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Did you hear about Cherubini's mad pursuit of Berlioz?

Features - Classical Music

Did you hear about Cherubini's mad pursuit of Berlioz?

by Hallam Fulcher on August 18, 2017 (August 18, 2017) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
Confusion over door etiquette caused a meeting of greats to descend into farce.

Throughout his career, many opposed Hector Berlioz and his revolutionary music, but none more so than composer and crusty Paris Conservatoire Director Luigi Cherubini. 

The first meeting between the two musicians was anything but cordial. In his memoirs Berlioz recounts visiting the Conservatoire library one morning to study some scores by Gluck. He was unaware, however, that Cherubini had instated a new rule forbidding men and women to use the same entrance. Berlioz accordingly entered the Conservatoire through the Rue Bergère door, as he was accustomed. 

He was quickly stopped by a servant who instructed him to leave the building and re-enter via the male door on Faubourg-Poissonnière. Never easily intimidated, Berlioz laughed off the command as preposterous. The affronted servant refused to admit defeat, however, and departed to report the flagrant rule violation to higher powers. Fifteen minutes later, a furious Cherubini arrived in the reading room with the servant in tow. Berlioz described his first impression of the venerable Italian composer as “cadaverous, with the most roughcast hair, the most malicious eyes and of a step more jerked than usual”.

“So you are the man who dares to come in by the door I have forbidden you to enter?” Cherubini asked Berlioz, shaking with anger. Berlioz calmly explained that he had been unaware of the new rule and would enter by the male entrance the next time he visited the library. Cherubini rejected Berlioz’s offer and demanded to know what he was doing at the library. “As you can see, sir, I’m studying Gluck’s scores,” Berlioz answered. “And what are Gluck’s scores to you, and who allows you to enter the library?” asked Cherubini.

“Gluck’s music is the most magnificent I know, and I need no one’s permission to come here and study,” said the by now fully aroused Berlioz. “This library is open to the public from ten till three and I have a right to use it.”

Standing his ground, Cherubini informed Berlioz that he was banned from the library and demanded to know his name. By this point Berlioz was equally furious. “Sir, maybe you’ll hear my name someday,” he said, “but you won’t hear it now.”

“Seize him,” Cherubini commanded his bemused servant. “Seize him and take him away to prison!” Then they both, master and servant, chased Berlioz around the table, overturning stools and desks in their wild pursuit. 

Berlioz finally fled the library, ending up with a burst of maniacal laughter and hurling these words at his persecutors,: “You will have neither me nor my name, and I will return here soon to study the scores of Gluck again!” C’est fantastique...