia, one of the three numbers included in Tristia, the others being the Religious Meditation for six-part chorus, and the superb Funeral March for the last scene of Hamlet, which is a good example of Saint-Saëns’s dictum that no one can imagine the effect of Berlioz’s scores from the mere reading. The Morning Prayer justifies its title of Chœur d’enfants in that it possesses the child-like simplicity of some of Herrick’s verses. The Death of Ophelia was written originally for a solo voice, and as such figures in vol. xvii of the German edition. It is perhaps a better form for the pathetic melody with its curious wailing refrain, but it contains too many verses, a fault corrected when arranged for a chorus with orchestral accompaniment.
In a previous chapter I have referred to the physical shock of falling into the Tiber acting as a catalyst which induced a musical reaction in Berlioz. This was in respect of the refrain for The Fifth of May. For weeks he had tried to find a melody that satisfied him. Then two years later, he slipped into the Tiber, and as he dragged himself out, wet and muddy, he realized that he was singing the melody he had previously sought in vain, to the words :
Pauvre soldat, je reverrai la France ;
La main d’un fils me fermera les yeux.
(Poor soldier, I shall see France once more ; the hand of a son shall close my eyes.)
What particular lady had enthralled him when he had failed to find an appropriate tune, we do not know, but obviously she was not such an effective source of inspiration as the cold bath in Rome. In A travers chants he tells the tale, and explains the train of thought. On first falling into the river he felt sure he would drown — he would not ‘see France once more !’ Then, on discovering that he was in no peril, the revulsion of feeling started ‘the inexplicable mechanism within him’, and he conceived the melody that expressed his relief. The explanation is simple, but we are no nearer to understanding what the inexplicable mechanism really is. The work, for bass solo, chorus, and orchestra, was first called The Death of Napoleon, and was a favourite in Germany. It is certainly worthy of revival.8 An extract is given in the Treatise, which affords an excellent example of the constant retouches Berlioz gave to his scores. The published score differs from the extract : in the fourth and sixth bars after the division of the double-basses into four, he places above the D for the two flutes in unison an F with an A for the trumpets, marked p > pp, without a sf. As in his arrangement of the Rakoczy March, Berlioz uses the bass drum (specified as ‘very large’ in the published score) to imitate distant cannon, and marks against the four notes in the part ‘Coups de canon lointain’ as a direction to the drummer, who knowing what he was imitating would be careful to hit his instrument full in the centre, to ensure the requisite deep tone. This has led to a ludicrous mistake in a modern book on orchestration, in which an excerpt is given from the extract in Berlioz’s Treatise as an example of ‘the employment of the unusual orchestral instrument’ a Distant Cannon. If indications are to be confused with instruments, we may expect examples of the use of the unusual orchestral instrument, the Pizzicato.
It is to be deplored that it is not the custom — at least in England — to include amongst the orchestral items of a concert short choral works. From a musical point of view they would often be of greater interest than the majority of solos with which we are favoured. The Fifth of May is, as I have said, worthy of revival, and — confining ourselves to Berlioz’s works — a performance of Sara la baigneuse by a well-trained choir, proud of its sotto voce, should be as successful as it was in 1850. The ballad was composed originally for male quartet, apparently with orchestral accompaniment, for, in a letter to Ferrand of 31 August 1834 [CG no. 408], Berlioz said that he ‘had just finished several pieces for voices and orchestra which will figure, he hopes, in his next concert’, which took place on 9 November, when, in addition to Sara la baigneuse, La Belle Voyageuse (also for male quartet) was given. These two versions are no longer in existence. The latter has reassumed its pristine shape — a song for solo voice, while the former has been cast into two forms — one for three choirs and orchestra, and the other a duet, with the accompaniment arranged from the orchestral score. The ballad in its choral form has some affinity with the Chorus of Sylphs in The Damnation of Faust and though the Parisian critics objected that the poem was more fitted for delivery by a single voice, that need not prevent us from enjoying the lazy waltz-like melody with its beautiful termination.
Some have wondered at Berlioz’s utilization and rearrangement of old material. Whatever the reason, it certainly did not arise from poverty of invention. There can be no doubt that he composed fluently, but at the same time was severely self-critical. For the refrain of The Fifth of May we may safely suppose that he composed a dozen melodies, none of which satisfied him. That he should have regarded his prix de Rome cantatas and his early or discarded works in the nature of note-books, from which he could extract some melody or theme suited to his present purpose, need cause no surprise — most composers must have done much the same thing. I would rather insist on the unerring appropriateness of his selection. The Harold theme, for example, depicts the character precisely, and yet it has served previously to illustrate in the first place something connected with Diana Vernon (in the Rob Roy Overture) and then with Marie Stuart (in a piece for Urhan’s viole d’amour and afterwards for Paganini’s viola — we know nothing definite in respect to these). To detail Berlioz’s employment of passages that had already appeared in one or other of his previous works would be beyond the scope of this book. At times the resemblances between earlier and later material probably arose unconsciously. Thus, the second half of the cor anglais solo of The Roman Carnival commences with five bars he had already used in Cleopatra, the fourth one being modified. Here it is difficult to imagine him deliberately reviewing his past scores, searching for something wherewith to continue his melody — we must not forget that what we know of his early work probably only represents a tithe of what he had in his portfolios. It is simpler to believe that, when he composed the love duet in Benvenuto Cellini (from which the cor anglais solo is taken), he had penned those five bars before he had realized that he had written them before. A better example is to be found in Cassandra’s second air in The Trojans, where, as M. Tiersot has pointed out, there are a dozen bars very closely resembling those in the final air of The Death of Sardanapalus.9 Mr. Ernest Newman has remarked on the tendency of composers to express the same or similar ideas in much the same way. And Berlioz, whose style altered little during his career, must have been rather liable to do so. In the above-cited airs both Sardanapalus and Cassandra are reflectling on past happiness which cannot be recaptured. The employment of another theme from the cantata comes in a different category. We cannot imagine Berlioz being inspired by the words of L’Impériale, a cantata in praise of Napoleon III. Then he recalls the second air of Sardanapalus commencing with the words Le roi des rois ... (again a similarity of sentiment), and, as it fits the words of L’Impériale, proceeds to utilize it. He would have cause to remember the theme, for in all likelihood it was the one to which Mendelssohn objected in Rome.
Two of Berlioz’s cantatas written in vain attempts to gain the prix de Rome are published in the German edition — Herminia and Cleopatra. The former, as I have said, ought certainly to have won him the prize in 1828. In it we find the first appearance of the idée fixe of the Fantastic Symphony, which, as I have suggested elsewhere,10 was probably part of some composition written during his boyhood, when he was hopelessly enamoured of Estelle. This idea is partly corroborated in the cantata itself, for in several passages the words of the poem appear to be forced to fit the theme, instead of the reverse process. From a purely musical point of view the cantata of the preceding year, The Death of Orpheus, though exhibiting a greater lack of experience, is better than Herminia, in which Berlioz strove to conform to the academic ideas of his examiners. That he should have composed the former after only one year’s discipline at the Conservatoire is amazing ! The future composer of The Trojans had already found himself. That his judges refused him a prize is, however, perfectly understandable, though their excuse, that it was inexécutable, was ridiculous. The score is no more complicated than many works of the time, but the pianist chosen to interpret it for the benefit of the non-musical members of the jury — and apparently some of the musical ones — was incapable of performing his task. The sub-title of the cantata, Monologue et bacchanale, was almost enough to damn the work in the eyes of those who demanded the regulation formal airs. It would be of interest to know how Jean Baptiste Guiraud, the winner of the prize, set the poem. Did his Bacchantes express their regret at having to tear Orpheus to pieces in a ladylike chorus ?
The cantata has been given with success at Paris and Strasburg, but, since it is practically unknown, a somewhat detailed account of it seems necessary. The original manuscript is not in existence, but a copy of it, with three notes in Berlioz’s handwriting, was sold to a Marseilles amateur in 1885. The editors of the German edition made attempts to trace that copy, but without success. M. Boschot was more fortunate, and a few years ago found the missing score, which he presented to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. In 1930 the Réunion des Bibliothèques Nationales issued a beautiful photographic reproduction of a copy made by the photographer of the first copy (probably too much ill-used to admit of a clear reproduction), with Berlioz’s three autograph notes preserved. The first of these, on the title-page, is a translation of Moore’s four-lined verse, of which the last two are :
The sunflower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look she turn’d when he rose.
These Berlioz wrote (in English) at the foot of a photograph of himself, which he sent to Mme Fornier (Estelle) forty years later. It is not far-fetched to believe that she inspired the cantata, and that some of the phrases of the Monologue were taken from the love-songs of his boyhood. The second note is the sarcastic one telling how the work declared to be inexécutable by the Musical Section of the Institute was exécuté on 22 July 1828. As we know, the performance did not actually take place, owing to the illness of Dupont, the tenor. None the less, the rehearsals were sufficient to confound the examiners. The last note refers to the final ‘Tableau musical’.
The cantata commences with an Introduction of forty-four bars (Larghetto, the last sixteen being Allegretto) which foreshadows the work. It depicts a scene in the country with the chirpings of birds (a little figure for the first bassoon is labelled ‘Turtle-dove’) on the wood-wind above a smooth arpeggio accompaniment for the strings. After a dozen bars of Berliozian modulations, it returns to the key of the piece (D major) and there enters the principal theme of the Monologue on the violas in unison with a horn and a couple of flutes. This is followed by an agitated passage in which appears the theme of the Bacchantes, which, in whole or part, is very prominent throughout the cantata.
It is a true leitmotiv, and may be considered as the earliest use of one employed systematically. That there should be no mistake as to its meaning, the first eight notes immediately follow Orpheus’s first words — ‘Prêtresses de Bacchus’. It is absent during the Monologue itself, but appears again in the subsequent recitative, and forms in one shape or another practically the whole of the accompaniment to the Bacchanal. The Monologue is an address by Orpheus to his lyre which in less rhapsodical form Berlioz rewrote as the Chant de bonheur of Lélio. Appropriately, the harp and pizzicato strings figure prominently in the accompaniment in the cantata. Up to the end of the Monologue the only instruments employed are the usual wood-wind (with four bassoons), two horns, harp, and strings. It concludes softly on the common chord of A. It is followed immediately by a fortissimo chord of the minor 9th on the same note for two cornets, two trumpets, two horns, and three trombones, which is repeated after two bars’ rest by the same instruments forte, but muted, with ‘Écho’ marked against their parts. ‘Quels cris affreux’, exclaims Orpheus, and we may be certain he expressed the opinion of the examiners. Here surely we have the first employment of the cornet,11 and the first use of a mute for the trombone ; the latter is usually deemed quite a modern effect. For the Bacchanal kettle-drums and three pairs of cymbals are added to the orchestra, and the two flutes change to piccolos. The movement (Allegro assai agitato) is in C minor, and commences quietly with Orpheus’s song begging Apollo to assist him. The fierce chorus (for female voices in four parts) of the Bacchantes soon joins in, and the two run concurrently till Orpheus expires with ‘Eurydice’ on his lips. The bloodthirsty ladies with a cry of Victory on a long-drawn chord of C major disperse, and we have one of those long decrescendos, of which Berlioz was fond, ending on a G for the flute with a C on the ’cellos two octaves and a fifth below. (Compare the ‘Hostias’ of the Requiem). The score of eighty-two pages ends with a ‘Tableau musical’, which is Ex. 34 of the Treatise, a semitone lower, and in somewhat simpler form. A footnote explains its significance — the wind caressing the strings of Orpheus’s broken lyre, while a Thracian shepherd attempts to recall the theme of the first song on his pipe. It may be added that the clarinet is not directed to be enveloped in a bag.
This recently discovered score should make us view Berlioz from a fresh angle. Although still inexperienced, he was undoubtedly himself as early as 1827. In the fragment we possess of the early Mass, we have indeed the germ of the fanfare of the Requiem, but the preceding ‘Resurrexit’ is not characteristic — M. Tiersot finds in it a likeness to Rossini ! In the cantata, the harmony, modulations, orchestration, melody, and general conception are truly Berliozian. It was the only one of his attempts to gain the prix de Rome in which he was himself. In Herminia he tried to please his judges — failing because he could not imagine any one wishing a prayer to be set as an Allegro con brio ; the greater part of Cleopatra was, I fancy, equally intended to please, but he was unable to resist the temptation of the realistic touches in the death scene and the introduction of the Invocation ; for Sardanapalus he was also careful, adding the scene of the conflagration only after the cantata was accepted.
Before leaving the cantatas, mention must be made of a point of interest connected with the prayer in Herminia. Berlioz had a peculiar affection for it, and, to save it from oblivion, arranged it for six-part chorus to words by Gounet, imitated from a poem by Moore. With piano accompaniment the Sacred Song was included in Irlande. Twenty years later it was instrumentated, and was performed apparently for the first time at Marseilles in December 1843. At Berlioz‘s concert of 3 February 1844 was given a Hymn for six wind-instruments, two clarinets (soprano and bass), two bugles (large and small), a small trumpet, and a saxophone, all of them recent inventions of Sax. From the notice in La Gazette musicale of 11 February 1844 we learn that this was the Sacred Song ; but how the vocal parts were arranged for the instruments we can only guess. The Hymn was not a success, and was replaced at Berlioz‘s next concert (on 1 April) by a fantasia of William Tell, which probably pleased Sax much more. The interest of the Hymn lies in the fact that Berlioz in all probability was the first composer to employ the saxophone, now alas ! so vulgarized, but possessing extraordinary powers of expression, and, controlled by artistic lips, a beauty of tone all its own. Lavoix and the text-books name Kastner as the first to use the instrument, in his biblical opera Le dernier roi de Juda. But this was not performed (in concert form) till 1 December, ten months after Berlioz‘s concert.
The Funeral March for the last scene of Hamlet has already been mentioned. It is one of the many compositions of Berlioz that must be heard for its proper appreciation. The composer himself never heard it, for he could not trust himself to conduct it, since he associated it with the death of his father. I have italicized the word, because I do not believe that he in any way considered it as a funeral march for his father. Indeed, to connect it with the burial of a quiet country doctor would be inappropriate. The score is dated ‘Paris, 22 September 1848’, and M. Boschot attributes its inception to a performance of Hamlet that Berlioz saw at Riga in May of the preceding year. That may well be, though it is not unlikely that he sketched the march as early as 1827, when he saw Harriet as Ophelia. Dr. Berlioz died on 28 July 1848. The piece is headed by the speech of Fortinbras at the end of the play, and his command, ‘Go, bid the soldiers shoot’, justifies the direction as to the volley-firing at the culminating point. The chorus — labelled in the French edition merely as ‘Femmes et Hommes’ — have a small but effective part, merely a series of ‘Ahs’ at irregular intervals, varying from a sigh or moan to a cry of despair. The end of the march is most impressive. To quote Mr. Christopher Wilson,12 ‘after a terrific triple forte effect, there is a dead silence ; then a long, deep, sustained note ; then occur about twenty bars of the most hopelessly despairing music I have ever heard, and then the drums take up their dreadful figure, and so the whole march winds to a close. It does not end on any note of hope. There is no thought of a glorious resurrection — all is lost, hopeless, despairing,’ As befitting the somewhat military character of the piece, six snare-drums are specified in the score, and these in the French edition are directed to be sans timbre (muffled), a highly important indication ! Even the most unmusical realize the difference between the typical sharp rattle of the side (snare) drum in its normal condition and the dull sound of the instrument when muffled for a military funeral. The direction is omitted in the German edition, and hence forty-eight bars out of the hundred and eighteen are not as Berlioz wished, and the complexion of the piece is altered.
The first number of Tristia is the Religious Meditation for six-part chorus and orchestra, on words adapted from Moore. It was composed in Rome in August 1831.13 From a letter to Hiller of 1 January 1832 [CG no. 256], it was originally accompanied by seven wind-instruments, and was written one day when the composer was ‘dying of the spleen’. He then called the piece a ‘Psalmody for those who have suffered much and whose soul is sad unto death’. He had not yet recovered from the blow that Camille had dealt him. Thirty-three years afterwards he told Ferrand that he believed the chorus to be une chose — something of merit. One may not entirely agree with him : but the point to which I would draw attention is Berlioz’s fondness for setting words of a religious or quasi-religious nature. It is true that we know the Requiem and the Te Deum, but these are too often criticized from the sensational or dramatic point of view. Even if the religious feeling be grudgingly admitted, it is denounced as being pagan, without regard to the fact that the emotion of a so-called heathen may be as deep and sincere as that of many a Christian. It would be impossible to discriminate between the emotions of an Egyptian maiden kneeling before the shrine of Isis with the infant Horus and those of the same maiden, now converted to Christianity, bowing down before the image of the Virgin and Child, very often economically the self-same image. Christianity, or at any rate medieval Christianity, introduced an emotion absent from many of the older religions, that of terror, and it must be admitted that Berlioz at times was inclined to accentuate this feature. On the other hand, it cannot be said that he neglected other aspects of the Christian creed. That he himself was a free-thinker hardly enters into the question. He had been a pious believer in his boyhood, and it would be no more difficult for him to recall his early impressions than for a staunch Protestant to enter into the feelings of a devout Catholic during the Mass. In chapter xl of his Memoirs Berlioz tells us of the effect that the psalmody of a procession of pilgrims had upon him as a boy of sixteen, when he first experienced that terrible mal de l’isolement from which he suffered all his life. In several of his works he introduces a psalmody. He suggests it in the Pilgrims’ March, and has one in Cellini and the Funeral Procession of Juliet ; the two reiterated notes for the Chorus in the Offertory carry out the same idea ; and I would trace his partiality for monotone in some of the chorus parts to the same cause, such as at the end of the first number of the Requiem, and even in secular works like the Chorus of Sylphs and Sara la baigneuse.
The Veni Creator and the Tantum ergo (Ger. ed., vol. vii) are of no value, but the Hymn for the Consecration of the New Tabernacle is worthy of mention, if only because we do not usually connect Berlioz with Hymns Ancient and Modern. It is a hymn-tune of sixteen bars, and as such could be included in any hymnal.14 If, as some would have it, Berlioz loved to sup on horrors, he certainly dined more liberally on things appertaining to religion, and he probably derived the habit from Lesueur.
Two more choruses should not be forgotten — the Hymn to France and The Menace of the Franks, a stirring march that seems to have escaped the attention of band-masters. As, except for a couple of bars at the end, the voice parts merely double the instrumental ones, the music suffers little from their omission, though the effect is greater when the double chorus (one for male and the other for mixed voices) is employed. As to the arrangement of the orchestral score for military band, from his approval of Wieprecht’s arrangement of Les Francs Juges Overture for military band, Berlioz had no objection to such a proceeding on occasion. The Hymn to France, with its refrain which La Gazette musicale declared should become a national proverb, is set to music sufficiently universal to justify the change of title in the German edition to A Hymn for Fatherland, though a purist might object that Anglo-Saxons usually associate their native country with their maternal relative. The work, written for one of Berlioz’s festival concerts with 1,200 performers, is conceived on the broadest lines and is in reality one long crescendo. The melody is the same for all the verses, sung first by the tenors, then the sopranos, then the basses with the other voices breaking in at times, and finally for the chorus in unison, the accompaniment growing richer with every verse. Berlioz certainly possessed the art of writing for a large number of performers, and yet, on the other hand, he seemed equally capable of expressing himself with the most restricted means, in spite of his remark to Schumann already quoted.
If any work of Berlioz requires to be heard with the ears of their original audience, it is Lélio. It contains much good music, but the rhapsodical nature of the monologue seems at times absurd to a modern audience. It must be admitted, however, that, given as Berlioz intended, with a stage setting and a clever actor for the part of Lelio, some of the absurdity is lessened. After all, the rodomontade is no greater than that which is to be found in Hugo’s Hernani, produced two years before. And, unlike the play, the words of Lélio do not appear to have aroused any fierce opposition except maybe from Fétis and his friends, who cannot have enjoyed the diatribe against those ‘who dared lay a hand on original works, subjecting them to horrible mutilations, which they called corrections and improvements, demanding much taste’. This was in reference to the alterations Fétis had made in Beethoven’s symphonies, the words italicized being the critic’s own. In scheming the Monodrame lyrique Berlioz probably at first intended no more than to carry out the same plan that had proved successful with the Fantastic Symphony — to devise some programme that would enable him to introduce pieces from several sources that he thought worthy of preservation. Amongst those pieces he included the Invocation from Cleopatra — the number which had lost him the prix de Rome in 1829, and two things from the ‘unplayable’ cantata The Death of Orpheus — a more complicated version of Orpheus’s first air, and the instrumental piece. Berlioz flung down the gauntlet to his examiners musically, and some of the monologue was equally defiant. The overture to The Tempest (as it was first called) did not receive a fair hearing when it was produced on 7 November 1830, because a real tempest had broken out over Paris the same day. So that was included in his hotch-potch, and, as it contains excellent music, it might well be given as a separate item, when a chorus is available. The Brigands’ Song and The Fisherman (with piano accompaniment, to words adapted from Goethe) are the remaining numbers of this strange work. The first is a savage, roystering ditty with little in common with those associated with the brigands of opéra bouffe ; the second, in the revised version of the song given in vol. xvii of the German edition, takes a worthy place amongst Berlioz’s melodies. It is to be noted, as illustrating the attitude of the audience of 1832, that the prefatory remarks to the Brigands’ Song, in which Lelio expresses a passionate desire to be one of those outlaws, and the picture of ‘distraught women, palpitating with terror ... blood and lagrima-christi’ and such-like, met with applause.
Lélio may be valuable as giving us an insight into Berlioz’s state of mind on his return from Italy. But I would rather regard it, as suggested above, as a gesture of defiance to those who had so persistently and so unjustly deprived him of the prix de Rome. It was a sort of Credo, like his well-known one of later years. He was no longer a student, but a full-fledged musician, and as such was entitled to express his opinions as much as the musical members of the Academy. He attacked Fétis for his attitude towards Beethoven, but most, if not all, of Berlioz’s examiners were tarred with the same brush. Even Lesueur, who had been carried away by a performance of the C minor symphony, afterwards changed his opinion of its merits. In any case Berlioz seems to have looked upon Lélio as a pièce d’occasion with respect to much of the monologue, for he never introduced the Monodrame into any of his concerts till 1855, when in February he gave two concerts in Weimar. In the second of these Lélio followed the Fantastic Symphony in its proper stage setting. For the performance he cut the monologue liberally, and introduced many retouches in the music. On the French edition of the score is the mention that this performance at Weimar was the first one. It was apparently the last under Berlioz’s direction.
1. Au milieu du chemin, p. 75 [CG no. 1593].
2. Briefe an Franz Liszt, i, p. 262 [CG no. 1568].
3. ‘Berlioziana’ [Le Ménéstrel, 19 November 1905].
4. Noverllo has published an English edition of the collection.
5. The German edition gives it as 1834, but Tiersot in ‘Berlioziana’ [Le Ménestrel, 5 November 1905] declares that he can find no warranty for this date. The collection was first published in 1841.
6. The disposition of the orchestra is given in the commentary that heads vol. xv in the German edition. The number of strings is never marked in the scores themselves, save in the case of the four ‘architectural’ works, the editors professing to believe that conductors would be too frightened to perform the others, if they knew that at times Berlioz demanded at least sixty strings !
7. Given in La Revue musicale, 15 Aug. 1903 [CG no. 1011].
8. In the full score in the German edition (vol. xiii) there is a serious error of omission in the seventh bar. Here the tempo indication should be ‘Moderato (crotchet = 92)’. to continue the Larghetto beyond the third pause would be fatal to the music.
9. We do not possess the score of the cantata, but M. Tiersot discovered in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris the manuscript of the concluding half of the final air together with the first draft of the orchestral episode that Berlioz added after the cantata had been accepted. (See ‘Berlioziana’, Le Ménestrel, 16 and 30 Sept. 1906.)
10. Berlioz — Four Works.
11. Spontini said in a letter : ‘From 1823 to 1831, I sent from Berlin to Paris a number of piston-horns, and trumpets or cornets with two or three pistons or valves (the first known in Paris).’
12. Shakespeare and Music.
13. In both the French and German editions the metronome time is given as a crotchet equalling 54 ; but in the 33 Mélodies, in which the chorus is given with an accompaniment for piano, violin, and ’cello, the time is increased to 66.
14. The words are by J. H. Vries, a mulatto who came to Paris in 1858, and, under the name of Dr. Noir, was credited with having effected some startling cures. Berlioz followed his treatment for a time, but it afforded him no relief from his infernales coliques. Vries was also a religious fanatic, who dreamt of some Tabernacle of marble, which was never built.
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