Byron, Berlioz and Harold
There are many excellent reasons for reading Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. But among them I cannot find any that concern Berlioz and this symphony [Harold en Italie], except for the jejune value of the discovery that no definite elements of Byron’s poem have penetrated the impregnable fortress of Berlioz’s encyclopaedic inattention. (D.F.Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis (London, 1936), iv, p. 74.)((Although the present paper suggests that Tovey’s opening is less than an adequate discussion of the relationship between the two works, the rest of his essay, concerned with the music of the symphony, is highly perceptive.))
It is one of musicology’s paradoxes that whereas in the case of the Symphonie fantastique, a work whose extensive verbal programme makes no explicit reference to its literary origins, scholars have worked diligently to identify such sources,((See N. Temperley, ‘The Symphonie fantastique and Its Program’, MQ, 57/4 (1971), 593–608; and Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, New Edition of the Complete Works (hereafter NBE), vol. 16 (Kassel, etc., 1972).)) in that of Harold, whose brief programmatic annotations do make an explicit and intentional reference to a literary model, there has been a tendency to cast doubt on the significance of this reference. It may be that because Harold’s verbal apparatus is less elaborate than that of the Symphonie fantastique it has also been considered to be less important.
Whatever the reasons for it, Tovey’s is an articulate manifestation of a common attitude. A more subtle example may be found in the critical commentary to the score of Harold en Italie published in the original (but incomplete) edition of Berlioz’s works.((Hector Berlioz Werke, ed. Charles Malherbe and Felix Weingartner [henceforth OBE].)) In their notes to the first movement the editors, Charles Malherbe and Felix Weingartner, report:((OBE II, p. i))
Les titre et sous titre: Harold aux Montagnes. Scènes de mélancolie, de bonheur et de joie, manquent sur l’autographe, et ont dû être ajoutés par l’auteur lors de la publication.
At first glance this explanation is plausible enough, but the underlying assumption that there is only a tenuous relationship between the verbal and musical components in Berlioz’s output is surely unjustified, and in any case there are other factors which should have been considered. The autograph manuscript((F-Pn, ms 1189 (catalogue record: FRBNF42485196); a digital colour scan of the complete manuscript is available through Gallica.)) lacks a title page to the first movement, although the three succeeding movements are each provided with such a page that includes the full title of the movement concerned. It seems likely that the first movement also originally possessed a title page and if this supposition is correct there should be a single leaf (the remaining half of the bifolium bearing the title page) somewhere near the beginning of the manuscript. Examination of the make-up of the autograph reveals just such a leaf (f.11), although the tight binding makes any definite assertions about the fascicle structure impossible. Nevertheless, if the initial page of the manuscript is lacking (a contingency nowhere mentioned by the OBE) it is possible that the titles of the first movement appeared there. In any case Berlioz had decided on the title and subtitle for the movement by 16 November 1834 when details of the work were advertised in the Gazette musicale.((Gazette musicale, iv/46 (16 November 1834), 371.)) So the annotations to the first movement were not added ten or more years after the work’s composition. On one level the verbal components of the work function as evocations of picturesque images against which the music might be heard by a theatrically inclined Parisian audience, but I wish to offer evidence that the reference to Byron may serve to draw attention to important musical features of Berlioz’s second symphony.
The available primary sources offer only a fragmentary and contradictory account of the work’s gestation. The earliest reference to a composition by Berlioz for viola and orchestra appeared in Le rénovateur on 21 January 1834:((Hector Berlioz, Correspondence générale, ed. P. Citron (Paris, 1975) [henceforth CG], ii, p. 159.))
Paganini dont la santé commence à s’améliorer vient aussi de demander à Berlioz une nouvelle composition dans le genre de la Symphonie Fantastique, que le célèbre virtuose a l’intention de donner à son prochain concert en Angleterre. Cet ouvrage serait intitulé Les derniers instans de Marie Stuart, fantaisie dramatique pour orchestre, choeurs et alto principal. Paganini jouera pour le première fois en public la partie d’alto.
A similar announcement (with significant textual changes) later appeared in the Gazette musicale (26 January 1834)((Gazette musicale, iv/4 (26 January 1834), 34.)) and the Journal des Artistes (2 February 1834).((Journal des Artistes et des Amateurs ou Revue Pittoresque et Musicale, 8i/5 (2 February 1834), 79.)) On 24 January Berlioz had written to the music critic Joseph d’Ortigue:((CG, ii, 159. No announcement appeared in the Revue de Paris or Le Quotidienne.))
Tu sais que j’écris un ouvrage pour choeurs, orchestre et alto principal pour Paganini. Il est venu lui-même me le demander il y a quelque jours. Pourrais-tu faire annoncer cela en quatre lignes dans l’album de la Revue de Paris? Le Rénovateur l’a annoncé et je suis allé aujourd’hui pour obtenir la même faveur de M. de Briant à la Quotidienne; il n’y était pas.
In the Memoirs Berlioz gives an account of Paganini’s visit:((The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, trs. and ed. D. Cairns (2nd edn., London, 1977) [henceforth Memoirs], p. 224.))
A few weeks after the concert which had re-established me [22 December 1833], Paganini came to see me. He told me he had a Stradivarius viola, a marvellous instrument, which he wanted to play in public; but he lacked the right music. Would I write him a piece for it? ‘You are the only one I would trust with such a commission’, he said. I replied that I was more flattered than I could say, but that to live up to his expectations and write a work that showed off a virtuoso such as he in a suitably brilliant light, one should be able to play the viola, which I could not. ‘No, no, I insist,’ he said; ‘you will manage. I can’t possibly do it – I am too ill to compose.’
It must be remembered that the press announcements are the only known references to Les derniers instans; the title appears nowhere in the Memoirs or in Berlioz’s surviving letters. It is particularly striking that Berlioz failed to mention the title when trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade d’Ortigue to publicize the work. Moreover the autograph bears no trace of an early conception of the work employing chorus. If evidence of the first programmatic ideas is slight and relates only to an early period in the work’s history, the Byronic connection, though unambiguous, makes its first appearance in the primary sources at a late date. Apart from the autograph itself (dated 22 June 1834 on the final page) the first reference to the work’s title appears in a letter written to Eduard Rocher on 31 July 1834:((CG, ii, p. 188. ))
J’ai beaucoup composé pour ces prochaines séances musicales; il y a entre autres une nouvelle symphonie intitulée Harold sur laquelle vont s’exercer les musiciens et les critiques. Elle est à peu près de la même dimension que la Symph. Fantastique.
So the material currently available provides no clear insight into the role of programmatic elements in the creative process which culminated in the musical design of Harold en Italie. Even the Memoirs, which are quite informative about the musical content of the work, are unhelpful in this regard. However the concerns of this paper lie elsewhere. At whatever stage the decision was made, Berlioz chose to make an explicit reference to Byron’s poem. Does this reference tell the listener anything about the music?
At what date Berlioz first read Byron is unknown, nor are there many clues indicating specific works he knew (the Memoirs report that he read The Corsair in St. Peter’s during his Prix de Rome period).((Memoirs, p. 166.)) Nevertheless Byron occupied a prominent place in the composer’s Pantheon and in the autobiographical sketch of 1855((Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung, xxviii (11 December 1903).)) is identified as one of the poets who influenced Berlioz the most.
Berlioz’s knowledge of the English poet was by no means unusual in France at the time. The earliest published reference to Byron’s works was a notice of the issue in England of Cantos I and II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which appeared in December 1812,((Journal générale de la littérature étrangère, xii/12 (1 December 1812), 370.)) followed a year later by a generally unsympathetic review.((Le Mercure étranger ou Annales de littérature étrangère, ii/12 (December 1813), 378.)) From 1816 translations of individual works began to appear; between 1818 and 1833 eleven English editions of Byron’s complete works were published in Paris, and between 1819 and 1835 eleven editions of the complete works appeared in French.((E. Estève, Byron et le romantisme français (Paris, 1907), pp. 525–35.)) It is likely, therefore, that a significant proportion of ‘les notabilites littéraires et artistique’((L’Artiste, viii (1834), 217.)) who gathered to hear the première of Harold en Italie on 23 November 1834 were acquainted with the composer’s literary model.
In a sense the symphony is a supplement to the poem (rather than a continuation and conclusion as is Lamartine’s Le dernier chant du pèlerinage d’Harold) in that it purports to show Harold in various Italian settings, while Byron only briefly evokes his pilgrim in such a locale at the end of Canto IV in order to bid farewell to him and the reader. So Berlioz makes no specific references to the content of Byron’s Italian canto. But there are links between Childe Harold as a whole, and Harold en Italie. Some are comparatively trivial: the first time the reader encounters Childe Harold’s own words it is in the form of a song ostensibly sung to a harp accompaniment,((Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, ed. J.D. Jump (London, 1975), Canto I, line 109ff. [All subsequent references to the poem will be in the form I, 109ff.])) just as Berlioz’s soloist makes his first entry accompanied only by that instrument; later the poet’s hero does observe an orgy – though not of brigands, and somewhere in Albania, not Italy.((Ibid., II, 631ff.)) In fact the Memoirs make it clear that there were other reasons why Berlioz associated orgies with Byron and hence with Harold. While sailing to Italy for the first time, in January 1831, he met a Venetian sailor who claimed to have known Byron and who, Berlioz recalled, ((Memoirs, p. 144.))
described in minute detail the glittering uniform which Byron had insisted on his wearing and the orgies they took part in together …. I was much too pleased at meeting someone who had been with Childe Harold on his pilgrimage not to believe it all implicitly.
However, there are more important parallels between the works, one concerning content, the others structure.
The all-pervasive theme of Byron’s poem is the alienated Romantic hero as embodied in Childe Harold himself. The poem is not concerned with the presentation of a character portrait of Harold as an individual – even though heightened individualism lies at the core of his personal isolation – but rather with the presentation of a generalized portrait of this Romantic phenomenon. The failure to be precise about Childe Harold’s particular psychological state imbues him with an aura of mystery, but insofar as he embodies a general human condition an account of his history is unnecessary.((Nevertheless it is hinted that Harold was psychologically predisposed to such a state (I, 69–71).))
At the root of Harold’s condition is his failure to establish any human relationships. As their vessel leaves England, Childe Harold and his two companions reflect on what they have left behind:((This passage (beginning at I, 110) starts as a solo song but in a typically Romantic manipulation of genre, turns into a trio.)) his ‘page’ has left his parents, his ‘yeoman’ a wife and family. But Harold is convinced that no-one will regret his absence: even his dog will forget him:
But why should I for others groan,
When none will sigh for me?
Perchance my dog will whine in vain,
Till fed by stranger hands;
But long ere I come back again
He’d tear me where he stands. [I, 184–9]
He is now alienated both from individual human contacts:
To me no pleasure Beauty brings;
Thine eyes have scarce a charm for me. [1, 851–2]
and from contact with society at large:
Still he beheld, nor mingled with the throng;
But viewed them not with misanthropic hate:
Fain would he now have join’d the dance, the song;
But who may smile that sinks beneath his fate?
More subtlety Harold’s individualism is emphasised by the juxtaposition of a description of his human isolation (II, 136–44) with an account of the closed, self-sufficient society founded on mutual co-operation and a well-defined hierarchy, as represented by a ship’s crew (1I, 145–71): that the latter is human society in microcosm is made explicit in the description of it as ‘the little warlike world within’(II, 154).
It is not only through such direct commentary that Romantic alienation is projected, but also through metaphor and the structural organisation of the poem. On a metaphorical level the most explicit embodiment of this theme is the description of the bull-fight at Cadiz (I, 724f.) with its powerful portrayal of the tortured animal standing alone, wounded, surrounded by pitiless humanity:
Foil’d, bleeding, breathless, furious to the last,
Full in the centre stands the bull at bay,
Mid wounds, and clinging darts, and lances brast,
And foes disabled in the brutal fray:
And now the Matadores around him play,
Shake the red cloak, and poise the ready brand:
Once more through all he bursts his thundering way –
Vain rage! the mantle quits the conynge hand,
Wraps his fierce eye – ‘tis past – he sinks upon the sand!
It is no accident that in terms of the handling of language this is one of the most memorable passages in the first Canto, and that the image should be recapitulated, albeit transformed, later in the poem:
I see before me the Gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand – his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his droop’d head sinks gradually low –
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
The arena swims around him – he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hail’d the wretch who won.
On a structural level it is the treatment of the relationship between the narrator and Childe Harold that most clearly articulates the theme of alienation. In the poem there are two modes of discourse. The predominant mode, that of narrative is occasionally replaced by direct speech, usually Childe Harold’s (e.g. I, 118ff.) but sometimes that of other characters (e.g. Harold’s page and yeoman). However the pilgrim’s own words play a comparatively limited role in the presentation of his character. This is left to the narrator who has four distinct functions: he describes the scenes of the travelogue and his response to them, and he describes Harold and his response to the situation. Although there is occasionally some ambiguity as to whose responses are being recorded,((The most notable is at II, 271: ‘Thus Harold deem’d’. It is not immediately clear to how much of the preceding text this refers, but in so far as ‘to easy youth’ (II, 263) and ‘thou’ (II, 265) probably refer to Childe Harold, the latter’s thoughts are embodied only in lines 266–70. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Florence’s relationship is with Harold (II, 280ff.); we move back to the narrator’s views at II, 298.)) the first three Cantos usually make a clear distinction between those of the narrator and Childe Harold. Indeed this is a powerful device for emphasizing Harold’s sense of isolation, for initially his response to Nature is diametrically opposed to that of the narrator. Unlike the latter, who responds with an enthusiasm which even overcomes his realization of poetry’s inability to describe such beauty, Harold has no response to such sights:
…o’er the mountains he
Did take his way in solitary guise:
Sweet was the scene, yet soon he thought to flee,
More restless than the swallow in the skies. [I, 315–8]
Similarly the narrator is by no means insensitive to the pleasures of social contact:
Glanced many a light caique along the foam,
Danced on the shore the daughters of the land,
Ne thought had man or maid of rest or home,
While many a languid eye and thrilling hand
Exchanged the look few bosoms may withstand,
Or gently prest, return’d the pressure still:
Oh Love! young Love! bound in thy rosy band,
Let sage or cynic prattle as he well,
These hours, and only these, redeem Life’s years of ill!
though he is aware that others may respond differently:
But midst the throng in merry masquerade,
Lurk there no hearts that throb with secret pain,
Even through the closest searment half betray’d?
To such the gentle murmurs of the main
Seem to re-echo all they mourn in vain;
To such the gladness of the gamesome crowd
Is source of wayward thought and stern disdain:
How do they loathe the laughter idly loud,
And long to change the robe of revel for the shroud!
Not referring to Childe Harold, but clearly recalling his attitudes, this stanza suggests that Harold’s isolating individualism is not unique. In fact the narrator has already commented on the solitude to be found in the crowd, without associating himself with such an experience (II, 217ff.). Thus it is not only Nature and society which form the backdrop against which Childe Harold’s isolation is to be viewed, but also the narrator’s response to those two phenomena.
The juxtaposition of a soloist against an orchestra can be treated as a musical metaphor for a hero against society and/or Nature, and by referring one of the most famous literary projections of this motif, Berlioz was surely inviting his audience to hear the work in such a way. Thus the instruction that the soloist ‘must stand in the foreground, near the public and isolated from the orchestra’((Harold/en Italie/Symphonie/en 4 Parties/avec un ALTO principal/… Op. 16., (Paris, Brandus et Cie, n.d.) plate number: B. et Cie 4782 bis., 1 [the italics are mine].This note may be a late addition: it is lacking in the autograph. But it too may have appeared on the missing title-page.)) has programmatic as well as practical significance. But Harold is also musically embodied by a theme, and in the Memoirs Berlioz makes it clear how its treatment also parallels Childe Harold’s Romantic alienation:((Memoirs, p. 225.))
As in the Fantastic Symphony, a motto (the viola’s first theme) recurs throughout the work, but with the difference that whereas the theme of the Fantastic Symphony, the idée fixe, keeps obtruding like an obsessive idea on scenes that are alien to it and deflects the current of the music, the Harold theme is superimposed on the other orchestral voices also as to contrast with them in character and tempo without interrupting their development.
This treatment of the theme is particularly apparent in the two inner movements where the contrapuntal combination of the motto (played initially by the viola) and the thematic material of the movement concerned is unstable and disruptive because of the differences in metre and the resulting lack of co-ordination of metrical stress.((These passages, where simultaneous statements of two ideas reveal their lack of relationship, may have eventually influenced Berlioz’s first symphony. The comparable combination of fragments of the Valse with the idée fixe in the second movement of the Symphonie fantastique (see Paul Banks, ‘Coherence and Diversity in the Symphonie fantastique’, Nineteenth Century Music VIII/1 (Summer 1984), 39.) dates from 1845, eleven years after the completion of Harold.))
But the literary motif of alienation was hardly unique to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: Berlioz might equally well have referred to one of a host of other works to draw attention to this aspect of his score. However there are other processes in Byron’s poem – one obvious, one more subtle – which are highly unusual, yet which find musical parallels, either directly or inversely, in the symphony.
The more subtle process concerns evolution of the relationship between Childe Harold and the narrator. Towards the end of the second Canto there are hints that both attitudes – those of the narrator and Harold – are changing. In Albania, Nature at last evokes a positive response from Harold:
Nor did he pass unmoved the gentle scene,
For many a joy could he from Night’s soft presence glean.
During the same Canto bereavement inclines the narrator to withdraw from society:
Then must I plunge again into the crowd,
And follow all that peace disdains to seek?
and induces a feeling of isolation:
What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life’s page,
And be alone on earth, as I am now. [II, 918–21]
This convergence of attitude is continued in Canto III. Childe Harold continues to find society alien:
But soon he knew himself the most unfit
Of men to herd with Man; with whom he held Little in common…
but Nature now has a friendly aspect for him:
Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;
Where roll’d the ocean, thereon was his home;
Where a blue sky, and glowing clime, extends,
He had the passion and the power to roam;
The desert, forest, cavern, breaker’s foam,
Were unto him companionship; they spake
A mutual language, clearer than the tome
Of his land’s tongue, which he would oft forsake
For Nature’s pages glass’d by sunbeams on the lake.
Later in the poem the narrator admits that:
I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me; and to me
High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
Of human cities torture …. [III, 680–3]
The process culminates near the end of Canto IV where the first person plural is briefly employed to express their community of experience:
The midland ocean breaks on him and me,
And from the Alban Mount we now behold
Our friend of youth, that ocean, which when we
Beheld it last by Calpe’s rock unfold
Those waves, we follow’d on till the dark Euxine roll’d
Upon the blue Symplegades: long years–
Long, though not very many, since have done
Their work an both; some suffering and some tears
Have left us nearly where we had begun:
Yet not in vain our mortal race hath run,
We have had our reward – and it is here;
That we can yet feel gladden’d by the sun,
And reap from earth, sea, joy almost as dear
As if there were no man to trouble what is clear.
This treatment of the two poetic personas is reflected in Harold en Italie in the handling of the inverse relationship between the two protagonists, the soloist and the orchestra: in the poem the personas converge; in the symphony the protagonists diverge.
In the first movement the presentation and development of material is shared between the viola and the orchestra. The full range of textural relationships is explored: solo accompanied by orchestra (b. 34ff.); solo doubled by orchestra (b. 69ff.); orchestra accompanied by solo (b. 246ff.) and antiphonal exchanges (b. 143ff.). At no point is the solo rhythmically or metrically differentiated from the orchestral parts and the movement presents an imaginative but unified texture. Berlioz deploys much skill to ensure that where necessary the solo part is audible, but particularly interesting is the way the solo is at times overpowered by orchestral sonority. Since the orchestra usually continuing or completing an idea initiated by the viola, it creates the effect of the soloist having been momentarily absorbed into the orchestral texture. Such effects become more frequent as the movement proceeds (b. 339ff.) thus anticipating the predominant role of the orchestra in the last movement.
During the two inner movements, where the Harold theme is metrically isolated, the number of textures incorporating solo and orchestra is reduced to; solo playing with orchestra (the latter rarely accompanies in a conventional sense, but continues with its own apparently autonomous material), solo accompanying orchestra and once, orchestra doubling solo (III, b. 72ff.). There is no longer a dialogue between solo and orchestra, merely coexistence; thematic differentiation is reinforced by textural isolation of the viola.
In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage the convergence of the two poetic personas is coupled with another striking structural feature. As the attitudes displayed by Childe Harold and the narrator change, so does their relative importance. Initially, after a brief introduction (1 stanza), twelve stanzas and an interpolation (the song which becomes a trio) are devoted to a biographical sketch of Harold. There follow over 600 lines devoted chiefly to description and the narrator’s responses (though it must be stressed, Childe Harold is not entirely forgotten in this passage). Harold next returns to full view at I, 809 and a brief assessment of his psychological state is succeeded by another interpolation (‘To Inez’) and the Canto is concluded with a coda in which the narrator’s views come once more to the fore.
In Canto II the first discussion of Harold’s psychological state is delayed much further (II, 271ff.) and is the only extended account of his responses in the Canto. Harold is slowly receding from sight and the narrator’s own view predominating. This process is continued in Canto III. Harold makes his first appearance relatively quickly (III, 66) and his psychological evolution since the end of Canto II described at some length (III, 66–144). A second appearance (III, 460–535; including the final example of his direct speech) is also the hero’s last in the Canto. In the concluding Canto, Harold receives only two brief references near the end (IV, 1468–75; 1566–84) in order that the convergence of his attitudes with those of the narrator may be emphasised.
Berlioz employs a musical equivalent of this poetic device in his handling of the solo instrument and the motto theme. In the opening movement the viola engages in an elaborate dialogue with the orchestra and plays for a substantial portion of the movement’s duration.(This fact makes the composer’s statement((Memoirs, p. 225.)) that Paganini rejected the work because there were too many rests in the solo part of the movement difficult to understand.) The Harold theme is also structurally important, as the main theme of the initial Adagio, and later in contrapuntal combination with other material in the coda of the Allegro.
From this point onward the soloist and the Harold theme are gradually isolated from the orchestra and its musical material, and the viola is given a significantly reduced role. In the Marche and the Serenade its first entry is postponed for about sixty bars, and in both movements occurs at a structurally unimportant point part of the way through a section. In the Serenade the soloist never plays the material of the Allegro assai, and in the Marche he is given none of the orchestra’s material. The process is completed in the concluding Orgie, where both the theme and the solo instrument are virtually excluded from the movement and the orchestra takes over.
No reference has so far been made to the models other than Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage on which Berlioz drew, but in order to make manifest the composer’s completion of the overall musico-dramatic plan of the work it is now necessary to refer to one other: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Berlioz heard this work for the first time in January 1834 – just as he was beginning work on Harold en Italie.((The performance took place on 26 January, but Berlioz almost certainly attended rehearsals – see CG, p. 159.)) As has long been recognised the opening of Berlioz’s finale clearly employs some of the processes found in the introduction to the choral finale of Beethoven’s work. What also needs to be stressed is that Berlioz reverses the function of these processes.
Beethoven begins his movement with an introduction: not a symphonic introduction – which would close on Iv – but an operatic introductory recitative complete with its clearly articulated full close in the tonic. The reference to a vocal genre is, in the light of subsequent events in the movement, of considerable import, but equally the handling of the i/Iv preparation is significant: none of the thematic references to earlier movements appears in the tonic, but all participate in the prolongation of V:
Thus while none of the thematic quotations attains the stability of a tonic statement, they all have a clear harmonic function, participating in the cadential articulation of that tonic, and thus contribute to the harmonic process which culminates in the onset of the movement proper. The other material of the introduction is clearly disruptive (the discords) and/or introductory (the recitatives) and neither play a further role in the movement after their abbreviated return between variations three and four. The quotations thus appear as arioso-like insertions of music with consistent rhythmic motion within music of less regular forward impetus.
Berlioz, on the other hand, begins not with disruptive or introductory material that is insignificant in the subsequent course of the movement, but with the main theme of that movement. This theme has a clear identity, an unambiguous rhythmic and metrical structure and is tonally stable. The five recollections of previously heard material disrupt this opening on virtually every level: metre, rhythm, texture, dynamics and thematic contrast. The first, fourth and fifth adopt different tempi, and the last – the reappearance of the motto theme – looses all sense of rhythmic continuity. Moreover, whereas the main theme of the Orgie assumes greater solidity on each reappearance (through increasingly complete harmonisation and sonorous instrumentation) the orchestral texture of the quotations becomes more tenuous.
Throughout this passage the solo viola plays only during the reminiscences and never during statements of the main theme of the movement. Thus it participates not in an introduction but in a repeatedly disrupted opening of the movement. Here the cyclically recalled material has no functional relationship to the rest of the movement: it is not related to the finale on a foreground level, but is isolated from it. Berlioz associates the soloist with this dissociated material and provides him with less substantial orchestral support on each reappearance. Whereas in the first movement the treatment of the solo-orchestra relationship was such that passages where the viola was covered by orchestral sound create the aural impression of the solo being absorbed into a web of orchestral texture, here the same situation results in the opposite effect: the viola is excluded from participation in tutti passages.
Thus Berlioz’s handling of the thematic reminiscences stands Beethoven’s device on its head. The earlier composer had evolved the procedure as a means of justifying musically the introduction of new elements – voices and text – into a previously instrumental symphony at a late stage in its structure, whereas Berlioz uses it as part of the aural justification of the exclusion of two elements – the solo viola and the associated motto theme – from the work at a late stage.
Berlioz’s first intention was that once reduced to silence at b. 107 the solo viola should be heard no more in the final movement: fol.94 of the autograph bears the note ‘L’Alto compte jusqu’a la fin’. However this was deleted, no doubt at the same time that fol. 125–6, containing the brief reappearance of the soloist and a further reminiscence of the Pilgrim’s March, were added.((There is evidence that this revision was made between 1834 and 1837. See, Berlioz, Harold en Italie, ed. Paul Banks and Hugh Macdonald (NBE vol. 17) (Kassel, 2001).)) In the inserted passage the solo viola is again associated with an interrupting recall of an earlier movement. By giving the Marche to an off-stage string trio, Berlioz emphasises thematic dissociation by spatial separation, and the viola is reduced to a series of non-thematic melodic gestures. The revision thus draws attention to the lack of relationship between soloist and orchestra.
In an earlier article((Banks (1984), 39–40. The experience gained in composing the Symphonie fantastique, which went through a long series of revisions, may well have contributed to the comparatively straightforward gestation of its successor.)) I wrote of Berlioz’s first symphony that:
During the first four movements the role of the idée fixe is successively reduced in significance – [and the] gap between recurring idea and other foreground material widens as the Fantastique progresses: diversity grows out of unity.
In Harold the finale completes a comparable process spanning the whole work: the gradual separation of a theme and a timbre from their musical surroundings, and their eventual exclusion from the musical discourse. The work’s reference to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage points to a multi-sectional poetic structure in which a fictional character is portrayed as isolated from his environment and is gradually excluded from the poetic narrative. The parallels between Harold en Italie and Childe Harold go beyond those of poetic images and extend to structural processes – it was not Berlioz who was inattentive, but his critics.
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I wish to thank Bruno Bower for the preparation of the music examples.
[An early version of this essay was given as a paper, under the same title, at the 1984 RMA Annual Conference (Birmingham). A revised and expanded version was originally accepted for publication in the periodical Silences in 1987, but the issue concerned never appeared; publication in book format was mooted in 1992, but nothing happened, so I was greatly surprised when, unannounced (to me) it appeared in a truncated translation that I had neither seen nor approved, eleven years later, as ‘Harold, de Byron à Berlioz’ in Hector Berlioz, ed. Christian Wasselin and Pierre-René Serna (Paris: L’Herné, 2003), 152–62. The text reproduced here is a lightly edited and updated version of the unabridged original prepared and submitted in 1987.]
Printing and footnotes
If you wish to print this essay, the print function in your browser should provide a satisfactory version except that, because of the plugin I am using to generate the online footnotes, these will be printed not at the end but in the text within double parentheses.