“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ( Elie Wiesel )
A musical phrase of Berlioz was never really shaped from any consideration of pure design; it had to be something more than a mere musical ”mot”; that was not in a sense intended to create music, but insteead yearned to be a tonal embodiment of some definite conception that defied analysis and appraisement in the conventional sense of strictly musical terms. In such novel and uncharted waters, Berlioz felt that deep betrayal and sense of abandonment that only indifference seems capable of scratching through the thin protection around his heart and soul.
The subjectivity of Berlioz’s work is therefore extreme.It was centered around his conception of ”idee fixe” , a fixed idea or obsession that rubbed into the realm of the pathological with Berlioz that explored the visceral precarity and rough and tumble co-existence between love and hate. Although Berlioz is characterized as a Romanticist, his artistic method was completely different from that of other contemporaries for whom the label served as a more defining identity for their general ideals and procedures. The Webers, the Chopins, and the Schumanns never completely isolated music from the sphere of its own logic in order to subordinate it to an extra-musical concept. For them, formal considerations were slackened at the behest of a poetic idea, but it was not a voluntary co-existence; no matter how vivid the implication, the purely musical was always in the ascendency. For Berlioz, the non-musical was the lead runner and the musical ideas would try to catch the slivers and sparks as they best they could for the ideas of Berlioz were mercurial, volatile and transformative. Some idea of themes can be seen from Elie Wiesel:
“In the final stage of every equation, of every encounter, the key is responsibility. Whoever says “I” creates the “you.” Such is the trap of every conscience. The “I” signifies both solitude and rejection of solitude. Words name things and then replace them. Whoever says tomorrow, denies it. Tomorrow exists only for him who does not seek it. And yesterday? …”How can we imagine what is beyond imagination… How can we retell what escapes language?” ( Wiesel )
During his ”voyages musicales” through Europe in the 1840′s Berlioz managed to put together most of his next major score, La Damnation de Faust . One episode was jotted down by gaslight in a Budapest shop, another occurred to him in Breslau, a third appeared to him in the night, in Prague. On a visit to Rouen he wrote the love duet for part II; much of the rest was sketched out at odd moments in Paris, ”always improvised , either at my own house, or at the cafe, or in the Tuileries gardens, and even on a stone in the Boulevard du Temple”. The best known episode in the score , the ”Rackoczy March” , is an adaptation of a Hungarian folk tune that had caught his ear.
Before conducting the first performance of this arrangement in Budapest, he was warned by a local editor not to begin softly, because we are accustomed to hear it played fortissimo”. Berlioz, sticking to his guns, insisted on starting piano and building up to a climax full of violent vibrations. ”When after a long crescendo, fugued fragments of the theme reappeared, interrupted by the dull beats of the big drum, simulating the effect of distant cannon, the room began to seethe with an indescribable sound, and when at length the orchestra burst into a furious melee, and hurled forth the long delayed fortissimo, it was shaken by the most unheard of cries and stampings; the concentrated fury of all this burning audience exploded in accents that made me shiver with terror”.
Never one to waste a good effect, Berlioz grafted the march onto ”La Damnation de Faust” , though it meant transporting Goethe’s hero to Hungary as an excuse for having it there. Paris, unfortunately, was not as easily carried by storm as Budapest. On the day of the premiere in 1846, the theatre was half-empty; most of the musical public had stayed at home, ”caring as little about my new work as if I had been the most obscure student at the Conservatoire.” He had paid for the performance out of his own pocket, and a second poorly attended concert left himstill deeper in debt; the losses amounted to about ten thousand francs. He could face opposition, but not indifference, and this was the unkindest cut of all, for it robbed him of the will
o on composing.
There is a tragic passage in the ”Memoirs” where he describes an unwritten symphony in A minor, which he had heard in his dreams, with the first movement already fully scored, but which he had deliberately refrained from putting down on paper in order to save himself from still another cycle of disappointments.
”And now” , he writes at fifty, ”if not at the end of my career, I am at any rate on the last steep decline; exhausted, consumed, but ever ardent, and full of an energy that sometimes revolts with an almost overwhelming force. I begin to know French, to be able to write a page of music, or verse, or of prose fairly well; I can direct and inspire an orchestra; I adore and venerate art in all its forms…But I belong to a nation which has ceased to be interested in the nobler manifestations of intelligence, and whose only deity is the golden calf”.
In spite of a growing sense of futility, he went on producing masterpieces, though more sporadically than before. His Christmas oratorio, ”The Childhood of Christ”, has fragile archaic sound and tone colors that glow like a Romanesque madonna. The Opera ”Les Troyens” is an immense marbel frieze by comparison; a full scale setting of the Virgilian epic that had first aroused his imagination: the siege of Troy; Hector, Priam, Cassandra; Aenas at Carthage with Queen Dido; the fateful cry of ”Italie!” admonishing Aenas that his destiny is to preside over the founding of the city of Rome; and Dido’s soul-shattering suicide.
”The composer’s characterization of Caesar and Augustus as “brigands” illuminates the argument of Les Troyens. Berlioz’ opera declares Fate and Empire to be, if not outright delusions, then derailments of constructive life, inimical both to private happiness and to love. The composer’s first important work, the Symphonie fantastique (1830), is a unified five-moment orchestral composition on the topics of love and betrayal. His final and greatest opus, Les Troyens, is a unified five-act opera on the same two topics, based on Virgil’s incomplete Latin epic, the Aeneid.
Les Troyens might well be said to objectify what in the Symphony fantastique remains subjective – the sacredness of privacy and intimacy and the wretchedness of political schemes that subordinate the human to abstract designs. The opera’s two female protagonists, Cassandra and Dido, replace the single male protagonist of the Symphonie fantastique’s notorious program.”
In his study of The Sonata principle(1962), the late Wilfrid Mellers puts his finger on the real disconnection between Les Troyens and its mid-Nineteenth Century French public – or possibly any public of any time: Les Troyens…is an idealized vision of a new heroic civilization: or rather of the old world, and the old technique born anew. This wasno puerile utopia. Dido is a heroic figure, but also a woman, with human passions and frailties. In Berlioz’s imaginary aristocracy, people, like Dido, would still love, suffer, and die, as they have always done; but human life would acquire once more the dignity and sanctity of the heroic age.” ( Thomas F. Bettoneau )
Leonard Cohen: Dress Rehearsal Rag:
Four o’clock in the afternoon
and I didn’t feel like very much.
I said to myself, “Where are you golden boy,
where is your famous golden touch?”
I thought you knew where
all of the elephants lie down,
I thought you were the crown prince
of all the wheels in Ivory Town.
Just take a look at your body now,
there’s nothing much to save
and a bitter voice in the mirror cries,
“Hey, Prince, you need a shave.”
Now if you can manage to get
your trembling fingers to behave,
why don’t you try unwrapping
a stainless steel razor blade?
That’s right, it’s come to this,
yes it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
wasn’t it a strange way down?
There’s no hot water
and the cold is running thin.
Well, what do you expect from
the kind of places you’ve been living in?
Don’t drink from that cup,
it’s all caked and cracked along the rim.
That’s not the electric light, my friend,
that is your vision growing dim.
Cover up your face with soap, there,
now you’re Santa Claus.
And you’ve got a gift for anyone
who will give you his applause.
I thought you were a racing man,
ah, but you couldn’t take the pace.
That’s a funeral in the mirror
and it’s stopping at your face.
That’s right, it’s come to this,
yes it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
ah wasn’t it a strange way down?
( Songs of Love and Hate )