The Hector Berlioz Website

Harty, Beecham and Hollenbach conduct Berlioz

Musical Courier, 1936 and 1954

© Musical Courier


This page presents concert reviews which were published in the Musical Courier in March and April 1936 and May 1954. The first two articles included also reviews of concerts unrelated to Berlioz; these are not reproduced here. The texts and accompanying images have been scanned from the original articles in our own collection. We have preserved the authors’ original spelling, punctuation, and syntax but have corrected obvious type-setting errors. We were unable to contact the editor and publishers of the Musical Courier, which ceased publication a long time ago.

London Rediscovers Berlioz with Hamilton Harty 
Beecham leads the Damnation of Faust 
Requiem Performed under Hollenbach

London Rediscovers Berlioz With Hamilton Harty as Guide
Brass Battery in Requiem Creates Sensation—Conductor’s Lifetime Labor Rewarded

Musical Courier, 28 March 1936


LONDON.—Not only has this letter been knocked slightly cock-eyed—chronologically—but London musical life has had an unusual shock during the past fortnight.

Sir Hamilton Harty returned from America. A typical homecoming: no interviews with the national Press Southampton correspondents, to tell us how unmusical a nation we are supposed to be, nor how America does everything better, or worse. “Hay” got off the boat almost without telling his friends, and prepared for a performance of William Walton’s symphony; the only indication of this was in the local broadcasting organ, the Radio Times. Next we heard of him was on March 4. If I tell you what happened on that Wednesday, perhaps I may be forgiven for returning to earlier events later in this communication.

March 4 is a date to live in the memory of all that were wise enough to go to Queen’s Hall or switch on a radio set at 8.30. On that evening Harty conducted Berlioz. Not just a program of selected Berlioz favorites, but the least commercial, practicable Berlioz that any but a state-supported radio corporation can imagine. The program consisted of the Requiem and the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale.

Long before he sailed for the States, Harty had enjoyed himself with this program; telling the authorities that he needed four brass bands, sixteen horns, twenty clarinets (thus doing us out of ten at least, according to the score !), rows upon rows of trombones and trumpets and comets. Before a note had been heard by the public, press photographers had been at the rehearsals taking pictures of a regiment of tympani players. Music on this scale became news; 450 in one concert was something to interest the masses.

(As an aside I might mention that I nearly lost my job on the Daily Herald by taking the concert too casually, mentioning in my notice that there had been four brass bands in the gallery as the most ordinary of incidents. It is difficult to get city editors to see that the Berlioz Requiem can only be done in this way, and that if the work is on the program at all then four brass bands are inevitable and not unusual . . .).


The success of the Requiem was immediate—with the public. I felt as though this concert was the complete vindication of Harty.

London Hears Berlioz Restoration

For years he has uncompromisingly given us Berlioz—pure Berlioz, untouched by any conductor’s “interpretation.” He has played Berlioz not for any honor and glory but because he loves the music and wants us to love it, too. His performance of the Requiem was tremendous. Exciting, correct, conducted not for Harty’s sake but for Berlioz’. Not one moment was there but was what the composer intended. Berlioz himself wished to be remembered by this work. Harty, if he never conducts another note, will be remembered by that Requiem, too.

The public reaction was immediate and gratifying. Harty was given an enormous reception at the end of the Requiem. After the symphony the audience stood up in their seats and cheered. Harty’s sublime smile as he held the last chord of the evening was a joy to see. In it there was all the satisfaction of a man who has devoted his life to the best in music and has achieved popular success by giving the public not what it wants but what it likes without knowing enough of it to want it.

The press was divided about Berlioz, as usual, but I doubt if any who heard that concert read a word in the following morning’s papers. They had made up their mind already; and rightly. For my own part I did what only Toscanini otherwise makes me do: kick the person sitting in front of me. It was an evening of gasps; how else can one react to moments like the entry of the brass in the Tuba Mirum, or keep still in the symphony, on noticing that at the end of a pp passage eight trombones quietly put their instruments down, having been playing all the time?

There is a book to be written about those two Berlioz works; but this is hardly the place, I feel, for more than a synopsis of it.


The fifth Courtauld-Sargent concert of the season also restored a Berlioz opus unfamiliar in these parts, namely the oratorio, L’Enfance du Christ, under the baton of Dr. Malcolm Sargent. The chorus though anonymous, was excellent, being actually a part of the Royal Choral Society. Like most of Berlioz music it has tremendous moments, however erratic his genius may have been. It also shows great divergencies of style, having been created at various periods of the composer’s career. The performance was satisfactory; the soloists included Isobel Baillie as the Virgin, Steuart Wilson as the Narrator, and Roy Henderson as Joseph.

Beecham Leads Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in Concert Version

Musical Courier, 25 April 1936


London.—Easter marks the end of this year’s orchestral season in London. All the established London orchestras, Philharmonic, London Symphony and the B. B. C. Symphony, have done their jobs, and are enjoying a respite before the summer season begins, with its opera and festivals.

The final effort of the Royal Philharmonic Society under Sir Thomas Beecham was a massive and vigorous, if not always smooth, performance of Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust. The Philharmonic Orchestra was joined by Sir Thomas’ new Royal Opera Amateur Chorus, consisting of ladies and gentlemen in immaculate evening clothes and an ability to sing excellent Public School French (taking Public School in its exclusive English sense). They were joined by a highly professional quartet of soloists and since their enunciation was only fair, it did not clash with the authentic vernacular of Ninon Vallin as Marguerite and John Sullivan as Faust.

Mme. Vallin, by the way, also proved herself a consummate artist as well as the possessor of a beautiful voice, while Sullivan, veteran of the Paris Opéra, showed that even tenors are perishable. John Brownlee made an excellent Mephistopheles and Sir Thomas had a grand time going all out in the Hungarian March, playing the Dance of the Sylphs in a swift whisper, and doing his best with the members of the chorus. Their obvious limitations could not obscure the fact that Berlioz, the fiery genius, in a few flashes of imagination has done better for Goethe’s Faust than any other musician, of whatever nationality. (By the way, how strange that no German composer has ever approached the Latins in setting the greatest German literary masterpiece.)

The Philharmonic Orchestra under its own auspices (without the “Royal”) also finished, its season of Sunday afternoons, and Sir Thomas fell under the temptation of dishing up the Hungarian March from the Damnation over again, by way of encore. The rest of the concert was a queer mixture ranging from Mozart (D major symphony) to Sibelius. Cecilia Hansen earned loud plaudits with her impeccable playing of the Tschaikowsky concerto.

[The article goes on to review briefly a few other (non-Berlioz related) concerts in London]

Berlioz’ Requiem Performed in Eastman Theater, Rochester

Musical Courier, 1 May 1954


Of more than routine interest was a performance of Berlioz’ expansive Requiem Mass. Rochester, long recognized as a cultural and music center, responded to the presentation by filling the magnificent Eastman Theater to overflowing. Except for a few of the cathedrals and large churches in this country, there could be no better choice of a building to accommodate a performance of this work.

To conductor Theodore Hollenbach’s credit, it must be said that the reading was completely satisfying and highly exciting. The well-trained Oratorio Society displayed an uncommonly good blend of choral timbres. These 280 singers come from all walks of Rochester life—schools, industries, and professionals. A few moments of faulty diction were all that marred this choral unit’s performance.

Employing full orchestral and choral forces, plus four additional brass bands, the “Tuba Mirum” section was an exhilarating experience, with the cascading antiphonal brass effects resounding gloriously throughout the hall. Equally effective, but in subdued contrast, was a moving performance of the “Sanctus.” Ray DeVoll, tenor soloist, was a fortunate choice, for his voice is lyrically smooth and beautifully controlled. This movement, in particular, cast a spell of sacred devotion. Only in the “Lacrymosa” was there lack of continuity; complex orchestral problems somewhat reduced its effectiveness. At all times, one felt that Mr. Hollenbach was more than master of the situation, and his conception of the work provided an evening of dramatic contrasts. Perhaps it was due partially to the acoustics of the hall, partially to the excitement of the performers, and certainly due to conductor Hollenbach’s driving force, but at any rate, this performance of the Requiem seemed to have more excitement, though less perfection, than the Berkshire Festival performance of the same work two summers ago.

In response to repeated requests, the Rochester Oratorio Society has announced a repeat performance for Saturday, May 1.


Berlioz’ Requiem as performed in Rochester under Theodore Hollenbach’s direction
—“an evening of dramatic contrasts.”

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; this page created on 1 August 2010.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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