Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/244

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232
BERLIOZ.
BERIOT.

Henri Vieuxtemps is the most distinguished of his numerous pupils. His son, Charles de Bériot, is a good pianist.

[ P. D. ]

BERLIOZ, Hector, born Dec. 11, 1803, at La Côte Saint-André, near Grenoble, France; died March 9, 1869, at Paris.

He stands alone—a colossus with few friends and no direct followers; a marked individuality, original, puissant, bizarre, violently one-sided; whose influence has been and will again be felt far and wide, for good and for bad, but cannot rear disciples nor form a school. His views of music are practically if not theoretically adhered to by all eminent composers and executants since Beethoven; and if interpreted cum grano salis his very words could be used as watchwords which few musicians would hesitate to adopt. Take, for example, the following sentences, written at long intervals, yet forming a sort of profession of faith, to which Berlioz clung without flinching throughout the whole of his long career: 'Musique, art d'emouvoir par des combinaisons de sons les hommes intelligents et doués d'organes speciaux et exercés. … La musique, en s'associant à des idées qu'elle a mille moyens de faire naître, augmente l'intensité de son action de toute la puissance de ce qu'on appelle la poesie … réunissant à la fois toutes ses forces sur l'oreille qu'elle charme, et qu'elle offense habilement, sur le système nerveux qu'elle surexcite, sur la circulation du sang qu'elle accélère, sur le cerveau qu'elle embrase, sur le cœur qu'elle gonfle et fait battre à coups redoublés, sur la pensée qu'elle agrandit démesurément et lance dans les régions de l'infini: elle agit dans la sphère qui lui est propre, c'est-à-dire sur des êtres chez lesquels le sens musical existe réellement.' ('A travers chants,' p. 1.)

Berlioz's startling originality as a musician rests upon a physical and mental organisation very different from, and in some respects superior to, that of other eminent masters; a most ardent nervous temperament; a gorgeous imagination incessantly active, heated at times to the verge of insanity; an abnormally subtle and acute sense of hearing; the keenest intellect, of a dissecting analysing turn; the most violent will, manifesting itself in a spirit of enterprise and daring equalled only by its tenacity of purpose and indefatigable perseverance.

From first to last, from the 'Ouverture des Francs Juges' and the 'Symphonic fantastique' to 'Les Troyens,' Berlioz strove to widen the domains of his art; in the portrayal of varied and intense passions, and the suggestion of distinct dramatic scenes and situations, he tried to attain a more intimate connection between instrumental music and the highest poetry. Starting, as he did, on a voyage of discovery, no one need be surprised that he occasionally, nay perhaps frequently, sailed beyond his mark; and that he now and then made violent efforts to compel music to say something which lies beyond its proper sphere. But, be this as it may, his occasional failures do not render his works less interesting, nor less astonishing.

Berlioz was one of the most uncompromising champions of what, for want of a better name, has been dubbed 'programme music.' In his 'Symphonic fantastique' with its sequel 'Lelio,' and in 'Romeo et Juliette,' elaborate efforts are made, by means of programmes and superscriptions, to force the hearers' imagination to dwell on certain exterior scenes and situations during the progress of the music; and these efforts, it must be confessed, are not always successful. One either loses the musical thread and has to fly to the programme for explanation, or one dreams of the programme and misses the music. The really perfect specimens of Berlioz's instrumental works are in truth those in which the music speaks for itself, and the programme or superscription may be dispensed with. Such are, for instance, the 'Scène aux champs' and the 'Marche au supplice' in the 'Symphonie fantastique,' the 'Marche des Pélerins' in 'Harold,' the Overtures to 'King Lear,' 'Benvenuto Cellini,' 'Carnaval Romain,' 'Le Corsaire,' etc.

From a technical point of view certain of Berlioz's attainments are phenomenal. The gigantic proportions, the grandiose style, the imposing weight of those long and broad harmonic and rhythmical progressions towards some end afar off, the exceptional means employed for exceptional ends—in a word, the colossal, cyclopean aspect of certain movements, such as the 'Judex crederis' of his 'Te Deum,' or the 'Lacrymosa' and 'Dies irae' of his 'Requiem,' are without parallel in musical art. The originality and inexhaustible variety of rhythms, and the surpassing perfection of his instrumentation, are points willingly conceded even by Berlioz's staunchest opponents. As far as the technique of instrumentation is concerned it may truly be asserted that he treats the orchestra with the same supreme daring and absolute mastery with which Paganini treated the violin, or Liszt the pianoforte. No one before him had so clearly realised the individuality of each particular instrument, its resources and capabilities. In his works the equation between a particular phrase and a particular instrument is invariably perfect; and over and above this, his experiments in orchestral colour, his combination of single instruments with others so as to form groups, and again his combination of several separate groups of instruments with one another, are as novel and as beautiful as they are uniformly successful.

French art can show nothing more tender and delicately graceful, more perfect in shape and diction than certain of his songs and choral pieces—the duet between Hero and Ursule, 'Vous soupirez Madame,' from 'Béatrice et Bénedict,' and single numbers among his 'Nuits d'été' and 'Irlande.' Nothing more touching in its simplicity than 'L'adieu des bergers' and 'Le repos de la Sainte Famille,' from 'L'Enfance du Christ.'

But there is a portion of Berlioz's works from which many of his admirers, who are certainly not open to the charge of being musical milksops, recoil with instinctive aversion. One must draw