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À travers chants (Hector Berlioz)




In the 1850s, wishing to pass some of his writings on to posterity, and also give his contemporaries access to texts that had been published several decades earlier, Berlioz gathered some of his writings into three books: Les Soirées de l'orchestre (1852), Les Grotesques de la musique (1859), À travers chants (1862). The latter, including the 1844 Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie, is subtitled “Musical studies, adorations, witticisms and critiques”, and the “adorations” are given particular prominence, with much space devoted to composers he revered, especially Beethoven, Gluck and Weber. Berlioz’s pantheon consisted essentially of Germanic composers, who are now very well known, but were not so in the nineteenth century: he played a part in their sacralisation. More rigorous in its construction than the other two, the third collection presents an aesthetic and theoretical reflection in favour of modernity; Berlioz also shows an interest (exceptional for that time) in acoustic spaces: he is critical of the oversized concert halls that were being built in the second half of the century, whose acoustics affected vocal technique and pitch, and obliged orchestras to play at full volume. Impervious to the appeal of Wagner, but by no means nostalgic, he continued to defend an elitist conception of art, while upholding an ideal of music as elevated and accessible “only to those who are intelligent, educated and endowed with imaginative capacity. To define music thus is to avow that we do not believe […] that it is made for everyone.”

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  • BERLIOZ, Hector (1803-1869)