Magazine article The Spectator

The Full Treatment

Magazine article The Spectator

The Full Treatment

Article excerpt

The full treatment BERLIOZ, LA VOIX DU ROMANTISME edited by Catherine Massip and Cécile Reynaud Bibliothèque Nationale de France/ Fayard, 45 Euros, pp. 264, ISBN 2213616973

THE PORTRAITS OF HECTOR BERLIOZ by Günther Braam, translated by John Warrack Bärenreiter, £135, pp.401, ISBN 3761816774

Wen, to France's shame, the first ever complete performance in Paris of Berlioz's masterpiece The Trojans was heard last October, as part of the bi-centenary celebrations of the composer's birth, the conductor was John Eliot Gardiner. I was lucky enough to be at the first night and its reception at the Théâtre du Châtelet was ecstatic and the applause much prolonged. A sharp-tongued Frenchman pointed out that the greater part of the unconfined joy came from the large British contingent in the audience, but this was unfair. The French really enjoyed it too, but one can see his point.

Berlioz has been regarded as a giant over here for at least half a century and the French are still lagging behind in their appreciation of their only truly original musical genius. His great biographer, David Cairns, is English. The leading exponent of his work is Colin Davis, whose recordings and live performances have, over three decades, enabled Berliozians to go forth and multiply. And, if Davis has any rivals in this field, they are Gardiner and Roger Norrington. All three were present at the Atheneum in November for the celebratory dinner at which David Cairns gave the oration with the expected passion and scholarship, but also with a wit and comic timing that any great actor would have admired.

Now that 2003, with all its wonderful concerts and stagings of all the major works, is behind us, we can concentrate on the two permanent legacies of the bi-centenary year.

The Voice of Romanticism is the book/catalogue of the deeply moving and indeed stimulating exhibition mounted in a handful of ground-floor rooms in François Mitterrand's much cherished and deeply horrible grand projet, the Bibliothèque Nationale (which makes our unfairly derided British Library appear a thing of beauty). It was the most important celebratory Berlioz exhibition since the Victoria & Albert display of 1969 and the book, like the show, is a cornucopia of Berlioziana by all the usual suspects: Cairns, of course, on The Trojans and Berlioz and Shakespeare; Hugh Macdonald, the general editor of the New Berlioz Edition, on Berlioz as 'the inventor of the modern orchestra', a judgment first coined by Richard Strauss, and on Benvenuto Cellini; D. Kern Holoman on Berlioz the conductor; extracts from the Memoirs; erudite background pieces on the French Academy in Rome and the Paris Conservatory and much, much more to titillate the most fastidious Berliozian palate. There is a touching portrait of the otherwise admirable provincial Dr Berlioz, possibly the most misguided parent in all French civilisation, who constantly opposed Hector's musical ambition. The illustrations, including some of Berlioz's favourite instruments such as the ophicleide and the serpent, are more than the sum of the parts of the exhibition in a beautifully designed and printed volume.

But it is the portraits book which will fascinate the true Berliozian most. The principal edition is in English, comes together with a French translation of the text only and constitutes Volume 26 of the definitive Bärenreiter edition of all Berlioz's works. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.