The eccentric ways and heretical notions of Berlioz made him no favorite with the dons of the Conservatoire, and by the irritable and autocratic Cherubini he was positively hated. The young man took no pains to placate this resentment, but on the other hand elaborated methods of making himself doubly offensive. His power of stinging repartee stood him in good stead, and he never put a button on his foil. Had it been in old Cherubini's power to expel this bold pupil from the Conservatoire, no scruple would have held him back. But the genius and industry of Berlioz were undeniable, and there was no excuse for such extreme measures. Prejudiced as were his judges, he successively took several important prizes.
Berlioz's happiest evenings were at the Grand Opera, for which he prepared himself by solemn meditation. At the head of a band of students and amateurs, he took on himself the right of the most outspoken criticism, and led the enthusiasm or the condemnation of the audience. At this time Beethoven was barely tolerated in Paris, and the great symphonist was ruthlessly clipped and shorn to suit the French taste, which pronounced him "bizarre, incoherent, diffuse, bustling with rough modulations and wild harmonies, destitute of melody, forced in expression, noisy, and fearfully difficult," even as England at the same time frowned down his immortal works as "obstreperous roarings of modern frenzy." Berlioz's clear, stern voice would often be heard, when liberties were taken with the score, loud above the din of the instruments. "What wretch has dared to tamper with the great Beethoven?" "Who has taken upon him to revise Gluck?" This self-appointed arbiter became the dread of the operatic management, for, as a pupil of the Conservatoire, he had some rights which could not be infringed.
Berlioz composed some remarkable works while at the Conservatoire, among which were the "Ouverture des Francs Juges," and the symphonie "Fantastique," and in many ways indicated that the bent of his genius had fully declared itself. His decided and indomitable nature disdained to wear a mask, and he never sugar-coated his opinion, however unpalatable to others. He was already in a state of fierce revolt against the conventional forms of the music of his day, and no trumpet-tones of protest were too loud for him. He had now begun to write for the journals, though oftentimes his articles were refused on account of their fierce assaults. "Your hands are too full of stones, and there are too many glass windows about," was the excuse of one editor, softening the return of a manuscript. But Berlioz did not fully know himself or appreciate the tendencies fermenting within him until in 1830 he became the victim of a grand Shakespearean passion. The great English dramatist wrought most powerfully on Victor Hugo and Hector Berlioz, and had much to do with their artistic development. Berlioz gives a very interesting account of his Shakespearean enthusiasm, which also involved one of the catastrophes of his own personal life. "An English company gave some plays of Shakespeare, at that time wholly unknown to the French public. I went to the first performance of 'Hamlet' at the Odeon. I saw, in the part of Ophelia, Harriet Smithson, who became my wife five years afterward. The effect of her prodigious talent, or rather of her dramatic genius, upon my heart and imagination, is only comparable to the complete overturning which the poet, whose worthy interpreter she was, caused in me. Shakespeare, thus coming on me suddenly, struck me as with a thunderbolt. His lightning opened the heaven of art to me with a sublime crash, and lighted up its farthest depths. I recognized true dramatic grandeur, beauty, and truth. I measured at the same time the boundless inanity of the notions of Shakespeare in France, spread abroad by Voltaire,
'... ce singe de genie, Chez l'homme en mission par le diable envoye—'
(that ape of genius, an emissary from the devil to man),' and the pitiful poverty of our old poetry of pedagogues and ragged-school teachers. I saw, I understood, I felt that I was alive and must arise and walk." Of the influence of "Romeo and Juliet" on him, he says: "Exposing myself to the burning sun and balmy nights of Italy, seeing this love as quick and sudden as thought, burning like lava, imperious, irresistible, boundless, and pure and beautiful as the smile of angels, those furious scenes of vengeance, those distracted embraces, those struggles between love and death, was too much. After the melancholy, the gnawing anguish, the tearful love, the cruel irony, the somber meditations, the heart-rackings, the madness, tears, mourning, the calamities and sharp cleverness of Hamlet; after the gray clouds and icy winds of Denmark; after the third act, hardly breathing, in pain as if a hand of iron were squeezing at my heart, I said to myself with the fullest conviction: 'Ah! I am lost.' I must add that I did not at that time know a word of English, that I only caught glimpses of Shakespeare through the fog of Letourneur's translation, and that I consequently could not perceive the poetic web that surrounds his marvelous creations like a net of gold. I have the misfortune to be very nearly in the same sad case to-day. It is much harder for a Frenchman to sound the depths of Shakespeare than for an Englishman to feel the delicacy and originality of La Fontaine or Moliere. Our two poets are rich continents; Shakespeare is a world. But the play of the actors, above all of the actress, the succession of the scenes, the pantomime and the accent of the voices, meant more to me, and filled me a thousand times more with Shakespearean ideas and passion than the text of my colorless and unfaithful translation. An English critic said last winter in the 'Illustrated London News,' that, after seeing Miss Smithson in Juliet, I had cried out, 'I will marry that woman and write my grandest symphony on this play.' I did both, but never said anything of the sort."
The beautiful Miss Smithson became the rage, the inspiration of poets and painters, the idol of the hour, at whose feet knelt all the roues and rich idlers of the town. Delacroix painted her as the Ophelia of his celebrated picture, and the English company made nearly as much sensation in Paris as the Comedie Francaise recently aroused in London. Berlioz's mind, perturbed and inflamed with the mighty images of the Shakespearean world, swept with wide, powerful passion toward Shakespeare's interpreter. He raged and stormed with his accustomed vehemence, made no secret of his infatuation, and walked the streets at night, calling aloud the name of the enchantress, and cooling his heated brows with many a sigh. He, too, would prove that he was a great artist, and his idol should know that she had no unworthy lover. He would give a concert, and Miss Smithson should be present by hook or by crook. He went to Cherubini and asked permission to use the great hall of the Conservatoire, but was churlishly refused. Berlioz however, managed to secure the concession over the head of Cherubini, and advertised his concert. He went to large expense in copyists, orchestra, solo-singers, and chorus, and, when the night came, was almost fevered with expectation. But the concert was a failure, and the adored one was not there; she had not even heard of it! The disappointment nearly laid the young composer on a bed of sickness; but, if he oscillated between deliriums of hope and despair, his powerful will was also full of elasticity, and not for long did he even rave in the utter ebb of disappointment. Throughout the whole of his life, Berlioz displayed this swiftness of recoil; one moment crazed with grief and depression, the next he would bend to his labor with a cool, steady fixedness of purpose, which would sweep all interferences aside like cobwebs. But still, night after night, he would haunt the Odeon, and drink in the sights and sounds of the magic world of Shakespeare, getting fresh inspiration nightly for his genius and love. If he paid dearly for this rich intellectual acquaintance by his passion for La Belle Smithson, he yet gained impulses and suggestions for his imagination, ravenous of new impressions, which wrought deeply and permanently. Had Berlioz known the outcome, he would not have bartered for immunity by losing the jewels and ingots of the Shakespeare treasure-house.
The year 1830 was for Berlioz one of alternate exaltation and misery; of struggle, privation, disappointment; of all manner of torments inseparable from such a volcanic temperament and restless brain. But he had one consolation which gratified his vanity. He gained the Prix de Rome by his cantata of "Sardanapalus." This honor had a practical value also. It secured him an annuity of three thousand francs for a period of five years, and two years' residence in Italy. Berlioz would never let "well enough" alone, however. He insisted on adding an orchestral part to the completed score, describing the grand conflagration of the palace of Sardanapalus. When the work was produced, it was received with a howl of sarcastic derision, owing to the latest whim of the composer. So Berlioz started for Italy, smarting with rage and pain, as if the Furies were lashing him with their scorpion whips.
The pensioners of the Conservatoire lived at Rome in the Villa Medici, and the illustrious painter, Horace Vernet, was the director, though he exercised but little supervision over the studies of the young men under his nominal charge. Berlioz did very much as he pleased—studied little or much as the whim seized him, visited the churches, studios, and picture-galleries, and spent no little of his time by starlight and sunlight roaming about the country adjacent to the Holy City in search of adventures. He had soon come to the conclusion that he had not much to learn of Italian music; that he could teach rather than be taught. He speaks of Roman art with the bitterest scorn, and Wagner himself never made a more savage indictment of Italian music than does Berlioz in his "Memoires." At the theatres he found the orchestra, dramatic unity, and common-sense all sacrificed to mere vocal display. At St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel religious earnestness and dignity were frittered away in pretty part-singing, in mere frivolity and meretricious show. The word "symphony" was not known except to indicate an indescribable noise before the rising of the curtain. Nobody had heard of Weber and Beethoven, and Mozart, dead more than a score of years, was mentioned by a well-known musical connoisseur as a young man of great promise! Such surroundings as these were a species of purgatory to Berlioz, against whose bounds he fretted and raged without intermission. The director's receptions were signalized by the performance of insipid cavatinas, and from these, as from his companions' revels in which he would sometimes indulge with the maddest debauchery as if to kill his own thoughts, he would escape to wander in the majestic ruins of the Coliseum and see the magic Italian moonlight shimmer through its broken arches, or stroll on the lonely Campagna till his clothes were drenched with dew. No fear of the deadly Roman malaria could check his restless excursions, for, like a fiery horse, he was irritated to madness by the inaction of his life. To him the dolce far niente was a meaningless phrase. His comrades scoffed at him and called him "Pere la Joie," in derision of the fierce melancholy which despised them, their pursuits and pleasures.
At the end of the year he was obliged to present, something before the Institute as a mark of his musical advancement, and he sent on a fragment of his "Mass" heard years before at St. Roch, in which the wise judges professed to find the "evidences of material advancement, and the total abandonment of his former reprehensible tendencies." One can fancy the scornful laughter of Berlioz at hearing this verdict. But his Italian life was not altogether purposeless. He revised his "Symphonie Fantastique," and wrote its sequel, "Lelio," a lyrical monologue, in which he aimed to express the memories of his passion for the beautiful Miss Smithson. These two parts comprised what Berlioz named "An Episode in the Life of an Artist." Our composer managed to get the last six months of his Italian exile remitted, and his return to Paris was hastened by one of those furious paroxysms of rage to which such ill-regulated minds are subject. He had adored Miss Smithson as a celestial divinity, a lovely ideal of art and beauty, but this had not prevented him from basking in the rays of the earthly Venus. Before leaving Paris he had had an intrigue with a certain Mile. M———, a somewhat frivolous and unscrupulous beauty, who had bled his not overfilled purse with the avidity of a leech. Berlioz heard just before returning to Paris that the coquette was about to marry, a conclusion one would fancy which would have rejoiced his mind. But, no! he was worked to a dreadful rage by what he considered such perfidy! His one thought was to avenge himself. He provided himself with three loaded pistols—one for the faithless one, one for his rival, and one for himself—and was so impatient to start that he could not wait for passports. He attempted to cross the frontier in women's clothes, and was arrested. A variety of contretemps occurred before he got to Paris, and by that time his rage had so cooled, his sense of the absurdity of the whole thing grown so keen, that he was rather willing to send Mile. M———his blessing than his curse.
About the time of Berlioz's arrival, Miss Smithson also returned to Paris after a long absence, with the intent of undertaking the management of an English theatre. It was a necessity of our composer's nature to be in love, and the flames of his ardor, fed with fresh fuel, blazed up again from their old ashes. Berlioz gave a concert, in which his "Episode in the Life of an Artist" was interpreted in connection with the recitations of the text. The explanations of "Lelio" so unmistakably pointed to the feeling of the composer for herself, that Miss Smithson, who by chance was present, could not be deceived, though she never yet had seen Berlioz. A few days afterward a benefit concert was arranged, in which Miss Smithson's troupe was to take part, as well as Berlioz, who was to direct a symphony of his own composition. At the rehearsal, the looks of Berlioz followed Miss Smithson with such an intent stare, that she said to some one, "Who is that man whose eyes bode me no good?" This was the first occasion of their personal meeting, and it may be fancied that Berlioz followed up the introduction with his accustomed vehemence and pertinacity, though without immediate effect, for Miss Smithson was more inclined to fear than to love him.
The young directress soon found out that the rage for Shakespeare, which had swept the public mind under the influence of the romanticism led by Victor Hugo, Dumas, Theophile Gautier, Balzac, and others, was spurious. The wave had been frothing but shallow, and it ebbed away, leaving the English actress and her enterprise gasping for life. With no deeper tap-root than the Gallic love of novelty and the infectious enthusiasm of a few men of great genius, the Shakespearean mania had a short life, and Frenchmen shrugged their shoulders over their own folly, in temporarily preferring the English barbarian to Racine, Corneille, and Moliere. The letters of Berlioz, in which he scourges the fickleness of his countrymen in returning again to their "false gods," are masterpieces of pointed invective.
Miss Smithson was speedily involved in great pecuniary difficulty, and, to add to her misfortunes, she fell down stairs and broke her leg, thus precluding her own appearance on the stage. Affairs were in this desperate condition, when Berlioz came to the fore with a delicate and manly chivalry worthy of the highest praise. He offered to pay Miss Smithson's debts, though a poor man himself, and to marry her without delay. The ceremony took place immediately, and thus commenced a connection which hampered and retarded Berlioz's career, as well as caused him no little personal unhappiness. He speedily discovered that his wife was a woman of fretful, imperious temper, jealous of mere shadows (though Berlioz was a man to give her substantial cause), and totally lacking in sympathy writh his high-art ideals.
When Mme. Berlioz recovered, it was to find herself unable longer to act, as her leg was stiff and her movements unsuited to the exigencies of the stage. Poor Berlioz was crushed by the weight of the obligations he had assumed, and, as the years went on, the peevish plaints of an invalid wife, who had lost her beauty and power of charming, withered the affection which had once been so fervid and passionate. Berlioz finally separated from his once beautiful and worshiped Harriet Smithson, but to the very last supplied her wants as fully as he could out of the meager earnings of his literary work and of musical compositions, which the Paris public, for the most part, did not care to listen to. For his son, Louis, the only offspring of this union, Berlioz felt a devoted affection, and his loss at sea in after-years was a blow that nearly broke his heart.
Owing to the unrelenting hostility of Cherubini, Berlioz failed to secure a professorship at the Conservatoire, a place to which he was nobly entitled, and was fain to take up with the position of librarian instead. The paltry wage he eked out by journalistic writing, for the most part as musical critic of the "Journal des Debats," by occasional concerts, revising proofs, in a word anything which a versatile and desperate Bohemian could turn his hand to. In fact, for many years the main subsistence of Berlioz was derived from feuilleton-writing and the labors of a critic. His prose is so witty, brilliant, fresh, and epigrammatic that he would have been known to posterity as a clever litterateur, had he not preferred to remain merely a great musician. Dramatic, picturesque, and subtile, with an admirable sense of art-form, he could have become a powerful dramatist, perhaps a great novelist. But his soul, all whose aspirations set toward one goal, revolted from the labors of literature, still more from the daily grind of journalistic drudgery. In that remarkable book, "Memoires de Hector Berlioz," he has made known his misery, and thus recounts one of his experiences: "I stood at the window gazing into the gardens, at the heights of Montmartre, at the setting sun; reverie bore me a thousand leagues from my accursed comic opera. And when, on turning, my eyes fell upon the accursed title at the head of the accursed sheet, blank still, and obstinately awaiting my word, despair seized upon me. My guitar rested against the table; with a kick I crushed its side. Two pistols on the mantel stared at me with great round eyes. I regarded them for some time, then beat my forehead with clinched hand. At last I wept furiously, like a schoolboy unable to do his theme. The bitter tears were a relief. I turned the pistols toward the wall; I pitied my innocent guitar, and sought a few chords, which were given without resentment. Just then my son of six years knocked at the door [the little Louis whose death, years after, was the last bitter drop in the composer's cup of life]; owing to my ill-humor, I had unjustly scolded him that morning. 'Papa,' he cried, 'wilt thou be friends?' 'I will be friends; come on, my boy'; and I ran to open the door. I took him on my knee, and, with his blonde head on my breast, we slept together.... Fifteen years since then, and my torment still endures. Oh, to be always there!—scores to write, orchestras to lead, rehearsals to direct. Let me stand all day with baton in hand, training a chorus, singing their parts myself, and beating the measure until I spit blood, and cramp seizes my arm; let me carry desks, double basses, harps, remove platforms, nail planks like a porter or a carpenter, and then spend the night in rectifying the errors of engravers or copyists. I have done, do, and will do it. That belongs to my musical life, and I bear it without thinking of it, as the hunter bears the thousand fatigues of the chase. But to scribble eternally for a livelihood—!"
It may be fancied that such a man as Berlioz did not spare the lash, once he griped the whip-handle, and, though no man was more generous than he in recognizing and encouraging genuine merit, there was none more relentless in scourging incompetency, pretentious commonplace, and the blind conservatism which rests all its faith in what has been. Our composer made more than one powerful enemy by this recklessness in telling the truth, where a more politic man would have gained friends strong to help in time of need. But Berlioz was too bitter and reckless, as well as too proud, to debate consequences.
In 1838 Berlioz completed his "Benvenuto Cellini," his only attempt at opera since "Les Francs Juges," and, wonderful to say, managed to get it done at the opera, though the director, Duponchel, laughed at him as a lunatic, and the whole company already regarded the work as damned in advance. The result was a most disastrous and eclatant failure, and it would have crushed any man whose moral backbone was not forged of thrice-tempered steel. With all these back-sets Hector Berlioz was not without encouragement. The brilliant Franz Liszt, one of the musical idols of the age, had bowed before him and called him master, the great musical protagonist. Spontini, one of the most successful composers of the time, held him in affectionate admiration, and always bade him be of good cheer. Paganini, the greatest of violinists, had hailed him as equal to Beethoven.
On the night of the failure of "Benvenuto Cellini," a strange-looking man with disheveled black hair and eyes of piercing brilliancy had forced his way around into the green-room, and, seeking out Berlioz, had fallen on his knees before him and kissed his hand passionately. Then he threw his arms around him and hailed the astonished composer as the master-spirit of the age in terms of glowing eulogium. The next morning, while Berlioz was in bed, there was a tap at the door, and Paganini's son, Achille, entered with a note, saying his father was sick, or he would have come to pay his respects in person. On opening the note Berlioz found a most complimentary letter, and a more substantial evidence of admiration, a check on Baron Rothschild for twenty thousand francs! Paganini also gave Berlioz a commission to write a concerto for his Stradivarius viola, which resulted in a grand symphony, "Harold en Italie," founded on Byron's "Childe Harold," but still more an inspiration of his own Italian adventures, which had had a strong flavor of personal if they lacked artistic interest.
The generous gift of Paganini raised Berlioz from the slough of necessity so far that he could give his whole time to music. Instantly he set about his "Romeo and Juliet" symphony, which will always remain one of his masterpieces—a beautifully chiseled work, from the hands of one inspired by gratitude, unfettered imagination, and the sense of blessed repose. Our composer's first musical journey was an extensive tour in Germany in 1841, of which he gives charming memorials in his letters to Liszt, Heine, Ernst, and others. His reception was as generous and sympathetic as it had been cold and scornful in France. Everywhere he was honored and praised as one of the great men of the age. Mendelssohn exchanged batons with him at Leipsic, notwithstanding the former only half understood this stalwart Berserker of music. Spohr called him one of the greatest artists living, though his own direct antithesis, and Schumann wrote glowingly in the "Neue Zeitschrift": "For myself, Berlioz is as clear as the blue sky above. I really think there is a new time in music coming." Berlioz wrote joyfully to Heine: "I came to Germany as the men of ancient Greece went to the oracle at Delphi, and the response has been in the highest degree encouraging." But his Germanic laurels did him no good in France. The Parisians would have none of him except as a writer of feuilletons, who pleased them by the vigor with which he handled the knout, and tickled the levity of the million, who laughed while they saw the half-dozen or more victims flayed by merciless satire. Berlioz wept tears of blood because he had to do such executioner's work, but did it none the less vigorously for all that.
The composer made another musical journey in Austria and Hungary in 1844-'45, where he was again received with the most enthusiastic praise and pleasure. It was in Hungary, especially, that the warmth of his audiences overran all bounds. One night, at Pesth, where he played the "Rackoczy Indule," an orchestral setting of the martial hymn of the Magyar race, the people were worked into a positive frenzy, and they would have flung themselves before him that he might walk over their prostrate bodies. Vienna, Pesth, and Prague, led the way, and the other cities followed in the wake of an enthusiasm which has been accorded to not many artists. The French heard these stories with amazement, for they could not understand how this musical demigod could be the same as he who was little better than a witty buffoon. During this absence Berlioz wrote the greater portion of his "Damnation de Faust," and, as he had made some money, he obeyed the strong instinct which always ruled him, the hope of winning the suffrages of his own countrymen.
An eminent French critic claims that this great work, of which we shall speak further on, contains that which Gounod's "Faust" lacks—insight into the spiritual significance of Goethe's drama. Berlioz exhausted all his resources in producing it at the Opera Comique in 1846, but again he was disappointed by its falling stillborn on the public interest. Berlioz was utterly ruined, and he fled from France in the dead of winter as from a pestilence.
The genius of this great man was recognized in Holland, Russia, Austria, and Germany, but among his own countrymen, for the most part, his name was a laughing-stock and a by-word. He offended the pedants and the formalists by his daring originality, he had secured the hate of rival musicians by the vigor and keenness of his criticisms. Berlioz was in the very heat of the artistic controversy between the classicists and romanticists, and was associated with Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Delacroix, Liszt, Chopin, and others, in fighting that acrimonious art-battle. While he did not stand formally with the ranks, he yet secured a still more bitter portion of hostility from their powerful opponents, for, to opposition in principle, Berlioz united a caustic and vigorous mode of expression. His name was a target for the wits. "A physician who plays on the guitar and fancies himself a composer," was the scoff of malignant gossips. The journals poured on him a flood of abuse without stint. French malignity is the most venomous and unscrupulous in the world, and Berlioz was selected as a choice victim for its most vigorous exercise, none the less willingly that he had shown so much skill and zest in impaling the victims of his own artistic and personal dislike.
To continue the record of Berlioz's life in consecutive narrative would be without significance, for it contains but little for many years except the same indomitable battle against circumstance and enmity, never yielding an inch, and always keeping his eyes bent on his own lofty ideal. In all of art history is there no more masterful heroic struggle than Berlioz waged for thirty-five years, firm in his belief that some time, if not during his own life, his principles would be triumphant, and his name ranked among the immortals. But what of the mean while? This problem Berlioz solved, in his later as in earlier years, by doing the distasteful work of the literary scrub. But never did he cease composing; though no one would then have his works, his clear eye perceived the coming time when his genius would not be denied, when an apotheosis should comfort his spirit wandering in Hades.
Among Berlioz's later works was an opera of which he had composed both words and music, consisting of two parts, "The Taking of Troy," and "The Trojans at Carthage," the latter of which at last secured a few representations at a minor theatre in 1863. The plan of this work required that it should be carried out under the most perfect conditions. "In order," says Berlioz, "to properly produce such a work as 'Les Trojans,' I must be absolute master of the theatre, as of the orchestra in directing a symphony. I must have the good-will of all, be obeyed by all, from prima donna to scene-shifter. A lyrical theatre, as I conceive it, is a great instrument of music, which, if I am to play, must be placed unreservedly in my hands." Wagner found a King of Bavaria to help him carry out a similar colossal scheme at Bayreuth, but ill luck followed a man no less great through life. His grand "Trojans" was mutilated, tinkered, patched, and belittled, to suit the Theatre Lyrique. It was a butchery of the work, but still it yielded the composer enough to justify his retirement from the "Journal des Debats," after thirty years of slavery.
Berlioz was now sixty years old, a lonely man, frail in body, embittered in soul by the terrible sense of failure. His wife, with whom he had lived on terms of alienation, was dead; his only son far away, cruising on a man-of-war. His courage and ambition were gone. To one who remarked that his music belonged to the future, he replied that he doubted if it ever belonged to the past. His life seemed to have been a mistake, so utterly had he failed to impress himself on the public. Yet there were times when audiences felt themselves moved by the power of his music out of the ruts of preconceived opinion into a prophecy of his coming greatness. There is an interesting anecdote told by a French writer:
"Some years ago M. Pasdeloup gave the septuor from the 'Trojans' at a benefit concert. The best places were occupied by the people of the world, but the elite intelligente were ranged upon the highest seats of the Cirque. The programme was superb, and those who were there neither for Fashion's nor Charity's sake, but for love of what was best in art, were enthusiastic in view of all those masterpieces. The worthless overture of the 'Prophete,' disfiguring this fine ensemble, had been hissed by some students of the Conservatoire, and, accustomed as I was to the blindness of the general public, knowing its implacable prejudices, I trembled for the fate of the magnificent septuor about to follow. My fears were strangely ill-founded, no sooner had ceased this hymn of infinite love and peace, than these same students, and the whole assemblage with them, burst into such a tempest of applause as I never heard before. Berlioz was hidden in the further ranks, and, the instant he was discovered, the work was forgotten for the man; his name flew from mouth to mouth, and four thousand people were standing upright, with their arms stretched toward him. Chance had placed me near him, and never shall I forget the scene. That name, apparently ignored by the crowd, it had learned all at once, and was repeating as that of one of its heroes. Overcome as by the strongest emotion of his life, his head upon his breast, he listened to this tumultuous cry of 'Vive Berlioz!' and when, on looking up, he saw all eyes upon him and all arms extended toward him, he could not withstand the sight; he trembled, tried to smile, and broke into sobbing."
Berlioz's supremacy in the field of orchestral composition, his knowledge of technique, his novel combination, his insight into the resources of instruments, his skill in grouping, his rich sense of color, are incontestably without a parallel, except by Beethoven and Wagner. He describes his own method of study as follows:
"I carried with me to the opera the score of whatever work was on the bill, and read during the performance. In this way I began to familiarize myself with orchestral methods, and to learn the voice and quality of the various instruments, if not their range and mechanism. By this attentive comparison of the effect with the means employed to produce it, I found the hidden link uniting musical expression to the special art of instrumentation. The study of Beethoven, Weber, and Spontini, the impartial examination both of the customs of orchestration and of unusual forms and combinations, the visits I made to virtuosi, the trials I led them to make upon their respective instruments, and a little instinct, did for me the rest."
The principal symphonies of Berlioz are works of colossal character and richness of treatment, some of them requiring several orchestras. Contrasting with these are such marvels of delicacy as "Queen Mab," of which it has been said that the "confessions of roses and the complaints of violets were noisy in comparison." A man of magnificent genius and knowledge, he was but little understood during his life, and it was only when his uneasy spirit was at rest that the world recognized his greatness. Paris, that stoned him when he was living, now listens to his grand music with enthusiasm. Hector Berlioz to the last never lost faith in himself, though this man of genius, in his much suffering from depression and melancholy, gave good witness to the truth of Goethe's lines:
"Who never ate with tears his bread, Nor, weeping through the night's long hours, Lay restlessly tossing on his bed— He knows ye not, ye heavenly Powers!"
A man utterly without reticence, who, Gallic fashion, would shout his wrongs and sufferings to the uttermost ends of the earth, yet without a smack of Gallic posing and affectation, Berlioz talks much about himself, and dares to estimate himself boldly. There was no small vanity about this colossal spirit. He speaks of himself with outspoken frankness, as he would discuss another. We can not do better than to quote one of these self-measurements: "My style is in general very daring, but it has not the slightest tendency to destroy any of the constructive elements of art. On the contrary, I seek to increase the number of these elements. I have never dreamed, as has foolishly been supposed in France, of writing music without melody. That school exists to-day in Germany, and I have a horror of it. It is easy for any one to convince himself that, without confining myself to taking a very short melody for a theme, as the very greatest masters have, I have always taken care to invest my compositions with a real wealth of melody. The value of these melodies, their distinction, their novelty, and charm, can be very well contested; it is not for me to appraise them. But to deny their existence is either bad faith or stupidity; only as these melodies are often of very large dimensions, infantile and short-sighted minds do not clearly distinguish their form; or else they are wedded to other secondary melodies which veil their outlines from those same infantile minds; or, upon the whole, these melodies are so dissimilar to the little waggeries that the musical plebs call melodies that they can not make up their minds to give the same name to both. The dominant qualities of my music are passionate expression, internal fire, rhythmic animation, and unexpected changes."
Heinrich Heine, the German poet, who was Berlioz's friend, called him a "colossal nightingale, a lark of eagle-size, such as they tell us existed in the primeval world." The poet goes on to say: "Berlioz's music, in general, has in it something primeval if not antediluvian to my mind; it makes me think of gigantic species of extinct animals, of fabulous empires full of fabulous sins, of heaped-up impossibilities; his magical accents call to our minds Babylon, the hanging gardens the wonders of Nineveh, the daring edifices of Mizraim, as we see them in the pictures of the Englishman Martin." Shortly after the publication of "Lutetia," in which this bold characterization was expressed, the first performance of Berlioz's "Enfance du Christ" was given, and the poet, who was on his sick-bed, wrote a penitential letter to his friend for not having given him full justice. "I hear on all sides," he says, "that you have just plucked a nosegay of the sweetest melodious flowers, and that your oratorio is throughout a masterpiece of naivete. I shall never forgive myself for having been so unjust to a friend."
Berlioz died at the age of sixty-five. His funeral services were held at the Church of the Trinity, a few days after those of Rossini. The discourse at the grave was pronounced by Gounod, and many eloquent things were said of him, among them a quotation of the epitaph of Marshal Trivulce, "Hic tandem quiescit qui nunquam quievit" (Here is he quiet, at last, who never was quiet before). Soon after his death appeared his "Memoires," and his bones had hardly got cold when the performance of his music at the Conservatoire, the Cirque, and the Chatelet began to be heard with the most hearty enthusiasm.
Theophile Gautier says that no one will deny to Berlioz a great character, though, the world being given to controversies, it may be argued whether or not he was a great genius. The world of to-day has but one opinion on both these questions. The force of Berlioz's character was phenomenal. His vitality was so passionate and active that brain and nerve quivered with it, and made him reach out toward experience at every facet of his nature. Quietude was torture, rest a sin, for this daring temperament. His eager and subtile intelligence pierced every sham, and his imagination knew no bounds to its sweep, oftentimes even disdaining the bounds of art in its audacity and impatience. This big, virile nature, thwarted and embittered by opposition, became hardened into violent self-assertion; this naturally resolute will settled back into fierce obstinacy; this fine nature, sensitive and sincere, got torn and ragged with passion under the stress of his unfortunate life. But, at one breath of true sympathy how quickly the nobility of the man asserted itself! All his cynicism and hatred melted away, and left only sweetness, truth, and genial kindness.
When Berlioz entered on his studies, he had reached an age at which Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and others, had already done some of the best work of their lives. Yet it took only a few years to achieve a development that produced such a great work as the "Symphonic Fantastique," the prototype of modern programme music.
From first to last it was the ambition of Berlioz to widen the domain of his art. He strove to attain a more intimate connection between instrumental music and poetry in the portrayal of intense passions, and the suggestion of well-defined dramatic situations. In spite of the fact that he frequently overshot his mark, it does not make his works one whit less astonishing. An uncompromising champion of what has been dubbed "programme" music, he thought it legitimate to force the imagination of the hearer to dwell on exterior scenes during the progress of the music, and to distress the mind in its attempt to find an exact relation between the text and the music. The most perfect specimens of the works of Berlioz, however, are those in which the music speaks for itself, such as the "Scene aux Champs," and the "Marche au Supplice," in the "Symphonie Fantastique," the "Marche des Pelerins," in "Harold"; the overtures to "King Lear," "Benvenuto Cellini," "Carnaval Romain," "Le Corsaire," "Les Francs Juges," etc.
As a master of the orchestra, no one has been the equal of Berlioz in the whole history of music, not even Beethoven or Wagner. He treats the orchestra with the absolute daring and mastery exercised by Paganini over the violin, and by Liszt over the piano. No one has showed so deep an insight into the individuality of each instrument, its resources, the extent to which its capabilities could be carried. Between the phrase and the instrument, or group of instruments, the equality is perfect; and independent of this power, made up equally of instinct and knowledge, this composer shows a sense of orchestral color in combining single instruments so as to form groups, or in the combination of several separate groups of instruments by which he has produced the most novel and beautiful effects—effects not found in other composers. The originality and variety of his rhythms, the perfection of his instrumentation, have never been disputed even by his opponents. In many of his works, especially those of a religious character, there is a Cyclopean bigness of instrumental means used, entirely beyond parallel in art. Like the Titans of old, he would scale the very heavens in his daring. In one of his works he does not hesitate to use three orchestras, three choruses (all of full dimensions), four organs, and a triple quartet. The conceptions of Berlioz were so grandiose that he sometimes disdained detail, and the result was that more than one of his compositions have rugged grandeur at the expense of symmetry and balance of form.
Yet, when he chose, Berlioz could write the most exquisite and dainty lyrics possible. What could be more exquisitely tender than many of his songs and romances, and various of the airs and choral pieces from "Beatrice et Benedict," from "Nuits d'Ete," "Irlande," and from "L'Enfance du Christ"?
Berlioz in his entirety, as man and composer, was a most extraordinary being, to whom the ordinary scale of measure can hardly be applied. Though he founded no new school, he pushed to a fuller development the possibilities to which Beethoven reached out in the Ninth Symphony. He was the great virtuoso on the orchestra, and on this Briarean instrument he played with the most amazing skill. Others have surpassed him in the richness of the musical substance out of which their tone-pictures are woven, in symmetry of form, in finish of detail; but no one has ever equaled him in that absolute mastery over instruments, by which a hundred become as plastic and flexible as one, and are made to embody every phase of the composer's thought with that warmth of color and precision of form long believed to be necessarily confined to the sister arts.