Music Composers

Hector Berlioz-Part 7

As I remarked in the course of this article, most of Berlioz's works betray a preference for the gigantic - for the prodigious. Whoever expected to meet in the music of his last opera, The Trojans, those extravagances which shock us so often in his symphonies, would be, however, disappointed. I witnessed a performance of Les Trojens in Carlsruhe under Mottl's direction, and I was surprised to find a very tame Berlioz. The opera is performed in two evenings; 1. The Conquest of Troy; 2. The Trojans in Carthage. In the first part the elegiac mood prevails. Cassandra's mournful tidings are splendidly seconded by the orchestra; further, we notice an original march and a remarkable octet. The ballet in the second part lacks the swing which we naturally expect of a Frenchman. On the other hand, the sextet which immediately follows, and a duet by Dido and Aeneas show Berlioz at his best. A pitiful sight was the famous wooden horse, which used to arouse our deepest interest when we were still keeping school benches warm.

What an attractive task for the stage manager to produce the huge quadruped in whose bowels the Greek host lies! Frankly, it was a sad disappointment. The rickety, tottering pasteboard monster which filled the entire breadth of the stage was a ludicrous view and gave evidence of one of the most unsuccessful efforts of stage craft.

Berlioz' specialty is no doubt the masterful orchestration, as exemplified in his famous Traite d' Instrumentation. About the way he acquired such pre-eminence he writes in his memoirs: "I always took the score of the work to be performed and read it carefully during the performance, so that in time I got to know the sound - the voice, as it were - of each instrument and the part it filled; although, of course, I learned nothing of either its mechanism or compass. Listening so closely, I also found out for myself the intangible bond between each instrument and true musical expression. Careful investigation of rare or unused combinations, the society of virtuosi, who kindly explained to me the powers of their several instruments, and a certain amount of instinct have done the rest for me."

The Etude Magazine September 1919





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