Le Rénovateur, 2-3 novembre 1834
Translated by Gene Halaburt
© 2000 Gene Halaburt
This page presents the English translation of the second part of a review articleby Berlioz, published in Le Rénovateur in November 1834, in which he comments on some of his own works. You will find the original text at Berlioz sur Berlioz. The article is classic Berlioz in its sharp wit, sarcasm and multi-layered allusions and meanings.
Our friend Gene Halaburt generously provided us with both the French text and his own translation of the article, and granted us permission to reproduce them on this site.
Notice to readers with nothing better to do than read my columns.
The concert sickness has hit me again. The editors of the Rénovateur, being obliging colleagues, insisted on telling the subscribers to our wonderful journal the following rather uninteresting news. But since these same gentlemen would have felt it discourteous not to follow such an announcement with some flattering words (which everyone would think I had written), I thought it both more direct and honest to warn the public myself. I say "warn", and that’s the word; for instead of promising the moon and the stars (as you were probably expecting), I am going to tell you right off that my music is a collection of extravagances and absurdities unequaled even by the inmates in an insane asylum.
Without even mentioning Sara la baigneuse, a coldish rhapsody, in which M. the Prince W ..... wanted to take the first bass part, nor the trio of Florentine sculptors who will be accompanied (so I’ve been told), by three hundred small anvils and an equal number of hammers (wonderful harmony), I go directly to the new symphony in four movements, with solo viola, the title of which is Harold.
Now I ask you in all good faith, what in the world could a symphony with the name Harold be about?… The purpose of the first movement is to paint scenes of melancholy, happiness and joy; the second claims to bring us to a procession of pilgrims chanting their evening prayers; the third is called serenades of an Abruzzi mountaineer to his mistress; the fourth movement drags us into the middle of an orgy of brigands. And continually appearing in these diverse scenes is the solo viola, the Harold, vagabond dreamer like the hero of Byron, characterized by a listless, boring melody, reproduced with hopeless uniformity. And there you have Harold.
I won’t say anything about the Légende Irlandaise for four voices, nor about the fantasy for soprano and orchestra based on the poetry of Victor Hugo – they may do reasonably well, – but my conscience obliges me to tell all those (and they are many) who have not heard the frenzied cries of the Roi Lear and the farcical Symphonie fantastico-epileptical, to consult with the unhappy auditors of my last year’s concert, and I am sure that the information they will receive will leave absolutely no doubt in their minds as to the atrociousness of these symphonies. They will, none-the-less, both of them, be included in my first concert. I must add that they will be executed by one hundred and thirty hearty mates who will lay it on under the baton of M. Girard.
So after that, next Sunday if you happen to be in the neighborhood of the Rue Bergère around two in the afternoon and some fantasy impels you to enter the auditorium of the Menus-Plaisirs, it’s not my fault! I wash my hands of it; you’ve been warned! It’s said that the Marquis of Mascarille only wrote to avoid the persecution of book shop owners. I only give concerts to earn some money for copyists, printers, security guards, advertisers, lamp lighters, wood sellers, ushers – and the poor tax man who only takes one fourth of the net receipts when one has not made friendly prior arrangements with him.
* In the first part of the article Berlioz reviews the premiere of Marliani’s opera Marchand forain at Opera-Comique, Paris on 31 October 1834.
** Berlioz gave a series of three concerts at the end of 1834. The
performance of Harold, originally planned to be included in the first,
had to be deferred until the third due to lack of rehearsal time. (GH)
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created in 2000.
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