The Hector Berlioz Website

Berlioz: Pioneers and Champions

Tom S. Wotton

Hector Berlioz



    Such was the magnetic character of Berlioz’s conducting that Wagner doubted whether any of his works would survive, divorced from his personal direction, with the possible exception of the Funeral and Triumphal Symphony, for which the German master had a whole-hearted admiration. As far as I am aware, Wagner left no record of the French composer’s methods, although he had ample opportunity for observing them in Dresden in 1843. Anton Seidl,1 however, with Cosima Wagner as his informant, has given us a pen-and-ink picture that will serve :

As conductor of his own compositions he was incomparable. Cosima Wagner has often related how he brought to his rehearsals a tremendous command of the minutiæ of orchestral technics, a wonderful ear for delicate effects and tonal beauty, and an irresistible power of command. Upon all who heard or played under him he exerted an ineradicable influence. His music, frequently rugged in contrasts and daring leaps, is also insinuating and suave at times, and so too was his conducting ; one moment he would be high in the air, the next crouched under his desk ; one moment he would menace the drummer, and the next flatter the flautist ; now he would draw long threads of sound out of the violinists, and anon lunge through the air at the double-basses, or with some daring remark help the violoncellists to draw a cantilena of love-longing out of their thick-bellied instruments. His musicians feared him and his demoniac sarcastic face, and wriggled to escape from his talons.

There may be some slight exaggeration in the above — his ‘demoniac’ features would seem to be somewhat belied by his portraits, and the ‘fear’ of his musicians must have been tempered with admiration for a man who drew from them all that was best in them. And we must remember that the description applied more particularly to his conduct at rehearsal, with German orchestras, to whom Berlioz, ignorant of their language, would seek to convey his meaning by gesticulation. He indulged in fewer gestures at performance, according to César Cui’s account in La Gazette de Saint-Pétersbourg of 6 December 1867,2 on the occasion of Berlioz’s second visit to Russia. Cui, after having declared that he preferred Berlioz’s conducting of Beethoven to that of Wagner, often finding in the latter affectation and rallentandos of ‘dubious sentimentality’, continues :

In regard to his own works, Berlioz, in conducting them, reveals to us a new world, which an assiduous reading of his scores had not enabled us to perceive. From the plastic point of view, what simplicity in the pose, what sobriety and at the same time what precision of gesture !

Rimsky-Korsakov, in My Musical Life, corroborates this, ‘Berlioz’s beat was simple, clear, beautiful. No vagaries in shading.’ He adds, however, that Balakirev told him that at rehearsals Berlioz behaved strangely, that ‘he would lose himself and beat three instead of two, or vice versa’. This is not at all improbable. Much the same thing happened at the rehearsals of The Damnation of Faust in Vienna two years before, when he had cried to Herbeck (who had conducted the preliminary rehearsals) that he was malade à mort. At the performance, however, he was himself again, and conducted with brilliant success. He was equally sick unto death in Russia, and had to drag himself from his bed to attend rehearsals. The ‘sobriety of gesture’ which Cui observed conflicts with the exuberance described by Seidl. I have, however, partially explained that, and in his younger days, Berlioz may have gesticulated more freely, since Henri Kling,3 who say him conduct in the 1850’s says, ‘The Master conducted the chorus and orchestra with very exuberant movements of his two arms, and with a beautiful rhythmic precision’.

    Detailed descriptions of Berlioz’s methods of conducting are hard to find, though it was universally agreed that the results were excellent. How he arrived at them does not now concern us. What is of importance is his ‘beautiful rhythmic precision’, i.e. his observance of strict time. Berlioz undoubtedly meant his indicated tempos to be closely observed, and held throughout the movement, except where otherwise directed. This naturally does not mean, as he explains in The Art of the Conductor, that one must follow the indication ‘with the mathematical regularity of a metronome’, since ‘all music executed under those conditions would be of a glacial frigidity’. He even doubts ‘whether it would be possible to retain this monotonous uniformity for more than a limited number of bars’. He wanted that poised flexibility that Toscanini exhibited in a Tristan excerpt ‘with hardly a moment’s deviation from the tempo of the opening’. Rubato he detested, declaring that it made him feel as though he were dancing on a slack wire. Over his metronomic indications he took the greatest care, and in the 33 Mélodies, published at the end of his life, we find several numbers and passages, where he had readjusted the figures he gave in the original editions — a fact ignored by the editors of the German one. The idea that, if an interpreter undertands a composer’s music, he will instinctively grasp the correct tempo, is no doubt correct. But a conductor, for instance, is often called upon to give performances of works with which he has no great sympathy, and in that case he wants every assistance the composer can give him. A moment’s reflection is enough to realize that crotchet = 100 (or whatever the metronomic indication happens to be) is the only definite indication in the whole of a score. No system of notation is sufficiently exact to enable a composer to explain the precise accent he requires for a sfz, or the degree of force he wishes for a p or an mf. Slight modifications of the metronome time may occasionally be desirable, depending on the number of performers and the acoustical properties of the concert-hall. Berlioz realized this, when he directed a smaller number of strings for the Queen Mab scherzo, if the orchestra chanced to be a very large one.

    On the Berlioz revival in Paris in the 1870’s both Saint-Saëns and Reyer objected to some of the tempi adopted by the conductors, simply because they had heard the pieces given under Berlioz himself, and knew that they sounded better at the indicated speed. Later, Saint-Saëns, in a notice of a performance of the Requiem at the Trocadéro under Weingartner, sometime during the first decade of the present century, said :

Never was I able to recapture the impression that the Tuba mirum made on me, when I had heard it formerly at Saint-Eustache under Berlioz’s direction. This was because the indications of the composer were not strictly observed.4

He then proceeded to explain that the initial tempo is moderato, becoming an andante maestoso on entry of the four orchestras of brass, when the time is half as slow, two bars of the latter equalling one of the former.5. He complained that the Andante is often taken as a Moderato,

and the terrible fanfare, if it does not become, as some one has dared to suggest, un départ pour la chasse, could well accompany the entrance of a sovereign into his capital, for the composer, in order to give this fanfare michelangelic character, has not resorted to the facile sombreness of the minor ; it rings out in the splendour of the major, and only a great amplitude in the tempo can preserve its grandiose physiognomy, its impression of terror.

It may be added that Berlioz evidently took great care over the precise time, since he altered the value of his crotchet for the fanfare from 70, when it appeared first in his early Mass, to 72 in the Requiem.

    No composer can be indifferent to the tempo of his movements. He calculates his effects on the understanding that his music is to be played at some particular pace, just as a film producer relies on the reel being unwound at a definite speed. Probably Berlioz, with his keen sense of rhythm (in its largest sense) was more solicitous than most composers that his tempi should be strictly observed. And we must not forget that, as with all his other indications, he had many opportunities of testing his metronome figures. Girard’s failure to observe the correct times in the Harold in Italy Symphony on its first performance decided Berlioz to conduct his works himself in the future. This inability to follow Berlioz’s directions is still to be found amongst Parisian conductors, according to M. Maurice Cauchie,6 who complains of the outrageous speed at which The Roman Carnival is usually taken, opposed alike to the clarity of the details and the character of the themes. He wondered at this ‘massacre of notes’ until he possessed a metronome and found that Berlioz’s tempo (156 for the dotted crotchet) corresponded to that which he had worked out for himself. Apparently this unwarranted quickening of the time is not unknown in Germany, if we may trust the ‘Philharmonia’ edition, in which the duration of the overture is said to be six and a half minutes ! As the bars are numbered in the score, it is an easy matter to arrive at the correct duration. It is eight and a half minutes — just under five minutes for the two Allegri, and the rest for the Andante. (It is necessary to make this division, since it is obviously possible to obtain the proper duration by dragging the Andante and scurrying for the Allegro.)

    Other examples might be given, and no doubt some might be adduced by the reader himself, where Berlioz’s music has been injured or distorted owing to its being taken at the wrong speed, or by the introduction of unmarked accelerandos and rallentandos. Had Berlioz not been a first-class conductor, or had he published his scores before he had heard a note of them, there might be good reason for seeking to ‘improve’ them. But an iconoclastic conductor has no such excuses. A good conductor would probably give a better account of one of Ravel’s works than that given under the composer’s direction. But then M. Ravel does not claim to be a practised chef d’orchestre. On the other hand, it is difficult to picture a musician, after having heard a Strauss work under Richard Strauss himself, deliberately presenting it in another fashion, even though his interpretation may be impressed with his own individuality.

    It is but a step from conductors to editors. Both should present their composer faithfully. But whereas in the case of the former, errors of judgement or lack of understanding have only a transitory effect, those of editors are preserved in permanent form, and unfortunately there are many who will take the alterations and additions of the editor as emanating from the composer himself, charitably refusing to credit a man with solemnly declaring an edition to be faithful, when he knows the statement to be false. How far a conductor is entitled to make alterations in a score is a nice point that cannot be discussed here. At times, from financial reasons, he may not have control of the forces the score commands, and therefore is compelled to effect modifications not anticipated by the composer. He may not possess four bassoons, and has to make shift with two. He may achieve excellent results with his reduced means, but nothing can justify the marking only two bassoons in an edition purporting to be faithful, if only because another conductor, who has four bassoons at his command, may conscientiously refrain from employing two of them, believing he is carrying out the composer’s wishes by so doing. If Dr. Weingartner for performances of The Damnation of Faust elects to substitute for the two ophicleides of the Drinking Chorus, Trombone I and Tuba, and for the Amen Fugue, Trombones I and III (playing alternately) and Tuba, we may deplore his choice, but no irreparable harm is done. To introduce such alterations into an edition purporting to be faithful is indefensible, even if the substitution were the universal practice. But it is by no means universal ! Fritz Volbach, in a footnote to Das moderne Orchester, strongly objects to the substitution, declaring that it is ‘inadvisable (untunlich) on account of the totally different tone-quality’. He himself uses two euphoniums (tubas) for the two ophicleide parts. We may be sure that a man of Volbach’s reputation found many German conductors to agree with him. Édouard Colonne, who gave some hundred and fifty performances of The Damnation of Faust, invariably employed two tubas, as I have a private letter to witness. At the Opéra, where the number of stage performances of the work is well over the century, Colonne’s example is followed, and more than probably the custom is general throughout France.

    In Les Grotesques de la musique Berlioz tells the story of an amateur, who approached him after the second performance of the Legend in Dresden (26 April 1854), and innocently inquired whether the Amen Fugue were intended as an irony. Berlioz describes the piece, with its rapid repetitions of the word Amen to the accompaniment of ‘tuba, ophicleide, bassoons, and double basses’. As he was obviously not citing either his manuscript or the French edition, he could only have referred to the disposition of the Dresden orchestra. As we know from his Memoirs that it possessed no ophicleide in 1843, it would be unlikely to include the instrument eleven years later, and he must have deemed himself fortunate to be able to obtain even a single specimen. There was an attempt to revive the ophicleide in Dresden at the commencement of this century, and Klose in 1904 actually wrote a part for it in Das Leben ein Traum. But this was merely a flash in the pan. The instrument, though specified by both Wagner and Mendelssohn, was never much cultivated in Germany, and became obsolete three or four decades before it died out in France, where Saint-Saëns wrote two parts for it in one of the numbers of Samson and Delilah.7 In 1865, when Berlioz gave The Damnation of Faust in Vienna, we may be certain that he would be unable to obtain even a single ophicleide. And we may be equally certain that he did not give the part of the first ophicleide to a trombone (as in the German edition) for the simple reason that it could not play all the notes of the part. Tenor trombones are specified for the work, and are imperative for the ‘pedals’ marked in the Ride to the Abyss, and the ordinary tenor trombone cannot produce the low E flats of the Drinking Chorus or the D’s of the Fugue. Nowadays, in some orchestras the third tenor trombone is armed with an additional piece of tubing operated by a valve worked by the left thumb, but the practice is by no means universal. In any case it is improbable that the first trombone (as in the German edition) would possess the valve. It is as a rule found on the tenor-bass trombone, and not on the true tenor.

    This question of substituting one instrument for another is important as regards any edition. In an edition of the Rienzi Overture the substitution of a tuba for the ophicleide does no great harm, though entirely unnecessary. Conductors are not hopeless idiots, even if it pleases the editors of the German edition of Berlioz to consider them in that light, and they would not hesitate to substitute the modern tuba for the obsolete ophicleide. To replace the serpent in the overture by a tuba would, however, be inexcusable, because opinions are divided about what is the most satisfactory substitute. Yet this is what the editors of the Berlioz edition have done in the case of the fragment from his early Mass. An edition should possess an historical value, and when the Mass was written the tuba had not been invented. It is just as absurd as it would be to substitute saxophones and sarrusophones for some of the instruments in Bach’s scores. With regard to the trombones in the Fugue and Drinking Chorus of The Damnation of Faust it is not unlikely that the real reason for their appearance may be traced to the fundamental error of the whole of the edition, an insane desire to make it ‘practical’, that is, equivalent to the ‘acting edition’ of a play, which possesses only an ephemeral interest. For the modern production of one of Shakespeare’s plays the acting edition of David Garrick, or even that of Henry Irving, would be of little use, and neither of them would be of any material value for a study of the original play as written by Shakespeare. Throughout the commentaries to the several volumes the editors of the Berlioz edition harp on the word ‘practical’ as though it excused every divergence from their author. Yet he, in many cases, is more practical than they. In the Te Deum, for instance, since tenor trombones are absolutely imperative for the ‘pedals’ in the ‘Judex crederis’, it is surely more practical to specify them as tenor ones than merely to label them I, II, and III, since, at the date of the edition, the third instrument in many orchestras would be a bass trombone, which could not play the notes. Before dealing with some of the extraordinary methods of editing displayed in the German edition, I would quote an extract from a letter of Balakirev to Charles Malherbe, (one of the editors), dated ‘St Petersburg, 12/24 January 1900’.8 After acknowledging his correspondent’s New Year Greetings, the Russian composer goes on :

The second part of your letter has much disturbed me. Apparently, instead of fighting tooth and nail for the preservation of Berlioz’s instrumentation, you have acquiesced in the projected changes, since some of the instruments marked in the scores are no longer in use, and have bowed to the decision of the publishers, who wish their undertaking to be practical [my italics]. But if the right of editors to alter the instrumentation in accordance with the actual state of the orchestra be admitted, it would necessitate the bringing out of fresh scores every fifteen or twenty years.

The last sentence contains so self-evident a truth that it is strange that the publishers, if only as business men, did not realize it. As it is, some of the alterations of the editors are already as much out of date as Berlioz’s original pages. Balakirev then goes on to mention the alto trombone, serpent, and basset-horn, all of which figure in previous editions of the publishers ; that the double-bassoon had been revived, after having been neglected for many years ; and he points out that ‘according to trustworthy evidence’ even the ophicleide was again being employed in the Dresden opera house. (See above.) And Balakirev was not a vox clamantis in deserto. I could a tale unfold of two English musicians who protested quite emphatically. And it is incredible that there should be only three honest men in Europe ! It is not a question of whether a man be an admirer of Berlioz : it is merely whether he be an admirer of common honesty and truth. Unfortunately, in France, where one would expect to find the fiercest criticism, the edition was not on sale until many years after it was procurable in England and Germany, and therefore the lips of many musicians who had known Berlioz were sealed. Had it been otherwise, it is impossible to believe that Saint-Saëns, for example, who objected to the alterations by Fétis in L’Africaine, such as the introduction of saxophones, would not have made some very trenchant remarks about the German editions of Berlioz’s works.

    It is somewhat of a paradox that, had the late Charles Malherbe been better equipped for his task of editor, he might have brought forward some justification for altering the ophicleides to tubas. In the 1850’s Berlioz was anxious to have a uniform edition of his works, and to that end he spent some time in correcting the original ones. These corrected scores are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and should have been consulted by the editors of any edition, since in many respects they are more authoritative than even the original manuscripts. Lavoix, in his Histoire de l’instrumentation, exaggerates when he says that the ophicleides are nearly everywhere (presque partout) altered to tubas. In the 1850’s the former were in current use in all French orchestras, and Berlioz could not foresee that they would eventually become obsolete. Besides, being accustomed to the ophicleide, he probably preferred it in most cases. In his travels in Germany he seems to have constantly tried to obtain one. Still, the fact remains that here and there in the annotated collection, he did suggest a tuba as an alternative, and so Malherbe, had he known of it, could have offered some shred of excuse to Balakirev.

    As regards the absolute editing of the German edition, there can be little doubt of its having been left practically in the hands of Charles Malherbe, who had easy access to the original manuscripts and the French editions. French musicians have realized this, and it is obvious from the commentaries and scores, wherein there are many things that it would be difficult to connect with Weingartner (his co-editor), or with any one having much acquaintance with orchestral practice. Weingartner no doubt ran through the proofs, and was probably responsible for some of the more drastic alterations, but I cannot credit him with some of the absurdities. Why Charles Malherbe was selected as an editor is one of the mysteries of the edition. As M. Tiersot said, by way of introduction to Balakirev’s letter : ‘It is quite certain that Ch. Malherbe, whose principal admirations were confined to Donizetti, Auber, and Weckerlin, was not at all the man to be entrusted with Berlioz. The fact that he possessed some of the autographs conferred on him no claim to figure in an enterprise demanding a sympathetic insight.’ With all due deference to Malherbe’s memory, M. Tiersot might have gone farther, and declared that he did not possess the requisite knowledge to be the editor of any of the masters, as the publishers of the Rameau edition fully realized when they refrained from entrusting him with the editing of any of Rameau’s works. He was an amiable gentleman, whose métier was that of a musico-biographer, for which probably his early training as a lawyer fitted him, and as such he displayed in the prefaces that head the volumes of the Rameau edition extraordinary patience and tireless research. Dr. Weingarnter was chosen as an editor, because he, amongst other German conductors, had given brilliant performances of some of Berlioz’s works, but, as I would again insist, because a man is an excellent editor of Shakespeare or Bach, it does not at all follow that he could successfully play Hamlet or direct a performance of the B minor Mass. And the converse is equally true.

    As an example of Malherbe’s unfitness for his task I would instance his alteration of some lucid indications of Berlioz in the first movement of the Fantastic Symphony. For the five bars commencing at p. 4, bar 2, of the Miniature Score, Berlioz marked for the first bar ‘poco rallent.’, for the next three ‘retenu jusqu’au premier mouvement’ (omitted in Min. Sc.), and for the last ‘un poco ritard.’ Simply ‘retenu’ would be sufficient for the second indication. But there is no obscurity. The tempo has already been quickened (Min. Sc., p. 2, last bar) and is slackened after the culminating point of the violin passage (p. 4, bar 2). To continue the ‘rallentando’ during the next three bars, where the flute, clarinet, and horn sigh above the arpeggios of the violas and ’cellos, would be irritating for both players and listeners, and therefore Berlioz marked ‘retenu’, that is, a slower time must be adopted and maintained. Then, as the tempo is still faster than the original one, it must be gradually slowed down to Tempo I. For these carefully considered directions, Malherbe substitutes ‘poco rallent. et riten. al Tempo I’, which is sheer nonsense, as an attentive study of the first pages of any instruction book would reveal. Neither his co-editor nor any other conductor could beat five bars during which the time was gradually slackened (rallentando) and yet maintained rigidly at the same (slower) pace (ritenuto). If we may trust Liszt’s transcription of the symphony, based on the score as it was for the second performance in December 1832,9 the original indication was merely ‘rallentando’. The ‘retenu’ for the three middle bars was probably added when Berlioz himself came to conduct the symphony.

    Since it seriously affects what is considered by many as Berlioz’s finest movement, the Love Scene of the Romeo and Juliet [Symphony], I give another instance of the editing in the German edition, which it is hard to connect with Felix Weingartner. In the second bar after the Allegro that divides the Scene (Min. Sc., p. 151, bar 2) the second violins break off, and Berlioz, wishing them to be muted, marks ‘con sordini’ in accordance with his usual custom, that is, before the bars’ rest needed for affixing the mutes, and not on their re-entry, as is the modern method. The indications being above the staff of the second violins is naturally under10 that of the first, and this inevitability appears to have perturbed M. Malherbe greatly. Without a shadow of reason he connects it with the first violins, and plaintively cries, how is it possible to affix a mute and to play a scale ? How indeed ? An average person would conclude that, as the direction cannot possibly apply to the first violins, it must apply to the seconds. Not so M. Malherbe ! He insists that owing to this obscure indication we are forced to interpret the author’s intentions — a process that often happens throughout the edition, usually to the disadvantage of the author — and to take ‘con sordini’ to be ‘a general injunction’. (How Berlioz would have smiled !) To carry out this mysterious injunction Malherbe leaves the first violins unmuted (as the composer directs), places mutes on the second violins (again as the composer plainly directs), mutes the violas (which, according to the French score, have never relinquished them), and mutes the ’cellos, with the result that, if a conductor is so ill advised as to follow the indication of the German edition, much of the beauty of the movement is destroyed. Already, before the Allegro, we have had muted ’cellos, and their peculiar tone-quality is one that soon palls. To mute them again after the Allegro is not only an insult to Berlioz’s inventiveness and his keen sense of contrast, it emasculates the passionate phrases, and tends to produce a monotony that the movement rightly should not possess.

    We are indebted to the German edition for the publication of the Heroic Scene for the first time. It is unlikely to be performed, but I would cite it here as another example of Malherbe’s mentality which prompted him, out of two alternatives, to select the more improbable one. We do not possess the autograph of the work. In its place we have a beautiful copy, adorned with a lithograph and vignettes, and elegantly bound. The finale commences with an Allegro non troppo (minim - 80) . Later, the movement becomes a ‘precipitate march’, following Berlioz’s description, and is labelled Doppio Movimento with a time signature of 2, the principal theme now being in notes of double the previous length, so that, to the listener, it sounds precisely the same. Unfortunately the copyist marked the same metronome time as before (minim = 80), which, if only on account of the theme being in notes of twice the length, would be pronounced by 999 musicians out of 1,000 to be an obvious and not uncommon error. The editors of the German edition make precisely the same mistake in the Allegro of Les Francs Juges Overture of adding an unwanted tail to a semibreve. Charles Malherbe, however, chanced to be the thousandth man. Claiming a penetration into the mind of the composer possessed by no one else, he concluded that Berlioz intended by his indications that the conductor should give the impression of a Doppio Movimento ! To do this, he must beat four in a bar at the commencement of the finale, and only two in a bar later. Accordingly, the of the opening is altered to C, and the Doppio Movimento struck out and ‘Battez à deux temps’ substituted. To justify his proceeding this egregious editor makes the ‘infantile assertion’ that doubling the time ‘alters the character of the music’. How its character can be preserved if the main theme ‘like a wounded snake drags its slow length along’ at half the initial pace he does not explain. The vocal score of the scene retains the indications of the copyist even to the superfluous tail.

    It requires a psychiatrist to explain that curious order of mind which, rather than admit that the pen of the copyist may have traced a small unnecessary stroke, prefers to believe that he evolved a Doppio Movimento out of his inner consciousness and wrote some twenty-five erroneous ’s. Students of Berlioz must always remember that this strange mentality was not only at the back of the German Berlioz edition, but, on M. Boschot’s own confession, was also responsible for every other page of his three-volume biography. In both publications we find the same reluctance to admit the obvious, the same deliberate choice of the more improbable of two alternatives, the same strenuous attempts to justify that choice by the most far-fetched and illogical arguments, at times bordering on the absurd. Musicians have said foolish things ; musical literarture contains many of them ; but, for unadulterated foolishness, few can match the suggestion that a conductor, by beating two instead of four, could give the impression that a theme was being played twice as fast, when, by reason of its augmentation, it must inevitably sound twice as slow. It is to be regretted that Felix Weingartner appended his signature to such absurdities.

    Charles Malherbe’s finger-prints are scattered so freely over all the German edition that it is within the bounds of possibility that the trombones of the Amen Fugue are due to him — his co-editor knew the compass of a tenor trombone. In any case the substitution was probably actuated by the initial fault of the edition, a desire to make it practical, which, being interpreted, meant making it conform to German orchestral practice at the commencement of the century. For the Rakoczy march Berlioz specified an ophicleide and a tuba ; the editors have omitted the former, explaining that it is doubtful whether the composer intended ‘ophicleide and tuba’ or ‘ophicleide or tuba’. Doubtful, when the instruments at the end of the march are in two parts ! For the opening of the scene in Auerbach’s Cellar Berlioz demanded an ophicleide and a tuba, and they are again in two parts ; the editors again omit the former. As we have seen, they save the expense of a second tuba in the Drinking Chorus and Fugue. For seven bars in the Ride to the Abyss an ophicleide and a tuba are in unison ; the editors strike out the ophicleide. For the Pandæmonium they do actually mark two tubas, in order to give some faint tinge of colour to their declaration at the end of the commentary as to the ‘uniform employment of two Tubas ... throughout the work’, which it would be mincing words to call a gross mis-statement.

    When his four bassoons were in two parts, Berlioz, in common with other French composers, gave the upper part to 1 and 2, and the lower to 3 and 4 (e.g. for the octaves on pp. 228-9 of the Romeo and Juliet Symphony in the Min. Sc.). The editors at times — consistency not being one of their virtues — give the upper part to 1 and 3, and the lower to 2 and 4. The effect is the same, but I fail to see the slightest advantage in the plan. Occasionally it leads to confusion, and I mention it here since it is an example of many petty alterations which seem as senseless as they are annoying.

    Not only are many of the notes in the German edition not as Berlioz wrote, but, worse still, some of the nuances are changed. The most glaring example of this is in The Corsair Overture (Min. Sc., pp. 22 ff.), where the four bassoons (two in the German edition), instead of playing fortissimo throughout, are made to follow the nuances of the upper wood-wind. In the Miniature Score, as in the French edition, p. 17, bar 14, and p. 18, bar 1, are exactly matched by p. 38, bars 11 and 12. In the German edition the p in the latter case is omitted, together with the previous diminuendo sign and the subsequent crescendo, with the result that we have a fortissimo passage ending abruptly on a chord marked forte ! The excuse given is that the p does not figure in the autograph, but was added to the proof of the French edition, which, as the editors themselves point out in their general remarks, was often Berlioz’s habit.11 This inability to appreciate the importance of the composer’s own nuances is, alas, not uncommon. Many interpreters appear to imagine that they have done their duty if they give the actual notes correctly, forgetting that in music, as in verbal speech, the meaning of a phrase often depends more on the accents and stresses (the nuances) than on the words or notes. A sentence that to the eye may seem innocent, even laudatory of some one, may on the lips of a speaker be sufficient to damn that some one’s reputation.

    No doubt many hundred pages in the beautifully engraved German edition conform with Berlioz’s wishes. But one has to collate them with those in the French editions, or study the commentaries to the several volumes of the German edition, in which we are at times told what Berlioz really wrote, before one can be assured of their correctness. On the other hand, there are hundreds of other pages not as Berlioz wrote them, which no arguments can justify or excuse. The bad luck that pursued Berlioz all his life is attributed by many to the composer himself, and there may be a certain amount of truth in the assertion. But we cannot hold him responsible either for his biographers or for his editors. There are many mysteries connected with the German edition, and possibly the greatest is the apathy displayed towards its very palpable errors even by the French composer’s admirers.

    There are errors in many of the earlier French editions, but they are mainly errors of engraving, a large proportion of which can be easily corrected. Berlioz, on his own admission, was not a good proof-reader, in that resembling many another author as regards his own works. Nevertheless, he could be trusted to see that the salient points of his score were as he wished them. For his later works he would seem to have obtained the assistance of others. Thus, the careful Deldevez corrected the proofs of The Damnation of Faust, and discovered many differences between them and the autograph that had eluded the composer. The miniature scores, apart from a few errors of their own, are faithful copies of the French editions, and as such can be taken as representing Berlioz’s wishes.

    Whether we shall be ever favoured with a faithful edition of his works is problematical. Should it ever materialize, it is to be hoped that it will be entrusted to men, who have had experience of editing, are in complete sympathy with Berlioz’s music, and have made a study of his works. In any case, it would be as well if they read chapter xvi of the Memoirs, and learnt by heart Lelio’s tirade against arrangers. In the meantime some enterprising publisher might provide us with full scores of Benvenuto Cellini and The Trojans as Berlioz wrote them. At a price that was not prohibitive surely he would find sufficient subscribers !


1. ‘Modern Music and Musicians’, Part II, vol. i, University Society of New York, 1912.

2. Extracts are given by Octave Fouque in Les Révolutionnaires de la musique.

3. In Le Livre d’Or du centenaire d’Hector Berlioz.

4. Reproduced in École buissonière. In Musical Memories by Saint-Saëns there is a garbled translation of the above, in which the author is made to declare that the ineffaceable impression of the ‘Tuba mirum’ was due to Berlioz not following his own directions !

5. The Moderato is marked crotchet = 96 ; then, midway through the number Animez un peu is indicated, which must be taken to mean a continuous acceleration till crotchet = 144 is reached at the Andante maestoso, when the tempo drops to crotchet = 72.

6. ‘Respect for Rhythm’, The Musical Times, Oct. 1929.

7. The composer directs in a footnote that, should two ophicleides not be procurable, the part of the second is to be taken by a tuba, and that of the first by horns and bassoons in unison, the same combination that Berlioz employs in his fugue to represent a third ophicleide.

8. The whole letter was given by M. Tiersot in the January number of the Rivista musicale italiana, 1930.

9. When Liszt brought out a second edition of his transcription in 1876, he only troubled to correct his share of the work by modifying some of the fingering, rearranging some of the chords, and so on. He made no attempt to make his version conform with the published orchestral score, even the wording of the programme that heads the symphony not being verbally the same. In the Waltz there are twenty-eight bars at total variance with the piece as we know it, and certain passages in the first movement and March are but poor arrangements of the corresponding ones in Berlioz’s final version.

10. The English of the commentary has ‘over the part of the first violins’. But this is a mistranslation. The French is au-dessous, under. The Miniature Score has the indication placed correctly.

11. I have discussed this point more fully in ‘The Scores of Berlioz and some Modern Editing’ (Musical Times, Nov. 1915), and in Berlioz Four Works.

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; this page created on 1 August 2018.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights reserved.

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