A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Hérold, Louis

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HÉROLD, Louis Joseph Ferdinand, born in Paris Wednesday Jan. 28, 1791, at 30 Rue des Vieux Augustins, now 10 Rue d'Argout; only child of François Joseph Hérold, an able pianist of the school of Emmanuel Bach. Louis's gifts for music were soon apparent. He was educated at the Institution Hix, where he distinguished himself, and at the same time worked at solfeggio under Fétis, and the pianoforte under his godfather Louis Adam, father of Adolphe. In 1806 he entered the Conservatoire, where he obtained the first piano prize, studied harmony under Catel, and composition under Méhul, whom he always held in great admiration, and at length, in 1812, carried off the 'Grand prix de Rome' for his cantata 'Mlle, de la Vailiére,' the unpublished score of which is in the library of the Conservatoire, together with his envois de Rome. These are, a 'Hymne à 4 voix sur la Transfiguration' with orchestra; a Symphony in C (Rome, April 1813); a second, in D (May); 'Scena ed Aria con cori' (June); and three Quartets, in D, C, and G minor (July 1814), all written at Naples. These works, which are not given correctly in any previous biography, are short, but contain many interesting ideas; the only one performed in public was the 2nd Symphony, which is by no means a 'youthful indiscretion.' The quatuors also contain much that might even now be heard with pleasure; and altogether these envois de Rome show that Hérold would have shone in symphony if he had adhered to that branch of composition. The stage however possesses an irresistible attraction for a man gifted with ardent imagination and capacity for expressing emotion. It was natural that he should wish to make his début as a dramatic composer at Naples, where he was pianist to Queen Caroline, and where he led a happy life, in good relations with the court and society. With Landriani's assistance he compiled a libretto from Duval's comedy 'La jeunesse de Henri V,' and the opera was a success. The libretto was printed (Naples 1815) anonymously, but the music remains in MS.

Shortly after this he left Italy, and made a stay of some months at Vienna on his way home. On his return to Paris he at once tried to procure a good opera-book, but might have waited long for an opportunity of coming before the public, if Boieldieu had not asked him to write the latter half of 'Charles de France,' an opera de circonstance produced June 18, 1816. This led to his obtaining the libretto of 'Les Rosières,' 3 acts (Jan. 27, 1817), which was a complete success. 'La Clochette,' 3 acts (Oct. 18 of the same year), was full of new and fresh ideas; the charming air 'Me voilà' soon became popular, while those competent to judge were struck by the advance in knowledge of the stage, and the originality of instrumentation which it displayed. His industry and fertility were further proved by 'Le premier venu' (1818), 'Les Troqueurs' (1819), and 'L'Auteur mort et vivant' (1820); but unfortunately he accepted librettos that were neither interesting nor adapted for music. 'Le Muletier' (May 12, 1823) however is full of life and colour, and assured his reputation with all who were competent to judge. After the success of this lively little piece it is difficult to understand how a man of literary tastes and culture could have undertaken dramas so tame and uninteresting aa 'Lasthénie' (Sept. 1823), and 'Le Lapin blanc' (1825). The fever of production which consumes all composers of genius, affords the only possible explanation. In fact, rather than remain idle he undertook any employment however uninviting. Thus from 1820–27 he was pianiste-accompagnateur to the Opéra Italien; and in 1821 was sent to Italy to engage singers, among whom he brought back no less a person than Mme. Pasta, and Galli. In 1827 he became choir-master at the Académie de Musique, and began to write ballets. During these laborious years, Hérold threw off for the publishers an immense quantity of pianoforte music. Fifty-nine of these pieces, on which he laid no value, have been engraved, but we need only mention the sonata in A♭; another called 'L'Amante disperato'; variations on 'Au clair de la lune,' and on 'Marlbrook'; a 'Rondo dramatique'; and a caprice, 'Pulcinella.' He also made arrangements for the piano, Rossini's 'Moïse' among the rest, and like a true artist managed to turn even such work as this to account. In the midst of his daily drudgery however, Hérold kept one aim steadily in view; that of becoming a great composer. Any opportunity of making himself known was welcome, and accordingly he consented to join Auber in writing an opéra de circonstance 'Vendôme en Espagne' (1823); and also composed 'Le Roi Réné' 2 acts (1824) for the fête of Louis XVIII. In 'Marie,' 3 acts (Aug. 12, 1816), a charming opera which has kept the boards, he evinces thorough knowledge of the stage, great sensibility, and graceful and refined orchestration. It contains perhaps too many short pieces, and the treble and tenor voices 'unduly predominate, but these drawbacks are redeemed by original and varied melody, by charming effects, and great skill in the arrangement. The scene of Marie's despair is the work of a master of pathos, and a true dramatic poet.

Urged by a desire to give a practical scope to his fancy, Hérold composed a series of ballets, 'Astolphe et Joconde'; 'La Sonnambule' (Jan. 29, and Sept. 19, 1827; 'La Fille mal gardée' (Nov. 17, 1828); and 'La Belle au bois dormant' (April 27, 1829). It was largely owing to him that the music of French ballets acquired its peculiarly graceful, poetical, expressive and passionate character. These works gave him the same facility and command of his pen, that writing verses does to an author. This is clearly seen in his next opera 'L'illusion,' 1 act (July 18, 1829), the remarkable finale of which contains a valse with a melody of a very high order. 'Emmeline' (Nov. a8, 1829) was a fiasco, chiefly owing to the libretto; but a rich compensation was in store for him in the brilliant success of 'Zampa' (May 3, 1831). Speaking briefly we may say that the quartet in the 1st act, 'Le voilà,' is a model of dignity and refinement: the recognition duet in the 2nd, is full of life, taste, and dramatic skill; and the deep and eminently characteristic pathos of the principal number of the 3rd act, the duet 'Pourquoi trembler,' makes it one of the finest inspirations in modern opera. There is also much variety both of form and movement in the different pieces. The first finale with its richly contrasted effects, is entirely different from the second, the stretto of which is full of tune and inspiration. In a word, we recognise in 'Zampa' the hand of a master, who to the spirit of Italian music unites the depth of the German and the elegance of the French school.

It is a curious fact that Hérold's own countrymen rank the 'Pré aux Clercs' (Dec. 15, 1832) above 'Zampa,' while the Germans give the preference to the latter. This arises probably from the criticism to which a French audience instinctively subjects the literary part of an opera. Any want of unanimity between dramatist and composer is felt at once. In 'Zampa' this is very marked; for the book, excellent as it is in the number and variety of the dramatic situations, bears marks of being the work of one who does not believe a word of the story he is telling, and has therefore no sympathy with his characters. Hence there is a want of relation between the librettist who is no true poet, and the composer, who moves others because he is moved himself, and is eloquent because he is sincere. In the 'Pré aux Clercs' on the other hand, the action takes place in a region more accessible to the ordinary run of play-goers, and the drama is a very pleasing national poem, free from incongruities and well adapted for music. In setting it Hérold not only did much to elevate the tone of French opéra-comique, but had the satisfaction of treating a historical subject. We might specify each number, from the overture—as full of warmth and colour as that to Zampa, but forming an independent symphony not built upon the materials of the opera—to the scene of the barque, where the expressive tones of the violas and cellos complete the narrative of the voices, and the whole forms one of the finest effects of pathos ever produced on the stage. The work is characterised throughout by unity of style, variety of accent, and sustained inspiration, always kept within the limits of dramatic truth. The great requisites for a creative artist are colour, dramatic instinct, and sensibility. In colour Hérold was not so far behind Weber, while in dramatic instinct he may be said to have equalled him. His remark to a friend a few days before his death shows his own estimate of his work; 'I am going too soon; I was just beginning to understand the [1]stage.' So modest are the utterances of these great poets, who are the glory of their art and their nation!

On January 19, 1833, within a few days of his 42nd year, and but a month after the production of his chef-d'œuvre, Hérold succumbed to the chest-malady from which he had been suffering for some time; and was buried with great pomp three days after[2]. He died in the Maison des Ternes [App. p.671 "a house in Les Ternes"], which had been his home since his marriage with Adèle Elise Rollet in 1827, and now forms the corner of the Rue Demours and the Rue Bayen, on the side of the even numbers. Here were born his three children: Ferdinand, an able avocat, now a senator; Adéle, married in 1854 to M. Clamageran, now member of the Paris Conseil municipal; and Eugénie, born 1832, a gifted musician, who was carried off in 1852 by consumption.

Among the many critical and biographical articles on this eminent composer, we may mention those of Chaulieu, Castil-Blaze, Scudo, Adolphe Adam, a brief but very accurate notice with portrait in the 'Magasin pittoresque' for 1873 (pp. 156–159), and above all 'Hérold sa vie et ses œuvres' by Jouvin (Paris, Heugel, 1868, 8vo), which contains many of his own letters and memoranda. In society he showed himself a brilliant and original talker, though inclined to sarcasm. The best portrait is that in the 'Magasin pittoresque.' His friend David d'Angers made a medallion of him in Rome in 1815; and there are busts by Dantan (1833), Demesmay—now in the foyer of the new Opéra, and Charles Gauthier—in the library of the Conservatoire.

[ G. C. ]

  1. Thus too Haydn, at the end of his career, spoke of himself as having just begun to know how to use the wind instruments.
  2. Halévy completed the unfinished score of 'Ludovic.'