Among the women singers I shall only mention Madame Cahier from the Viennese Opera. She is a great artist with a wonderful voice and her interpretation of several lieder made them wonderfully worth while. Madame Cahier interpreted the part of Dalila at Vienna with Dalmores, so it can easily be appreciated how much pleasure I took in hearing her.
A final word about the Dante Symphony. I have read somewhere that Liszt used pages to produce an effect which Berlioz accomplished in the apparition of Mephistopheles in Faust with three notes. This comparison is unjust. Berlioz’s happy discovery is a work of genius and he alone could have invented it. But the sudden appearance of the Devil is one thing and the depiction of Hell quite another. Berlioz tried such a depiction at the end of the Damnation, and in spite of the strange vocabulary of the chorus, “Irimiru Karabrao, Sat raik Irkimour,” and other pretty tricks, he succeeded no better than Liszt. As a matter of fact the opposite was the case.
The reading of the score of Berlioz’s Requiem makes it appear singularly old-fashioned, but this is true of most of the romantic dramas, which, like the Requiem, show up better in actual performance. It is easy to rail at the vehemence of the Romanticists, but it is not so easy to equal the effect of Hernani, Lucrece Borgia and the Symphonie fantastique on the public. For with all their faults these works had a marvellous success. The truth is that their vehemence was sincere and not artificial. The Romanticists had faith in their works and there is nothing like faith to produce lasting results.
Reicha and Leuseur were, as we know, Berlioz’s instructors. Leuseur was the author of numerous works and wrote a good deal of church music. Some of his religious works were really beautiful, but he had strange obsessions. Berlioz greatly admired his master and could not help showing, especially in his earlier works, traces of this admiration. That is the reason for the syncopated and jerky passages without rhyme or reason and which can only be explained by his unconscious imitation of Leuseur’s faults. In imitating a model the resemblances occur in the faults and not in the excellences, for the latter are inimitable. So the excellences of the Requiem are not due to Leuseur but to Berlioz. He had already thrown off the trammels of school and shown all the richness of his vigorous originality to which the value of his scores is due.
In his Memoirs Berlioz related the tribulations of his Requiem. It was ordered by the government, laid aside for a time, and, finally, performed at the Invalides on the occasion of the capture of Constantine (in Algeria) and the funeral services of General Damremont. He was astonished at the lack of sympathy and even actual hostility that he encountered. It would have been more astonishing if he had experienced anything else.