Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/245

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BERLIOZ.
233
 

the line somewhere, and the writer would draw it on the hitherside of such movements as the 'Orgies,' which form the finales of the 'La Symphonie fantastique' and 'Harold en Italie,' or the chorus of devils in the 'Damnation de Faust.' Bloodthirsty delirious passion such as is here depicted may have been excited by gladiator and wild beast shows in Roman arenas; but its rites, whether reflected through the medium of poetry, painting, or music, are assuredly more honoured in the breach than the observance. On the other hand, it cannot be overlooked that these same reprehensible pieces contain some of their author's most astonishing technical achievements.

No musician, unless he writes for the stage, can hope to live by his compositions in France; accordingly Berlioz was driven to the dubious 'métier' of beneficiaire—to conducting concerts of his own music whenever and wherever he could get a chance, and to journalism, 'feuilletonism.' A note of bitter complaint at the tortures hardly to be borne which the 'compte rendu' on matters musical he furnished weekly during a space of twenty years for the 'Journal des Débats' entailed on him, runs through all his prose. These newspaper scraps made a name for their author as the foremost musical critic and one of the most brilliant of French journalists; whilst the perfection of style and graphic narrative of his Memoires, have proved him the equal of the best modern prosateurs. Frenchmen only can say whether or not his verse is likely to live by its own merits, apart from the music to which he wedded it, in 'L'Enfance du Christ,' 'Béatrice et Bénedict,' and 'Les Troyens.'

Berlioz knew the principal works of Beethoven, Weber, Spontini, Mozart, in every respect, down to the smallest details, by heart, and he has always and very frequently spoken of them with contagious enthusiasm and convincing, eloquence. Yet he was by no means an erudite musician, his knowledge being restricted, like that of most men of genius, to the range of his personal sympathies. Of Handel, Bach, Palestrina, he knew little, and at times spoke in a manner to lay bare his ignorance.

Berlioz's father, a physician, wished him to follow the same career. At eighteen years of age, and much against his will, he was sent to Paris as a student of medicine; music however so engrossed him that, though he attended lectures and tried hard to overcome his repugnance to the dissecting room, his anatomical studies came to nothing, and he entered the Conservatoire as a pupil of Lesueur, after a violent quarrel with his parents, who stopped supplies and forced him to earn a scanty subsistence by singing in the chorus of an obscure theatre, Le Gymnase Dramatique. At the Conservatoire, which he once left in a huff and re-entered as a member of Reicha's 'classe de contrepoint,' he met with little encouragement from the dons, to whom his sentiments and beliefs, his ways and works were more or less antipathetic; and he was positively hated by the director, Cherubini. So that, in spite of his most remarkable attainments (the 'Ouverture des Francs Juges' and the ' Symphonic fantas- tique,' which he wrote whilst a pupil at the Conservatoire, are more than sufficient to show that he was then already the master of his masters, Cherubini of course excepted) it was only after having been repeatedly plucked that he was permitted, on the fourth trial, to take a prize for composition. In 1828 he took the second, and at last, in 1830, with the cantata 'Sardanapale,' the first prize—the 'Prix de Rome'—to which is attached a government pension, supporting the winner three years at Rome. On his return to Paris, finding it difficult to live by composing, he was driven to earn a livelihood by contributions to newspapers, and by occasional concerts and musical festivals, which he organised on a large scale. The story of his violent and eccentric passion for Miss Smithson—an Irish actress who came to Paris with an English troupe, and made a sensation as Ophelia and Juliet, whilst the enthusiasm for Shakspeare, kindled by Victor Hugo, was at its height—is minutely told in his 'Memoires,' published after his death. That sad book contains many a hint of the misery he subsequently endured with her as his wife, the prolonged fits of ill health, bad temper and ungovernable jealousy she was subject to; it tells how disgracefully she was treated by the very audience who had lauded her to the skies when she reappeared as Ophelia after the pseudo-enthusiasm for Shakspeare had blown over; how she fell from her carriage, broke a leg, and could act no more; how her losses as the manageress of an unsuccessful theatrical venture crushed him, and how they ultimately separated; Berlioz, with scrupulous fidelity, supplying her wants out of his poor pittance as a contributor to newspapers up to her melancholy death and interment.

Admired occasionally with an enthusiasm akin to adoration (for instance by Paganini, who, after hearing the 'Symphonic fantastique' at the Conservatoire, fell on his knees before Berlioz, kissed his hands, and on the following morning sent him a cheque for twenty thousand francs), always much talked of, but generally misunderstood and shamefully abused, Berlioz was not a popular man in France, and Parisians were curiously surprised at the success of his long 'Voyage musical,' when he produced his works in the principal cities of Germany and Russia. In 1852 Berlioz conducted the first series of the 'New Philharmonic Concerts' at Exeter Hall, and in the following year, on June 25, he conducted his opera 'Benvenuto Cellini' at Covent Garden.

He tried in vain to get a professorship at the Conservatoire. The modest appointment of librarian to that institute in 1839 [App. p.545 "He was appointed conservateur in 1839 and librarian in 1852"] and the cross of the Legion d'Honneur were the sole distinctions that fell to his lot.

His published works, fow in number but colossal in their proportions, are as follows:—

Op. 1. Ouverture de 'Waverley.'
Op. 2. Irlande; 9 melodies pour une et deux voix sur des traductions de Thomas Moore.
Op. 3. Ouverture des 'Francs Juges'
Op. 4. Ouverture du 'Roi Lear.'