Berlioz, Hector

By the terms of the Prize of Rome, three years were to be spent in travel, the first two in Italy. But Berlioz remained only a year and a half, by the expiration of that time being so homesick for France, and so disdainful of the musical Italy of the day, that he petitioned to be allowed to go back to Paris, which petition was granted. With the exception of La Captive, the finest of his songs, the work done by Berlioz in Italy was not of much importance. On his return home he was greeted with the news that Miss Henrietta Smithson was again in Paris. Before his departure he had experienced a violent fancy for this lady, a celebrated Irish actress, appearing before the Paris public in interpretations of Shakespearian roles. To Berlioz's advances the actress had not responded very encouragingly, but had shown herself rather fearful of his demonstrations. Though Berlioz in the meantime had let his fancy wander, the return of Miss Smithson brought back the feeling aroused in him when first he saw her at the Odeon impersonating Ophelia and Juliet. After a more or less tempestuous courtship, Berlioz and Miss Smithson embarked on matrimony, the wedding-day hastened by reason of the retirement of the actress from the stage, caused by a fractured ankle and promise of permanent lameness. Berlioz thus tells what constituted her dowry and his prospects: " On the day of our marriage she had nothing in the world but debts and the fear of never again being able to appear to advantage on the stage. My property consisted of 300 francs, borrowed from a friend, and a fresh quarrel with my parents."

Their early married life moved on bravely in spite of their poverty. If subsistence was pretty bare, life was enriched by the friendship of Liszt, and by the birth of a son, Louis. Of this son Berlioz was passionately fond to the end. In the course of time the husband and wife became estranged, and finally separated, in 1840; though a certain friendship continued between them to the death of Henrietta, fourteen years after the separation. Berlioz's infatuation for Henrietta Smithson was characteristic of his ardent, impetuous nature, as was also characteristic his generous insistence on their marriage when she was ill and penniless, and, after the estrangement, the support of Henrietta out of his very limited income. Perhaps characteristic, also, was his entanglement with that mediocre person, Mademoiselle Martin Recio, whom, after the death of his wife he married. Mademoiselle Recio was a singer, with ambitions considerably greater than her ability.

The years immediately succeeding his marriage to Henrietta Smithson were years of strain and stress but make up a period of his life rich in results. Although forced to turn to journalism as a means of adding to his exceedingly uncertain income, Berlioz, amid all the difficulties and drudgery, produced the following compositions: The cantata on the death of Napoleon; the symphonies, Harold en Italic, Symphonic Funebre et Triomphale, Romeo et Juliette; the three-act opera, Benvenuto Cellini; various songs; the ballad, Sara la Baigneuse; and the wonderful Requiem. The money obtained from The Requiem and the symphonies made it possible for him to give up journalism, to indulge in a little travel, and to devote much more time to the art he adored. Travel abroad had been a long-cherished wish, and he now set out to try his fortune, and to seek inspiration away from home. In Germany, the French composer was received most enthusiastically, by the public as well as by the great masters, and the appreciation and plaudits there bestowed must have been balm to his spirit, at this time much disturbed by domestic upheaval and the grudgingly yielded approval of his countrymen. Visits made later to Austria and Russia added to the laurels now thick upon his brow, but Paris still remained cold to the son who so eagerly desired her favor. A new composition brought back from Austria, La Damnation de Faust, was produced in Paris, in 1846, before an audience small in numbers and lukewarm in appreciation. This work was most typical of Berlioz, and in this cantata his genius, and his defects, were most emphasized.

To understand the attitude of the French toward Berlioz, one must remember, that in his day, he was looked upon as a rebel. Year after year of Berlioz's life was marked by what Hadow so well phrases as " continued failure of high aims." The greatest French composer of his day was " left to starve because he wrote his best." Reyer, the distinguished composer and writer, declares that probably no musician has ever been more ridiculously criticized, more scoffed at, more insulted than Berlioz during the greater part of his career. The critic of the Revue des Deux Mondes condemned the work of Berlioz after this fashion: "The Chinese who amuse their leisure moments by the sound of the tom-tom; the savage who is roused into fury by the rubbing together of two stones, make music of the kind composed by M. Hector Berlioz."