Learning the Past

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This article studies the musical imaginary of the Berlioz generation as it related to images of the past. It does this through a comparative meditation on works using large-scale forces. The warrant for this theme is Carl Dahlhaus's notion that the early nineteenth century experienced a 'profound change in the ways past music was received', allied to a supposed 'crisis' in the craft of composition. Julian Rushton's 2001 'The Music of Berlioz' had accepted Dahlhaus's belief that earlier aesthetics of 'imitatio' were replaced in the new century by those of 'aemulatio' but asserted that Berlioz emulated now-overlooked 'French revolutionary music, Lesueur's large-scale church music', among other things. The work of art historians is evoked, studying French State commissions under the Bourbon restoration for artists to depict events from the past. The essay considers Berlioz's likely inspiration by Antonín Reicha's 'Traité de haute composition musicale', Reicha's composition 'Horsch!', and his account of the 1823 York Festival. Berlioz's narration of a musical eye-witness's account of the impact of a large-scale concert in 1794 is followed by a comparison with the work and career of Sigismund Neukomm, especially his large-scale Te Deum (1837) and Mass (1840), contrasted with Neukomm's memories of powerful music in Salzburg Cathedral in 1797. Lesueur's large-scale 'Chant du Ier vendémiaire' (1800) and his associated, published, imaginative reconstruction of 'the original coronations of French antiquity' are analysed in conclusion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBerlioz, Past, Present, Future
Subtitle of host publicationBicentenary Essays
EditorsPeter Bloom
Place of PublicationRochester, NY
PublisherUniversity of Rochester Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)158046047
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Publication series

NameEastman Studies in Music
PublisherUniversity of Rochester Press
ISSN (Print)1071-9989


  • Berlioz, Lesuruer, Reicha, Neukomm, large-scale concerts, Romantic, history, imagination

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