- Paperback: 907 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press (1 Oct. 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520240588
- ISBN-13: 978-0520240582
- Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.8 x 6 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,523,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness, 1832-1869 v. 2 Paperback – 1 Oct 2003
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Named a "Notable Book of 2000" by the "New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
David Cairns was chief music critic of the Sunday Times from 1983 to 1992, having earlier written for the Spectator, Evening Standard, Financial Times and New Statesman. From 1967 to 1972 he worked for the London branch of Phonogram, planning and carrying out large-scale recordings of Haydn, Mozart, Berlioz and Tippett. In 1991, in recognition of his services to French music, he was made Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Actively involved in music making, he was co-founder of the Chelsea Opera Group and is now conductor of the Thorington Players. His highly acclaimed two-volume Berlioz biography has won many major awards. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
At first, the reader may be daunted by the sheer volume and depth of the content, but Cairns knows what he is about, judiciously adding layer upon layer of fact, circumstance and context to paint a comprehensive portrait of an exceptionally complex, courageous and original genius.
Where and when he tentatively speculates, Cairns makes that completely clear but he has unearthed so much in the way of evidence for any theories that he posits, that he never gives the impression of defaulting into idle speculation. As in his wonderful book on Mozart's operas, he selects passages from contemporary letters and provides just enough musical commentary to enhance his narrative.
The perpetual struggle that was Berlioz's life is totally absorbing. He was relentlessly denied opportunity in his homeland by the cabal of envious, reactionary establishment figures in the Parisian musical world who typified everything that was petty and mediocre. Not for nothing did an exasperated Verdi dismiss the Opera as "la grande boutique". His personal life was blighted by terrible losses and sorrows such as his marriage to his alcoholic first wife Harriet and the early deaths of his mother, second wife Marie, sisters Nancy and Adele, and son Louis.
Nonetheless, he inspired from a circle of supporters a loyalty and devotion equal to the persecution of the establishment and ultimately he triumphed - but, ironically unable to contemplate quitting for ever the city he both loved and loathed, he experienced his greatest successes in Germany, London and, above all, St Petersburg, where he was feted and lionised. Only in Russia did his music make him any real income, however, for much of his life journalism sustained him.
His energy and idealism and commitment to a career which was opposed by his beloved father and thwarted by both design and accident, make an inspirational story. Cairns helps the reader appreciate the melodic, textural and rhythmic originality of his revolutionary scoring. This is essential reading for the Berlioz devotee.
PS: an interesting little sideline is the fact that the early Mass referred to here as lost has of course since the publication of this biography been found and performed (see my review of Gardiner's recording).
It is a remarkable biography. Berlioz at last stands before us as a living man: a son, a husband, a father; a great artist, but also a gentleman, a man of great moral strength. Not only Berlioz:perhaps the greatest revelation of the book is the real Harriet. Only Marie Recio remains elusive.
All Berlioz lovers will buy this book and treasure it. Yet it is not the last word. For Cairns' purpose is to place Berlioz: to put him firmly where he should belong, in a musical tradition which starts with medieval plainsong and is has been represented in the 20th century by Stravinsky, Britten Messiaen... How could he do otherwise? David Cairns is an establishment music critic. And yet to write in Volume One of Berlioz as 'the greatest French composer between Rameau and Debussy'! Is London only the greatest city between Dover and Milton Keynes? Cairns has shown us Berlioz the man. Berlioz the composer is much more: he is still our great contemporary, for no one who has followed can be compared with him.
The person one feels sorriest for is his son Louis, born into a marriage that Berlioz' father and sisters opposed, sent to boarding school when his mother descended into alcoholism and madness, seldom receiving the bonding love of his all-too-busy father. We also learn that Berlioz purposely suppressed inspirations to compose symphonies because he couldn't afford to perform them, and he wanted to use the money to help set up his son as a sailor.
Best of all, however, we get a VERY realistic glimpse into the performing world of the early-to-late 19th century, in which composers had to foot the bill for the performance (and copying) of their own works, playing to half-filled houses and often losing money on their ventures. We also learn of the strengths and weaknesses of the various musical centers of Europe, particularly the weaknesses, so much so that the composer often deleted movements from his symphonies and masses because the performers could not play them correctly. Thus the "golden age" of the Romantic era is dispelled as a myth propagated by rumor and hearsay. The reality is far less sunny, making us realize that even then art music struggled to find an audience and be appreciated.
Most of all, one suffers along with Berlioz, feels his angst and anguish as he struggles time and again to establish and re-establish himself in the face of organized, official opposition. Yes, there were critics and audiences who did recognize his genius and love his music, cruel reviews and nasty caricatures to the contrary, and this acceptance was much more widespread among lay listeners than we have been led to believe. Berlioz was cheered, mobbed and loved by practically every European culture center EXCEPT Paris, and even there he had his partisans....just never enough to keep him afloat financially or help him get his music produced.
If you love classical music and enjoy Berlioz, this is a recommended read.....just go slowly, don't try to speed-read through it, and you will get a lot more out of it.