Berlioz and the guitar

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Berlioz and the guitar

Postby brianvds » Sat Jun 25, 2011 6:50 am

According to the book "The lives of the great composers," by one Harold Schonberg:

"Berlioz never even learned to play a useful instrument correctly. All he could do was pluck a few chords on the guitar or tootle a few notes on the flute or flageolet."

Now quite apart from the insulting implication that the guitar is not a "useful instrument," some other sources state that Berlioz was "proficient" at the guitar, and I have even read that he was a virtuoso player.

Does anyone know how good a guitar player Berlioz was?
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby pogmoor » Sat Jun 25, 2011 8:25 am

I read somewhere that Berlioz used the guitar when he was composing music but I'm not sure where this comes from, and in the book Berlioz By D. Kern Holoman there are references to B's guitar being present in his study as a souvenir rather than an instrument for composition. On the other hand both Holoman and David Cairns in Berlioz: Volume One: The Making of an Artist, 1803-1832 refer to B sometimes making his living from teaching guitar so he must have had a certain amount of skill! (Both of these books can be searched on Google Books.)

B seems to have started learning the guitar in 1819, when he was 16. That year he composed 30 short pieces and AFAIK these are his only extant guitar compositions. What a disappointment as they are all very simple pieces (about level 2) and don't show any real sign of his later extraordinary abilities.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby Sean » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:12 pm

That's very interesting information, pogmoor. I've read a couple of books about Berlioz; neither makes mention of his guitar abilities.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby 19thcenturyguitarist » Sat Jun 25, 2011 8:53 pm

Here is what HECTOR BERLIOZ (one of the most famous/influential French composers in history)
had to say about the Itallian Virtuoso M.A. Zani de Ferranti:

" Permit us to still speak to you with all sorts of praises,
and even with true astonishment at seeing a true master of his art,
lord of a spot in the musical domain. We have just heard Zani de
Ferranti, the last but the first of guitarists. Truly, it is impossible
to imagine the effects which he produces on this instrument, so
limited and so difficult. To Paganini's mechanism, Zani de Ferranti
joins sensibility and an art to sing, which, so far as we know, was
not possessed heretofore. Under his fingers the guitar dreams and
cries. It would seem that, nearing its end, it implored life. The
poor orphan of the lute and mandolin seems to say : ' Listen, how I
sing the beautiful melodies of Oberon — the king of genius ; how I
know the accent and deceit of timid love ; how my voice can unite
itself to the voice of mysterious tenderness ; the lute is dead, do not
let me in turn die also.' One could pass nights in listening to Zani
de Ferranti, he rocks you, he magnetises you, and one experiences
a kind of painful shock when the last chord of his poor protege
strains itself, giving vent to its grief — a mosaic silence succeeds.
We should also add that he writes excellent music for the guitar,
and that the charm of his compositions contributes a good share to
the prestige which it exerts upon its hearers."

I think he knew a thing or two of the guitar...but am curious to know like you brian, exactly how skilled he was.

Philip Bone on Berlioz: Berlioz was a guitarist of ample quality as composed some of his first compositions for the guitar before turning to the orchestrated stage and mastering the orchestra timbers and tones as well as reinventing the orchestra and its positioning and giving the orchestra a new "modifyed" purpose.

In his book on orchestration Berlioz says "One can not compose for the guitar well unless one is a guitarist." Berlioz also use to go to Felix Mendelsohns house and sing tunes by Moore while playing the guitar as acompanyment.

Basically, Berlioz was a guitarist for he knew the difficulties and technicallities with respect of the instrument as he was impressed by Ferranti, the Paganini of the guitar back in the mid 1800's.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby 19thcenturyguitarist » Sat Jun 25, 2011 9:04 pm

Here is a description and historic information about Berlioz and his guitar in a Paris museum, autographed by Paganini!

Paris, of the guitar of Berlioz, which is preserved in the
museum of this institution, and of which Berlioz was for a period
curator. This excellent guitar was made by Grobert, of Mirecourt
(1794-1869), and is a typical full-sized French instrument of rose-
wood, the table being unvarnished and inlaid with bands of ebony
and ivory purfling. It has a peg-head, and this interesting relic
bears on its table the autographs of its famous owners, Nicolo
Paganini and Hector Berlioz. These signatures were written in
ink on the bare wood, parallel to each other at the ends of the
bridge. The autograph of Paganini is now partially obliterated and
faded — perhaps caused by some unsuccessful attempt at preservation
by chemical means, the wood underneath being much darker in
colour — it is even noticeable in the illustration by the dark patch on
the left. This historical guitar was lent to Paganini by J. B.
Vuillaume, the violin maker, during the second visit to Paris of the
illustrious violinist, and after its return, Vuillaume very generously
presented the instrument to Berlioz, whom he knew to be an
enthusiastic admirer, not only of the guitar, but also of the brilliant
genius of its previous player. Berlioz added his autograph, and
bequeathed the guitar to the Museum of the National Conservatoire
of Music, Paris, during his period as curator.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby brianvds » Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:19 am

19thcenturyguitarist wrote:I think he knew a thing or two of the guitar...but am curious to know like you brian, exactly how skilled he was.


Seems to me the idea that he could barely strum a few chords is an exaggeration. "Virtuoso" of course is a word without a very specific, fixed meaning. I have heard it said that he worked out some of the Fantastique on guitar, and that this is partly why the work sounds so different.

Philip Bone on Berlioz: Berlioz was a guitarist of ample quality as composed some of his first compositions for the guitar before turning to the orchestrated stage and mastering the orchestra timbers and tones as well as reinventing the orchestra and its positioning and giving the orchestra a new "modifyed" purpose.


He should have listened to Segovia: there is a whole orchestra in the guitar. What works we might have had for our humble little instrument! Of course, he might have ended up raving about an "ideal guitar orchestra" consisting of fifty thousand guitars... ;-)

In his book on orchestration Berlioz says "One can not compose for the guitar well unless one is a guitarist."


This was clearly before the days of Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rodrigo etc. ;-)
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby 19thcenturyguitarist » Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:44 am

:discussion: :lol: :bye:
Last edited by 19thcenturyguitarist on Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby 19thcenturyguitarist » Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:45 am

@ Brian:
Berlioz: (December 11, 1803 – March 8, 1869)

"He should have listened to Segovia: there is a whole orchestra in the guitar. What works we might have had for our humble little instrument! Of course, he might have ended up raving about an "ideal guitar orchestra" consisting of fifty thousand guitars..."
-brianvds


He died before Segovia was born so....

"This was clearly before the days of Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rodrigo etc. "
-brianvds

True, but thoses composers were coached with Segovia (and others) guiding them. Its not like Ponce wrote a guitar piece and sent it to the publisher. Each time he would have Segovia review it and make sure that it was playable first. Then Segovia would finger it.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby 19thcenturyguitarist » Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:52 am

Berlioz is famous as a classical orchestral composer with a unique style, but not as a guitarist. In actuality, guitar and flute were the only instruments he could play. Berlioz initially made his living as a guitarist, and he published a few pieces for guitar during the first quarter of the 19th century. As no solo guitar works have been located, most likely Berlioz only published for guitar as accompaniment. As a friend of Paganini, Berlioz owned a guitar by Grobert of Mirecourt, which he and Paganini signed, and is now in a Paris museum.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby Sean » Sun Jun 26, 2011 9:22 pm

And then there's Ernst Newman's picture of Berlioz . . .
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby Paul_B-C » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:38 am

Actually I'm a little surprised no-one has mentioned two of the most interesting facts regarding Berlioz and the guitar;

He actually wrote a set of variations for guitar on Mozart's La ci darem la mano, which has unfortunately been lost. It's listed on the Berlioz site here http://www.hberlioz.com/Works/Catalogue.htm#lost so I assume he must have had a fairly good knowledge of the instrument!

And the other interesting thing is the fact that in the Treatise, he describes the sound of multiple guitars as follows: "The guitar - in contrast to other instruments - loses when reinforced in number. The sound of twelve guitars playing unisono is almost ridiculous." I love the implication that he managed to assemble twelve guitarists to test out the sound!
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby 19thcenturyguitarist » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:09 am

Berlioz certainly caught the eye of Napoleon Coste...

http://wayback.kb.dk:8080/wayback-1.4.2 ... BS0148.pdf

Though the title page is hard to read, check out the second page, top right corner. Just another Berlioz and the guitar reference!

Beautiful, complex, romantic piece of music!!!
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby Sean » Mon Jun 27, 2011 2:30 am

Paul_B-C wrote:Actually I'm a little surprised no-one has mentioned two of the most interesting facts regarding Berlioz and the guitar;

He actually wrote a set of variations for guitar on Mozart's La ci darem la mano, which has unfortunately been lost. It's listed on the Berlioz site here http://www.hberlioz.com/Works/Catalogue.htm#lost so I assume he must have had a fairly good knowledge of the instrument!

And the other interesting thing is the fact that in the Treatise, he describes the sound of multiple guitars as follows: "The guitar - in contrast to other instruments - loses when reinforced in number. The sound of twelve guitars playing unisono is almost ridiculous." I love the implication that he managed to assemble twelve guitarists to test out the sound!


Quite interesting!
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby brianvds » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:24 am

19thcenturyguitarist wrote:@ Brian:
Berlioz: (December 11, 1803 – March 8, 1869)
"He should have listened to Segovia: there is a whole orchestra in the guitar. What works we might have had for our humble little instrument! Of course, he might have ended up raving about an "ideal guitar orchestra" consisting of fifty thousand guitars..."
-brianvds
He died before Segovia was born so....


I know; I was just joking.

"This was clearly before the days of Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rodrigo etc. "
-brianvds
True, but thoses composers were coached with Segovia (and others) guiding them. Its not like Ponce wrote a guitar piece and sent it to the publisher. Each time he would have Segovia review it and make sure that it was playable first. Then Segovia would finger it.


This is so; it is not unusual for composers to consult instrumentalists when they want to compose for an instrument they do not know well. If memory serves, Brahms consulted extensively with Joseph Joachim when he wrote his violin concerto, for example.
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Re: Berlioz and the guitar

Postby pogmoor » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:41 am

19thcenturyguitarist wrote:Berlioz and Schubert both played guitar up until their teens, but when they became adults and got big they abandoned it. :(

19thcenturyguitarist wrote:Berlioz initially made his living as a guitarist, and he published a few pieces for guitar during the first quarter of the 19th century. As no solo guitar works have been located, most likely Berlioz only published for guitar as accompaniment.


You seem to be contradicting yourself here 19th :shock:
If you read the second post in this thread (from me) you'll see that B started playing the guitar when he was 16 and most likely later (as you say) made some of his living as a guitar teacher (as an adult). Also, that his only known extant pieces for guitar are a collection of short solos. [I note Paul_B-C's comment about the lost variations - it would be a real coup if somebody found these!]

Can I make a plea for a more careful approach to historical accuracy when discussion topics like this. The OP was asking for information, not misinformation :!:
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