Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bloggo Mozartico! All-Mozart Program @ Greenville Symphony

If there’s one thing Dottore Gianni loves, it’s classical music. And in the world of classical music, who is the crème de la crème? Why, MOZART, of course! Who says so? Dottore Gianni says so. So there!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
On Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the 3 pm matinee of one of the Chamber Orchestra series, a concert entitled (not very artfully) Mozart the Magnificent. While it’s not the cleverest of titles, certainly much of Mozart IS magnificent, and much of what we heard at the matinee was magnificent, sometimes the piece of music itself, sometimes in the playing of it, and once at least magnificent in both the music and the interpretation.

The concert began a tad stodgily with the Overture to Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus). The opera gets a fair amount of play these days, but not nearly so much as the composer’s truly great works (Marriage of Figaro, Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Cose fan Tutte, to rattle off my favorites). Mozart did not write much opera seria (opera with serious stories, versus comic opera), and this one was commissioned in the last year of his short life (born 1756, died 1791 – you do the math, because Dottore Gianni’s no good at it), while he was also working on The 
Magic Flute and his brilliant Requiem. The libretto was written by a writer named Metastasio who pumped out script after script first in Rome, later in Vienna. Actually he was not NAMED Metastasio, as his real name, much longer and a lot less flashy, was Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi. But why does Dottore Gianni care about Metastasio? He doesn’t really, but he enjoys going off on tangents, so he can regale his readers with things that have little to do the topic. Not one of Metastasio’s words can be found in the overture of course – it’s all Mozart.

But while I’m on a tangent, you may as well know a bit about the opera and the circumstances under which it was written. Mozart was commissioned to celebrate the coronation of 
Leopold II
Leopold II as King of Bohemia AND the Holy Roman Emperor. It was one thing to be the former (though that was the largest single area in the empire), another entirely to be the latter, as the Holy Roman Empire consisted of much of Central Europe, though it diminished through the centuries. While the empire dates back as far as 800, when Charlemagne was crowned the first of these by the Pope, the Hapsburg family had a virtual of Austria stranglehold on the title from 1415 to 1806, when Napoleon rampaged through Europe and abolished it as “a useless anachronism.” Leopold (who was the brother of Marie Antoinette, by the way) was the penultimate emperor, succeeded by his son.

Even before Napoleon stamped the last vestiges out, the great French writer Voltaire also pronounced it useless in a famous statement:

"This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire!”

The Holy Roman Empire in 1648
But holy, Roman or/nor emperor, Leopold was said to be a benevolent ruler, one who in fact was frequently “clement,”as in mild, merciful, gentle. So someone got the bright idea to look back to ancient Rome to find a “clement” predecessor, not an easy task as most Roman emperors were anything but clement. But The Emperor Titus (ruled 79-81 AD) generously (clemently?) did much to relieve the suffering of the survivors of the Mount Vesuvius eruption (quite an event to happen in the first year of your reign, right?). So a connection was made between the two for the purposes of this opera.

It was not admired in its first performance, when Emperor 
Empress Maria Luisa
Leopold’s wife Maria Luisa of Spain pronounced it “German rubbish,” (Dottore Gianni understands that Mozart in turn called her "Spanish fly") but it proved popular with less critical audiences and as noted above still gets performed occasionally. It’s not the best of Mozart operas, one of the least interesting of his overtures (so thinks the good doctor), and frankly, the performance of it was somewhat lackluster – fitting, I suppose, but a rather dull start.

The second and primary piece of music in the first part of the concert is one of Mozart’s best-known pieces for orchestra and soloists, the Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 in E-flat major. What, you might ask, is a sinfonia concertante? Dottore Gianni would be happy to oblige. In fact he more or less answered it just above. There are symphonies, usually written in four movements, that involve an entire orchestra, and there are concertos (or concerti, as the good doctor prefers to call them – after all it IS una parola Italiana – an Italian word!) that involve the full orchestra but which feature a soloist, usually piano or violin, doing the most difficult work. A sinfonia concertante involves an orchestra and more than one soloist, two in the case of Mozart’s, a violinist and a violist. Mozart’s piece features solos and duets by the two, which can be every bit as impressive as the single soloist playing a concerto.

For those few of you who may also wonder, what in the name of god is K. 364? Well, the K stands for Kirschel, a slight transliteration from the original German, Köchel, full name 
Ludwig Alois Friedrich Ritter von Köchel (1800-1877) – but 
Ludwig von Köchel
let’s just call him Ludwig von Köchel, shall we? This very busy man was a musicologist, a writer, a composer, a botanist and publisher. He was knighted, or “rittered” as you might say in German – the Ritter in his full name is an approximation of an English knight – for tutoring the four sons of Archduke Charles of Austria. Along with a knighthood (ritterhood?) he was also given a sum of money that enabled him to live the rest of his life as a private scholar, proving, to play on a phrase made famous by Mel Brook’s, “It’s very good to be the Archduke” (always) but occasionally at least “It’s very good to be a tutor!”  All of this you can easily read for yourself in good old Wikipedia, but I thought I’d spare you – one of the reasons they call the good doctor “good!”

But Köchel is known primarily for his listing of the works of Mozart. He divided Mozart’s works into 24 categories and numbered each and every one of the prolific Mozart’s musical compositions. So while other composers have an “opus” number listed after their individual pieces of music (“opus” is Latin for “work”), Mozart has a K. number (for Köchel) listed after it. Which is just as well, because assigning opus numbers has been done in many different ways (see Wikipedia on “opus number” if you care to, and if you care to get confused) – Köchel’s system is very impressive in comparison.

But! Back to the sinfonia concertante. Maestro Tchivzhel chose to make use of two of the orchestra’s own, the first chair second violinist Joanna Mulfinger Lebo and the first chair violist Kathryn Dey. I have seen both of them play in the very intimate “Spotlight” series, in fact in one of my first blogs on music (having failed to get a good enough retirement to travel regularly – travel you may recall is the reason this blog was created) I announced that I had a crush on the violist “Katie” Dey. The crush continued as the two came out as soloists on Sunday afternoon. Ms Dey was resplendent in a red strapless gown, while Ms Lebo wore a perfectly fine blue-ish gown that frankly made this young attractive woman look a tad frumpy, especially next to Ms Dey. However, in my opinion Ms Lebo played better than Ms Dey, so that evened the scales for the pathetically lecherous but musically astute old Dottore Gianni.

However neither of them shone. This made for a quite competent but hardly thrilling performance of the Sinfonia Concertante, and I think that’s all that need be said about it.

VERY interestingly to Dottore Gianni is that the first piece of the second portion of the concert has something in common, if only in a tangential fashion and probably only in the good doctor’s sometimes over-active imagination, with the Sinfonia Concertante. The sinfonia had on this occasion at least something of a rivalry between two divas about it, Dey outshining Lebo in appearance, Lebo outshining Dey in performance. And during intermission this impression in the mind of Dottore Gianni was increased when two women nearby were talking about the two musicians, and one said something to the effect that the violist outshone the violinist. I heard this comment without hearing much of the rest of the conversation and, while none of it was any of my business, wondered for a second if they were talking fashion or musicality. Then I pushed it from my mind and began to read the program notes on what I would hear in the second half. But save the thought of the rivalry between two artists.

Well! The first musical offering in part two was another overture, and by the way a much finer overture that that to La Clemenza di Tito, that of The Impresario. Unlike La Clemenza, the Schauspieldirektor (impresario in German, and quite a mouthful of German it is) is not an opera (in which as well as arias, duets and other musical ensembles, dialogue, called recitative, from the Italian recitativo, is sung rather than spoken) but a singspiel. As you might guess, in a singspiel, dialogue is spoken and leads into sung arias, duets and so on. In the eighteenth century ballad operas in England and opéra comique in France were similar forms. In the twentieth century the American musical somewhat fills that bill. Mozart wrote a few of these singspiels, including The Abduction from the Seraglio and most importantly The Magic Flute, both of which are FAR better pieces than The Impresario!

a recent production of The Impresario
The comic play to which Mozart put his music was written by Gottlieb Stephanie, a nonentity who should never have been allowed to write for the theatre in Dottore Gianni’s as well as many others’ opinions. Referring to another Mozart singspiel for which Stephanie wrote the words, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart himself wrote to his father saying that, "you are quite right so far as Stephanie's work is concerned. ... I am well aware that the verse is not of the best.”

Emperor Joseph II, in life...
But Mozart was stuck with it, as he had been assigned this work by Emperor Joseph II, as part of an evening to honor a visiting dignitary. It so happens that Joseph II was another Holy Roman Emperor, the one that came just before Leopold II, who was his younger brother. All these emperors AND Marie Antoinette! Empress Maria Theresa, their all-powerful mother, had sixteen children, along with wearing the pants in her Hapsburg family and running an empire for 40 years.

And as played by Jeffrey Jones in the film version of
Amadeus: "Too many notes, Mr Mozart!"
The Impresario is about the director of a theatre (in days of yore often called an impresario) who has to deal with two 
Sometimes The Impresario is updated
divas from hell, prima donna sopranos who both want the larger role in the work the impresario is about to produce. So you see the rivalry Dottore Gianni found in the violinist and violist in the first part of the concert is mirrored in the plot of the singspiel whose overture opens part two. The plot, not just of the singspiel but of the evening at which it was produced, thickens, or one might say, sickens.

The Impresario is a short piece and was part of a double bill on its premiere. The other piece was a short opera buffa (a comic opera, in which everything is sung, with no spoken dialogue) called Prima la Musica, poi le Parole (which translates to First the Music, then the Words), by none other than Mozart’s arch-rival, Antonio Salieri! Amadeus, anyone?

To complicate this “plot” even further, the two dueling divas in Mozart’s singspiel were played by Aloysia Lange and Madame Caterina Cavalieri. Mozart used the vocal highpoints of two talented singers in writing their arias to feature the 
Aloysia Weber Lange
best of each voice, thus creating a sort of musical duel. But who were these two women? Well, besides being real life rival singers, Aloysia Lange was the older sister of Mozart’s wife, Constanze, whom Mozart married only after his first love – wait for it – Aloysia – turned him down! Oh, and Aloysia’s husband was also cast in The Impresario. As Facebook would oft have us believe, “It’s complicated.” And Madame Cavalieri was the mistress of – again, wait for it – Salieri!

While not in the play Amadeus, in the film version Catarina Cavalieri was added to the action - here seen as played by Christine Ebersole with F Murray Abraham, who was a very good Salieri,
though not nearly as good as Ian McKellen, who Dottore Gianni saw on stage
The rehearsals and backstage atmosphere must have been something! As Gwendolyn bursts out in The Importance of Being Earnest, “The suspense is terrible! I hope it continues.”  Or we could just say, “It’s complicated.” Someone should write a play, or an opera, or a singspiel about this!

Eighteenth century cartoon showing a backstage battle between two rival actresses, Peg Woffington vs Kitty Clive

It’s said that on the occasion, Salieri’s music (now completely forgotten) delighted, and Mozart’s did not. Mozart also lost the battle of remuneration, paid less than half of what Salieri received. It was explained that Mozart had added only a few pieces of music (in addition to the overture, two arias, a trio, and an ensemble finale), while Salieri had written a complete opera buffa. That Mozart could compose any music at all with the humiliations he endured while his rival was heaped in praise amazes Dottore Gianni. And yet he managed. The performance of The Impresario was given in February 1786, and in May Mozart premiered The Marriage of Figaro at the Burgtheater on the first of May.

Dottore Gianni's photo of the Burgtheater in 2001
As for the Greenville’s performance of the overture to The Impresario, an overture that, stated Alfred Einstein (not AlBERT, the brilliant scientist to whom he may or may not have been related, but AlFRED the musicologist, an expert on Mozart), “…towers far above the occasion for which it was written,” it was a rowser and a delight, a spirited presentation of an overture much finer than that to La Clemenza di Tito.

Finally, if you will, the finale. (Drumroll – bada-bing!) Mozart’s last three symphonies (39, 40 and 41) are some of the finest symphonies – some say THE finest – ever written. They form a bridge from the baroque into the classical, and could easily be confused with the first symphonies of Beethoven, whom Mozart influenced mightily. The concert ended with Symphony No. 39, K 543 in E-flat major. He 
Constanze Weber Mozart
wrote that and the two other late symphonies in a two-month span during 1788, when his personal life was in a shambles. There was not enough money to live on and he had to move to smaller lodgings, his wife Constanze was in poor health, and the couple’s daughter had recently passed away. Mozart’s situation was never to improve and he died impoverished three years later, but he somehow managed to produce some of the world’s greatest music under increasingly worsening circumstances.

Symphony No. 39 is written in four movements, marked:

I.              Adagio, Allegro
II.            Andante con moto
III.          Menuetto: Allegreto
IV.          Allegro

I have no words to adequately describe the music. It is sublime. All right, Dottore Gianni has once again failed as a music critic (surprise surprise) but the Greenville Symphony outdid itself in the playing of ths symphony, particularly in the last movement, which Maestro Tchivzhel took at breakneck speed, severely taxing the violin section. The violins managed it brilliantly despite the speed, and it thrilled the audience. It was the highlight of the concert, and one of the most professional performances of the season, thus far.

Coda: Some of you may remember that in the Chamber series, Tchivzhel introduces, often in a witty manner, the pieces about to be played. He did so on this occasion, though while he’s always clever he pretty much parroted the program notes. But at the end of the concert proper he turned and offered the audience not just an encore, but a quiz, or has he says “A KVEEEEZ! He explained that the orchestra would play a portion of a piece of music and that the first person that guessed what it was would win two tickets to any concert later in the season. He even brought out an usher whose eagle eye would identify the hands as they raised, so that the first person to raise her or his hand would have the first chance.

The music began and an old man (yes, even older than Dottore Gianni – this is a Sunday matinee remember, and Dottore Gianni is actually one of the younger audience members, relatively speaking) right in front of me, after whispering to his wife for a second, raised his hand. Then a younger man raise HIS in the row just behind me. I meanwhile was waffling between Brahms and Beethoven but was not even able to identify the composer, much less the specific piece of music, by the time the music ended. Tchivzhel asked the old fellow to stand and tell us the title. “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony” replied the man in confidence. Tchivzhel sighed and said, “Very close, but not correct.” The old man crumpled back into his chair. Then the young man behind me correctly answered Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. Tchivzhel grilled him further: “VEEEECH (read which) movement?” A pause, then again correctly, the last. Tchivzhel brought the man up on stage, asked the fellow if he was a musician, the fellow responded that he had played violin in his college orchestra – the tickets were bestowed, applause from the audience, the orchestra played that last bars once more for emphasis, and with that the concert ended.

Slight disappointment in some of it, but the concert ended very well indeed! No more concerts until late January, so unless Dottore Gianni can find something else to jabber about, or wins the lottery and can afford another trip across the pond before then, ciao tutti!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bloggo Musico: a Quick Look at Two Concerts and an Extensive Essay on a Third

Dottore Gianni is back, in his capacity as music critic sans pareil (“sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste…sans everything”)!  Because of his recent travels he confesses that he has missed the opportunity to review three concerts by members of the Greenville Symphony. But he plans to fix that, by commenting briefly before he examines the most recent concert, on two of the three previous – the third, alas, he missed altogether, and not because of travel.

Has the good doctor created some suspense? No? Not even a wee bit? Well! Harumph!

Suffice to say that the opening concert of the 2013-14 season, titled The Greatest Revolutionary, was mostly about Richard 
Richard Wagner, looking rather
Wagner. In the first part of the program the orchestra played three (count ‘em) overtures/preludes and two pieces of incidental music from Wagnerian operas. The concert began pleasantly enough, with the majestic Prelude to Die Meistersinger, but an overture is just that…an overture. One generally expects something more after that, in Wagner’s case about five hours’ worth – the opera itself. Now, one Wagner overture in the first segment of a concert is certainly acceptable. But this potpourri of overtures interspersed with incidental music (after Die Meistersinger we heard the haunting Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and the first half ended with electrifying Ride of the Valkyrie from Die Walkürie – “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”) struck me as a tad excessive. An overture (the other two were the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin – OK no overture, instead an ent’racte – same principle – and the Overture to Tannhäuser) seems to me like an engine that is being revved up for the start of something big – the overture gets one excited about the opera, right? But with three overtures it’s as if you’re not only revving an engine excessively, but that it’s in danger of flooding. That’s how I felt at intermission – flooded, even inundated by Wagner, flashy at moments but lacking substance.

But I wasn’t really there for too-much-Wagner. I was waiting for something wonderful in the second part of the program, which consisted solely of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, 
one of my very favorites of his nine. And I was not disappointed. There is a tenuous connection between the Wagner and the Beethoven, as Wagner apparently dubbed Beethoven’s Seventh the “apotheosis of the dance…tables and benches, cans and cups, the grandmother, the blind and the lame – even the children in the cradle – fall to dancing.” Dottore Gianni was not aware of this quote, but thanks to the program notes he has been educated, and admits that there is much exhilarating movement to this symphony, tempered by haunting sections in minor keys. Maestro Tchivzhel conducted the orchestra in a masterful performance of this work, so that despite feeling awash in Wagner, the good doctor had half of a fine time, and left the Peace Center in the mood to dance, though fortunately for the other exiting audience members, he resisted the urge.

The second concert was one of three very intimate offerings in the Spotlight Series in which anywhere from two to five or so principal players make beautiful music together. Except that in this case the only piece that I would categorize as beautiful was the last of four works (are we seeing a pattern here? Pray it doesn’t continue!) Of course this series depends on finding music that can be played by a very few players, and sometimes the repertoire for such instruments is limited. For example, how many musical works have been written for bassoon, oboe and clarinet? One at least, the one we heard that afternoon, a divertissement written by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942 – died in a concentration camp). And I’m betting no more than one piece, called Night Watch, has been composed for the unusual combo of flute, horn and kettle drums, this one concocted by Ellis B. Kohs 1916-2000). Even less likely is the duo of oboe and double bass, but we were treated to Andrea Clearfield’s (born 1960) Three Songs for Oboe and Double Bass (after Poems of Pablo Neruda). Before each musical offering in the Spotlight Series one of the performers comes out and talks about it a bit. While each of these pieces was interesting at least in the sense that it was unusual, the most pleasure I received was from the musicians’ dexterity in the playing of them. I found nothing in any of the work to make me want to explore further the music of any of the composers.

When, however, a concert ends with Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet, played by four of the finest members of the Greenville Symphony, that makes a concert worthwhile in substance as well as in style. I’ll only comment about young 
Maurice Ravel
Ravel’s depression when, having dedicated the quartet to his teacher Gabriel Fauré, it was panned in the press and also by…his teacher Fauré, who called its last movement, “stunted, badly balanced, in fact a failure.” Ravel might have come unraveled (drumroll) but his pride and probably the piece itself were saved by another composer, Claude Debussy, when he wrote Ravel, “In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note of your Quartet.” In his younger days, Dottore Gianni played this lovely work on many a late afternoon, so thank you Ravel and Debussy, but alas the good doctor lost track of his DVD recording of it, so he was looking forward to this performance and got more than his money’s worth (note: these intimate concerts cost a mere $15 so let’s amend that to MUCH more than his money’s worth).

The concert Dottore Gianni missed was Oktoberfest, which is especially sad since you get free beer with it. Interestingly, the reason that the good doctor missed it is that he had been detained…by drink.

Understand, I go to matinees for two reasons. First, I have the devil of a time driving after dark, as my corneal dystrophe makes even a green light a blinding experience. When a good-ole-boy South Carolina driver tailgates you in a truck (pretty much ensured in this benighted state), which is set just enough higher than my Corolla to be a potentially blinding experience even to those with healthy eyes…well, let’s just say it is unsafe for me and other drivers to have me driving around at night unless I absolutely have to – and these days there is very little that Dottore Gianni absolutely has to do.

Second, let me use a phrase that slipped out of my mouth once and that sent two of my sisters-in-law roaring with 
laughter/approval: “The one thing I will not do, is not have my vodka!” A single person, particularly a single person who is retired, must, Dottore Gianni believes, play out his rituals. One ritual that the good doctor plays out every evening begins at 5:30, when he prepares hors d’oeuvres and readies dinner as well for a six pm cocktail hour designed to coincide with the News Hour on PBS. At six he settles into his reclining love seat with snacks on a bamboo tray and vodka in hand. At some point after that, usually 7-ish, he switches to either white or red wine, as the meal (in his opinion) requires, and by around 8 pm he wraps up that ritual.

Hrk's hors d'oeuvres

Because he foolishly bought tickets at the Peace Center to War Horse for a Sunday afternoon that happened to coincide with the matinee of Oktoberfest that he would normally attend – actually it wasn’t foolish, as he himself enjoyed it the second time around, as it was a birthday present for his nephew and as it was an opportunity for his sister-in-law Kara to see a show that he knew would bring her pleasure – he moved his Oktoberfest ticket to the night before. But as the time for the concert drew near, the two above-mentioned (confessed?) obstacles began to compete against his desire for classical music, and guess what won? One thing he will not do…So he will slightly amend his simply stated reason: He was detained by drink…and by dark.

No such complications emerged regarding last Sunday’s concert, titled The Fantastic Symphony. The title refers to a work that more sophisticated concert-goers than those in Greenville SC call the Symphonie Fantastique, by Hector Berlioz. That lengthy and complicated piece of music made up the entire second half of the concert. Before intermission the symphony offered its interpretation of El Sombrero de Tres Picos, or The Three-Cornered Hat, a ballet written by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

This pairing struck Dottore Gianni as a very nice one, and hit a personal note (if you will…whether you will or not) for the good doctor as he has just returned from Spain, so Falla is a fine musical option, and as he is writing about the Romantic movement in theatre in his OTHER, more academic blog, in which he goes by the name of Dr Jack, and in that post he mentions Berlioz and…but stop! I get ahead of my story!

Falla’s ballet suite took the entire first part of the concert. I enjoyed it, but once again, a ballet suite is lacking a central 
Manuel de Falla
element – the ballet! It was also rather short to fill the entire first half – the teenaged girl next to me (tall and blonde and one day she’ll grow into a pretty young lady, but while I think she enjoyed the concert she could not stop squirming throughout, which lessened my enjoyment of it somewhat) remarked to her grandfather…hmmmm…let’s hope he’s her grandfather… “Is that all?” She was right, as the Falla comes in at under a half hour. Perhaps an overture…maybe one of Wagner’s (NO!!!), some short piece begin the concert?

The Three-Cornered Hat
The story, by famed Spanish author Alarcon, is a simple variation on medieval farce – a miller and his wife and a wealthy magistrate (who wears the sombrero de tres picos) who wants to have his way with her – much merriment and 
Picasso costume design for the ballet
confusion ensues, and in the end the lecherous magistrate is tossed in a blanket! The story is inconsequential, but the music is often exciting, and Falla’s first version of the ballet (informatively but uninterestingly named The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife) was revised and re-named when the impresario Sergei Diaghilev saw it and approached the composer. It was produced by his famous company, the Ballets Russes, with sets and costumes designed by Picasso and choreographed by Leonide Massine, opening at London’s Alhambra Theatre in 1919 and frequently revived.

The music, which makes use of Andalusian folk tunes and flamenco-style music, is occasionally recognizable (or was to Dottore Gianni) and often vibrant, but one wished to see famous dancers such as Massine (who also danced in the original and several revivals) and Margot Fonteyne (both pictured below in a revival), performing the work.

After an intermission that almost equaled the first half of the concert in time, We were treated to the main event, the symphonie Fantastique. Rather than revealing more of his ignorance of the music itself, Dottore Gianni will focus on the hopelessly romantic love story that brought the music into existence.

The French were late coming to Romanticism. The movement started in Germany during the late eighteenth century with the writings of August Wilhelm Schlegel (who translated Shakespeare and coined the term “Romantic” to contrast it with “Classical”) and quickly spread to England, where in 1798 it was marked by the publication of the Lyrical Ballads, poems by two unknowns, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But while the French Revolution would seem to have been the quintessentially Romantic event, a little corporal rose quickly to power after it and in 1804 crowned himself Emperor. Napoleon, himself a soldier in the Revolution, no longer approved of revolutionary thoughts, movements or arts. The Revolution led ironically to his despotic rule, and once in power he was damned if any sort of revolution was going to knock him out of power.

After Napoleon the monarchy was restored and forces of change in Paris moved forward very slowly. In 1822, for example, a British acting troupe performed a brief season of Shakespeare in Paris.  There were riots at these performances and the troupe was hissed, because Shakespeare’s own revolutionary plays – revolutionary in that they refused to comply with rules of writing established in Renaissance Italy and reinforced emphatically in France – rules of verisimilitude and decorum and the unities of time, place and action – were simply incomprehensible and worse, offensive to French tastes.   A French writer even labeled the visiting theatre troupe’s work in 1822 “an invasion!”  Not that the Bard was unknown in France. In the late eighteenth century Jean François Ducis translated Shakespeare into French, but he twisted the plays ridiculously to make them fit the neoclassic ideal, which included showing no violence on stage but instead “messengering” them in. 

But certain French writers and intellectuals became very excited by the writing of Schlegel, and in 1810 the French writer Madame de Stael published D’Allemagne, a work that praised the German Romantics. Stendhal, the French novelist, wrote an essay comparing Racine and Shakespeare, in which he praised Shakespeare over Racine (mon dieu!) and commended the Romantic qualities of Shakespeare’s 
work.  So in 1827, when another British troupe, led by Charles Kemble, played Paris, they created a sensation.  Resentment still ran high among French conservatives, but liberals saw in the freedom of Shakespearean style an analogy to their own cries for greater freedom.  Kemble’s Hamlet was seen by the French as the quintessential, brooding, romantic hero. Even more popular was Harriet 
Smithson’s Ophelia, especially her mad scene. A “mad scene” on the French stage?  Mais non! At least mais non a few years before, when in France such disturbing actions were messengered in. Beginning in 1827 it was for many, mais oui!  Delacroix, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas all raved about Smithson, and composer Hector Berlioz…wait! Berlioz? 
Hector Berlioz
Didn’t he write the Symphonie Fantastique?

Mais oui, mes amis, mais oui.

…was so smitten that he pursued and wooed her, sending her love letter after love letter even though they had never met, which frightened her more than anything else. More important than the letters he wrote, was the musical piece, the Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz composed for the actress. Finally in 1832 Berlioz invited her to a performance, she came and they were married the following year at the Britisy Embassy (Franz Liszt was one of the witnesses) in Paris!

Voila! A happy ending! Mais non!

For, as Wikipedia explains it, “at the time of her wedding, her popularity was past and she was deeply in debt, a factor believed to have strongly influenced her decision to marry. A 
Harriet Smithson
benefit was given her, but she was coldly received. She retired from the stage. Louis Berlioz, the only child of Hector and Harriet, was born on 14 August 1834 (d. 1867). By about 1840, the marriage was failing, and Berlioz had begun affair with Marie Recio, whom he was to marry after Smithson's death. Smithson moved out of the matrimonial home on the rue Saint Vincent, Montmartre, to the rue Blanche in 1843, still financially supported by Berlioz. She was to return to her former home on the rue Saint Vincent in 1849, long after Berlioz had left it.”

Quel domage!

Another Wikipedia article puts its finger on an identifying characteristic of the Romantic temperament, one Dottore Gianni knows well, as he has been sadly marked (marred?) by this characteristic himself.

“Unfortunately for Berlioz, he was soon to discover that living under the same roof as the Beloved was far less appealing than worship from afar. Their marriage proved a disaster as both were prone to violent personality clashes and outbursts of temper. With their marriage a failure, Berlioz and Harriet Smithson separated, the latter having become an alcoholic due to the collapse of her acting career.”

Perhaps I should have, but I couldn't resist this found on a
Berlioz webpage!

Ah yes, for many a male Romantic (including the good doctor), placing a woman on a pedestal and, when she does not (cannot) live up to expectation (a beautiful statue does not talk back) knocking her unceremoniously off it, is all too common.

If there is any sort of happy end to come of this, still another Wiki-quote from the Berlioz article points to it:

“This led to two intense infatuations. One was to Smithson, which would result in a disastrous marriage. The other was to Shakespeare, which would become a lifelong love.”

That fateful night in Paris, 1827, led Berlioz into the second infatuation. The composer wrote several works based on the Bard, including Romeo et Juliette and Beatrice et Benedict, the first a romantic symphony, the second a comic opera.

The Symphonie Fantastique has been called as the first “programmatic” symphony, an instrumental work that tells a 
interesting album cover (one of many I discovered) for
the Symphonie Fantastique
specific story. Berlioz subtitled the symphony an “Episode in the Life of an Artist, “ referring to his infatuation with Harriet Smithson, which is the “subject” (the idée fixe) of the story. It is told in five (instead of the usual four) movements; and Berlioz described in writing an introduction to the work and a description of each movement.

In the first Berlioz describes in music “Reveries, Passions,” setting up his desires and the “volcanic love” she inspired when he first saw her. The second is set at “A Ball” where he sees her again. The third is a “Scene in the Country” in which he begins to think that she might deceive him. The fourth leaps into a “March to the Scaffold” after he dreams that he has killed his beloved, which features some of the best known music in the piece. And the finale is positively macabre, his “Dream of a Witches Sabbath, a wild dance in which his beloved participates. “Funeral knell, burlesque parody of the Dies Irae and Sabbath round dance. The Sabbath and the Dies Irae combine.”

Whew! A wild ride, and the orchestra accomplished some of it well, the last two movements very well indeed. 

And because of the short first half, Dottore Gianni was in his car driving home before 5 pm (the concert began at 3), arriving in plenty of time to prepare his cocktail hour! What more could the good doctor ask?