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Note: there is a detailed discussion of this overture by Diana Bickley elsewhere on this site.
The overture to Waverley was written probably in 1827, some time after that to the opera Les Francs-Juges. It was first performed together with the Francs-Juges overture and other pieces by Berlioz at a concert at the Conservatoire on 26 May 1828, the first orchestral concert to be given by Berlioz (but not conducted by himself), and one devoted wholly to his own music, a novelty at the time (Memoirs chapters 18 and 19). But whereas Berlioz retained an affection for the Francs-Juges overture and performed it frequently in subsequent years, he obviously regarded the Waverley overture less highly. Though he eventually published it in 1839, he apparently never conducted it himself; it figured much less often than the Francs-Juges overture (and others he wrote subsequently) in his concerts in France and never in the numerous concerts he conducted abroad. A letter written when Berlioz was in London in 1848 refers to the projected performance of an overture which is probably that to Waverley (Correspondance Générale no. 1196, 7 May); Berlioz is dismissive:
[…] It is over 15 years since I have last heard it [probably 20 in fact, in 1838] and I do not think it worthy of inclusion in your programme. It would make no impact and could be damaging for me, especially at a time when I am barely beginning to make myself known in London. Please therefore replace it at the next concert with a piece that the orchestra already knows […]
Years later, on being informed of a performance of the overture in Montpellier, Berlioz comments (Correspondance Générale no. 2970, 20 January 1865): ‘what a joke this must have been!’.
Berlioz was an avid reader of Walter Scott’s novels, but the overture does not attempt to illustrate the story of Waverley. The score is prefaced with a quotation from the novel which clearly refers to the musical contrast between the slow and lyrical introduction with its broad theme for the cellos and the brilliant allegro which follows (Dreams of love and Lady’s charms / Give place to honour and to arms).
Stylistically this early overture has a somewhat hybrid character. There are numerous features in rhythm, harmony and orchestration that are characteristic of Berlioz’s developed style, but there is also some surprisingly Italian-sounding music, notably in the second subject of the allegro (bar 197 and following, then again bar 293 and following), and in the conclusion (bar 401 and following), the final bars of which are, for Berlioz, surprisingly conventional. Yet these passages do not suggest mechanical imitation: the overture is notable rather for its self-assured manner, especially in the carefree exuberance of the allegro.
Berlioz gives no metronome mark for the allegro vivace, which in this version has been set at minim = 126.
— Score in large format
(file created on 11.12.2000; revised 23.12.2001)
© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page
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