Magazine article Gramophone

Berlioz on Music: 'Selected Criticism 1824-37'

Magazine article Gramophone

Berlioz on Music: 'Selected Criticism 1824-37'

Article excerpt

Berlioz on Music

'Selected Criticism 1824-37'

Edited by Katherine Kolb

OUP, HB, 328pp, 41.99 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 978-0-19-939195-0

Like many of his composer contemporaries--Weber, Wagner, Liszt and, if you count him, Hoffmann Berlioz, partly through choice, partly through necessity, was a frequent writer, and not just of music criticism. A brief sampling of the choice of 'reviews' for five Paris music journals that make up this new collection gives away how important fiction was to him, an impression seconded by the tides of his better-known collected essays and fantasies--Evenings with the Orchestra, The Musical Madhouse, A travers chants. And when 'Berlioz is in story-telling mode', as Katherine Kolb puts it, her introductory rubrics to each item here point out the demi-fictional characters of the expert witnesses he introduces, sometimes to make critical reviews of potential promoters of his music more diplomatic. Or perhaps they are to mask what were surely other motivating forces behind Berlioz's writing: to keep his hand in as a composer looking for work and performances for himself, and to use his subject matter (especially opera) as self-training and self-promotion.

Berlioz's sense of style and comedy lift his work regularly above the mere display of technical knowledge, and even that tends more to the concern of the educator or professional colleague anxious to help improvement: 'In such an instance [Ottavio/Anna duet in Don Giovanni Act 1] Mile Comelie Falcon gives so much stress to the first note of each gruppetto that the second almost disappears.' In these columns he easily becomes a novelistic observer of human foible, like his friends de Vigny and Balzac. Noting at a Conservatoire concert that 'the listeners look puzzlingly out of touch with an experience that, just a few days earlier, would have prompted cries of enthusiasm', he cannot resist completing the picture of an atmosphere imploding both on stage and in the auditorium. 'At any moment you can hear the worrisome sound of breaking E strings and popping bridges. The usherettes don't close the box doors, but slam them shut. A third latecomer, taking too big a stride, lurches against his own jacket, which sends loose change spilling out of his coin pocket ... Everything seems to work against the music. …

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