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Great Italian and French Composers eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 197 pages of information about Great Italian and French Composers.

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.

VI.

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.

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