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Main page Concerts and performances 1825-1869
CG = Correspondance
NL = Nouvelles lettres de Berlioz, de sa famille, de ses contemporains (2016)
To the Editor of the Revue Musicale (CG no. 86; 16 May)
[…] The story has spread in the musical world that I was going to give a concert composed entirely of my own music, and already hostile rumours are springing up against me. I am accused of presumption and temerity; I am being credited with the most ridiculous pretensions.
My reply to all this is that I simply want to make myself known, in order to inspire some confidence, if I can, among authors and the directors of our opera houses. Is this desire something blameworthy in a young man? I do not believe so. But then, if there is nothing reprehensible in such an ambition, what is there to criticise in the methods I am using to achieve it?
If concerts have been given that are entirely composed of works by Mozart and Beethoven, does it follow that by doing the same I am having the absurd pretensions that are attributed to me?... I repeat that in so doing, I am merely employing the simplest method of making known my attempts at writing in the dramatic genre.
As for the temerity that is driving me to expose myself before the public in a concert, that is perfectly natural, and here is my excuse. For the last four years I have been knocking at every door, but none has yet opened. I am unable to obtain any libretto for an opera, or to secure performance of the one that was entrusted to me. I have tried in vain every method of making myself heard; only one remains, so I am resorting to it, and I believe I would do well to take as my motto this line by Virgil:
Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem [The only salvation for the vanquished is not to expect any]. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 91; 29 May)
My delay in giving you an account of the result of my concert may have worried you; I hasten to let you know that I scored the greatest of successes. If I did not do so earlier, it is because I was waiting for the newspapers to mention it; as only two so far have given their verdict on me and that usually the others only deal with concerts a week later, I will wait till next week to send them to you.
I had virtually no fear of the public after the prodigious luck I had at both general rehearsals; the musicians had seemed so astonished, they had applauded me so loudly, that even if my concert had not taken place, the rehearsals would have been enough to secure my reputation in the musical world. I had the finest orchestra that can be found in Europe, though unfortunately the chorus was far inferior, and the vocal part of my concert was overwhelmed by the instrumental one, as regards both quality and quantity. Be that as it may, I was successful as far as was possible and more even than I had hoped. Several people dreaded for me the memory of the Beethoven symphonies which had been heard in the same hall a fortnight earlier. Nevertheless several passages of my first overture were applauded, and the final chorus of the first part of the concert made such an impact that the musicians themselves were unable to restrain themselves. Despite the customary ban of any display of approval or disapproval in front of the public, the orchestra, the chorus, and the singers all stood up and the cheers that came from the stage covered those from the hall. It is hard to imagine how I felt at that moment.
My overture Les Francs-Juges was less easy to grasp for the public as it was hearing it for the first time, and it only received one round of applause, whereas the other pieces were greeted with up to three. When we rehearsed it the first day, its unusual design and gigantic scale excited a kind of stupor on the part of the orchestra; in the middle of the introduction one of the violin players stopped in amazement and cried: « Ha! ha! The rainbow is playing the violin, the winds are playing the organ, Time is wielding the baton! » This citation from an ancient tragedy gave the signal, and without even knowing the allegro of the overture, a storm of applause greeted the introduction. Here is the reason for this enthusiasm. In order to depict the terrible power of the Francs-Juges and their dark fanaticism, I had the idea of getting all the brass instruments play in octaves a theme of great ferocity. Normally composers only use these instruments to reinforce the impact of ensemble passages; but by giving to the trombones a strongly characterised melody performed by them alone, with the rest of the orchestra shuddering underneath, the result was that formidable and novel effect which astonished musicians so much.
The public was unable to comprehend as quickly the novelty of the experience it was undergoing. And I realised there and in several other pieces that it is not possible to accustom a musical audience all of a sudden to novel forms; when a chorus with an unusual ending was performed, the applause only started a moment after the end, when the public could see that the piece was really finished. As a general rule I avoid like the plague those commonplaces which all composers (with the exception of Weber and Beethoven) use at the end of their pieces. It is a sort of charlatanism which is intended to mean: « Get ready to start clapping, the piece is about to end » ; and nothing in my view is more pitiful than these banal and conventional phrases which make any piece of music sound like any other.
My audience included all the most brilliant names in the musical world; I was singularly flattered to be applauded by Herold, Auber, Lesueur, Reicha, Nourrit, Derivis, Mme Catalani (who happened to be in Paris that week), members of the Institut, the directors of the Odéon and the Opéra etc., etc. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 93; 6 June)
[…] A great, great success! A success which reflected the astonishment of the public, and the enthusiasm of the musicians.
I had received so much applause at the general rehearsals on Friday and Saturday, that I was not worried in the slightest about the effect my music would produce on those members of the audience who had paid for their seats. The session started in the most auspicious way possible with the overture to Waverley, which you do not know, as it was greeted with three rounds of applause. After it came our beloved Mélodie Pastorale. It was unworthily sung by the solo singers, and the final chorus was not sung at all; instead of counting their rests, the choristers waited for a signal that the conductor did not give them, and they realised that they had missed their entry when the piece was nearly finished. This piece did not have one quarter of the effect that it is capable of having.
The Marche Religieuse des Mages, which is also unknown to you, was warmly applauded. But when came the Resurrexit from my Mass, which you have never heard since I revised it, and which was sung for the first time by fourteen women’s voices and thirty men, the hall of the Ecole Royale de Musique saw for the first time the musicians of the orchestra put down their instruments immediately after the final chord and applaud more loudly than the public. The sound of the bows being struck against the cellos and basses was like a hailstorm; the women and men of the chorus were all applauding; when one round was over, another one started; what shouts, what frenzy!...
In the end, I could no longer bear it in my corner of the orchestra, I lay down on the timpani and started to cry. […] (there follows a passage describing the Francs-Juges overture) […]
Well, you know our Scène héroïque grecque, the verse: « le Monde entier... » could not have half of the impact of this tremendous passage. In truth, it was very badly performed; Bloc, who was conducting the orchestra, got the tempo wrong when beginning: « Des Sommets de l’Olympe ... » Then, to bring the orchestra back to the correct tempo, he caused a momentary loss of ensemble among the violins which nearly ruined everything. Nevertheless the effect is as great and perhaps greater than you imagine. The urgent march of the Greek auxiliaries, and the exclamation: « Ils s’avancent! » are astonishingly dramatic in effect. As you can see, I am being straight with you, and I am telling you frankly what I think of my music. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 140; 30 October)
Ferrand, Ferrand, my friend, where are you? We had the first rehearsal this morning. Forty two violins, a total of a hundred and ten musicians! I am writing to you from the Lemardelay restaurant while waiting for my dessert. I swear that nothing is so terrifyingly awful as my overture Les Francs-Juges. Ferrand, my dear friend, you would understand me; where are you? It is a hymn to despair, but the most despairing despair that can be imagined, horrible and tender. Habeneck, who is conducting my huge orchestra, is terrified by it. They have never seen anything as difficult; but it seems also that they think it is not bad, since they all fell on me after the end of the overture, not only with frenzied applause, but with cries almost as terrifying as those of my orchestra. Oh Ferrand, Ferrand, why are you not here? […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 142; 6 November)
[…] Be that as it may, since you show such a lively interest in what affects me and that your friendship makes you share so keenly in all my ups and downs, I will tell you that I have scored an immense success. The overture Les Francs-Juges in particular deeply stirred the audience; it earned four rounds of applause. Mlle Marinoni had just come on stage to sing an Italian lampoon; I took advantage of this break and wanted to make my way unobtrusively through the music stands to pick up a bundle of music on a bench. The public saw me, and the shouts and bravos started again. The musicians joined in, and a clatter of bows rained down on the violins, the basses and music stands; I nearly fainted. And no end of embraces; but you were not there!... On leaving, once the crowd had dispersed, the musicians were waiting for me in the courtyard of the Conservatoire, and as soon as I appeared, the applause started again in open air. At the Opéra in the evening the effect was the same; the orchestra and the foyer were in ferment. Oh my friend, I wish you were here! […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 155; 19 February)
[…] I will tell you, dear father, that yesterday evening I scored a notable success. Two of my melodies were performed at l’Athénée musical before a very large audience, one of them for full chorus, the other for a solo voice with only a piano accompaniment. I had the satisfaction of seeing all this crowd, who had listened with a degree of indifference to all the earlier pieces, greet mine with increased attention, a long cry of chut demanded silence throughout the hall; my name was pronounced on every side, which indicated that something was expected of me. This favourable presumption had its effect; although the two pieces performed are calm and sad in style (« La Rêverie » and « Le Chant sacré »), and therefore not such as to stir the masses, they were nevertheless greeted with several rounds of applause. The managers of l’Athénée asked me insistently to give other pieces at the next concert, and many spectators came up to the stage to congratulate me, etc. In short the evening belonged to me. The newspapers have said so much about the originality of my music that it is now taken for granted, and I would only need to write half a dozen notes for them to be thought to display some originality. Take the « Le Chant sacré » : if this piece has any merit, it lies in its expression and grandeur rather than anything else, yet it was judged to be different from anything known, to be entirely novel, etc. Nothing is less true, but you must let the good public talk!... I am beginning to have what is needed for a salient reputation, dedicated supporters and furious opponents, whose only argument is that I am half-mad and losing my head, or that I am an evil genius who has come to destroy and not to build; my innovations drive them out of their wits. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 190; 6 December)
I have only had time to write you a short note; my concert took place yesterday with extraordinary success. The Symphonie fantastique was greeted with shouts and stamping of feet; the public asked for the Marche du supplice to be encored, but as it was very late and the Songe d’une nuit du sabbat is a long piece, Habeneck did not want to repeat the movement; it was pointed out that it would be too much, and the public did not insist.
Camille [Moke] and her mother were there, they were scared to death by what Mme Moke was calling my extravagant programme; they were overcome with emotion, Camille was saying to me yesterday evening: « No, I would never have imagined that an orchestra could produce such effects. Oh! how I now detest my piano music, how poverty-stricken and mean it is! »
Mme Moke was in a state of extraordinary agitation.
Pixis, Spontini, Meyerbeer and Fétis were cheering furiously, and on hearing my Marche du supplice Spontini exclaimed: « There has only been one man capable of writing such a piece, it is Beethoven; it is prodigious! »
Pixis embraced me, and so did more than fifty others. It was a furore. Liszt the celebrated pianist dragged me home by force as it were to dine with him, and overwhelmed me with the most energetic displays of enthusiasm. Poor M. Lesueur was still unwell and was unable to come, but these ladies were present and are delighted. […]
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 293; 26 November)
[…] My concert is fixed and announced on bill-boards for Sunday the 9th of December, in 12 days’ time. Everything is going so much to plan that I am frightened. The musicians welcomed me on my arrival with the most affectionate warmth; they are all very anxious to be part of my orchestra. It will be an instrumental performance on a gigantic scale. The voices will be too few in number, and I am unable to have more than 15 women and 20 men. Cherubini has been charming with me and went so far as to say « that he was delighted to see me again ». M. Véron, the director of the Opéra, refused to let A. Nourrit sing for me, and allowed me to have another singer — Dupont, and on my arrival at his place he showered me with a courtier’s compliments; I am curious to see the result of his honeyed words. He will be coming to the concert.
My poster is exciting curiosity to the highest degree. People are talking about it everywhere. I have never had so much latitude as this time. Everything is ready today and the concert is only taking place in 12 days. […]
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 295; 10 December)
Yesterday I scored an extraordinary success. Almost everthing was well played and felt. I was overwhelmed with applause and loudly called back by the public which wanted to see me before they left the hall, and this had never happened to me; I was therefore obliged to come forward on the stage amidst a resounding shower of bravos from the public and the orchestra. I am almost relieved, dear sister, that you were not there, it would have been too much for your nerves. I am also sure that it would have upset my father. My new work, the Mélologue, for which I also wrote the words, was performed by our admirable tragic actor Bocage, who was sublime and irresistible. I am still tired of all the embraces and rapture of all these people, among them Paganini, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Adolphe Nourri, and I do not know how many people, men and women, who came up to the stage to see me.
I noted that I had made great progress in controlling my own emotions, as at no time did I betray any weakness; ah! but yes, when Bocage, still pale with emotion, rushed to me in the foyer and embraced me furiously three times over, I nearly compromised myself by not holding back my tears. […]
I am being harassed with demands for a second performance, from which I would certainly gain a great deal; I will see whether this is possible within a fortnight. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 299; 14 December)
I am sending you today ten copies of the Mélologue with a few newspapers; I would have sent you all those that have mentioned me, but several were not stamped and I could not give them to the post-office; I will get more copies which I will send you together with those which have so far not said anything. Fétis, who received straight in the face the slap I directed at him in the Mélologue, in the speech about the arrangers and correctors, took his revenge today in a virulent article in Le Temps where his temper breaks out everywhere. No matter, it has been an immense success, and I receive every day bundles of letters from unknown persons who compliment me effusively. M. d’Argout sent me a charming one the day before yesterday. There is a demand on all sides for the concert to be repeated and I am going to give it again; the takings are certain to be splendid. In the streets, at the theatre, people I have never seen take their hats off to me; there is a noise and buzz of conversations in salons, and at the Opéra, at the foyer and behind the scene, everywhere my concert is the only topic of conversation. Bocage, in the role of the artist which I wrote, was sublime in his verve, sensitivity, inspiration and wit. In the speech on the arrangers and that on the brigands, he was interrupted by unending applause. At the passage: « Oh! if only I could find this Juliet, this Ophelia whom my heart is calling for! » handkerchiefs started to appear.
The orchestra, composed of the same performers, will be strong and bold next time; what it lacked was self-assurance. With another careful and paid rehearsal, all the details, all the nuances will come out. […]
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 304; 20 December)
[…] I did suspect that my success would cause you joy; I would have liked to be able to send you all the newspapers which have talked about me, but that is impossible, there are 21 or 22 of them and I do not have time to chase them up. But I wanted to send you yesterday the issue of l’Artiste, a weekly paper which contains a very interesting and sensitive article, but nobody was willing to sell it to me anywhere. My second concert was supposed to take place this Sunday, but a general rehearsal which was announced at the Opéra for that very day intervened and took away part of my orchestra and M. Habeneck its conductor; so I have been obliged to put it off till the following Sunday 30 December. This will affect the takings because of the proximity of new year’s day; nevertheless M. Schlesinger my music dealer has this very moment repeated his offer of two thousand francs if I was prepared to sell him my concert. I did not accept. I do not think I will earn much from it, the expenses are too enormous, and I am paying the orchestra in full. I was asked to repeat the Francs-Juges overture which I am adding at the end, together with La Captive by Victor Hugo. […]
To the Comité de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (CG no. 328; 13 March)
I have brought back from Italy a few instrumental compositions which have not yet been performed. Would one of them (the overture to Rob Roy) have the honour of being included in the programme of one of your brilliant concerts?... As the parts have not yet been copied, I beg you, Gentlemen, should your reply be positive, to let me have the score as soon as possible. […]
To Thomas Gounet (CG no. 366; between 15 and 20 December)
I hope that you will be coming this Sunday to hear my overture Le Roi Lear which is something... this something scored a violent success at this morning’s rehearsal, and I hope the same will be true on the great day. […]
To Victor Hugo (CG no. 367; 21 December)
Would Monsieur Hugo be kind enough to spare two hours for my sake, tomorrow Sunday, to come and hear at the Conservatoire my new composition on King Lear, as well as the romance of Marie Tudor. We will be ending with my Symphonie fantastique, and judging by the rehearsals I am confident that the performance will be electrifying.
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 370; 26 December)
A thousand thanks, kind sister, true friend, for your affectionate letter; I was awaiting it for a long time. Since receiving it I have taken a fierce revenge for the shambles at the Théâtre Italien [on 24 November]. Last Sunday I gave a concert at the Conservatoire with a success greater than I have ever obtained in my life. Everything was performed with rare perfection, a warmth and enthusiasm such as is hardly ever seen among orchestral players. The effect was electrifying; the public encored the Marche du supplice despite the enormous length of the piece. It is the first time that I have received the honour of an encore. The takings were fairly good; I have no reason at all to complain. Harriet was in raptures, such as you alone in the world can imagine. She was so delighted when coming out amidst the congratulations which were flowing to her from the likes of Alfred de Vigny, Hugo, Émile Deschamps, Legouvé, Eugène Süe (you have to know that all the poets in Paris were in the audience). Oh my poor Adèle, why were you not there?... My uncle was present, but I only saw him for a moment at the beginning. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 398 [see vol. VIII]; 15/16 May)
[…] As for the Chasse de Lützow, here it is just as I had it sung at the Théâtre Italien by those beastly choristers, who ruined the effect (a musical citation follows) […]
To Nathan Bloc (CG no. 415; 28 November)
[…] You are asking me for a few details on what I am doing, but in truth I am in such a whirlwind of activities of every kind that I will put off the details for another time. Let me mention only that I have just given two concerts [9 and 23 November], and am giving a third in a week [7 or 14 December], where I will be giving for a second time the new symphony (Harold) with solo viola, then I am leaving the Conservatoire hall for the Ventadour theatre where Girard and I are going to put on a musical festival. It will be the first to be given in Paris. My stock is beginning to rise. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 416; 30 November)
[…] I am drained with fatigue, and I still have much to do. My second concert took place [23 November], and your Harold received the welcome that I was hoping for, despite a still rather shaky performance. The Marche des Pélerins was encored; it can now aspire to be the (religious and gentle) counterpart to the Marche au supplice. Next Sunday, at my third concert [7 or 14 December], Harold will, I hope, reappear in all its strength, dressed up in a faultless performance. The Orgie de Brigands which concludes the symphony is something rather violent; I wish I could let you hear it! There is much of your own poetry in that work; I am sure that I owe you more than one idea. […]
To Joseph d’Ortigue (CG no. 420; between 20 and 26 December)
[…] I have been obliged to give this fourth concert [28 December] to make a little money. The whole orchestra is coming for nothing. Do not dwell again in your articles on my financial situation; there is no point in insisting on that any more.
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 424; 10 January)
[…] I had not written to you for a long time, it is true, but you know how many things I have had to do. Four concerts in a month and a half, with several new works requiring performance, which involves twice as much trouble; then an endless series of articles to write for that miserable Rénovateur and for the Gazette musicale. Without that I have no idea how we could have managed while I was putting on my concerts, given the failure of that damned Ventadour theatre; I have been unable to extract a penny of my wife’s salary. The result is that nearly two thousand francs have been lost on which we were necessarily counting. It is true that I have earned nearly as much with my concerts, despite the enormous costs involved, but in order to buy our damned furniture I was obliged to spend a great deal in advance and you can imagine that the money did not stay long at home. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 425 [see vol. VIII]; 10 January)
[…] I would really like to send you Harold, which bears your name and which you do not have. This symphony was even more successful at its third performance [on 28 December 1834], and I am sure that you would be crazy about it. I will still touch up a number of small details, and I hope that next year it will create an even greater sensation. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 429 [see vol. VIII; 15 April)
[…] In addition I have made countless attempts over the last two months to give yet another concert, I tried every hall in Paris, as that of the Conservatoire is closed to me because of the monopoly granted to the members of the Société des Concerts. I have come to the conclusion, beyond all possible doubt, that it is the only hall in Paris where my music can be heard in acceptable conditions. I think I will give one final session on the 3rd of May, as the Conservatoire has finished its concerts by that time. […]
Your Harold still enjoys great favour. At his concert at the Hôtel de Ville [9 April] Liszt performed an excerpt which was the crown of the evening. I am extremely sorry that you do not have your own copy of this score which is dedicated to you. […]
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 430; 17 April)
[…] If I had been able to give a few concerts in the last three months we would be comfortably off, but is it not the case that there are monopolies in everything and everywhere? The only hall in Paris in which I can get my music performed is that of the Conservatoire, yet through a priviledge of the civil list it is granted to the Société des Concerts from the 1st of January every year to the 1st of May. It is the best time of the year that is denied to me. On May 3rd next I will give one final musical session, then I will keep quiet until the following winter. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 435; 6 May)
I have at last finished with my last concert [3 May] and I take advantage of the first available moment of freedom to write to you. […]
My last concert was fairly satisfactory from the financial point of view, the takings stopped at 2540 francs, but I certainly would have made 4000 francs without the races at the Champ de Mars and the great waterworks at Versailles which were helped by wonderful weather and many people rushed there. For the Parisians, you see, their love of music does not go as far as to make them prefer it to horse races and other visual spectacles. They call the Spanish barbarians, but if some entrepreneur were to announce bull-fights, there is no doubt that the whole of fashionable society would get crushed to attend them.
On the other hand the musical performance was detestable, we had only been able to do a single rehearsal, and though it lasted three and a half hours it was altogether insufficient. I will not expose myself to this a second time. The king had reserved his box, the queen who was supposed to come decided an hour before the concert to go off to Versailles. Three drops of rain would have brought her to my concert. Only her ladies in waiting came along. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 440 [see vol. VIII]; after 23 August)
[…] I do not know which concert you are asking me about, I have given seven this year. I will start again in November, but I will not have anything new to give; my musical festival will not be completed, and in any case it is for seven hundred musicians. I think the plan and the subject will please you. I will perform again our Harold. […]
To an unknown correspondant (CG no. 449; 22 November or 13 December)
[…] My muse is not demanding and you are wrongly accusing her, and besides yours is so rich that it need not fear anything from her sister’s pretentions. Only mine is very capricious, and to give you an example, Le Cinq Mai that you will be hearing this evening was, during my stay in Rome, a matter of constant preoccupation, but having sought in vain for two months the music for the refrain « pauvre soldat », I finally gave up. One day while walking along the banks of the Tiber I lost my foot and fell in the river, where I got stuck up to the knees. When I got up I was singing the refrain I had been seeking for so long, and the piece was completed. That is why I never promise to poets to set their verses to music, much as I may wish to. […]
[See also Journal des Débats 23 July 1861 and À Travers chants]
To Philémon de Cuvillon (CG no. 451; 7 December)
I have the honour to warn you that the rehearsal for my second concert will take place this Saturday 12 December at 8.30 in the morning. The programme is not the one I had announced initially, the Symphonie Fantastique and the overture Le Roi Lear are included, and as we have only done one rehearsal I earnestly beg you to attend at 8.30 sharp at the Conservatoire. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 453 [see vol.VIII]; 16 December)
[…] I would very much like to send you my score of Harold, which is dedicated to you. This year it was twice as successful as last year and in truth this symphony beats the Symphonie Fantastique. I am very happy to have offered it to you before making it known to you; this will be a new pleasure for me when the opportunity arises. Frankly, I have never done anything which suits you better. […]
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 454; 24 December)
[…] It is a very long time since I have written to you; you can guess that my concerts prevented me [22 November and 13 December]. They were quite brilliant, but I was only able to give two being short of new music for a third concert. For the whole of the year I have been unable to compose anything, except for the song on the death of Napoleon [le Cinq Mai]. This need to sacrifice not only my art, but a certain profit, through the impossibility of waiting and having the means of living during the period of composition, is one of the most abominable mystifications that a man can endure. What my two concerts brought me was barely the equivalent of what I would have earned with my newspaper articles during these two months, first because everything I played there is today too well known, and then because I gave the first in partnership with the conductor Girard, and consequently the profits had to be shared. For the second concert I conducted it myself, and henceforward I will no longer need to rely on anyone to conduct the performance of my music.[…]
To the Duke of Orleans (CG no. 483bis [vol. VIII]; 1st December)
I am taking the liberty of placing before the eyes of your Highness the programme of my concert on Sunday next. When Your Highness did me the honour, two years, ago of coming to hear my symphony of Harold, this work, which was receiving its first performance, was played with all the disadvantages of a first trial, and the intentions of the author were subjected to a number of serious distortions which the work no longer needs to fear. I feel in addition a very keen urge to make known to your Highness my first symphonic composition (The Episode in the Life of an Artist), and if the court concerts had been able to accommodate the performance of a work of such dimensions I might have solicited the favour of having it performed there.
I therefore venture to beg of you, Monseigneur, to honour with your presence the musical matinée which I am about to give at the Conservatoire. […]
To bis sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 485; 22 December)
[…] I have just given two concerts [4 and 14 December]; from the artistic point of view I have never had such a success, because of the enormous superiority of the playing which I obtained by conducting the orchestra myself. From the monetary point of view, the expenses for each of the two concerts amounted to 1800 frs., and since the takings for the first concert were shared between Liszt and myself, I am left with a profit of 1800 frs., plus 160 frs. which are owed to me for tickets sold in Paris and 64 frs. for the box of the Minister of the Interior who came to my first concert, but who, I am sure, will never pay up. Assuming this to be very probably the case, I will then have earned 1700 frs. in two weeks, which I desperately needed to pay the IOUs I have given to my furniture dealer and to others, which will be falling due quite soon.
Imagine that for a moment I was in a state of complete panic at the thought that I did not have any new music to offer to the public and would be unable to cover my expenses. Fortunately Harriet had more faith than I did and pressed me to persist. I therefore announced my two large symphonies which had never been given together, and the crowds came. But unfortunately I was flooded as always with demands for tickets from the forty or fifty newspapers, large and small, which run riot in Paris, and in order not to attract an avalanche of insults which these gentlemen never fail to make to take their revenge when refused, I had no choice but to give in to their demands. Hence a considerable loss for the takings. […] But the press has treated me very well, and are singing my praises in every possible key. Even Le Courrier, the leader of the opposition to me, has been very gentle this year. I am not pleased that you have seen neither the Journal du Commerce, nor Le Monde, nor La Loi, nor La Presse, nor Le Carrousel. I had not thought of collecting them to send them to you. I have even received verses from an unknown poet, who seems to have a very pronounced passion for my music. […]
Victor Hugo to Hector Berlioz (CG no. 566; 15 September)
From the recesses of a corridor I followed your work [Benvenuto Cellini]. You have created something that is fine and noble . I am still full of everything I have heard. Sing, you who are made for singing, and allow to shout those who are made for shouting. Take courage, Master. Providence measures burdens to the shoulders that bear them. For great minds there are great obstacles. But do not forget that the duty of an obstacle is to allow itself to be overcome. […]
To Heinrich Probst (NL no. 568bis, p. 149; 17 September)
My work was given amidst a storm at the first performance, and amidst applause at the second and third. The newspapers are at war about me. A third of them are against and about two-thirds for. Today I have the assurance that, thanks to the cuts and changes made to the poem (that damned poem which was the cause of the storm), I will be in the current repertory of the Opéra. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 569; 20 September)
I should have written to you ten days ago; but how, given such a storm as the one I am emerging from. You have read the papers, at least the bad ones, because they are always those you come across in such a circumstance. The good ones are la Quotidienne, le Messager, le Journal de Paris, la France musicale, la Gazette musicale, l’Artiste, la Presse. The fact is that the second and third performances went perfectly thanks to the removal of the scenes which had most annoyed the public. If I find myself brought to a standstill this week, it is the gigantic vanity of Duprez which is the cause. The success of the work did not revolve exclusively around him, and the two women singers stole the show with their singing and acting. As a result he refused to play this role any more, and it is A. Dupont who is going to take his place, but as he was not expecting this any more than I was, he is obliged to learn all this music, and we have to be patient until he knows it. That means an interruption of eight or ten days. After this, because of the way the repertory is organised, I will be performed more frequently than I could have been if Duprez had kept his role.
It is impossible to tell you all the manœuvres, intrigues, cabals, disputes, battles, and insults that my work has provoked. […].
What matters is that I should be heard often, very often, I rely on my score to see me through more than anything that might be said in my favour. The two performances that followed the first one make me realise that I am entitled to hope for this.
So many modifications have been required by the changes made to the story-line that I am completely stupefied with fatigue. And yet the bad moment has passed. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 570 [see vol.VIII]; 20 September)
[…] Well yes, we were wrong to believe that an operatic libretto, which revolves around a subject of artistic interest and an artist’s passion, could find favour with a Parisian public. This error has had very damaging consequences, but, despite the cleverly orchestraed uproar coming from all my intimate enemies, the music remained master of the field. The second and third performances went very satisfactorily. […]
My two women singers had twenty times the success of Duprez, who was irked by this to the point of giving up the role at the third evening. It is Alexis Dupont who is going to replace him, but he will need about another ten days to learn all this music, which is causing a rather unpleasant interruption. After that the repertory of the Opéra is organised in such a way that I will be performed far more frequently with Dupont than I would have been with Duprez.
That is what matters; all that is needed is to be heard very often. My score can stand on its own feet. […] But if I tell you that this score possesses all the qualities that give life to works of art, you can believe me. The score of Benvenuto is in that category. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 588; 26 November)
[…] I happen to have been in bed for the last three weeks; a cold that was threatening to turn into something else still keeps me there, though not for long, I hope. I had announced a concert which I was supposed to be conducting, but it took place yesterday without me, though according to the congratulations of the friends who filled my room until fairly late last night, the success was extremely violent. […]
To his sister Adèle Berlioz (CG no. 593; 5 December)
[…] I am much better, I plan to go out the day after tomorrow and conduct next week the rehearsals for my second concert. The success of the first one was immense, you may have seen the letter of a German in the Gazette musicale, in which he expresses his astonishment and his deep emotion. Yesterday Lord Burghish, the president of the Philharmonic Society of London, who attended my first concert, got someone to ask me if I would like to go and spend two months in London to put on my symphonies, and under what condictions. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 602; 18 December)
My last concert scored such a success the day before last that I do not know how to describe it. But here is a fact: after the concert Paganini, that great and noble artist, came up to the stage and told me that this time he was so moved and astonished that he wanted to kneel before me; as I was protesting against this extravagant statement, he dragged me to the middle of the stage, and there, in the presence of several musicians of my orchestra who had not yet left, despite my efforts he fell to his knees in front of me declaring that I had gone further than Beethoven.
That is not all. Now, some five minutes ago, here is his son, the little Achille, a charming twelve-year old boy, who comes to find me and hands over to me from his father the following letter with a gift of twenty thousand francs.
Mio caro amico,
Beethoven estinto non c'era che Berlioz che potesse farlo rivivere; ed io che ho gustato le vostre divine composizioni, degne di un genio qual siete, credo mio dovere di pregarvi a voler accettare in segno del mio omaggio ventimila franchi, i quali vi saranno rimesse dal Sigr baron de Rothschild.
Credete mi sempre
il vostro affo amico,
Nicolo Paganini […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 616; 2 January)
[…] For a long time Paganini has declared himself as one of my warmest supporters, and he was again conspicuous for his enthusiasm at the first performance of Benvenuto. And then, after my second concert which I was conducting [16 December 1838], he came to me, took me by the arm, led me to the stage at the Conservatoire at the moment when the musicians were leaving, and there knelt before me; I thought I was dreaming. The poor man, as you know, has completely lost his voice, and it was therefore his charming little son (who can understand him better than anyone else) who conveyed to me what he wanted to say. That day Paganini was hearing for the first time my symphony Harold which is dedicated to you. That is what provoked the explosion.Two days later, on Tuesday morning, I had gone to bed because of my bronchitis, when little Achille entered my room and handed over to me from his father a letter to which there was no reply, he said, and ran away.[…]
As for my opera it was announced on posters twice during my illness and twice, because of a genuine indisposition of two actors, it proved necessary to change the spectacle. It is announced for next Monday, and rehearsals took place the day before yesterday.[…]
You have no idea of the magnificence of this last concert, the playing was out of this world; there were incredible reactions, not only in the hall, where some ladies were shedding floods of tears, but in my orchestra where one of the first violons (the elder Seghers) could not bear it and had to leave the hall. For my part I was motionless like a pillar in the midst of all that. The rehearsal of the previous day and the scene from Gluck’s Alceste had exhausted my sensivity. […]
To Édouard Rocher (CG no. 617; 9 January)
[…] I would have written to you yesterday had I not been detained at the Opéra all day long. There were two rehearsals, in the morning and in the evening, for Benvenuto which is due to reappear at last on Friday, barring any new accidents. I imagine that at this reprise there will be again a terrible uproar. If it was not forbidden to bring in canes in the stalls, there might be a few broken heads. The business of Paganini and the sensation of my last concert have excited my supporters and friends, but also exasperated my enemies all the more. […]
Since Duprez is no longer with me all my actors, and in particular my two ladies, show total conviction in their devotion to my opera. I am very worried for Alexis Dupont, the role overwhelms him in the strenuous scenes, but he has a great deal of charm in the gentle and slow pieces. As for the choristers, their slackness and apathy could reduce a saint to despair. I have given up trying to animate this band of corpses. The orchestra is going reasonably well. But I will be short of a few essential artists, who are unwell. Well, this poor Benvenuto has no luck, he is truly malvenuto, as the Charivari says. […]
To Jules Janin (CG no. 619; 12 January)
[…] Since you were not at the Opéra, this is what happened. The opposition limited itself to hissing the sextet in the second act, which is really too long (I am going to shorten it as far as the words allow), but all the rest was warmly applauded, in particular the three arias of madame Gras, Massol and especially madame Stoltz.The great finale, which has never been so well played, also received fairly warm applause. The crowd scene on Colonne square made a great impact. Dupont sang with genuine charm and feeling all the gentle parts of his role. The aria « Sur les monts les plus sauvages » seemed to everyone much better rendered by him than it was by Duprez. The orchestra massacred the overture which it had not rehearsed, but you must not say this. The chorus put more warmth and ensemble in their performance than they usually do. In sum, we are on our feet again, unless Duponchel allows us to fall to the ground a second time by spacing out too much the other performances.
The actors had occasional lapses of memory. The hall was fairly full, and Duponchel is pleased. […]
To Franz Liszt (CG no. 622; 22 January)
[…] My forth performance, which as you know was delayed by Duprez who suddenly gave up the role, went rather well, with a packed hall and plenty of applause (with the exception of one piece, the length of which seemed disproportionate, given the weakness of Dupont’s acting, who failed to inject enough life into a scene which is already in itself tedious and long). […]
To the Director of the Opéra (CG no. 638; after 17 March)
I have the honour of announcing to you that I am withdrawing my opera of Benvenuto. I am personally convinced that you will receive this news with pleasure. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 683; 26 November)
I am writing you just a few lines to announce a great success! Roméo et Juliette were greeted with acclamations which my uncle Auguste can relay to you, as he was at the concert with my cousins. I nearly succumbed to the fatigue of the rehearsals, but success has revived me. And but for a bath which I was ill-advised to have and which gave me a cold, I would now be free from coughing or any other annoyance. What a pity that you are never able to be in Paris in occasions such as this! This first concert, apart from its immense importance musically speaking (the art form which was its subject is still unknown), should have enlightened me on the degree of real interest that a new composition of mine could excite at this time among the real public.
There was such a crowd that the ticket office had to refuse more than 1500 frs. worth of bookings. Despite the enormous number of tickets which the unbelievable demands of the press have extracted from me, the takings have amounted to 4 559 frs. […]
Today I have received numerous letters of compliments. Apart from the extreme republican press, and to judge what people say, the newspapers will be very favourable to me.
It is probably the greatest success I have yet won.
I embrace you in the hope that this news will give you a few hours of happiness.
Balzac was saying to me this morning « The audience at your concert was a veritable brain. ». One could indeed notice there all the celebrities among the intelligentsia of Paris. Many enemies had come there with sinister intentions, but were obliged to restrain themselves and pretend to be delighted. They will get their own back with anonymous witticisms in little newspapers.
The second performance will be even more satisfactory, I hope, and will take place next Sunday. But the first was a tour de force which only my system of sectional rehearsals could have produced; the musicians themselves are astonished by what they have done.
Farewell, dear father, embrace my sisters for me, I am leaving you to deal with a few small changes which I want to make to my score. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (CG no. 688; 1st December)
In spite of my fatigue and my complete exhaustion, I must absolutely write to you these few words: the second performance of Roméo et Juliette has been a prodigious and crushing success! I have been overwhelmed with applause, shouts, tears, everything.
At the end of the concert, at the moment of the reconciliation of the Capulets and Montagues, the entire orchestra and chorus rose to their feet with shouts of hurrah enough to shake the hall, while the public in the stalls, in the boxes, were applauding furiously; for a moment I was frigthened of losing my composure, something I dread more than anything else, but I held firm! […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 697; 20 December)
[…] My three concerts are over, and it has been a crescendo of success right up to the last one. The performance was electrifying. No one has ever dared before to give three times in a row the same and only symphony, but I did it and this experiment has extracted from the pockets of the public the sum of 13 200 frs.. All told there were twelve thousand francs of expenses, so you see how much is left to me. That is miserable, don’t you think? But this result, given the meanness of our musical public, the small size of the hall, and the demands of the newspapers for tickets, is magnificent.
As you can imagine, Harriet is rather proud to have predicted all this. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 700; 31 January)
[…] This time again Roméo et Juliette has provoked a flood of tears (I can assure you that there was a great deal of weeping). It would take too long to relate here all the incidents of these three concerts. All you need to know is that the new score has aroused unbelievable emotions, and even led to dramatic conversions. It goes without saying that the hard core of enemies in spite of all remains ever more solid. An Englishman bought for 120 francs from the servant of Schlesinger the small fir baton which I used to conduct the orchestra [see CG no. 699bis]. Besides, the London press has treated me splendidly.
These three sessions cost 12,000 francs for the performers, and the takings added up to 13,200 francs; out of these 13,200 francs I am therefore left with only 1100 of net profit! Is it not sad to admit that such a fine result, given the small size of the hall and the habits of the public, is miserable when I am trying to make a living from music? Obviously, serious art cannot sustain a man, and that will always be the case, until a government understands that it is unjust and terrible. […]
Alizard scored a great success in his role as the good monk (Friar Lawrence, who kept his name). He understood and conveyed wonderfully well the beauty of this shakespearean character. The chorus had some magnificent moments; but the orchestra astounded the audience through the miracles of verve, assurance, delicacy, brilliance, majesty and passion it performed. […]
Next Thursday [6 February], the Gazette musicale is giving a large-scale orchestral concert for its subscribers; I will be conducting it. Your symphony Harold and the overture to Benvenuto Cellini will be part of the programme. […]
Émile Deschamps to Berlioz (CG no. 701; 7 February)
You were right, my dear Berlioz, I did not know your overture to Benvenuto even though I had heard it 4 times. All those nuances of energy, feeling and magnificent combinations!... which yesterday’s electrifying performance brought to light; we were delighted, and but for the late hour there would have been shouts of Bis from all sides.
Thank you for this new success of yours. As for the Harold symphony, never did it make such an impact — my wife, the ladies who were with us, and myself — we were quivering with pleasure and emotion. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 703; 13 February)
[…] Now I feel somewhat revived, thanks to a splendid concert which I conducted for the benefit of the director of the Gazette musicale in which my Harold symphony and the overture to Benvenuto Cellini scored a solid success. Fétis was there, and nearly had a heart attack... out of rage. […]
To his father Dr Louis Berlioz (NL no. 730 ante-antebis [sic]; 18 August)
You probably already know about the success of my two concerts; in spite of the heat and the absence from Paris of the musical public, I filled Salle Vivienne twice over; J. Rocher, who will be seeing you shortly, will tell you about the shouts, the stamping of feet and the applause of this new public. I was being applauded even in the street, on the boulevard, when people saw me passing by with Louis and Harriet. […]
These two concerts brought me 1500 francs of net profit and as much for the owner of Salle Vivienne who had an equal share in the venture. I believe I made a fool’s bargain in accepting the deal, as the poor Vivienne Concert only makes takings of 500 francs on the best days. But the expenses were enormous because of the two orchestras which had to be paid and I did not dare to bear the risk all on my own. […]
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 736; 13 November)
[…] Well, I slept till noon and I have so much to say to you about the Festival that it would take too long to put it in writing. But you must know that the enterprise was almost impossible, that to organise the event I had to deploy more energy, will-power, attention and care than you can ever imagine. There was the silent opposition of Habeneck about to be dethroned by me in the most important musical event that has ever been presented in Paris. There were my natural enemies who were quaking with rage as I continued to progress in spite of their predictions (they had decided that it would never get as far as the day of the performance); there was dreadful fatigue, physical and moral, sleepless nights without end etc., etc.; fortunately the director of the Opéra took a broad view of the matter and gave me a free hand; I did what I wanted to. […] It is shameful and scarcely credible that my undertaking, which was crowned with success, excited so much petty envy. They resorted to splitting hairs over the title: Festival, as though the word was not commonly used to denote a musical festival, and as though a musical festival, which is considered something beautiful when four or five cities get together to put one on, could lose any of its value when it is organised by just one man. Oh! how mean we can be at times!
Be that as it may, let people talk. I wanted to do it, and I did it. I wanted the two great movements of my Requiem to be heard and they had a shattering impact. […] I wanted to prove that I could lead without a hitch and with the greatest precision 450 musicians, AFTER JUST ONE GENERAL REHEARSAL. Habeneck maintained that it was impossible, that it was mad and absurd; I proved it could be done. The performance was magnificent. I wanted to be seen at work as conductor at the Opéra, at the head of the greatest musical army that had ever been brought together, and I succeeded. Let the dogs bark now! that is their job.
It was really beautiful, I can assure you. People came from London, from Nantes, from Hamburg (to the best of my knowledge). […]
Honoré de Balzac to Berlioz (CG no. 738; 16 December)
The Napoleon saga prevented me until now from expressing my deep admiration for the Symphonie Fantastique which I heard on Sunday [13 December]. I wish I was as rich as the late Paganini, and I would be doing better than writing to you; but I can only say to you what it has demonstrated to many an imbecile, that you are a great musician and a fine genius. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 739; around 17-20 December)
You may call me ungrateful, wicked, a scoundrel and a rascal for not having yet replied to you! Yet I have been involved in so many musical activities that I do not deserve more than half of your compliments. […]
I have just given my third concert [13 December]. Great, furious enthusiasm! If you were a collector of autographs, I would be sending you a letter of Balzac on this subject [CG no. 738 above]. […]
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 765; 5 February)
[…] You know that I have given a very large concert last Tuesday [1 February]. None of you will ever be present, neither father, nor uncle, nor sisters, nor brothers-in-law, when such a piece of good fortune happens to me; it is fated! You cannot imagine the shouts, the tears, the demonstrations of enthusiasm of all kinds which were stirred by the Apothéose of my Symphonie Militaire, which I have just rescored for two orchestras. At the point where my second orchestra (of strings) bursts in, part of the audience leapt to their feet in a state of febrile agitation and the two hundred musicians could no longer be heard, such was the force of the hurrahs which nothing could contain. Since then I have been hearing a host of curious details about this moment of nervous vertigo. If my father had been there, together with all of you, my uncle, and the memories of the empire, and — since this is related to the work — the even more immediate recollections of the three days when people were killing each other with such bravery in the streets of Paris, he would probably have experienced an impression as yet unknown to him. There was a magnificent audience and the hall was packed up to the top of the stairs leading to the door. In spite of the expenses of the double orchestra and the copying of new parts, I am still making a profit; the costs of copying will be less at the next concert, which will take place on Tuesday 15 February. […] It must be admitted that the people of Paris are making surprising progress. I was told that among the audience were twenty blind people, among them the traveller Arago (the brother of the astronomer), who demonstrated their enthusiasm in the most peculiar ways. For my part my throat was on fire, I had a cramp in my right arm (I then had to conduct with the left hand) and a kind of buzz inside which prevented me from hearing anything. I was as I imagine navy artillery men must be on the lower deck of a frigate during a battle, though without the presence of death.
Harriet and Louis were radiant, as you can imagine; will the excitement be as great at the second concert? One must hope so, but I always fear that in such cases it will not happen, twice in succession — that would be too good. […]
To Jean-François Snel (CG no. 787; 11 November)
[…] I have been busy putting on my Symphonie funèbre at the Opéra; it was performed two days ago in a truly incandescent way and the success was altogether magnificent; tell this to our excellent friend Zani de Ferranti. Long before the end of the Apotheosis, neither orchestra nor chorus could be heard any more, such was the shouting and stamping of feet on the part of the public. I was called back twice; in short this is a very great success and of considerable importance, give the lukewarm and preoccupied public of the Opéra with which it was obtained. You see what a difference a venue can make. We will not be performing this symphony in yours. It requires a completely different orchestra. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 789; 24 November)
[…] Two concerts are being organised for me in Frankfurt for the Christmas celebrations. I will be giving a third one in Brussels on the way; and to make my farewell to Paris I put on last week at the Opéra my Grande Symphonie funèbre, that of the July celebrations, with the addition of a chorus. The performance was wonderful and the success dazzling; I was recalled twice and obliged to come to the front of the stage, after the Apotheosis which had been interrupted by applause long before the end. Even the boxes, which never applaud at the Opéra, were in a state of ferment; in short, the ovation was complete. […]
To Hippolyte Lucas (CG no. 860; around 10 November)
See whether in your next feuilleton you can introduce a few words to announce my concert. It will take place on the 19th (Sunday) at the Conservatoire. Duprez, Massol and madame Gras will sing there a trio of mine [from Benvenuto Cellini]. Duprez will sing in addition a piece I wrote in Germany and which has never been heard here [Absence]. Then there will be a cavatina for madame Gras [from Benvenuto Cellini], a solo for violin for Alard, the overture Le Roi Lear, the Queen Mab scherzo [from Roméo et Juliette], the symphony Harold en Italie, and the finale for two orchestras of the Duke of Orléans’ grande Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (the Apothéose). Combine all this with my return from Germany, and the long time that has elapsed since my last concert in Paris. […]
[Note: the Symphonie funèbre was dedicated to the Duke of Orléans]
Gaspare Spontini to Berlioz (CG no. 866; 20 November)
Vivat! terque quaterque vivat, first you, my very dear Berlioz, your gigantic, fantastic and shattering compositions, which are entirely peculiar to your genius, and your loyal and most valiant Army, for its perfect and most admirable performance, to the very limit of the meaning of these words! Yes, it would have won for you such victory just as brilliant and would have carried you in triumph on its invulnerable shields, even with the motions of a baton of command which was not white, and shorter by a foot, which, covering less space with shorter and smaller gyrations, and thus fatiguing much less your arm, head and body, would sometimes have rendered more securely, precisely and clearly the balance between the excessively varied speeds and in general the regularity of your conducting! […]
To Lecourt (CG no. 867; 21 November)
[…] I gave my concert the day before yesterday; it was a great musical commotion, which has left me still aching and moved. You were missing in this shattered audience, you would have been there like Milton’s Satan at the Pandemonium.
In truth the Parisians are beginning to learn and I am particularly satisfied with their intelligence concerning the Symphonie funèbre, the finale of which has turned them all upside down.
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 868; 25 November)
[…] I am sending you a letter of Louis who gives you in his way an account of my concert [see NL no. 866bis p. 230]. A dazzling, stunning success, which made a little money, despite the extravagant expenses. I received a letter from Spontini who is never pleased with anything, and who had never made a compliment to me in his whole life; here is the beginning of it, one half Latin, a quarter Italian, and a quarter French:
[there follows a citation of the beginning of CG no. 866 above]
What a way of writing! But it would be wrong and odious of me to comment on the strangeness of the style, when the thought that Spontini wanted to express makes me so happy.
Yes, as I said to him yesterday, it was one of the dreams of my life to move the author of La Vestale and I have succeeded in this. […]
To return to last Sunday’s concert, I have never seen an audience so stirred; hats thrown in the air, interruption of the orchestra, cries of bis etc... […]
See also Cirque Olympique
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 877; 5 January)
[…] I am trying to give another concert in order to make some money; I only have a small hall, and consequently I will only be able to use a small orchestra... There is not a shadow of a singer in Paris. How to get out of this?... […]
To Ludwig Schlösser (CG no. 881 [cf. NL p. 233-4]; 18 January)
[…] I gave my first concert at the Conservatoire [on 19 November 1843] and I am organising another one for next week in a hall you do not know (the Salle Herz); I wrote for that a new overture [Le Carnaval romain], a scene with chorus [Hélène] and two other pieces. I have my usual orchestra but am nevertheless worried, we must put on the programme with only one rehearsal... if only I could find in Paris the patience and concentration which the artists of Darmstadt have so amply demonstrated to me... we would work better and be able to obtain miraculous performances. At the first concert we had two rehearsals and everything went with sweep and verve. Perhaps we will be lucky to emerge unscathed this time, but the risk is great, you will agree. […]
To J.-L. Heugel (CG no. 892; shortly before 30 March)
The religious concert announced for next Saturday [6 April] at the theatre of the Opéra-Comique promises to be a very brilliant one: the principal artists of that theatre will be heard there, as well as M. Camille Sivori who is coming specially from Brussels, M. Alard, M. Alexis Dupont and perhaps also M. Liszt who will be arriving in Paris soon [in the event Liszt did not participate]. The principal items on the programme are: the overtures Le Roi Lear and Le Carnaval romain by M. Berlioz, a solo for piano, a violin concerto by Beethoven, another violin concerto by M. Sivori, a motet by Lesueur, the Sanctus from the Requiem by M. Berlioz, a duet from Armide by Gluck and the finale (the Apothéose) from the Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale by M. Berlioz. The performers, numbering 180 in all and layed out in an amphitheatre on the stage, will be conducted by M. Berlioz.
[Heugel reproduced a summary of this announcement in Le Ménestrel of 31 March 1844 (p. 4); there is a brief review of the concert in Le Ménestrel of 14 April 1844 (p. 2)]
To Théophile Gautier (CG no. 899; May)
[…] He [Liszt] will play the Concerto by Weber with orchestra, his Airs Hongrois, his Fantaisie sur Don Juan, and on his own the Bal scene from my Symphonie Fantastique, immediately after it will have been played by the orchestra.
For the rest of the programme, it will consist of a complete performance of my symphony Harold en Italie, the Carnaval Romain, the overture Waverley and three Italian and German pieces sung by Melle Anna Zerr, the leading singer of the Karlsruhe theatre, who has quite remarkable talent. […]
[The Francs-Juges overture was performed and not that to Waverley; cf. Journal des Débats 30 April 1844, p. 1 and the review by Berlioz himself (CM V pp. 481-2)]
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 902; 19 May)
[…] I have just given my fourth concert, which all agree was the finest to be heard in Paris in the last ten years. I was astounded by the performance; my great devil of an orchestra was sublime! It obviously leaves mercilessly behind the majority of German orchestras; Liszt was wonderful, and the takings (12,000 frs) fabulous; at the end more than six thousand francs were left to me, but the expenses and the tax for the poor took away the rest. […]
See Cirque Olympique
To the Duchess of Orléans (CG no. 1078bis [vol. VIII]; 30 November)
Allow me to place before the eyes of your Highness the libretto of my new work: La Damnation de Faust, which will be performed under my direction at the theatre of the Opéra-Comique next Sunday at half-past one. It is a real opera but without costumes or scenery. This venture is almost foolhardy, and the author would be very happy to receive the benevolent and enlightened patronage of your royal Highness. May I hope, madame la Duchesse, that you will consent to honour this musical occasion with your presence. […]
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 1092; 21 January)
[…] In any case, if you have seen other newspapers [than le Siècle] you will have seen that Faust had a very great success, and that for the first time in my life three pieces were encored at the second performance, which has never been seen in Paris. I was offered a grand dinner, and thanks to a subscription by musicians and amateurs, I was voted a gold medal which is being struck at the moment, and which I am told will be extremely valuable. Well then, through lack of a theatre or of a concert hall, now that the work is launched, that it is being talked about everywhere, that thirty newspapers have sung its praises, I cannot perform it any more; rehearsals would no longer be needed, my performers know their parts to perfection, the expenses would be reduced by half, the takings would be higher, but I cannot obtain the Opéra-Comique [the Salle Favart] because of two new works which are taking away my evenings (and there are too many drawbacks in giving concerts during the day), I cannot secure the use of the Théâtre Italien [the Salle Ventadour] because of a ruling obtained from the minister by Léon Pillet, which forbids opening the Théâtre Italien on days when an opera is performed. As for the Opéra, I would not accept it, even if Pillet and I were not at daggers drawn, and the Conservatoire, through a special priviledge belongs to the Société des Concerts to the exclusion of all concerts that are not its own, until the month of May. As a result, I have spent an extravagant amount of money to put this work on, the takings were not able to cover completely the expenses, and now that it would surely earn me a great deal of money, I am stopped through lack of a hall. THERE IS NO CONCERT HALL IN PARIS.
And then the penny-pinching you find in high places did not exist to this degree five years ago; the Minister of the Interior, on whom the arts depend, is no more interested in them than in a grocery business.
There is nothing to be done in this horrible country, and I can only wish to leave it as soon as possible. […]
To Franz Liszt (CG no. 1250; around 25 March)
[…] The Conservatoire is taking the plunge; after endless indecision and dithering, the committee made the effort of asking me for something for its concerts, whose immovable programmes are beginning to show their age. I have promised them two pieces from Faust, which consequently will be performed in three weeks’ time, at the seventh concert. […]
To Jules Janin (CG no. 1256; 21 April)
Here are the few lines which you asked me to send you concerning the concert where my pieces were performed. Let your wonderful pen embroider this theme, though without giving more importance to the matter than it has in reality. What makes the success of last Sunday so precious for me is that it was made possible by the fall of a barrier. Up till now Habeneck had caused the doors of the Conservatoire to be shut for me, and today they are now open. If the other walls of China which still block my way (in France) and in so many other places, were themselves to fall, maybe what I have done would receive the same welcome as in the rest of Europe, and I might be completely forgiven for being alive and French. Perhaps I might also produce new works of greater importance than those with which I have been occupied up till now. […] The day after [the concert at the Conservatoire on 15 April] another musical Society performed with equal success the overture Le Carnaval de Rome, and a few days earlier the eight-hundred strong chorus of the Sorbonne sang a hymn which was an arrangement by them of the theme of the Apothéose [of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale]. […]
[In his feuilleton the Journal des Débats of 23 April 1849, under the title ‘Berlioz at the Conservatoire, at last!’ Janin wrote: ‘On the eve of the first performance of Le Prophète, Berlioz was making his entry at the heart of the concerts of the Conservatoire. He had at last been granted the right of asylum in the sanctuary that was impenetrable for this man, or rather this will, for this great French artist who was very glad that there was in the world a King of Prussia and an Emperor of Russia, two despots who stretched out to him a friendly and benevolent hand. At the end, therefore, the Conservatoire gave us two scenes from Faust, the scene of the sylphs […] and further the Hungarian march […] If then this favour of the Société des concerts has been a long time in coming, on the other hand it was impossible to find a more wonderful performance!’]
To his sister Nancy Pal (CG no. 1258; 25 April)
[…] I was fortunate to succeed ten days ago at the concert of the Conservatoire before this fearful public which will only admit Beethoven and Mozart. I was confronting it for the first time; in his lifetime Habeneck had always opposed performing at these concerts even the smallest excerpt from my works. At the rather belated request of the committee, I gave two scenes from Faust. The chorus and ballet of the Sylphs in particular made a huge impression. I confess that I suffered from a beginner’s nerves; I was alone behind the scene with the firemen while my music was being performed. For 15 years now I have never played a score in front of the public without conducting the performance myself, and on seeing myself handed over to Girard (who in fact acquitted himself well) I was rather like a hen who had been sitting on a duck’s eggs and suddenly saw her chicks jumping in the water, but was afraid to follow them. The joy of the musicians after the success was greater than my own, so fearful were they of this prejudiced and stubborn audience, and such had been the lack of success of other attempts of a similar kind made by Onslow, Halévy, F. David, Prudent and others. A barrier has now fallen; another prejudice has been overcome. […]
[Note: in the Mémoires ch. 59 the verdict on Girard’s conducting is less positive]
L’Illustration, 5 May 1849, p. 146
Last Sunday the Société des concerts du Conservatoire ended its annual musical season. Before talking of this matinée, which was the ninth of this winter, we must go back and recall a few special features of the two preceding matinées, the seventh and eighth, about which we have so far not been able to write through lack of space. And yet both featured circumstances which really deserve to be mentioned. At one of them, for example, between the A major symphony of Beethoven, the Ave Maria of Cherubini, a 16th C. chorus, Alla Trinità, and the magnificent excerpts from La Vestale by Spontini, space had been found in the programme for two pieces by a composer who is alive and is French. For anyone unacquainted with the ways and habits of this world apart which meets every fortnight, for three or four months in the year, in the hall at rue Bergère, this event may seem quite commonplace and ordinary. That is a strange mistake. Nothing is more extraordinary or complicated than the admission of the works of a contemporary master, who is a compatriot, to the honour of featuring in the programme of the Conservatoire’s concerts. What is even more surprising is the successful outcome of this first and so difficult step, in other words the favourably reception by the public of a work which has been accepted by the musicians. And when the author of this work is the man against whom the public and the musicians have shown most rigour, the man for whom until today the doors were kept most tightly shut, neither more nor less than if his entry into this venue was tantamount to the profanation of a holy place; when, finally, the work which was formerly banned is not merely received favourably but greeted with warm and enthusiastic applause — then surely one can do no better than to proclaim a miracle, or rather to hail a genius. This is probably what many like us will have done, when they heard at the seventh concert of the Conservatoire, in the company if the masterpieces we have mentioned, the two excerpts from La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz, the chorus and dance of the gnomes and sylphs and the Hungarian march. If for some the presence of Berlioz’s name on the poster side by side with those of Beethoven and Cherubini seemed to jar, after the concert everyone must have been convinced that for all the prejudice there is no contemporary composer whose name is more worthy of standing on an equal level with those of the famous masters of the past. The rich imagination, the poetic colouring, the astonishing novelty of effects and the vigour of the orchestral writing, the rhythmic power, the impetuous fantasy which distinguish these two pieces from the remarkable work in which Berlioz has poured with the greatest abandon the original verve of his characteristic genius, all these received from the outset full and complete recognition from an audience, it must be admitted, which is perhaps the least disposed to grant it to him. After more than twenty years of struggle against scholastic prejudices and the harshness of fate, Berlioz, the eminent artist, can at last count one day of success. He deserves no less. […]
(the article is not signed)
See Société Philharmonique
To Ferdinand Hiller (CG no. 1355; 3 November)
[…] As for the approach which you are asking me to make to Girard, you must know that for the last three years this illustrious conductor of the Académie Nationale de musique and I have not talked to each other. We have completely fallen out, for reasons which it would be tedious to list to you. His method with you is very simple, and is applied by all the conductors at the Opéra and the Conservatoire; Habeneck did not act differently. The difference is that Habeneck expected gifts from foreign composers who sent him their works; then once he had pocketed the gifts, he would also keep the scores without bothering any further with them. […]
See Société Philharmonique
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1669; 17 December)
[…] I just had the unpleasant surprise on arriving of seeing announced on posters for tomorrow my little oratorio La Fuite en Égypte which is being performed at the third concert of the Société de Ste. Cécile; God knows how it will go, their conductor is not very good, and he does not have the good sense of asking me to conduct myself. […]
To Théophile Gautier (CG no. 1670; after 18 December)
[…] La Fuite en Égypte was performed complete for the first time [in Leipzig] and most recently at the concert of Ste. Cécile, where the chorus did not admittedly approach the superb German singers, though the performance was fairly refined and faithful. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1808; 6 November)
[…] I am sending you two or three copies of my holy little work; send one to Casimir Faure to whom I promised it.
It will be performed here on December 10, the eve of my birthday, at two o’clock (Sunday); I beg my nieces to think of me on the morning of the day when they go to mass, and I ask Suat to drink a glass of wine at lunchtime to the health of my performers. As for mine and that of the work itself, I am sure you will not forget it. […]
To Franz Liszt (CG no. 1811; 14 November)
[…] I have received the translation of M. Cornelius and have started immediately to prepare for the performance of this little work. It will take place on 10 December next; I expect to lose some eight or nine hundred francs at this concert. But I hope that will be useful for Germany. I also have the weakness of wishing to let the work be heard by several hundreds of people in Paris, whose approval, if I obtain it, will be precious to me, and also by a few dozen toads whose bellies will be inflated as a result. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1824; 9 December)
[…] There were expressions of delight at the rehearsals, and this morning when a number of bystanders had made their way into the hall the enthusiasm intensified. People predict a huge success for tomorrow. The performance will be faultless, the Meillet couple make an excellent holy pair. Mme Meillet in particular is the most adorable Virgin Mary that could be heard in Paris and Battaille is an excellent father. Depassio lends to the character of Herod all the somber roughness that can be imagined, the chorus and orchestra are beyond reproach. It is only the boy choristers of St Eustache that I can do nothing with, and I think that tomorrow I will instruct them not to sing.
To my great surprise the sale of tickets is going very well, and I believe that instead of losing money I will earn a few hundreds of francs. […]
To his brother-in-law Marc Suat (CG no. 1830; 11 December)
I do not want to wait till tomorrow to inform you of the great success of my new work. Shouts of bis, curtain calls, interruption of several pieces by the emotion of the audience, tears, nothing was missing. There was a crowd of people and many were refused at the entrance. We are repeating the performance on Sunday 24 December (on Christmas eve). My choristers and the orchestra were so excited that when I asked them whether I could count on them for the next concert, they replied that they would come for nothing if I wanted. That was an offer I felt I should not accept. As for the soloists (Battaille, Depassio, Jourdan, M. and Mme Meillet, etc.) they are not asking for a fee. […]
And what a success! I have not seen anything warmer in Germany, Russia or England. When I entered I was applauded by the audience and by the performers for five minutes. When the concert was over, embraces without end. […]
My nieces can rest assured, Le Songe d’Hérode which is dedicated to them is almost worthy of bearing their name, and I hope that it will do them proud. […]
To Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (CG no. 1847; 16 December)
I thank you a thousand times for the interest you kindly take in my little oratorio. The success it is receiving in Paris at the moment… is an offence to its elder brothers. It has been welcomed like a Messiah, and the Magi very nearly came to offer incense and myrrh. That is the way of the French public. People say that I have amended my ways, that I have changed my style… and other silly things. […]
Up till now the entire press (with the exception of the Revue des deux mondes of our friend Scudo) is treating me extremely well. I have received a mountain of extremely enthusiastic letters, and when reading them I often feel like saying as Salvatore Rosa, who was irritated by the constant praise given to his small paintings: « Sempre piccoli paesi !! ». […]
P.S. We are repeating the work on the 24th, with La Captive thrown in, which Mme Stoltz insists on singing.
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1865; 27 or 28 December)
[…] The second performance of my work was more magnificent than the first, the effect was prodigious, out of all proportion with the known effects. People shed floods of tears, and there was so much applause that we were unable to finish a few pieces. In the scene of the Holy Family at rest, the end of which was covered by shouts of bis, I was obliged to come forward to the front of the stage and to say to the public: « We are going to repeat the movement, but please allow us now to finish the piece! » […]
To Baron von Donop (CG no. 1882; 11 January)
[…] You have probably learned through our newspapers about the performance and success of my new work (L’Enfance du Christ). From the first concert until now when I am preparing the third I have not had a single moment of freedom. These kinds of preparations are carried out in Germany with a calm and orderliness which cannot give you an idea of the trouble, effort, daily and nightly worries that they cause in Paris. […]
The Parisians have this time completely caught fire for my latest score; they find in it notable progress… The fools!… I will never do anything comparable to the adagio of Roméo et Juliette or the reconciliation scene in the finale of this same work. But it is more simple, less developped, and the subject of the poem is more within their grasp. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1891; 1 February)
[…] I have just given my third concert for the benefit of a charitable institution which is patronised by the aristocracy of Faubourg St Germain. It is Ferrand who asked me for this. The success was colossal, as at the two preceding performances.
The takings amounted to 5500 frs. and I was given 500 francs as conductor… which is better than nothing. I had no choice but to accede to the request put to me by these Ladies and Gentlemen. […]
Here I am showered with letters and invitations to dinners and meals, etc. Last Sunday my singers were pleased with their success as they rarely are at the theatre. In particular Mme Stoltz who sang La Captive was delirious with joy. It is a great piece that was not known. […]
To Gaetano Belloni (CG no. 1930; 28 March)
Could you do me a very great favour and go straight away to see Pasdeloup, and to ask him for me very forcefully not to perform at his concert next Sunday my overture Le Corsaire. His orchestra is not up to it, I have not yet performed this overture in France and you can imagine that I am not at all happy to have it performed in such a way for the first time. […]
[Note: the performance was conducted by Barbereau and not by Pasdeloup]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 1933; 8 April)
[…] I gave yesterday l’Enfance du Christ at the Opéra-Comique. Colossal success, more than four hundred people were refused admittance through lack of space, and the takings amounted to 6000 frs. I am sharing half and half with the Director, and after deduction of the expenses and his share, some 1800 francs will probably be left to me. […]
Le Ménestrel 15 April 1855 p. 2
We do not have to return to l’Enfance du Christ by Berlioz, the currently fashionable work which becomes ever more successful with every performance, and which our colleague Gatayes has analysed so well in these columns [Le Ménestrel 17 December 1854 pp. 1-3]. Except for the substitution of Bussine and M. Delacombe for Battaille and Depassio, l’Enfance du Christ had its usual interpreters; it is almost superfluous to say that on his side the maestro was given the usual ovation and curtain call.
To his brother-in-law Marc Suat (CG no. 2078; 10 January)
[…] Farewell, I am getting into a cab to deal with the concert on the 25th, which bothers me more than any undertaking of this kind has. But I must absolutely give this concert before my departure. […]
To Peter Cornelius (CG no. 2083; 24 January)
[…] I have a concert here tomorrow, we are giving l’Enfance du Christ; I have probably the most wonderful orchestra in existence, a chorus of 54 excellent voices and the 5 principal singers are the only ones who are entirely suitable for my characters.
All these artists know my work almost by heart and I am hoping for a wonderful performance. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 2287; 26 April)
[…] I am ill, on edge and agitated. In addition I am conducting next Sunday at the Conservatoire an immense concert given by Litolff, in which two pieces of mine will be performed: La Captive with orchestra and the Festivities at the Capulets, from Roméo et Juliette. This is going to torment me for a week and increase my discomfort. […]
To his son Louis Berlioz (CG no. 2292; 5 May)
[…] Last Sunday I had to conduct at the Conservatoire the concert by Litolff, one of my friends from Germany. We had a model orchestra, perhaps the leading one that can be heard in Europe. Litolff had asked me for two pieces of my composition: La Captive and the Festivities from Roméo et Juliette. I had a prodigious and shattering success; if only you had been there! The hall was in a veritable state of commotion. […]
To Auguste Morel (CG no. 2294; 7 May)
[…] I conducted last Sunday in the hall of the Conservatoire, which I obtained through the intercession of the Duke of Gotha, the concert of Litolff. The occasion was magnificent in every way. Litolff had asked me for La Captive and the Fête chez Capulet. Everything was performed in a miraculous way. We had almost all the musicians of the Société des Concerts. Litolff scored a very great success that was well deserved. I will not attempt to describe to you the impression made by my piece from Roméo. Thunderous applause, a hall in a veritable state of commotion, curtain calls without end.
Ah, if only I could now perform in this way the whole of my repertoire, the Parisians would understand. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 2295; 7 May)
[…] Last Sunday at the Conservatoire, in the concert of Litolff which I was conducting, I had an electrifying success with my piece the Fête from Roméo et Juliette which he had asked me for. And what an astonishing performance! Dear sister, I would very much have liked to see you there. How warmly we would have embraced afterwards! […]
To François Schwab (CG no. 2311; 7 September)
[…] Your phrase to describe the conductor, who conducts with a magnetised steel sceptre, is one of the most delightful I know. Please believe in my deep gratitude and accept my sincere compliments. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 2366; 13 April)
Yes, I am unwell and even worse than I have been so far, because of this infernal neuralgia. And in the midst of this pain, I am involved in a musical enterprise; I am giving a large religious concert on Holy Saturday (23 April) at the Opéra-Comique. I am performing again l’Enfance du Christ and excerpts from Faust etc. etc. This was a good opportunity which I could not let pass. The theatres are closed for three days during Holy Week, and luck is on my side to collect large takings on that day. And yet this concert costs 3,000 frs., and in spite of everyone’s eagerness to serve me, as I am only meeting open doors, I find this horribly tiring and annoying. I need to sleep and stay quiet. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2368; 28 April)
Ill as I am, I still have the strength to feel great joy when I receive news from you. Your letter has revived me. But it found me in the midst of the worries of a religious concert which I gave last Saturday (23 April) at the theatre of the Opéra-Comique. L’Enfance du Christ received a better performance there than had been possible before. The choice of singers and musicians was excellent. I missed you in the audience. The third part in particular (the arrival in Saïs) moved the audience very deeply. The father’s solo: « Entrez, pauvres Hébreux », the trio of the Ishmaelites, the conversation: « Comment vous nomme-t-on? — Elle a pour nom Marie, etc., » all this seemed to touch the audience greatly. There was unending applause. But between us what touched me much more and would, I hope, have affected you deeply, was the mystical chorus at the end « O mon âme! » which for the first time was performed with the required nuances and accent. It is in this vocal peroration that the entire work is summed up. It seems to me that there is here a feeling of infinity..., of divine love... I was thinking of you while listening to it. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 2371; 28 April)
I am only writing to you a short letter; I am so exhausted, in such pain, that I have great difficulty putting my thoughts together. The concert at the Opéra-Comique has finished me off. It was very fine, the playing surpassed by far that of previous performances. On the other hand the takings remained inferior; the announcement of war, the day before the concert, put a stop to the bookings, and I was left at three thousand and a few hundreds of francs. I am only making a very small profit, barely 400 frs. On the positive side the success was very great. All we needed was this war to cut everything short. M. Bénazet, whom I saw yesterday, hopes that this will not upset our season at Baden-Baden. […]
To Ernest Legouvé (CG no. 2465; 19 January)
Thank you, my dear Legouvé, for the new proof you are giving me of your affection and for your offers of service. I have decided to let matters take their course and not to put myself forward; if they want me they will know how to find me, and I will see then what response I should give. But I must not beg. This is not out of exaggerated and misconceived pride, but rather because I cannot accept a task such as this one without the cordial and spontaneous acquiescence of the musicians. There is no law that obliges me to behave like a Coriolanus and display my wounds in public; besides, I have between us very little ambition, and am perfectly resigned not to be Consul. […]
To his sister Adèle Suat (CG no. 2475; 2 February)
[…] You are telling me about the post at the Opéra; even if I was given thirty thousand francs I would refuse it. It is a rotten job. Now the matter under consideration is the post at court which only brings three thousand francs but which would not be stressful. Everyone wants to give it to me, the Minister M. Fould, Prince Napoléon, Prince Poniatowski, but that involves eliminating the opposition of Auber (the master of the Chapel), who alleges that this post is not worthy of me and prefers as conductor a mere violinist from the Chapel. He does not want… someone capable of overshadowing him, what he wants is an obscure labourer. They can do what they want, I will not have anything further to do with it. […]
To Charles Lebouc (CG no. 2541; 13 March)
I forgot to tell you yesterday that M. Cros should be asked to bring his cor anglais.
As I said to you, there is fortunately hardly anything loud in the part of Faust in the two pieces we are playing. Consequently it would be entirely suitable for the kind of voice that Paulin has. As for M. Cazaux, I noticed last Sunday that he did not want to sing the high E natural; it may not be possible for him. If that is the case, I will need to arrange one passage in his aria.
Copies are being made at the moment of the two roles which I did not have with the French words.
Everything else is in order, and I will come on Friday morning to attend the rehearsal of the chorus. […]
To Jules Janin (CG no. 2547; 8 April)
[…] P.S. Yesterday at the Conservatoire Faustus was faustissimus [most propitious]; people are beginning to believe that I am dead.
To his son Louis Berlioz (CG no. 2549; 18 April)
[…] I received at the Conservatoire a rare ovation after the performance of the scenes from Faust. M. de Rémusat, who was there, must have written about it to Morel or to Lecourt. […]
To his niece Joséphine Suat (CG no. 2581; 27 November)
[...] The other day there was a large Festival at the Opéra, for which I had been asked a piece (the festivities from Roméo et Juliette). I was given an ovation at the general rehearsal. The next day at the concert four rascals came to hiss this piece, which provoked a protest in my favour from the whole audience and the 400 musicians who filled the stage. This is causing a considerable stir, and shows the furious hostility I am now subjected to. To choose a stirring piece like this one, which is almost always encored wherever it is performed, in Germany, in England, and even at the Conservatoire in Paris... Such are the fruits of musical criticism. [...]
To Peter Cornelius (CG no. 2605; 9 April)
[…] The day before yesterday two pieces (a duet and an aria) [from Béatrice et Bénédict] were performed and this worked wonders. Mme Charton-Demeur (the Béatrice) sang superlatively well. There was in the room where I found myself an artist who is not one of my admirers. He had not received the programme for the concert, and after hearing the duet he applauded and exclaimed: Good heavens! What a wonderful piece! Where does it come from? Who is the author? — To which M. de St Georges replied laughing: The author is not far away, here he is! You can imagine that I laughed in my turn. […]
To Stephen de la Madelaine (CG no. 2606; ?12 April)
[…] I only regret that you did not come to the evening concert at Escudier’s; I would have been happy to let you hear, before the scene from Les Troyens, excerpts from Béatrice et Bénédict which were given a superlative performance. […]
See also the letters concerning Les Troyens in the page The première of Les Troyens in November 1863
To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 2694; 3 February)
[…] Those are all my musical news; correction — I am giving half a programme next Sunday at the concert of the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts, and at the Conservatoire I have been asked for an excerpt from Béatrice for the month of March. […]
To James William Davison (CG no. 2695; 5 February)
[…] The Conservatoire has asked me for the 8th of March the duet of the two young women, the finale of the first act of Béatrice. I do not know whether this peevish and deeply prejudiced public will allow itself to be won over, like that of Baden-Baden, by the melancholy of this piece. Be that as it may, I will be very happy to let it be heard by artists. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2697; 22 February)
[…] Later today I will be conducting a concert where La Fuite en Egypte will be performed for the second time in a fortnight, together with other pieces I have composed. At the first performance the little oratorio has provoked floods of tears etc., and the director of these concerts asked me again for all the music for today. I am going to miss you a great deal in the midst of this audience. […]
In a fortnight the duet from Béatrice (Nuit paisible et sereine) will be sung at the concert of the Conservatoire. Presently I will be seeing again the enthusiastic public of the other day. I have an exquisite tenor who sings to perfection:
« Les pélerins étant venus » […]
Félicie Houry to Berlioz (CG no. 2699; 3 March)
For many days I have been hesitating... I dare not write to you... and yet I am very anxious to express to you how much your music impressed me on Sunday 22 [February] at the Société nationale des arts.
When I heard the Invitation which you have orchestrated so well, I was deeply moved, because... when two powerful geniuses like Weber and Berlioz take hold of your soul at once, the emotion is too strong. You cease to know to what life you are being transported! The vigorous colouring of your orchestration is the complement to the musical thought of the great Weber. When the sudden transition to F [sharp] minor arrives... I know not what frenzy possesses your orchestra, a frenzy which communicates itself to the listeners, these brass instruments surprise you with such spontaneity! Only a man of genius was capable of creating these startling colours — which add life to a phrase which on the piano reproduces only imperfectly the intention of the author.
L’Enfance du Christ, so studied and so beautiful, requires several hearings for an intelligence like mine, these dialogues of wind instruments imitate so well the voices of angels and shepherds. I do not know what innate spirit seems to breathe through the orchestra, it reveals the presence of a divine child, and while listening the soul is lulled into a dream of serenity and happiness! My mind was trying to distance itself a little to appreciate and analyse the incomparable beauty of the orchestration and its ingenious combinations. Oh, that is great and serious music! The composer transports us not to the life of imagination but to supernatural life! We seem to feel Christ being born in our souls... with a love for truth, and beauty and its holy inspirations! —
— The overture to Carnaval Romain, which might be called more justly the great Roman Symphony (I have also heard it at the Pasdeloup concert) [2 March 1862] is a real masterpiece. What vehemence in the inspiration, what fire, what spontaneity — how moving it is to hear! — this music will never grow old! — what passes away like youth — physical beauty, swallows and flower is: melody. All composers who are purely melodists must expect their music to grow old, to go out of fashion, that is the point that our French school has reached, but when the musical idea remains (if I may express myself in this way) wrapped in its mystery, when it moves us, and shakes us, makes us in turn smile our cry, and this without the assistance of a distinct form, of a melodic form, it is because the sacred fire is hidden inside! It seizes and embraces you... That is real music — music that draws its voice from the soul and from contact with the breath of inspiration! — Such is your music, Sir — I place it on the level of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and other great composers.
Forgive my indiscretion in daring to address to you these few pages written in a hurry, which express so badly everything I have felt while listening to your wonderful compositions.
I have just learned from La France Musicale that Les Troyens will be staged at the Théâtre Lyrique, and I would be happy to be still in Paris to hear them.
As for your duet from Béatrice et Bénédict which will be sung so well on Sunday at the Conservatoire by Mme Viardot, I cannot dream that my old mother and I will be able to penetrate this sanctuary of the arts... […]
To François Schwab (CG no. 2701; 24 March)
[…] P.S. Last Sunday at the sixth concert of the Conservatoire (the Société des Concerts) Mmes Viardot and Vandenheufel sang the duet from the first Act of Béatrice, and the success was prodigious. This peevish public, who is hostile to the living, forgot itself so far as to shout bis, and demand that the whole scene be repeated and the author called back (and as you can imagine, he was quick to do so). […]
To the Comité de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (CG no. 2702; 25 March)
I own a rather fine musical collection of separate orchestral and choral parts, and of scores, both printed and manuscript, which represents virtually the totality of my works. I have often worried about what would happen after my death to this expensive collection, and I have every reason to fear that it might be dispersed, or put to bad use, or even preserved intact and useless.
The Société des Concerts du Conservatoire is the only musical institution in France whose future can inspire confidence to a composer. I would be happy if it could consent as of today to accept this music as a gift and receive it in its own library. Maybe in the future these works will have some value fort the Société des Concerts. I would only ask you, gentlemen, in case my offer is accepted, to allow me to make use in my lifetime of these parts and scores, whether for my concerts in Paris or for my travels abroad; I undertake on my part to restore them to you completely after you have drawn up an inventory of them. […]
To Hippolyte Lecourt (CG no. 2705; 29 March)
You will receive shortly a copy of the score of Béatrice; a new print-run is being issued in which I hope no mistakes will be left. The effect of the success of last Sunday [22 March] is really incredible. Along come crowds of people who are discovering me; these Christopher Columbuses express their delight with comic naïvety. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2706; 30 March)
[…] Last Sunday [22 March], at the 6th concert of the Conservatoire, Mme Viardot and Mme Vandenfeufl sang the duet (Nuit paisible) before this public which is hostile to the living and so full of prejudices; the success was electrifying, the piece was encored and the whole audience was applauding; the second time round there was an interruption by the ladies who were moved at this point:
« Tu sentiras couler les tiennes à ton tour
Le jour où tu verras coronner ton amour. »
This is causing an incredible stir. […]
To the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (CG no. 2812; 19 December)
Please inform the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire that I request of it to be counted among the artists who are asking for their votes for the post of conductor which has fallen vacant through the retirement of M. Tilmant.
I would be all the more glad if your illustrious Society were to do me the honour of entrusting these responsibilities to me, now that I am able to devote myself to them completely and give them my full time. […]
To M. and Mme Jules-Antoine Demeur (CG no. 2835; 25 February)
[…] Nothing new here; there has been much talk of the evening reception of Mme Erard and Dido made a great impression there. This evening the duet from Béatrice is being sung at Mlle Bertin’s. These are three amateur ladies, but strange to say, they are accomplished musicians. I rehearsed them yesterday and it is going perfectly. […]
To his brother-in-law Camille Pal (CG no. 2840; 1 March)
[…] My music is now receiving performances of sorts almost everywhere. Yesterday the love duet from Les Troyens was sung at princess Mathilde’s, who likes music as much as I like being beaten with a stick. The Septet is going to be played one of these days [27 March] at the concert at the Hôtel de Ville. […]
To his son Louis Berlioz (CG no. 2849; 29 March)
[…] A religious concert was announced at the Théâtre-Lyrique which included the septet from Les Troyens, and at the last moment it was erased from the poster, to my great satisfaction. Next Sunday [3 April] La Fuite en Egypte will be played at the Conservatoire. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 2928; 10 November)
[…] Last week [4 November], M. Blanche, the doctor at the asylum at Passy, had brought together a large audience of scholars and artists, to celebrate the anniversary of the first performance of Les Troyens. I was invited without being aware of what was afoot. Gounod was there, Doli fabricator Epeus [‘the instigator of the ruse’]; he sang with his weak voice but deep feeling the duet « Nuit d’ivresse », Mme Barthe-Banderali sang Dido; then Gounod sang on his own the song of Hylas. A young lady [Mme Montdutaigny] played the dance movements and I was asked to speak without music Dido’s scene: « Va, ma sœur, l’implorer », and I can assure you that the Virgilian passage made a great impact:
« Terque quaterque manu pectus percussa decorum
Flaventesque abscissa comas. »
All these people knew my score almost by heart. I missed you. […]
To Hippolyte Lecourt (CG no. 2929; 10 November)
[…] Last week [4 November] M. Blanche, the director of the asylum at Passy, did me a courtesy rather in your manner. He invited me to dinner, with Gounod, the young Barthe and his wife, Mme Montdutaigny and a crowd of doctors, chemists, Greek scholars and ignoramuses of every kind, who, as I learned, had all seen five, six, or seven performances of Les Troyens, and profess for this work fanatical devotion of a most respectable kind (it really is a lunatic asylum!). Consequently Mme Montdutaigny played the dance movements, Mme Barthe sang with Gounod the duet « O nuit d’ivresse ! » then Gounod sang on his own, and very well, the stanzas of Hylas « Vallon sonore » and I spoke, obviously without music, Dido’s scene: « Va, ma sœur, l’implorer » and I can assure you that I rendered very well this moment:
« Terque quaterque manu pectus percussa decorum
Flaventesque abscissa comas. »
The difference was that the hair I pulled out was no longer blond. […]
To Frédéric Szarvády (CG no. 3103; 25 February)
[…] Kreutzer’s concerto is going well, we have already done four sectional rehearsals. Mme Massart invited Mlle Szarwady, who makes us hope that she will be coming. […]
To Humbert Ferrand (CG no. 3110; 8 March)
[…] I am very pleased that you have read the article of M. Laurentie [on the concerto by Kreutzer]. Kreutzer’s concerto is a masterpiece. The poor fellow is half mad with joy. There are still rays of light piercing through the darkness!!! […]
To his niece Nancy Suat (CG no. 3132; 30 April)
[…] I also had a great ovation at the Conservatoire where they performed La Fuite en Egypte [1st April]. Last week [20 April] two talented singers sang in a concert, with extraordinary success, the duet of the two sisters in Les Troyens (Anna and Dido). […]
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