Berlioz. Past, Present, Future
Edited by Peter Bloom
Eastman Studies in Music
University of Rochester Press (2006)
Berlioz. Past, Present, Future offers an interesting collection of essays from the first of five international bicentenary conferences organized by the Paris-based Comité International Hector Berlioz about some aspects of the character and work of one of the most important French composers of the XIX century.
The first essay by Peter Gay may be considered a preface to the entire book and a psichological introduction to the character of Berlioz. It offers an explanation of some episodes or inclinations of the composer and an attempt to explain them. After that, the research involves past, present and future, as the title states, and starts with an essay which explores the relationship between Berlioz and the (adored) composers of the past and the (deplored) composers of his age (Berlioz and Before by Catherine Massip). Next to it, there is an analysis of the way visual artists regarded the past and the influence of Anton Reicha in Berlioz’s education, with many quotes from Berlioz’s articles about him (Learning the Past by David Charlton).
There is also the “autopsy” of a fiasco, that of Benvenuto Cellini, explored by Sylvia L’Écuyer with reference to the book by Berlioz’s contemporary Joseph d’Ortigue, who refuses the theory of conspiracy and clarify that the fall of the opera happens for adverse circumstances. In Plots and Politics: Berlioz’s Tales of Sound and Fury, Katherine Kolb explores literary themes and the impact of politics in Berlioz’s style, with a long, interesting reference to the Napoleonic theme. It is also presented the analysis of the relationship between Berlioz and two contemporary composers, Meyerbeer (by Kerry Murphy) and Liszt (by Cécile Reynaud), and an essay, written by Heather Hadlock, about La mort d’Ophélie which is observed through a “feminist hermeneutics”. At last, there are some essays about Berlioz’s legacy and influence on Fauré, Debussy and Ravel, among others, and on the development of music in the next generation.
This is a remarkable and interesting effort, which opens new perspectives on Berlioz’s music and widens those still renowned.