Berlioz’s work did not spread itself evenly over his life it was accomplished in a few years. It was not like the course of a great river, as with Wagner and Beethoven ; it was a burst of genius, whose flames lit up the whole sky for a little while, and then died gradually down. Let me try to tell you about this wonderful blaze.
Some of Berlioz’s musical qualities are so striking that it is unnecessary to dwell upon them here. His instrumental colouring, so intoxicating and exciting, this extraordinary discoveries concerning timbre, his inventions of new nuances (as in the famous combining of flutes and trombones in the Hostias et preces of the Requiem, and the curious use of the harmonics of violins and harps), and his huge and nebulous orchestraall this lends itself to the most subtle expression of thought. Think of the effect that such works must have produced at that period. Berlioz was the first to be astonished when he heard them for the first time. At the Ouverture des Francs-Juges he wept and tore his hair, and fell sobbing on the kettledrums. At the performance of his Tuba mirum, in Berlin, he nearly fainted. The composer who most nearly approached him was Weber, and, as we have already seen, Berlioz only knew him late in life. But how much less rich an complex is Weber’s music, in spite of its nervous brilliance and dreaming poetry. Above all, Weber is much more mundane and more of a classicist ; he lacks Berlioz’s revolutionary passion and plebeian force ; he is less expressive and less grand.
How did Berlioz come to have this genius for orchestration almost from the very first ? He himself says that his two masters at the Conservatoire taught him nothing in point of instrumentation :
” Lesueur had only very limited ideas about – the art. Reicha knew the particular resources of most of the wind instruments ; but I think that he had not very advanced ideas on the subject Of grouping them.”
Berlioz taught himself. He used to read the score of an opera while it was being performed.
” It was thus,” he says, ” that I began to get familiar with the use of the orchestra, and to know its expression and timbre, as well as the range and mechanism of most of the instruments. By carefully comparing the effect produced with the means used to produce it, I learned the hidden bond which unites musical expression to the special art of instrumentation ; but no one put me in the way of this. The study of the methods of the three modern masters, Beethoven, Weber, and Spontini, the impartial examination of the traditions of instrumentation and of little-used forms and combinations, conversations with virtuosi, and the effects I made them try on their different instruments, together with a little instinct, did the rest for me.”‘
That he was an originator in this direction no one doubts. And no one disputes, as a rule, ” his devilish cleverness,” as Wagner scornfully called it, or remains insensible to his skill and mastery in the mechanism of expression, and his power over sonorous matter, which make him, apart from his creative power, a sort of magician of music, a king of tone and rhythm. This gift is recognised even by his enemiesby Wagner, who seeks with some unfairness to restrict his genius within narrow limits, and to reduce it to a structure with wheels of infinite ingenuity and extreme cunning . . . a marvel of mechanism.”
But though there is hardly anyone that Berlioz does not irritate or attract, he always strikes people by his impetuous ardour, his glowing romance, and his seething imagination, all of which makes and will continue to make his work one of the most picturesque mirrors of his age. His frenzied force of ecstasy and despair, his fulness of love and hatred, his perpetual thirst for life, which ” in the heart of the deepest sorrow lights the Catherine wheels and crackers of the wildest joy “these are the qualities that stir up the crowds in Benvenuto and the armies in the Damnation, that shake earth, heaven, and hell, and are never quenched, but remain devouring and ” passionate even when the subject is far removed from passion, and yet also express sweet and tender sentiments and the deepest calm.”
Whatever one may think of this volcanic force, of this torrential stream of youth and passion, it is impossible to deny them ; one might as well deny the sun.
And I shall not dwell on Berlioz’s love of Nature, which, as M. Prudhomme shows us, is the soul of a composition like the Damnation and, one might say, of all great compositions. No musician, with the exception of. Beethoven, has loved Nature so profoundly. Wagner himself did not realise the intensity of emotion which she roused in Berlioz, l and how this feeling impregnated the music of the Damnation, of Roméo, and of Les Troyens.
But this genius had other characteristics which are less well known, though they are not less unusual. The first is his sense of pure beauty. Berlioz’s exterior romanticism must not make us blind to this. He had a Virgilian soul ; and if his colouring recalls that of Weber, his design has often an Italian suavity. Wagner never had this love of beauty in the Latin sense of the word. Who has understood the Southern nature, beautiful form, and harmonious movement like Berlioz ? Who, since Gluck, has recognised so well the secret of classical beauty ? Since Orfeo was composed, no . one has carved in music a bas-relief so perfect as the entrance of Andromache in the second act of Les Troyens a Troie. In Les Troyens .Carthage, the fragrance of the Æneid is shed over the night of love, and we see the luminous sky and hear the murmur of the sea. Some of his melodies are like statues, or the pure lines of Athenian friezes, or the noble gesture of beautiful Italian girls, or the undulating profile of the Albanian hills filled with divine laughter. He has done more than felt and translated into music the beauty of the Mediterraneanhe has created beings worthy of a Greek tragedy. His Cassandre alone would suffice to rank him among the greatest tragic poets that music has ever known. And Cassandre is a worthy sister of Wagner’s Brünnhilde ; but she has the advantage of coming of a nobler race, and of having a lofty restraint of spirit and action that Sophocles himself would have loved.
Not enough attention has been drawn to the classical nobility from which Berlioz’s art so spontaneously springs. It is not fully acknowledged that he was, of all nineteenth-century musicians, the one who had in the highest degree the sense of plastic beauty. Nor do people always recognise that he was a writer of sweet and flowing melodies. Weingartner expressed the surprise he felt when, imbued with current prejudice against Berlioz’s lack of melodic invention, he opened, by chance, the score of the overture of Benvenuto and found in that short composition, which barely takes ten minutes to play, not one or two, but four or five melodies of admirable richness and originality :
” I began to laugh, both with pleasure at having discovered such a treasure, and with annoyance at finding how narrow human judgment is. Here I counted five themes, all of them plastic and expressive of personality ; of admirable workmanship, varied in form, working up by degrees to a climax, and then finishing with strong effect. And this from a composer who was said by critics and the public to be devoid of creative power ! From that day on there has been for me another great citizen in the republic of art.”
Before this, Berlioz had written in 1864 :
” It is quite easy for others to convince them-selves that, without even limiting me to. take a very short melody as the theme of a compositionas the greatest musicians have often doneI have always endeavoured to put a wealth of melody into my compositions. One may, of course, dispute the worth of these melodies, their distinction, originality, or charmit is not for me to judge thembut to deny their existence is either unfair or foolish. They are often on a large scale ; and an immature or short-sighted musical vision may not clearly distinguish their form ; or, again, they may be accompanied by secondary melodies which, to a limited vision, may veil the form of the principal ones. Or, lastly, shallow musicians may find these melodies so unlike the funny little things that they call melodies, that they cannot bring themselves to give the same name to both.”
And what a splendid variety there is in these melodies : there is the song in Gluck’s style (Cassandre’s airs), the pure German lied (Marguerite’s song, ” D’amour l’ardente flamme “), the Italian melody, after Bellini, in its most limpid and happy form (arietta of Arlequin in Benvenuto), the broad Wagnerian phrase (finale of Roméo), the folk-song (chorus of shepherds in L’Enfance du Christ), and the freest and most modern recitative (the monologues of Faust), which was Berlioz’s own invention, with its full development, its pliant outline, and its intricate nuances.
I have said that Berlioz had a matchless gift for expressing tragic melancholy, weariness of life, and the, pangs of death. In a general way, one may say that he was a great elegist in music. Ambros, who was a very discerning and unbiassed critic, said :
Berlioz feels with inward delight and profound emotion what no musician, except Beethoven, has felt’ before.” And Heinrich Heine had a keen perception of Berlioz’s originality when he called him ” a colossal nightingale, a lark the size of an eagle.” The simile is not only picturesque, but of remarkable aptness. For Berlioz’s colossal force is at the service of a folorn and tender heart ; he has nothing of the heroism of Beethoven, or Handel, or Gluck, or even Schubert. He has all the charm of an Umbrian painter, as is shown in L’Enfance du Christ, as well as sweetness and inward sadness, the gift of tears, and an elegiac passion.
Now I come to Berlioz’s great originality, an originality which is rarely spoken of, though it makes him more than a great musician, more than the successor of Beethoven, or, as some call him, the forerunner of Wagner. It is an originality that entitles him to be known, even more fitly than Wagner himself, as the creator of ” an art of the future,” the apostle of a new music, which even today has hardly made itself felt.
Berlioz is original in a double sense. By the extraordinary complexity of his genius he touched the two opposite poles of his art, and showed us two entirely different aspects of musicthat of a great popular art, and that of music made free.
We are all enslaved by the musical tradition of the past. For generations we have been so accustomed to carry this yoke that we scarcely notice it. And in consequence of Germany’s monopoly of music since the end of the eighteenth century, musical traditionswhich had been chiefly Italian in the two preceding centuriesnow became almost entirely German. We think in German forms : the plan of phrases, their development, their balance, and all the rhetoric of music and the grammar of composition comes to us from foreign thought, slowly elaborated by German masters. That domination has never been more complete or more heavy since Wagner’s victory. Then reigned over the world this great German perioda scaly monster with a thousand arms, whose grasp was so extensive that it included pages, scenes, acts, and whole dramas in its embrace. We cannot say that French writers have ever tried to write in the style of Goethe or Schiller ; but French composers have tried and are still trying to write music after the manner of German musicians.
Why be astonished at it ? Let us face the matter plainly. In music we have not, so to speak, any masters of French style. All our greatest composers are foreigners. The founder of the first school of French opera, Lulli, was Florentine ; the founder of the second school, Gluck, was German ; the two founders of the third school were Rossini, an Italian, and Meyerbeer, a German ; the creators of opéra-comique were Duni, an Italian, and Gretry, a Belgian ; Franck, who revolutionised our modern school of opera, was also Belgian. These men brought with them a style peculiar to their race ; or else they tried to found, as Gluck did, an ” international ” style, by which they effaced the more individual characteristics of the French spirit. The most French of all these styles is the opéra-cornique, the work of two foreigners, but owing much more to the opéra-bouffe than is generally admitted, and, in any case, representing France very insufficiently. Some more rational minds have tried to rid themselves of this Italian and German influence, but have mostly arrived at creating an intermediate Germano-Italian style, of which the operas-of Auber and Ambroise Thomas are a-type.
Before Berlioz’s time there was really only one master of the first rank who made a great effort to liberate French music : it was Rameau ; and, despite his genius, he was conquered by Italian art.
By force of circumstance, therefore, French music found itself moulded in foreign musical forms. And in the same way that Germany in the eighteenth century tried to imitate French architecture and literature, so France in- the nineteenth century acquired the habit of speaking German in music. As most men speak more than they think, even thought itself became Germanised ; and it was difficult then to discover, through this traditional insincerity, the true and spontaneous form of French musical thought.
But Berlioz’s genius found it by instinct. From the first he strove to free French music from the oppression of the foreign tradition that was suffocating it.
He was fitted in every way for the part, even by his deficiencies and his ignorance. His classical education in music was incomplete. M. Saint-Saëns tells us that ” the past did not exist for him ; he did not understand the old composers, as his knowledge of them was limited to what he had read about them.” He did not know Bach. Happy ignorance ! He was able to write oratorios like L’Enfance du Christ without being worried by memories and traditions of the German masters of oratorio. There are men like Brahms who have been, nearly all their life, but reflections of the past. Berlioz never sought to be anything but himself. It was thus that he created that masterpiece, La Fuite en Égypte, which sprang from his keen sympathy with the people.
Ile had one of the, most untrammelled spirits that ever breathed. Liberty was for him a desperate necessity. ” Liberty of heart, of mind, of soulof everything. . . . Real liberty, absolute and immense ! “And this passionate love of liberty, which was his misfortune in life, since it deprived him of the comfort of any faith, refused him any refuge for his thoughts, robbed him of peace, and even of the soft pillow of scepticismthis ” real liberty” formed the unique originality and grandeur of l Is musical conceptions.
“Music,” wrote Berlioz to C. Lobe, in 1852, ” is the most poetic, the most powerful, the most living of all arts. She ought to be the freest, but she is not yet. . . . Modern music is like the classic Andromeda, naked and divinely beautiful. She is chained to a rock on the shores of a vast sea, and awaits the victorious Perseus who shall loose her bonds and break in pieces the chimera called Routine.”
The business was to free music from its limited rhythms and from the traditional forms and rules that enclosed it ; 1 and, above all, it needed to be free from the domination of speech, and to be released from its humiliating bondage to poetry. Berlioz wrote to the Princess of Wittgenstein, in 1856 :
” I am for free music. Yes, I want music to be proudly free, to be victorious, to be supreme. I want her to take all she can, so that there may be no more Alps or Pyrenees for her. But she must achieve her victories by fighting in person, and not rely upon her lieutenants. I should like her to have, if possible, good verse drawn up in order of battle ; but, like Napoleon, she must face the fire herself, and, like Alexander, march in the front ranks of the phalanx. She is so powerful that in some cases she would conquer unaided ; for she has the right to say with Medea : ` I, myself, am enough.’ ”
Berlioz protested vigorously against Gluck’s impious theory’. and Wagner’s ” crime ” in making music the slave of speech. Music is the highest poetry and knows no master. It was for Berlioz, therefore, continually to increase the power of expression in pure music. And while Wagner, who. was more moderate and a closer follower of tradition, sought to establish a compromise (perhaps an impossible one) between music and speech, and to create the new lyric drama, Berlioz, who was more revolutionary, achieved the dramatic symphony, of which the unequalled model today is still Roméo et Juliette.
The dramatic symphony naturally fell foul of all formal theories. Two arguments were set up against it one derived from Bayreuth, and by now an act of faith ; the other, current opinion, upheld by the crowd that speaks of music without understanding it.
The first argument, maintained by Wagner, is that music cannot really express action without the help of speech and gesture. It is in the name of this opinion that so many people condemn a priori Berlioz’s Roméo. They think it childish to try and translate action into music. I suppose they think it less childish to illustrate an action by music. Do they think that gesture associates itself very happily with music ? If only they would try to root up this great fiction, which has bothered us for the last three centuries ; if only they would open their eyes and seewhat great men like Rousseau and Tolstoy saw so clearlythe silliness of opera ; if only they would see the anomalies of the Bayreuth show. In the second act of Tristan there is a celebrated passage, where Ysolde, burning with desire, is waiting for Tristan ; she sees him come at last, and from afar she waves her scarf to the accompaniment of a phrase repeated several times by the orchestra. I cannot express the effect produced on me by that imitation (for it is nothing else) of a series of sounds by a series of gestures ; I can never see it without indignation or without laughing.
The curious thing is that when one hears this pa sage at a concert, one sees the gesture. At the theatre either one does not ” see ” it, or it appears childish. The natural action becomes stiff when clad in musical armour, and the absurdity of trying to make the two agree is forced upon one. In the music of Rheingold one pictures the stature and gait of the giants, and one sees the lightning gleam and the rainbow reflected on the clouds. In the theatre it is like a game of marionettes ; and one feels the impassable gulf between music and gesture. Music is . world apart. When music wishes to depict the doma, it is not real action which is reflected in it, it is the ideal action transfigured by the spirit, and perceptible only to the inner vision. The worst foolishness is to present two visionsone for the eyes and one for the spirit. Nearly always they kill each other.
The other argument urged against the symphony with a programme is the pretended classical argument (it is not really classical at all). ” Music,” they say, ” is not meant to express definite subjects ; it is only fitted for vague ideas. The more indefinite it is, the greater its power, and the more it suggests.” I ask, What is an indefinite art ? What is a vague art ? Do not the two words contradict each other ? Can this strange combination exist at all ? Can an artist write anything that he does not clearly conceive ? Do people think he composes at random as his genius whispers to [him ? One must at least say this : A symphony of Beethoven’s is a ” definite” work down to its innermost folds ; and Beethoven had, if not an exact knowledge, at least a clear intuition of what he was about. His last quartets are descriptive symphonies of his soul, and very differently carried out from Berlioz’s symphonies. Wagner was able to analyse one of the former under the name of ” A Day with Beethoven.” Beethoven was always trying to translate into music the depths of his heart, the subtleties of his spirit, which are not to be explained clearly by words, but which are as definite as wordsin fact, more definite ; for a word, being an abstract thing, sums up many experiences and comprehends many different meanings. Music is a hundred times more expressive and exact than speech ; and it is not only her right to express particular emotions and subjects, it is her duty. If that duty is not fulfilled, the result is not musicit is nothing at all.
Berlioz is thus the true inheritor of Beethoven’s thought. The difference between a work like Roméo and one of Beethoven’s symphonies is that the former, it would seem, endeavours to express objective emotions and subjects in music. I do not see why music should not follow poetry in getting away from introspection and trying to paint the drama of the universe. Shakespeare is as good as Dante. Besides, one may add, it is always Berlioz himself that is discovered in his music : it is his soul starving for love and mocked at by shadows which is revealed through all the scenes of Roméo.
I will not prolong a discussion where so many things must be left unsaid. But I would suggest that, once and for all, we get rid of these absurd endeavours to fence in art. Do not let us say: Music can . . . Music cannot express such-and-such a thing. Let us say rather, If genius pleases, everything is possible ; and if music so wishes, she may be painting and poetry to-morrow. Berlioz has proved it well in his Roméo.
This Roméo is an extraordinary work : ” a wonderful isle, where a temple of pure ad is set up.” For my part, not only do I consider it equal to the most powerful of Wagner’s creations, but I believe it to be richer in its teaching and in its resources for artresources and teaching which contemporary French art has not yet fully turned to account. One knows that for several years the young French school has been making efforts to deliver our music from German models, to create a language of recitative that shall belong to France and that the leitmotif will not overwhelm ; a more exact and less heavy language, which in expressing the freedom of modern thought will not have to seek the help of the classical or Wagnerian forms. Not long ago, the Schola Cantorum published a manifesto that proclaimed ” the liberty of musical declamation . . . free speech in free music . . . the triumph of natural music with the free movement of speech and the, plastic rhythm of the ancient dance “thus declaring war on the metrical art of the last three centuries.’
Well, here is that music ; you will nowhere find a more perfect model. It is true that many who profess the principles of this music repudiate the model, and do not hide their disdain for Berlioz. That makes me doubt a little, I admit, the results of their efforts. If they do not feel the wonderful freedom of Berlioz’s music, and do not see that it was the delicate veil of a very living spirit, then I think there will be more of archaism than real life in their pretensions to ” free music.” Study, not only the most celebrated pages of his work, such as the Scène d’amour (the one of all his compositions that Berlioz himself liked best),’ La Tristesse de Roméo, or La Fête des Capulet (where a spirit like Wagner’s own unlooses and subdues again tempests of passion and joy), but take less well-known pages, such as the Scherzetto chanté de la reine Mab, or the Réveil de Juliette, and the music describing the death of the two lovers. In the one what light grace there is, in the other what vibrating passion, and in both of them what freedom and apt expression of ideas. The language is magnificent, of wonderful clearness and simplicity ; not a word too much, and not a word that does not reveal an unerring pen. In nearly all the big works of Berlioz before 1845 (that is up to the Damnation) you will find this nervous precision and sweeping liberty.
Then there is the freedom of his rhythms. Schumann, who was nearest to Berlioz of all musicians of that time, and, therefore, best able to understand hint, had been struck by this since the composition of the Symphonie fantastique.’ He wrote :
The present age has certainly not produced a work in which similar times and rhythms combined with dissimilar timers- and rhythms have been more freely used. The second part of a phrase rarely corresponds with the first, the reply to the question. This anomaly is characteristic of Berlioz, and is natural to his southern temperament.”
Far from objecting to this, Schumann sees in it something necessary to musical evolution.
Apparently music is showing a tendency to goo back to its beginnings, to the time when the laws of rhythm did not yet trouble her ; it seems that she wishes to free herself, to regain an utterance that is unconstrained, and raise herself to the dignity of a sort of poetic language.”
And Schumann quotes these words of Ernest Wagner : ” He who shakes off the tyranny of time and delivers us from it will, as far as one can see, give back freedom to music.”
Remark also Berlioz’s freedom of melody. His musical phrases pulse and flow like life itself. ” Some phrases taken separately,” says Schumann, ” have such an intensity that they will not bear harmonisingas in many ancient folk-songsand often even an accompaniment spoils their fulness.” These melodies so correspond with the emotions, that they reproduce the least thrills of body and mind by their vigorous workings-up and delicate reliefs, by splendid barbarities of modulation and strong and glowing colour, by gentle gradations of light and shade or imperceptible ripples of thought, which flow over the body like a steady tide. It is an art of peculiar sensitiveness, more delicately expressive than that of Wagner ; not satisfying itself with the modern tonality, but going back to old modesa rebel, as M. Saint-Saëns remarks, to the polyphony which had governed music since Bach’s day, and which is perhaps, after all, ” a heresy destined to disappear.”
How much finer, to my idea, are Berlioz’s recitatives, with their long and winding rhythms, than Wagner’s declamations, whichapart from the climax of a subject, where the air breaks into bold and vigorous phrases, whose influence elsewhere is often weaklimit themselves to the quasi-notation of spoken inflections, and jar noisily against the fine harmonies of the orchestra. Berlioz’s orchestration, too, is of a more delicate temper, and has a freer life than Wagner’s, flowing in an impetuous stream, and sweeping away everything in its course ; it is also less united and solid, but more flexible ; its nature is undulating and varied, and the thousand imperceptible impulses of the spirit and of action are reflected there. It is a marvel of spontaneity and caprice.
In spite of appearances, Wagner is a classicist compared with Berlioz ; he carried on and perfected the work of the German classicists ; he made no innovations ; he is the pinnacle and the close of one evolution of art. Berlioz began a new art ; and one finds in it all the daring and gracious ardour of youth. The iron laws that bound the art of Wagner are not to be found in Berlioz’s early works, which give one the illusion of perfect freedom.
As soon as the profound originality of Berlioz’s music has been grasped, one understands why it encountered, and still encounters, so much secret hostility. How many accomplished musicians of distinction and learning, who pay honour to artistic tradition, are incapable of understanding Berlioz because they cannot bear the air of liberty breathed by his music. They are so used to thinking in German, that Berlioz’s speech upsets and shocks them. I can well believe it. It is the first time a French musician has dared to think in French ; and that is the reason why I warned you of the danger of accepting too meekly German ideas about Berlioz. Men like Weingartner, Richard Strauss, and Mottl thoroughbred musiciansare, without doubt, able to appreciate Berlioz’s genius better and more quickly than we French musicians. But I rather mistrust the kind of appreciation they feel for a spirit so opposed to their own. It is for France and French people to learn to read his thoughts ; they are intimately theirs, and one day will give them their salvation.
Berlioz’s other great originality lay in his talent for music that was suited to the spirit of the common people, recently raised to sovereignty, and the young democracy. In spite of his aristocratic disdain, his soul was with the masses. M. Hippeau applies to him Taine’s definition of a romantic artist : ” the plebeian of a new race, richly gifted, and filled with aspirations, who, having attained for the first time the world’s heights, noisily displays the’. ferment of his mind and heart.” Berlioz grew up in the midst of revolutions and stories of Imperial achievement. He wrote his cantata for the Prix de Rome in July, 183o, to the hard, dull noise of stray bullets, which whizzed above the roofs, and came to flatten themselves against the wall near his window.” When he had finished this cantata, he went, ” pistol in hand, to play the blackguard in Paris with the sainte canaille.” He sang the Marseillaise, and made ” all who had a voice and heart and blood in their veins ” sing it too. On his journey to Italy he travelled from Marseilles to Livourne with Mazzinian conspirators, who were going to take part in the insurrection of Modena and Bologna. Whether he was conscious of it or not, he was the musician of revolutions ; his sympathies were with the people._ Not only did he fill his scenes in the theatre with swarming and riotous crowds, like those of the Roman Carnival in the second act of Benvenuto (anticipating by thirty years the crowds of Die Meistersinger), but he created a music of the masses and a colossal style.
His model here was Beethoven ; Beethoven of the Eroica, of the C minor, of the A, and, above all, of the Ninth Symphony. He was Beethoven’s follower in this as well as other things, and the apostle who carried on his work. And with his understanding of material effects and sonorous matter, he built edifices, as he says, that were “Babylonian and Ninevitish,” “music after Michelangelo,” ” on an immense scale.” It was the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale for two orchestras and a choir, and the Te Deum for orchestra, organ, and three choirs, which Berlioz loved (whose finale Judex crederis seemed to him the most effective thing he had ever written), as well as the Impériale, for two orchestras and two choirs, and the famous Requiem, with its ” four orchestras of brass instruments, placed round the main orchestra and the mass of voices, but separated and answering one another at a distance.” Like the Requiem, these compositions are often crude in style and of rather commonplace sentiment, but their grandeur is overwhelming. This is not due only to the hugeness of the means employed, but also to ” the breadth of the style and to the formidable slowness of some of the progressionswhose final aim one cannot guesswhich gives these compositions a strangely gigantic character.” Berlioz has left in these compositions striking examples of the beauty that may reveal itself in a crude mass of music. Like the towering Alps, they move one by their very immensity. A German critic says : ” In these Cyclopean works the composer lets the elemental and brute forces of sound and pure rhythm have their fling.” It is scarcely music, it is the force of Nature herself. Berlioz himself calls his Requiem ” a musical cataclysm.”
These hurricanes are let loose in order to speak to the people, to stir and rouse the dull ocean of humanity. The Requiem is a Last judgment, not meant, like that of the Sixtine Chapel (which Berlioz did not care for at all) for great aristocracies, but for a crowd, a surging, excited, and rather savage crowd. The Marche de Rakoczy is less an Hungarian march than the music for a revolutionary fight ; it sounds the charge ; and Berlioz tells us it might bear Virgil’s verses for a motto :
“Furor iraque mentes Praecipitant, pulchrumque mori succurrit in armis.”
When Wagner heard the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale he was forced to admit Berlioz’s ” skill in writing compositions that were popular in the best sense of the word.”
” In listening to that symphony I had a lively impression that any little street boy in a blue blouse and red bonnet would understand it perfectly. I have no hesitation in giving precedence to that work over Berlioz’s other works ; it is big and noble from the first note to the last ; a fine and eager patriotism rises from its first expression of compassion to the final glory of the apotheosis, and keeps it from any unwholesome exaggeration. I want gladly to express my conviction that that symphony will fire men’s courage and will live as long as a nation bears the name of France.”
How do such works come to be neglected by our Republic ? How is it they have not a place in our public life ? Why are they not part of our great ceremonies ? That is what one would wonderingly ask oneself if one had not seen, for the last century, the indifference of the State to Art. What might not Berlioz have done if the means had been given him, or if his works had found a place in the fêtes of the Revolution ? Unhappily, one must add that here again his character was the enemy of his genius. As this apostle of musical freedom, in the second part of his life, became afraid of himself and recoiled before the results of his own principles, and returned to classicism, so this revolutionary fell to sullenly disparaging the people and revolutions ; and he talks about ” the republican cholera,” ” the dirty and stupid republic,” ” the republic of street-porters and rag-gatherers,” ” the filthy rabble of humanity a hundred times more stupid and animal in its twitchings and revolutionary grimacings than the baboons and orang-outangs of Borneo.” What ingratitude ! He owed to these revolutions, to these democratic storms, to these human tempests, the best of all his geniusand he disowned it all. This musician of a new era took refuge in the past.
Well, what did it matter ? Whether he wished it or not, he opened out some magnificent roads for Art. He has shown the music of France the way in which her genius should tread ; he has shown her possibilities she had never before dreamed of. He has given us a musical utterance at once truthful and expressive, free from foreign traditions, coming from the depths of our being, and reflecting our spirit ; an utterance which responded to his imagination, to his instinct for what was picturesque, to his fleeting impressions, and his delicate shades of feeling. He has laid the strong foundation of a national and popular music for the greatest republic in Europe.
These are shining qualities. If Berlioz had had Wagner’s reasoning power and had made the utmost use of his intuitions, if he had had Wagner’s will and had shaped the inspirations of his genius and welded them into a solid whole, I venture to say that he would have made a revolution in music greater than Wagner’s own ; for Wagner, though stronger and more master of himself, was less original and, at bottom, but the close of a glorious past.
Will that revolution still be accomplished ? Perhaps ; but it has suffered half a century’s delay. Berlioz bitterly calculated that people would begin to understand him about the year 1940.1
After all, why be astonished that his mighty mission was too much for him ? He was so alone. As people forsook him, his loneliness stood out in greater relief. He was alone in the age of Wagner, Liszt, Schumann, and Franck ; alone, yet containing a whole world in himself, of which his enemies, his friends, his admirers, and he himself, were not quite conscious ; alone, and tortured by his loneliness. Alonethe word is repeated by the music of his youth and his old age, by the Symphonic fantastique and Les Troyens. It is the word I read in the portrait before me as I write these linesthe beautiful portrait of the Mémoires, where his face looks out in sad and stern reproach on the age that so misunderstood him.