By ERNEST MOSS I have just been dipping into the memoirs of Hector Berlioz, of which Ernest Newman, by drastically revising the 1884 translation of the Misses Holmes, has made such an excellent English version. These memoirs are an amazing piece of work and probably no more lively and fantastic a contribution could be found anywhere in the literature of music.
Nevertheless, those who read these memoirs with a less immediate motive than the delight of Berlioz's studiedly bizarre account of his activities and emotions will have to sift their material very carefully indeed if they want to penetrate to the man
himself. Moreover, they will find very little to help them in a technical study of Berlioz's music and little information on his mode of composition. But a wealth of beautifully dished up anecdotes of musical manners (mostly bad manners) of the time and some fiery and vehement indications of Berlioz's taste.
In an essay on Berlioz (of which I forget the title) Mr. Newman has stressed the man's acute physical Acute Physical reactions to music, of Reaction which we have various accounts from his own pen. But it is, I am convinced, a mistake even in this matter to
take Berlioz at his own estimate. was not only a man of extravagance but of purposeful extravagance and he gives himself away more than once.
Thus, during a performance of Sacchini's Oedipe he goes away from a friend to another seat in order " not to be disturbed by his insensibility."
All the same, " absorbed " though Berlioz was by the beauty and truly antique character of the scene," he " could not help overhearing the dialogue which was going on behind, between my man, quietly peeling an orange, and his unknown neighbour, who was evidently suffering from the most intense emotion."
The friend persuaded his neighbour, "Good God, sir, be calm," and told him to cheer up because " Cheer Up, It's it was only a play, Only a Play " and it was only on hearing this " discordant discourse " that Berlioz, of the trio, 0 doux moments," was deeply affected by the penetrating sweetness of the simple melody, and, hiding my face in my hands, was weeping silently." Presumably to persuade the overcome gentleman behind him that " I alone of all his neighbours shared his feelings."
In imputing this characteristic pose to Berlioz I don't want to suggest that he was anything but acutely sensitive to sound. He has the deserved reputation of being a supreme master of instrumentation, and his tours of his melodic strands were governed rather by the instruments for which they were calculated than by the natural inclinations of the harmony.
Nor do I want to suggest that he was melodically or harmonically insensitive, though this view has
Needs An been widely held. Attentive Ear Mr. Turner, I think it is, has put forward the view that Berlioz's melody needs an extremely attentive ear because of the great length of the melodic phrases which lose their significance when partially glimpsed, and Mr. Newman has triumphantly pointed out that the supposed harmonic faux pas, due to alleged technical inexperience (which Berlioz himself denies) predominates in his later works, when some of his "ignorance" should have been dissipated.
However, more of Berlioz next week.