It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What’s good is bad what’s bad is good you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom.I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed your eyes don’t look
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone faced while the
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees while the
Slowly into autumn. ( Bob Dylan,Jacques Levy; Idiot Wind )
”The last century ( the twentieth ) was not a particularly happy one for the two greatest composers of the romantic era. There’s Franz Liszt–you remember him, don’t you? Magpie collector of pianistic glitter? Lothario of Europe? And there’s Hector Berlioz. You know, the “one work” man? No technique? Freakish and grotesque? And, as a consequence of all of the foregoing, a thoroughly embittered critic? Musical history, like the other sorts, is written, at least in the short run, by the victors, and the victors were anything but kind to Berlioz and his ”idee fixe” ; obsessions that teetered between the beautiful and the pathological.
Berlioz died a broken man, thwarted and frustrated throughout his career by the indifference and spite of the French musical establishment. After his death, biographers and commentators continued to embroider the same old fabric. Sacheverell Sitwell, for example, treated Berlioz as some sort of brilliant but alien force, enslaved by his “strange schemings.” Debussy thought Berlioz a “monster” Stravinsky found his reputation as an orchestrator suspect and Verdi found him lacking in the “calm and … balance that produce complete works of art.”
Perhaps it was just a matter of fate: wrong place, wrong time, with Liszt and Berlioz being simply meant to take the bullet for all of the perceived failures of romanticism. Or maybe not. Regardless of their reputation among non-musicians, their influence on their contemporaries and musical heirs was so profound that Western music could not possibly have developed as it did without them. ( James F. Penrose )
Music is particularly rich in enigmas. No amount of argument or discussion, it would seem, can avail to produce even an approximation of general agreement on a subject such as Hector Berlioz. Critical opinion divides sharply on matters of detail concerning other composers; but there remain fundamental rifts in the case of Berlioz. There is a certain Sphinx like mystery about Berlioz that time and custom does not seem to wither and erode; as if the extraordinary cleavage of opinion on Berlioz is too hostile and mutually exclusive to reconcile the emotional element within an intellectual debate.
Berlioz is an extreme instance. Extreme, for the main reason that the riddle he propounded is a hundred and fifty years old. It is not that musicians are unable to make up their minds; they can and do, but their findings completely lack unanimity. In the case of Berlioz , the trouble is not that there is any shortage of decided opinion, but that there is an excess of it and it is often conflicting, contradictory and irreconcilable. it is difficult to form a conception of the status of Berlioz equivalent to our more or less adequate estimate of the positions of Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner. Why cannot we agree upon Berlioz?
”Many historians regard the most significant formal innovation in Berlioz’s three great symphonies to have ushered in an era of program music. Paul Henry Lang notes: “Berlioz raised program music from a rather occasional indulgence to a constructive principle of composition.” Yet, Lang notes, it spawned inherent friction, as the descriptive elements of Berlioz’s literary plan were the antithesis of symphonic abstraction and deflected the natural flow of the music. To Lang, rather than let his unfettered emotion run free with spontaneous feeling, Berlioz tended to lapse into outmoded formal clichés. J. H. Elliott summed it up: “Berlioz’s best is wonderful, his worst appalling – and the twain, with the degrees between them, are inextricably confused together.” Or, in Harold Schonberg’s more flattering assessment, all Berlioz’s work is a mixture of flaws and genius; moments of inspiration alternate with banalities, overwriting, self-conscious posing, weak melodies and awkward transitions, yet all sblemishes wither before his prodigious power, originality and ardent Romanticism.”
Berlioz spent three years on what he termed ‘,a huge and therefore dangerous” project, writing both text and music. In the midst of it he was elected as one of the ”Immortals” of the Institute, a distinction as welcome as it was overdue, for it brought him a yearly pension of fifteen hundred francs. The score grew steadily longer and finally had to be cut in half to make it stageworthy; ”La prise de Troie,” in three acts, and ”Les Troyens a Carthage”, in five. When the work was done, he waited for someone to produce it. Instead there was a commission for an opera to inaugurate a new theatre in Baden Baden, the fashionable watering place where he had conducted several seasons of summer concerts.
The bandbox theatre was much too small for ”Les Troyens” , but perfect for Mozartean opera, and Berlioz proceeded to write one, a sparkling elegant comedy based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing . The music of Beatrice et Benedict is illumined by the Italian sun and warmed by memories of bygone passions; one would think that only a young composer could have written such vibrant love duets. It struck him as ironic , after the a862 premiere, that only now were people discovering ”that i have melody, that I can be jubilant and even humorous”. And yet, with Beatrice he took his last, mocking bow from the waist as a composer.
An abbreviated version of Les Troyens was produced at a paris theatre in 1864 and ran for twenty-two performances. ”Look they are coming,” a friend said to Berlioz one night as they watched the theatre filling up. ”Yes , but I am going”, was the laconic reply. Already he was suffering from a chronic stomach ailment that may have been cancer. Marie Recio, his wife, had died of a heart attack in June, 1862; his son, a merchant-marine officer with a promising career, died of yellow fever in Havana five years later, at the age of thirty-three.
”Absurdity now seems to me man’s natural element,” Berlioz wrote, ” and death the noble goal of his mission.” But Camus wrote of absurdity in The Myth of Sisyphus that it could be overcome with scorn:
”You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His
scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is
exerted toward accomplishing nothing….The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and
rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that
was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.”
Alone, and without hopes or illusions, he undertook the concert tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg that was due to be his farewell to music. Despite his illness and the strain of the long journey, the trip revived his spirits. Russia’s young composers idolized him; in Moscow, with five hundred performers and a nearly delirious audience of twelve thousand, he made the deepest impression of his career. It was a clear-cut victory for the music of ”passionate expression, inner fire, rhythmic drive and the element of surprise”. And it gave the musical world its first inkling that Berlioz would one day emerge as ” the fountainhead of modern music as Delacroix is of modern painting”, according to Jacques Barzun.
”In fact, all the literary, mythological and historical heroes that the composer portrays in his works are reflections of his own ego. Berlioz may thus be regarded as the prototype of the narcissistic, neurotic artist, as described by Freud in the 23rd lecture of his General Introduction to Psychoanalysis: “He…possesses the puzzling ability of moulding a specific material into a faithful image of the creatures of his imagination, and then he is able to attach to this representation of his unconscious phantasies so much pleasurable gratification that, for a time at least, it is able to outweigh and release the suppressions” (Eng. trans. G.S. Hall, New York, 1920).
On one point, admittedly, the Frenchman does not at all correspond to Freud’s artist type, who “understands how to elaborate his daydreams so that they lose their essentially personal element, which would repel strangers, and yield satisfaction to others as well” (trans. Hall). Berlioz allows his listeners absolutely no chance not to discover him in his music – which led to vehement reproach among German composers of his day: Robert Schumann decried lapses of taste in parts of the symphony’s programme, especially in the finale. And the influential Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick was completely baffled by the composer’s musical self-revelation: “Berlioz liked in conversation to emphasize that he had written it in his life’s blood. Yes, blood is ‘a juice of very special kind’ [Goethe: Faust]. But we want to be warmed and invigorated with it, not doused.”
Such reservations notwithstanding, the premiere of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique at the Paris Conservatoire on 5 December 1830 marked the beginning of new musical era: the age of “ego exploration”, to which Peter Gay dedicated his study The Naked Heart. As the Berlin-born American cultural historian demonstrates, “the 19th century was intensely preoccupied with the self, to the point of neurosis. During the very decades of the most sustained campaign for master of the world ever undertaken, bourgeois devoted much delightful and perhaps even more anxious time to introspection.” Considered against this background, Berlioz surely accomplished what he had resolved to do even before writing the Symphonie fantastique: “to stagger the musical world” and to become “a colossus in music”.
Jürgen Otten, Michael Stegemann (Berlioz)
”Berlioz’s immense musical significance exists at several levels. First, he practically invented modern orchestral technique. In his revision of Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation, Richard Strauss wrote that even Beethoven could never really shake the influence of Haydn’s and Mozart’s string quartets on his symphonic writing and that the influence of the piano is never far removed (“unfortunately, not always to the listener’s enjoyment”–only Strauss could say something like that). Mr. Cairns notes that Berlioz, unlike most great composers, was not a pianist and was not bound to that instrument by habit and acclimation. It was really with Berlioz, as Strauss and Mr. Cairns point out, that the orchestra was first written for as an instrument in its own right, a development which culminated in Tristan and The Ring.
Second, Berlioz’s understanding of the capacity of the orchestra led him to create hitherto unknown orchestral color and emotional effect. Few other composers have been able to imbue specific emotions in the listener or musically imitate physiological sensations with as much precision and effect. In this vein, Berlioz was able to create musical analogies to written text with astonishing ease, a happy development in that he wrote many of his programs himself.” ( James F. Penrose )
Idiot wind blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to Capitol
Idiot wind blowing every time you move you teeth
You’re an idiot babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishing I was somebody else instead
Down the highway down the tracks down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars hounded by your memory
And all you raging glory.
I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered not the pain I raise above
And I’ll never know the same about you your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry. ( Idiot Wind. Bob Dylan, Jacques Levy )