Wotton 1929

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Biographers and critics: Tom S. Wotton (1862-1939)


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Wotton 1935

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    ‘The foremost Berlioz scholar of his generation’: that is how Jacques Barzun described Tom. S. Wotton in his monumental two-volume work on Berlioz, first published in 1950 (Berlioz and the Romantic Century, volume II, p. 451 [p. 459 in the 3rd edition of 1969]). He dedicated the one-volume abridgement of the larger work (Berlioz and his Century, 1956) ‘To the memory of Tom S. Wotton (1862-1939): foremost Berlioz scholar of his time’. While praise for Wotton as an eminent Berlioz scholar is undoubtedly deserved, it does invite one qualification: it leaves out of account Wotton’s contemporary Julien Tiersot (1857-1936), whose own work on Berlioz was more wide-ranging and extensive than that of Wotton. Barzun himself acknowledged the achievements of Tiersot elsewhere in his book (II, pp. 323-4): Tiersot’s Berlioziana and Wotton’s 1935 book ‘form the core of any technical literature [on Berlioz] worth keeping in print’. It is in this same spirit that we have reproduced on this site the complete series of Tiersot’s Berlioziana, as well as other articles by him, and also transcribed the complete text of Wotton’s Hector Berlioz (1935) from our own copy of the book, including the Index (with hyperlinks added to all the page references of the printed edition).

    It is appropriate to quote Barzun again on his debt to Wotton (II p. 451 [p. 459 in 3rd ed.]). At the head of all those who helped to make Barzun’s work possible:

I would inscribe the name of the late Tom S. Wotton (1862-1939), foremost Berlioz scholar of his generation, whose wisdom, warnings, and encouragement sustained me in my beginnings; and whose great collection of documents — now mine by his wish — enabled me to carry on when European archives were cut off or destroyed [sc. by World War II].
In telling of my deep gratitude to Tom Wotton, I cannot help thinking regretfully of my book as it would have been had he lived to lend his hand to its improvement.

    Barzun and Wotton corresponded regularly from 1929 till 1938, not long before the latter’s death; their correspondence is now deposited in the Library of Columbia University (Barzun II p. 391). As may be seen from the index of Barzun’s book (II p. 511 [p. 515 in 3rd ed.]) Wotton’s work is frequently cited on many points, and from 1930 onwards Barzun joined Wotton in the critical examination of the Breitkopf and Haertel edition of Berlioz’s musical works (see below).

    Yet for all his acknowledged status as an eminent Berlioz scholar, Wotton himself is a remarkably inconspicuous figure. Apart from the little that can be deduced from Wotton’s own writings, information about him and his career is singularly scanty, and the usual reference works and sources of information provide little or no help. For example, the review of his 1935 book signed H.G. in The Musical Times of October 1935 (vol. 76, no. 1112, pp. 897-8) merely describes Wotton as a ‘musician’, though one equipped with wide and deep knowledge, but does not mention any specific professional position he may have held. In his published works Wotton reveals almost nothing about himself, and comes across as self-effacing and unassuming (though always passionate in defending Berlioz against his critics and detractors). In the bibliography of his 1935 book, Wotton characteristcally does not give a comprehensive list of all his previous publications on Berlioz, omitting even some articles that are mentioned in the course of the book. In contrast to Barzun’s expansive manner, Wotton’s style of writing is concise and plain: his 1935 book runs to little over 200 pages in small format. He evidently possessed extensive musicological expertise and technical knowledge, as shown not only by his work on Berlioz but also by the reference work he published in 1907, A Dictionary of Foreign Musical Terms and Handbook of Orchestral Instruments. But it is not clear from his writings whether this expertise was related to a professional activity or whether it was a special interest that he developed and pursued separately. Remarkably, there does not appear to be any portrait or photograph of him: at any rate none is reproduced in Barzun’s plate of ‘Eminent Berliozians 1890-1950’ (volume II, facing p. 326), among whom he clearly deserves a prominent place.

    Wotton does not seem to have travelled very much outside England. He attended the centenary celebrations in Grenoble in August 1903, where he read a paper on Berlioz; he also contributed a short article to the commemorative Livre d’Or du Centenaire d’Hector Berlioz (Grenoble and Paris, 1906); both the English and French versions of this article are reproduced on this site. In his short 1929 book (Berlioz, Four Works, p. 44) he implies that he attended a performance of the Rakoczy March conducted by Colonne, presumably in Paris: this could have been at any time up to 1908. The only excursion abroad Wotton mentions in his 1935 book is his reference to a staged performance of l’Enfance du Christ in Brussels in 1911 which he attended (chapter 7 pp. 167 and 168). It is not clear whether he made prolonged visits to Paris to study at first hand the abundant Berlioz-related material that is found there. In his two books he makes few references to Berlioz’s autograph manuscripts, and where these occur they may be based on Tiersot’s descriptions of the manuscripts in Berlioziana (for example at pp. 45-7 of his 1929 book, concerning the manuscript of the Corsaire overture, where he goes on to mention Tiersot and also the introduction to the Breitkopf edition). In the Preface of his 1935 book (p. ix-x) he thanks Jacques Barzun for having consulted on his behalf in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris many of Berlioz’s printed scores, annotated by the composer. In discussing the Breitkopf edition of Berlioz’s music, he notes that Charles Malherbe, one of the co-editors, who lived in Paris, ‘had easy access to the original manuscripts and the French editions’ (chapter 8, p. 184). Though he studied the printed editions of Berlioz’s scores with great care, it seems that he may not have been familiar with the full score of Les Troyens (which had been printed by Choudens in 1885 and 1899 but not made available for sale; see NBE vol. 2c p. 775). He appears to make few if any references to the orchestral writing of Les Troyens. For example, in his discussion of the ‘pedal’ notes of the tenor trombone (chapter 5 pp. 118-19), he mentions several cases of their use by Berlioz, but not those in Act I of Les Troyens (Aeneas’ narration ‘Du peuple et des soldats’, and near the end of the following ensemble ‘Châtiment effroyable’; NBE vol. 2a pp. 125 and 150).

    Wotton’s active interest in Berlioz and his music started early in his life in the 1880s. He mentions hearing a performance of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale in London conducted by Hans Richter in 1885 (chapter 7 p. 159): this was the period when Berlioz had experienced a remarkable revival of interest in Paris, and the after-effects of this were felt across the Channel. In the Preface to his 1935 book Wotton says that his work is the result of a close study of Berlioz ‘for very many years’, and Barzun states that when Wotton published his book he ‘had studied Berlioz for half a century’, i.e. starting in the 1880s (II p. 309). Wotton published a few articles about Berlioz around the time of the 1903 Centenary (see the bibliographical listing below), but then there was nothing for a decade till an important and polemical article in 1915 on the shortcomings of the Breitkopf edition of Berlioz’s works (see below). Another long gap followed, and it was only from the late 1920s that the sequence of his publications on Berlioz resumed, with notably the short 1929 book (Berlioz, Four Works), which was a prelude to the appearance in 1935 of his major work on Berlioz, which summed up a lifetime of study of the composer. Apart from the general reference work which appeared in 1907, much of his published work seems to have centred around Berlioz.

    There is no need to summarise the contents of his 1935 book, his main work on Berlioz, since the full text is available on this site. Wotton himself gave due recognition to his predecessors. In his Preface he singles out the eminent critic Ernest Newman (1868-1959) ‘who has written on Berlioz at greater length and with fuller understanding than any other English writer’; he subsequently cites Newman frequently. Wotton also refers frequently to the work of Julien Tiersot, and was seemingly the first to suggest that the Berlioziana series should be reproduced in book form (p. 146, echoed by Barzun II p. 304 n. 9; this never happend).

    Wotton’s contribution to Berlioz studies was based on two elements: common sense devoid of any preconceptions, and a deep and intimate knowledge of Berlioz and his music, built up over many years of close study. This enabled him to combat effectively the numerous received opinions and misconceptions of Berlioz, both the man and the composer, that had long proliferated and were based more often than not on ignorance and prejudice. Though he published in 1934 a short biographical study of Berlioz, and included in the first two chapters of his 1935 book remarks on Berlioz as a person, his primary interest was in the music, which he studied in the remaining seven chapters from a series of different angles. Earlier, in 1929, he had subjected four of Berlioz’s best known works to detailed musical analysis.

    Readers may seek out for themselves the numerous insights contained in the 1935 book. Wotton’s most original contribution lay perhaps in being the first to expose in detail the shortcomings of the (incomplete) edition of Berlioz’s musical works, issued between 1900 and 1907 by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig, under the editorship of Charles Malherbe and Felix Weingartner. This approach was first aired in an article in the Musical Times in 1915, which itself calls for a word of comment.

    The article begins with the startling statement: ‘One result of the War is that musicians have had their attention drawn more particularly to the general untrustworthiness of modern German editions’. It becomes immediately clear that the tone of the article is a reflection of the overheated atmosphere generated in Europe by the outbreak of the first World War, which had the result of intensifying Wotton’s own latent nationalism. In his 1903 contribution to the centenary Livre d’Or, Wotton started by emphasing: ‘we English are proud of the fact that in many ways Hector Berlioz was near akin to us’ and concluded with the words: ‘Hector Berlioz is the most typically English of all the masters ... we English should be second to none in our admiration of one of the greatest of musicians’. The 1915 article outlines the main criticisms against the Breitkopf edition that Wotton was to develop later, but does so in an openly anti-German spirit. Whereas in his 1935 book Wotton had no doubt that the main responsibility for the edition lay with Malherbe and not Weingartner (pp. 182-90), in the 1915 article roles are reversed: ‘... Felix von Weingartner, under whose direction fine performances of Berlioz had been given, and the late Charles Malherbe, who not only possessed a valuable collection of Berlioz’s autographs (now in the Library of the Conservatoire), but had done creditable work in the analyses for concert programmes. There does not seem to be much doubt that the leading spirit was the former, M. Malherbe being too amiable a man to struggle successfully against Teutonic arrogance’ (p. 651). The article is full of statements of that kind. ‘I would rather place reliance on the judgement of a French conductor in respect to the interpretation of Berlioz’s works than that of any German’ (p. 653) ‘Weingartner’s simple plan of proving that he is a German editor, while Berlioz is only a miserable foreign composer, is to cut down the bassoons to two, except in works where they are in four real parts’ (ib.) ‘Modern French composers can scarcely be deemed ‘old-fashioned’, whatever Germans may do. If Berlioz must be altered (and there is no necessity!), at any rate let him be altered in accordance with modern French ideas’ (p. 655). In later publications Wotton toned down his criticisms and shifted the onus from Weingartner to Malherbe, though he continued to refer to the Breitkopf and Härtel edition as ‘the German edition’. In his 1929 book he refers pointedly to the shortcomings of that edition in several places (notably pp. 15-16, 24, 41 n. 1, 49), and at one point he remarks that if the Cellini overture differs ‘in form and development from Teutonic models, well ! its composer happened to have been born in the south of France’ (p. 39). In his 1935 book Wotton now devoted a large part of chapter 8 (Interpretation and Editions) to a critical examination of the Breitkopf edition, and by this time he had the benefit of the publication in 1930 (by Julien Tiersot in Rivista Musicale Italiana) of the full text of the letter of Balakirev to Charles Malherbe of January 1900, where the Russian composer, who had known Berlioz, warned the French editor against deviating from the composer’s explicit instructions (cf. pp. 182-4). His advice was not followed. From 1930 onwards Wotton was joined in his work by Jacques Barzun; a detailed list of his corrections is included in Supplement 5 of Barzun’s 1950 work (II pp. 336-58, Errors in the “Complete” Edition of the Scores [pp. 358-81 in the 3rd ed.]), where Barzun acknowledges that the larger part of this work was due to Wotton.

    ‘Whether we shall ever be 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.’ So wrote Wotton in 1935 (p. 191), and the most he could hope for at the time was the publication of the full scores of Benvenuto Cellini and Les Troyens (which did not happen). He could not anticipate that the bicentenary of Berlioz’s birth would bring about, at long last, the complete edition of his musical works in the New Berlioz Edition, published between 1967 and 2006, and including Benvenuto Cellini and Les Troyens. It may be suggested that part of the credit for bringing this about may be assigned, indirectly and posthumously, to Wotton’s work on Berlioz.

Bibliography of Tom S. Wotton

    This listing, which does not claim to be complete, is based for the most part on the extensive bibliographies in Barzun volume II, pp. 377-450 [pp. 383-458 in 3rd ed.], and concerns primarily his publications on Berlioz. See also the comments on Tom Wotton by Michael Wright in his 1969 article, which is reproduced on this site. Titles are listed in their chronological order of publication.

— Correspondence in Musical Opinion, February, April, and May 1902 [concerning the chapter on drums in the Grand traité d’instrumentation]
— “Le Centenaire d’Hector Berlioz” and “The Centenary of Hector Berlioz”, in Livre d’Or du centenaire de Berlioz (1903, published 1906) pp. 212-13 [French translation, presumably not by Wotton himself] and pp. 214-15 [original English version]
— “Hector Berlioz”, Proceedings of the Musical Association, Thirtieth Session, December 8, 1903, pp. 15-36
— “Einige missverständnisse betreffs Berlioz”, Die Musik, December 1903, pp. 358-63 (German translation of a paper read at the celebrations in Grenoble in August 1903)
— “Stray Notes on Berlioz”, Zeitschrift der Internationalen Musik Gesellschaft, 5th year, Leipzig 1903-1904, pp. 395-9
— Introduction to Breitkopf und Härtel British Catalogue of Centenary Edition, London, 1904 [English version of the same article published in German in Mitteilungen von Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig, No. 73, March 1903, pp. 1814-18]
— “The Future of the Orchestra”, Musical News, July 29, 1905
A Dictionary of Foreign Musical Terms and Handbook of Orchestral Instuments, Leipzig 1907
— “The Scores of Berlioz and Some Modern Editing”, Musical Times, Nov. 1, 1915, pp. 651-6
— “A Berlioz Caprice and its ‘Programme’ ”, Musical Times, August 1, 1927, pp. 704-6
— “Orchestral Balance”, Musical Times, February and March 1929, pp. 115-18 and 225-7
Berlioz: Four Works (Musical Pilgrim Series), London 1929 [Symphonie fantastique, Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, La Captive, Le Corsaire]
— “Berlioz as Melodist”, Musical Times, September 1, 1929, pp. 808-12
— “Berlioz the Blood-Curdler”, Musical Mirror, November 1930, p. 319
— “Hector Berlioz, 1803-1869”, in The Heritage of Music, vol. II, ed. Hubert J. Foss, London 1934 [A short biographical sketch]
Hector Berlioz, Oxford & London, 1935
— “Berlioz’ Funeral and Triumphal Symphony”, Musical Opinion, July 1936, pp. 841-2
— “‘Infernal Language’: a Berlioz Hoax”, Musical Times, March 1937, pp. 209-10
— “An Unknown Score of Berlioz”, Music Review, November 1943, pp. 224-8 [Posthumous article made up from fragments in a copy of the incomplete score of the Prix de Rome cantata Sardanapalus]

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 September 2018.

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