A look ahead to the major classical anniversaries of 2019 led by French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz… and Leopold, Mozart’s pushy dad
The main anniversary of 2019 belongs to Hector Berlioz, who died 150 years ago. Berlioz was the outstanding French composer of his age, though the French were almost the last to catch on to his genius, which was always appreciated over here. According to Grove’s music dictionary, ‘The Romantic Movement finds its fulfilment in him’.
Indeed. Take the Symphonie Fantastique. This intensely dramatic, free-flowing masterpiece was composed just a few years after Beethoven’s Ninth. If the Ninth is a rousing farewell to the classical period, Berlioz’s Symphonie is a triumphant hello to the future.
Great British conductors, from Sir Hamilton Harty to Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Colin Davis, set down great recordings that will surely be rebooted and reissued this year in sets such as the already announced Complete Works from Warner Classics.
The main anniversary of 2019 belongs to Hector Berlioz (above), who died 150 years ago. He was the outstanding French composer of his age
It is disappointing, though, that the country that did so much for his reputation is offering so little Berlioz this year, at least in the opera houses.
The only stage performance I have found is The Damnation Of Faust (more of a dramatic cantata than an opera), which gets a run out at Glyndebourne this summer, and there’s a concert performance with The Hallé at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on February 10. Also, on February 15, another masterpiece, the oratorio L’Enfance Du Christ, will be performed in Cardiff.
Franz von Suppé and Jacques Offenbach, two of the greatest exponents of operetta, celebrate their 200th birthdays this year. Suppé was the father of Viennese operetta and is now remembered, if at all, for his overtures but his complete operettas have been long ignored.
IT’S A FACT
Berlioz’s wife, Harriet Smithson, was an Irish Shakespearean actress who is depicted in idealised form in the Symphonie Fantastique.
The German-born Offenbach conquered Paris with a stream of operettas overflowing with great tunes, though even these are rarely performed today. The stresses and strains of creating his own grand opera, The Tales Of Hoffmann, took Offenbach to his grave, so he did not live to see its huge success, which continues to this day.
If you want to know what a dazzling tunesmith Offenbach was, download Manuel Rosenthal’s 1938 ballet Gaîté Parisienne, packed with great Offenbach melodies, including a captivating can-can sequence.
This year is also the centenary of the death of Ruggero Leoncavallo, creator of the hugely successful Pagliacci. But there’s other stuff worth exploring, including his own version of La Bohème, and Mattinata, the first song ever written for the gramophone, created for Caruso in 1904.
Finally, there’s Leopold Mozart’s 300th. The pushy parent of the great Wolfgang Amadeus doesn’t always get his due. In Belgravia there’s a plaque commemorating Mozart’s first symphony, composed on that site by the eight-year-old Wolfgang during his 15-month stay in London. How could a dad do that? Why not leave him to grow up peacefully in Salzburg?
Wolfgang did not live a long life, so I believe that the musical sophistication he learned so young on his travels permitted him to create the stream of great music across so many genres that he did. And that wouldn’t have happened without pushy old Leopold.