Formerly the conductor never saluted his audience. The understanding was that the work and not the conductor was applauded. The Italians and Germans changed all that. Lamoureux was the first to introduce this exotic custom in France. The public was a little surprised at first, but they soon got used to it. In Italy the conductor comes on the stage with the artists to salute the audience. There is nothing more laughable than to see him, as the last note of an opera dies away, jump down from his stand and run like mad to reach the stage in time.
The excellence of the work of English choristers has been highly and justly praised. Perhaps it would be fairer not to praise them so unreservedly when we are so severe on our own. Justice often leaves something to be desired. At all events it must be admitted that Berlioz treated the voices in an unfortunate way. Like Beethoven, he made no distinction between a part for a voice and an instrument. While except for a few rare passages it does not fall as low as the atrocities which disfigure the grandiose Mass in D, the vocal part of the Requiem is awkwardly written. Singers are ill at ease in it, for the timbre and regularity of the voice resent such treatment. The tenor’s part is so written that he is to be congratulated on getting through it without any accident, and nothing more can be expected of him.
What a pity it was that Berlioz did not fall in love with an Italian singer instead of an English tragedienne! Cupid might have wrought a miracle. The author of the Requiem would have lost none of his good qualities, but he might have gained, what, for the lack of a better phrase, is called the fingering of the voice, the art of handling it intelligently and making it give without an effort the best effect of which it is capable. But Berlioz had a horror even of the Italian language, musical as that is. As he said in his Memoirs, this aversion hid from him the true worth of Don Juan and Le Nozze di Figaro. One wonders whether he knew that his idol, Gluck, wrote music for Italian texts not only in the case of his first works but also in Orphee and Alceste. And whether he knew that the aria "O malheureuse Iphigenie" was an Italian song badly translated into French. Perhaps he was ignorant of all this in his youth for Berlioz was a genius, not a scholar.
The word genius tells the whole story. Berlioz wrote badly. He maltreated voices and sometimes permitted himself the strangest freaks. Nevertheless he is one of the commanding figures of musical art. His great works remind us of the Alps with their forests, glaciers, sunlight, waterfalls and chasms. There are people who do not like the Alps. So much the worse for them.