Berlioz's Orchestration: Human or Divine? Author(s): Hugh Macdonald Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 110, No.

1513, Berlioz Centenary Issue (Mar., 1969), pp. 255258 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 09/09/2010 09:19
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The brilliance of Berlioz's orchestral craft is a and the curtestentrieson clicheof the history-books. or the pianoforte-anything rather than Berlioz's music itself.whether by Berlioz or by anyone else.the distantrumbleof thunder is ideallycaptured. and suggestively replaces the offstage oboe heardat the beginning. let alone whatis expressive or apt or practicable. fugue and so on. The firstis the famoususe of timpanichordsat the end of the 'Scene aux Champs' in the Symphonie Fantastique. pulpable nonsense. and aesthetics.but the veryexistenceof this invaluable textbook has perpetuated the legend of Berlioz's exemplaryuse of instruments. but the skill required in writing for them is complementary. Mozart did not need new instruments Weber's Invitation to the Dance and Schubert's Erlkonig were of more value than. harmony. distinguish between what is good and what is merelynovel. with his bewilderingpanoply of curiouswares.although it is doubtful whethereither he or Rimsky-Korsakovdevoted as much time and thought to the art as Berlioz had done. This is palpable.and to an havesince becomeloci classiciof orchestral the view of Illing'sPenguin of Dictionaryof Music. perhapsI may be permittedto draw attentionto some apparent shortcomingsin his scoring which may in some cases have been applaudedas noveltieswithoutany considerationof their sonorous effect. Let our approvalrest there.Berlioz's human or orchestration: divine? Hugh Macdonald We have grown accustomed to reading appraisers of Berlioz's technique who manfully attempt to justify or explain his unusual sense of harmony. All. say. however. This unanimity springspartly from a failureto recognizethe many criteriaby which orchestration may be judged. having successively(if not successfully)demolished every other aspect in turn. Anyonecan writean into E flat clarinetor a hecklephoneor a typewriter his scores and be creditedas a daring orchestrator. the Nuits in order to orchestratewell. Berlioz himself erected the first great monument to the art of orchestrationin his Treatiseon the subject.can orchestrate abominably. The effect is extraordinarilypoetic.and Berliozseems to have recognized this at the next entry when a fourth drum sounds the B flat and confounds any possible chordaleffect. usually from the prejudicedstandpoint of an unswerving admirationfor Brahms. The very word 'brilliance' ambivalently covers up this important difference betweenthe good and the new. Why then did Berliozselect these particularnotes? In this case it is perhaps 255 . becauseit perfectlymatchesthe design of the movement. Berlioz will not fail to remind us of it. He places more emphasison skill than on seeking out novel effects. counterpoint. On the assumptionthat Berlioz's overall distinction as an orchestratorand the uncanny textural clarity of his scores are beyondquestion. and this must obviously serve as a basis of any study of his own orchestralpractice. first published in 1843. and although it is pleasing to see the hosts all arraigned on Berlioz's side for a change. for if thereis one thing the passagedoes not suggestit is harmony. One is awareof the positive relief with which Leon Vallas turns to his (in sub-headingon Berlioz'sorchestration GroveV). as if Berlioz'sorchestrations d'etd. many clearly delightedto find somethingthey need not be nasty or scepticalabout. 'He is importantas a master of orchestrationratherthan simplyas a composer'.are unitedin praisinghis orchestration. Strauss. Few referencesto orchestration. these are now commoner than the (doubtless honest) critics who have not hesitated to condemn his style. or Wagner. Strauss at least cannot be accused of neglecting the study of orchestration. Two cases may be cited first. The Treatisedeals exhaustively with the capabilitiesof individualinstrumentsand lays out clearly what can and cannot be done. the lack of controversy over this one feature of his music has of forced attentionon the more lively battlegrounds form. Thereis no sense of F minor when three timpaniroll the notes of the triad. both of whichare used by Berlioz in his Treatise demonstrate unusualusage.

-" The Grande Messe des Morts also supplies us with a classiccase of miscalculation. This new edition will be used by the Scottish National Opera and Royal Opera in their performances of this work planned for this year. The repriseof the Hosanna is glossed by the firstviolins. the effect is somewhat as in ex 1. The second is the celebrated use of trombone Messe des pedal notes in the Hostias of the Grande a Morts.even stark is contrasts. without asking the first violins to draw rapid bows and producefull tone. Ex. 1I FLUTES s Tr-o#4ow (. Hector Berlioz NEW EDITION OF THE COMPLETE WORKS To mark the Berlioz Centenary Year publication will shortly be announced of 'Les Troyens'. maintaining the ethereal.with too much talk of 'chords'. The Requiem a workof strong.others (for example Gordon Jacob) consider it horrible.and to these pages it should properlyhave been confined.0. There are eight chords in the Hostias where the three flutes define a triad. sort of thing one the findsfrequentlyin the symphoniesof Beethovenand Schubert. its the As each chordapproaches sforzando overtones emerge and cloud the colour of the harmony. slow chords of the Sanctus. surely smacks more strongly of experimentation than of the raising of the Host. W1 (01-5809008) 256 . Great Titchfield Street. the rest are all susceptible to various degrees of distortion by overtones. thus destroyingthe character of the notes.for the overtones of eight low trombones are exceedingly strong (both in recordingand performance) especially the second harmonic. of which only three are root position majorchords.more the analysts'ears that have been beguiled. one of which is the juxtapositionof the tenor soloist's serene Sanctus and the chorus's vigorousfugalHosanna. but which raises a surprisedeyebrow in Berlioz.than Berlioz's. like a bather who has dipped a toe or two into the water and decided not to plunge. At the end of the movementthe passagewherethe trombonesventure below low B flat step by step.). reach G sharp and cautiously return to B flat. long. For the really skilful use of four timpani of different pitches we must look to the 'Marcheau Supplice' that follows. Only in recordingdoes it seem possible to make these violins audible over the fullforte of the rest of the orchestraand chorus. Thisis unquestionably strokeof inspiration.soundinga 12th above. The passage is reproducedin the Treatise. A subscription prospectusgiving details concerningthe New Edition will be sent on request 32/4 Barenreiter. Some writers praise the effect unreservedly. The previously published volume contains the Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale. rather than to the 'bruit 61oign6du tonnerre'. mutedand dividedinto four parts. the one pace and timbre superimposedon the other. The acoustical truth is that the root position major chordssoundinfinitelybetterthan the others. one of the most important of the composer's operas. and further volumes are now in preparation. an effectof cavernousimmensityentirelyin keeping with Berlioz'stotal conceptionof the work.

It works less well in the duet between Anna and Narbal later in the opera where the orchestral superstructure is heavier. when nothing is marked? There is no cancelling instruction. for the broad pace and the clarity of the chords make the harmonic progressions distinct and audible. then. the whole gospel of the Treatise is directed towards the simple and effective use of instruments. 2 las3is -". About some of Berlioz's orchestral habits there is greater latitude for disagreement. which is cutting it very fine. _- 1i i- I Ex.Ex. so common a marking in Berlioz's timpani parts. though. CELLOS div. There is a passage at the end of the first movement of the Symphonie Fantastique where Berlioz divides both groups of violins and apportions the notes JIn I. At first sight. and which remains exceedingly rare in the concert hall. did he never appear to cancel these directions? For how long a stretch of music can they be assumed to hold good ? Why. as I can do no more than draw attention to them here. but it must nevertheless have been extremely difficult even then to bring off this effect. Conductors who suppress the lower octave doubling of the sopranos' high A flat at the climax of the fugue subject in the Hosanna of the Requiem do wisely. is perfectly explicit. This most often arises in his choral writing. for example. The scene of Hector's ghost in Act 1 of Les Troyens is an exception. In Les Troyens the cor anglais has to change to oboe in the space of a dotted quaver. Each deserves to be investigated more fully. or certain notes are doubled an octave lower. the instruction 'baguettes d'6ponge'. low chords is unerringly successful. F-~ between the two players of each desk (ex 3). The basses are given a lower octave which weighs down the upper line. and seems almost clumsy in the Roi de Thule ballad in La Damnation de Faust (ex 2). And then there is the seemingly trivial question of who plays second bassoon. and the Treatise seems to hint that timpanists would normally have used 'baguettes de peau' unless instructed to take either harder (wood) or softer (sponge) headed sticks. One very rarely hears a successful blend. it was surely no part of Berlioz's purpose to impose undue difficulties upon his executants. with a consequent refusal to deceive the ear. gives place to the later basis of orchestration in which instruments may legitimately be used as links in a chain. but other actual impossibilities are rare. when he is anxious to keep the voices within their allotted range. Generally it is horrible. There are cases where Berlioz's instructions are ambiguous or incomplete. It is true that modern trombones have moved a long way from the tone-quality of Berlioz's time. so is the rarer 'baguettes de bois'. but there are enough occasions on which he specifies two to leave doubt when simply 'Bassons' is marked in the score (in the Royal Hunt and Storm for instance). a work which has only enjoyed any reasonable circulation since the advent of the gramophone. We have yet to hear a piccolo execute the octave glissando demanded in the hast movement of the Symphonie Fantastique. strength257 . Why. and even if it can be done by a special exertion on the part of the players. The two most notable cases of this treatment are the middle section of Andromache's mime scene in Les Troyens and M6phistoph61's' air 'Voici des roses' in La Damnation de Faust. It was as much this conception of orchestration that Berlioz bequeathed to later generations as the revelation of new and untried orchestral sonorities. did he so carelessly mark a stave 'cors Ba pistons' or 'cors 'h cylindres' in one place and simply 'cors' in another? Does the player stick to the valved horn even after a change of crook ? The incompleteness of the scores is all the more disconcerting because of the unmarked bouchi effects implicit in parts for the natural horn. Here we have Berlioz's practicality overriding his idealism. Soloist and orchestra are hard to balance in any classical concerto. The 18th-century conception of orchestral instruments as voices. if the adoption of valves was such a burning question in the mid-19th century. also. At the same time the fragmentation of the line is not properly disguised and there are many bars where there was no need to weaken the tone. Berlioz's purpose here is emphatically not to set up a dialogue between separated lines but to use two voices to give the effect of one. Berlioz also evinces the belief that a low cornet will blend with trombones as an optional fourth voice. Berlioz's usual bassoon complement was four. but it would be interesting to discover whether he ever experienced any qualms about the problems of balance encountered in Harold en Italie. Berlioz's orchestral balance is in general masterly enough. The second desk of bassoons was in origin a doubling. these can prove maddening to editors and conductors. I have personally never felt convinced that his fondness for divided cellos and basses in dense. What happens. he can show over-concern for making things easier for the performers at the expense of the resulting sound. and in the history of orchestration the passage is a major landmark. and in Harold the problem is no easier. On the other hand. or as particles with which the complete sound is put together. It is a clever device and undoubtedly useful for less skilled players.3 . and there is a five-second change for the clarinettist from B flat to A.

The are to 01-9979006 Park. 82 Brightfield Road. Tuesdayrehearsals at St Mary'sHall. If a centenarymay seem a curiousmomentto debunkwhat has traditionally been the composer'shighestattribute. This orchestra can proceed only when a certain minimum number of players have expressed firm interest. First among these may be cited the notablecase of Handel'soperas.I suspectthat Berlioz's rehabilitationhas progressedfar enough for specialpleadingto be unnecessary. For us the difficultyis to reconstructthese assumptions. of CliftonConsort Voiceshasa vacancy a capable for countertenorto complete male-voice sextet.and when only two players are required 'les deux premiers bassons' could mean two things. F. Wednesday 7. when they play in two parts the first player at each desk takes the upper line (even. perhaps the most strikinglyoriginal part. affectingits production. to MusicSchool.and can never. Hailsham. 01-852 7962) It is intended to form a high-standard amateur string orchestra for those who cannot join existing evening orchestras. Rehearsals would be in central London on Wednesday mornings or early afternoon. The point is not that it mattersmuch who plays which part (althoughthe possibilitythat 'solo' can imply two players should be observed) but that Berlioz should have left the matter so open to question. Bristol(Bristol 38547) Warwickshire has SymphonyOrchestra vacanciesfor good in violasand cellos). particularly bassoon. rehearsals. Sussex (Hailsham 3520) Mary Ward String Orchestra has vacancies in all sections. To arrive at a true judgment one must assess criticallythe novelty. its performance. 28pp.the the practicability. and The repetition of this manifest truth would be vain were there not still unadducedfacts and arguments to support it.wroughtat a periodof life when men's abilities are at the strongest. the revival. When they playedin fourreal partsfirstand second played at one desk. Please write to Leonard Davis. and is. Williams. 2d Eftimn March BERLIOZ Grande Messe des Morts Editor: LEOPOLDDAMROSCH Vocal Score Price 12s 6d net Requiem . Leamington Spa(Leamington 21667) Spa would like to join others for lieder/chamber Pianist/cellist music. A. are at the Boys' College.. third and fourth at the other. not as a mere sonic manipulator. . knew what was implicit in the notes. Pleasant voice and reasonable sight-reading essential. Marsh. not an extension of the series. No doubt orchestralplayers.was.and.the very grandest of musicians. These are cast in a form that limited the workings of the mightygeniusof the master.the felicities and masterstrokes his scores.for to restorea properbalancewould requireme to table. without blindly assuming that one is as good as the other. Details from the Mrs 17 Secretary. Yet he is not entirelyto be blamedfor our uncertainties because his directions assumed the common knowledge of contemporary orchestral practice. the last occasion of the complete representation of any one of them. . and a large mass of the laboursof one of the greatest. but not somethingseparateand untouchable. his operaswill never. I would merelyask of that his orchestrationbe seen as an integralpart of his technique.W5. Full particulars from Mildred Gibbins. Ticciati. Friday rehearsals. but proves only how countless is the loss from among which these priceless fragmentshave been rescued. 9 Tavistock Place. WC1 (01-387 1816. it seems.CliftonCollege. 8-10 are at Mary Ward Centre.and this can only be done by a broad and detailedstudy of the scores and orchestralmaterialof the time. The Italian language has been. at incredible length. when the part was marked'solo').and allowed no play to its higher attributes. Inquiries MrsE.then as now. and constructedupon principlesthat are totally uncongenial to our stage. or Leonard Davis.horn and jnstrumentalists. In any case it is as a composerthat his statureat last stands so high.Leamington Spa. 10 Lansdowne Crescent. be performed again. sensory effect. -from an article 'The Italian Language: its evil Influence upon Music' by G. 1787. a most banefulinfluenceto music. players all stringsections(particularly and in somewindsections.. Based upon subjects that are entirely unsympatheticto our times. and will be. Macfarren AMATEURS' EXCHANGE has Ealing SymphonyOrchestra a few vacanciesfor good for double-bass. perhaps. The 0t11ital1869.Twickenham Amyard Te Deum for Triple Chorus with Solo Tenor Vocal Score with Instrumentally-Cued Piano Accompaniment Price 14s Od net NWOR"WLONDON 258 Newly-formed singing group with experienced leader would welcome another soprano and mezzo.Please write 114a to ParkRoad. either the first at each desk or the firstdesk. its effect.30. and the expressive effect respectively. I do not wish to dwell on Berlioz'sfailings as an orchestrator. The exceptional performance of some very few detached single pieces from these works in no degree invalidates what has here been urged. Inquiries J. Cubbington Road.each secondthe lower. the historicalimportance.ening desk. are obsolete and virtually lost to the world for ever. as an antiquarian curiosity.of GiulioCesare.

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