Program Notes for Sunday, 19 November 2000

by D. Kern Holoman

Berlioz: "Marche hongroise" from La Damnation de Faust

    For piccolo, flutes I-II, oboes I-II, clarinets I-II, bassoons I-II;
horns I-IV, trumpets I-II, piston cornets I-II, tuba; timpani, snare drum, bass
drum, cymbals, triangle; strings.
    Composed February 1846 in Vienna and Prague. Incorporated in La
Damnation de Faust later in the year.
    First performed 15 February 1846 in Pest, the composer conducting.
    Duration: about 8 minutes.

Just after Berlioz's concert in Vienna on 11 January 1846, the
Hungarian nobleman Casimir Bathyány came backstage to invite Berlioz
to Pest, with the intriguing suggestion--because "the French know how
to write revolutionary music"--that the composer consider setting a
national march for the concert. Berlioz agreed to both proposals. He
spent the first days of February setting the popular Hungarian march
Rákóczy for full orchestra including five percussionists. He had
fully intended to "raise the popular passions," but the frenzy that
ensued on the evening of 15 February 1846 took him entirely by
surprise. Cheers and foot-stomping drowned out the orchestra, and at
the bass drum strokes, which the audience perceived as the cannon
fire of revolution against the Austrians, a full-scale demonstration
broke forth. The autograph of the Rákóczy was sold to the count for
500 francs, and is still in Hungary; Berlioz took away a manuscript
copy. He left Pest something of a national hero, and he is still held
in particular affection there today.
    If the rather dramatic introduction of the Hungarian march into the
opening scene of La Damnation de Faust, completed later that year,
seems a purposeful flaunting of the literary source, that was in the
spirit of the conception. It was not to Goethe that Berlioz was
trying to do particular justice, but to the more general concept of
romantic longing. He confesses outright, in the foreword of Faust,
that he set the opening scene in Hungary simply in order to introduce
the march. Faust was in fact woven together out of an earlier work on
the same subject, musical ideas that had come to him during his long
concert tour of the central European capitals, and evocations of
natural landscapes that had captivated him since his first wanderings
in the mountains of Italy more than a decade before.
Our performance is the first in a series of the Berlioz marches to be
offered this season. We hope later in the year to publish a CD,
Marching with Berlioz, as our contribution to the bicentenary of
Berlioz's birth, now being celebrated all over the world under as
"Berlioz 2003."