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Berlioz on MusicSelected Criticism 1824-1837$
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Katherine Kolb

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199391950

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199391950.001.0001

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Musical Polemic

Musical Polemic

On “Dilettanti”

(p.27) 1 Musical Polemic
Berlioz on Music

Katherine Kolb

Oxford University Press

In this early letter to the editor, Berlioz pretends ignorance about “dilettantes,” and simulates a conversation with an expert who fills him in. Dilettantes, we learn, patronize the Théâtre-Italien and admire its singing style to the exclusion of any other. They swoon over vocal embellishments, while disdaining the more austere style prevalent at the Opéra and volubly criticizing its singers. In their view, Mme. Branchu, the greatest singer of Berlioz’s pantheon, “screams” as Hypermnestre (in Salieri’s Les Danaïdes), and the tenor Dérivis “thrashes about” as Orestes (in Gluck’s Iphigénie)—they lack decorum, and neglect to ornament their parts. With one such criticism, Berlioz does not disagree: the Opéra orchestra sometimes does drown out the singers, he admits, but the fault often lies with the composer, not the orchestra. By implication, he applauds Opéra singers for identifying with their parts and adapting themselves to different characters, rather than maintaining the same style for all.

Keywords:   dilettante, bel canto, dramatic singing, Gluck, Rossini, Salieri, Théâtre-Italien, Opéra orchestra, Mme. Branchu, Dérivis

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