“It was Virgil who first found the way to my heart and opened my budding imagination, by speaking to me of the epic passions for which instinct had prepared me,” wrote Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), recalling his reluctant childhood studies of classics (Memoirs, trans. Cairns, 35). Once kindled, his enthusiasm for Vergil was life-long, and at the urging of Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, Berlioz began work in 1856 on an opera based on the second and fourth books of the Aeneid.

Hector Berlioz, Title page, La Prise de Troie. Merritt Room Mus 628.3.651.1 PHI

Hector Berlioz, Title page, La Prise de Troie. Merritt Room Mus 628.3.651.1 PHI (click to enlarge)

Berlioz conceived Les Troyens as one opera, but was forced to divide it into two parts for performance at the Théâtre-Lyrique when the Paris Opéra refused the work after years of delay (vividly recounted in his correspondence). As noted in the front matter of the vocal score, a full production without cuts would take 206 minutes to perform; with 15-minute intermissions, a 7:30 curtain meant the opera would finish 4 minutes before midnight, not allowing for applause and curtain calls (with substantial cuts, the run time could be reduced to a less daunting 140 minutes, or about 3 hours, 45 minutes total). Acts III-V, heavily cut and revised, premiered as Les Troyens à Carthage on November 4, 1863. La Prise de Troie (originally Acts I-II of Les Troyens) was not performed during Berlioz’s lifetime, and a staged production premiered only in 1890. The five-act Les Troyens was not staged until the 20th century, and an uncut version not until the centenary of Berlioz’s death in 1969.

Hector Berlioz, Title page, Les Troyens à Carthage . Merritt Room Mus 628.3.654 PHI

Hector Berlioz, Title page, Les Troyens à Carthage . Merritt Room Mus 628.3.654 PHI (click to enlarge)

In addition to autograph and copyist manuscripts, the original version of Les Troyens survives in a few proof and presentation scores dating to the early 1860s. Antoine Choudens published vocal scores of La Prise de Troie and Les Troyens in 1863, and in 1889 reassembled a complete Les Troyens from the plates engraved for those editions. Choudens’ numerous issues of Les Troyens à Carthage reflect the cuts and revisions made under Léon Carvalho’s direction for the Théâtre-Lyrique, a trial that Berlioz described with unconcealed disgust: “But oh, the agony of seeing a work of this kind laid out for sale with the scars of the publisher’s surgery upon it! A score lying dismembered in the window of a music shop like the carcass of a calf on a butcher’s stall, and pieces cut off and sold like lights for the concierge’s cat!” (Memoirs 491).

  • [Les Troyens. Vocal Score]
    Les Troyens : La Prise de Troie, 1er et 2e actes : Les Troyens à Carthage, 3e, 4e, et 5e actes. Paris: Choudens Fils, [1889?].
    Mus 628.3.651
    Hopkinson 64/65 A(a), related edition
  • [La Prise de Troie. Vocal score]
    La prise de Troie : opéra en trois actes / paroles et musique de Hector Berlioz. Paris : Choudens, [1864?].
    Merritt Room Mus 628.3.651.1 PHI
    Hopkinson 64B(b), second version, first edition, third state
  • [Troyens à Carthage. Vocal score]
    Les Troyens à Carthage : opéra en cinq actes avec un prologue / paroles et musique de Hector Berlioz. [Paris] : Choudens, [1863].
    Merritt Room Mus 628.3.654 PHI
    Hopkinson 65B(a), second version, second issue

Benvenuto Cellini, rejected by the Opéra-Comique, premiered at the Opéra in 1838 after a tumultuous rehearsal period. With the exception of the overture, the premiere was greeted by hissing of “exemplary precision and energy” (Memoirs 245). Never a huge success, the opera was subjected to extensive cuts and changes during its run; Franz Liszt’s Weimar revival in 1852 led to further changes, including a revision of the original two acts into three.

  • [Benvenuto Cellini. Vocal score]
    Benvenuto Cellini : opéra en trois actes / de m.m. Léon de Wailly et Auguste Barbier ; musique de Hector Berlioz ; partition chant et piano. Paris: Choudens, [1863].
    Merritt Room Mus 628.3.621 PHI
    Hopkinson 67E. Plate number A.C.989: first Paris edition, with piano arrangement by Hans von Bülow; lacking some recitatives

Béatrice et Bénédict‘s production history is comparatively simple: commissioned for the opening of the Theater der Stadt in Baden-Baden, the opera premiered August 9, 1862, with Berlioz conducting, and the vocal score was published in early 1863.

  • [Béatrice et Bénédict. Vocal score]
    Béatrice et Bénédict : opéra en deux actes / imité de Shakespeare ; paroles et musique de Hector Berlioz ; partition piano et chant. Paris : G. Brandus & S. Dufour, [1863].
    Mus 628.3.659.5
    Hopkinson 63A, first edition

-Kerry Masteller

Further Reading

Berlioz, Hector. Mémoires De Hector Berlioz: Comprenant Ses Voyages En Italie, En Allemagne, En Russie Et En Angleterre, 1803-1865, Avec Un Beau Portrait De L’auteur. Paris: Michel Lévy frères, 1870. (full text via Hathi Trust)

—. Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, member of the French Institute, including his travels in Italy, Germany, Russia, and England, 1803-1865. Translated and edited by David Cairns. New York: Knopf, 1969. Loeb Music Library Mus 1571.15.6

—. Memoirs, from 1803 to 1865, comprising his travels in Italy, Germany, Russia and England. Vol. 2. Translated by R. Holmes and E. Holmes. London: Macmillan, 1884. (full text via Google Books)

—. Les Troyens. Edited by Hugh McDonald. New edition of the complete works. Vol. 2(a-c). Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1970. Loeb Music Library Mus 628.3.10 (critical edition of the full score)