Between 1830 and 1848, Paris was the center of a musical virtuoso craze that had taken hold of Europe. The city’s relative political and economic stability between revolutions drew renowned soloists such as Niccolò Paganini, Franz Liszt, Clara Schumann, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Sigismond Thalberg, and Ole Bull, who were received by audiences thirsty for talent and spectacle. These instrumentalists, however, drew less attention as time wore on. 1 Their music, overly reliant on flashy embellishments and self-serving dramatic interpretations, was criticized as vapid. Because these performers could only appeal to those with little musical taste, they would, according to Robert Schumann, lead to the impoverishment of music in general. 2 Scams also led to distaste for virtuoso performances. One hoax, reported by the Gazette musicale, involved an enterprising swindler who, masquerading as the representative of a respected venue, sold tickets to a show that would never take place. 3 As some of the greatest soloists ended their careers, no one else took their place, contributing to an ultimate decay in interest: Paganini died in 1840, and later that decade, Liszt quit piano performance and moved to Weimar, taking on the very profession discussed in this article: conducting. 4 So, the fad for soloists diminished, and fed up with the ploys, weary of insipid virtuosic music, or simply pulled toward the next sensation, audiences looked for a new diversion. It was the virtuoso conductor.
Through the early part of the nineteenth century, conductors had largely been facilitators, choosing music, running rehearsals, and helping players start, stop, and navigate difficult passages. 5 Their role had sometimes been split between two or three people, namely, the music director, first violinist, and keyboardist, and their basic function had been correction rather than initiation of musical expression. 6 But during the 1830s, conductors developed into artists rather than craftsmen, appropriating the trappings of soloists, promoting themselves as interpreters of music, and cultivating a strong stage presence. They exuded power and authority, sometimes earning exorbitant fees for their work.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, conductors had secured the public’s admiration, loyalty, and applause, forever transforming the relationship between them and their audiences. This development is widely recognized in scholarship. In The Cambridge Companion to Conducting, José Bowen notes that “the power, prestige and money gradually shifted to conductors, who became the focus of modern music-making.” 7 Alan Houtchens writes, “Conductors who could lead a gargantuan orchestra and chorus without using a score were admired above virtuoso soloists.” 8 And in the Grove entry on conducting, John Spritzer writes that “the steady growth in the number of public professional and semi-professional orchestra concerts in London, Paris and Vienna encouraged the transference of the image of the virtuoso onto the conductor.” 9
I will detail how this occurred, and show that this transfer of the virtuoso image onto the conductor began happening broadly within the conducting scene in Paris during the 1830s and 1840s. Four conductors serve as models: Philippe Musard, Louis-Antoine Jullien, François-Antoine Habeneck, and Hector Berlioz. In their different career paths and with individual strengths, they each earned enduring reputations for their proficiency, power, and ability to command audiences’ attention and musicians’ respect. I define how the term virtuosity applies to the conducting of both popular and art music. I then demonstrate how popular (Musard and Jullien) and art music conductors (Habeneck and Berlioz) manifested virtuosity in their careers. 10 Finally, I briefly describe the continuation of virtuosic conducting and consider its relevance today.
Peter Bloom defines virtuosity in the nineteenth century as “extraordinary ability manifested in a stunning display of skill, dexterity, and artfulness.” 11 In this definition and others, virtuosity is not merely high-level skill, but an ostentatious show of it. Philosopher Vernon Howard argues that a virtuoso must be recognized as being virtuosic, “for without recognition … virtuosity simply does not exist.” 12 Historian Paul Metzner confirms: “Virtuosos are … people who exhibit their talents in front of an audience, who possess as their principal talent a high degree of technical skill, and who aggrandize themselves in reputation and fortune, principally through the exhibition of their skill.” 13
This quality of self-aggrandizement does not appear in dictionary definitions of virtuosity in the nineteenth century, though dictionaries did recognize that personality was an aspect of virtuosity. For example, the Nouveau dictionnaire de le langue français defined a virtuoso as “someone who has great talent for music” and virtuosité as “the character, talent of a virtuoso.” 14 Therefore, even at the time, it was recognized that not only talent, but also the character or nature of a person, played a role in defining virtuosity. Personality was especially important for a virtuoso’s popularity as the Romantic cult of the individual climaxed.
The conductor’s persona was able to become more apparent because of developments in the profession. In the 1830s, conducting in the modern sense—the practice of one person standing before an orchestra indicating time, dynamics, and musical expression without playing an instrument—was still nascent. In fact, Habeneck, whom I will discuss later, led with his violin in hand for much of his career. Virtuosity within conducting was an even more novel idea, and a response to both contemporary tastes for spectacle and to changing musical styles. As the nineteenth-century repertoire became more complex, it became increasingly necessary for orchestras to have a strong leader with a clear interpretative vision. Moreover, as Figure 1 shows, the conductor’s highly visible position helped him to become the audience’s new focus. 15
Figure 1: Concert Hall on the Rue de la Victoire, Paris, 1843 (Unknown Conductor).
L’Illustration: Journal Universel 1, no. 15 (June 10, 1843): 230. Public domain image from https://archive.org/stream/lillustrationjou01pari#page/229/mode/2up (accessed February 1, 2017).
Parisian audiences especially valorized visually ostentatious exhibitions of skill. 16 For them, the orchestral conductor was the virtuoso of virtuosos. He did not play just one instrument, but commanded dozens or sometimes even hundreds. His role, combining sensitive interpretation with precise direction, required profound knowledge of the music and authority over both his musicians and his audience. As Bloom explains, “More than a virtuoso soloist of a romantic concerto, who dominates the room like the principal person of a drama, the conductor—incarnate divine teacher, or rather father director—inevitably becomes the star of the concert.” 17
As scholars use it, the term virtuosity applies to conductors in two ways. First, a virtuosic conductor can refer to one who successfully leads an orchestra in performing challenging (i.e., virtuosic) repertoire. 18 Second, virtuosity may refer to the conductor who makes a grand display of talent, attracting an audience through personality, visual bravura, or unique musical interpretation. 19 Richard Wagner complained about the latter type in his essay, “The Virtuoso and the Artist,” which he wrote while living in Paris in 1840. He accused conductors of employing the same kind of superficial virtuosity as soloists. In taking a composer’s work and adjusting it or adding to it (instead of remaining loyal to the composer’s intentions), such conductors, Wagner claimed, gave the impression that they were the creators of the music, and thus placed themselves above the composer and his music. 20 This might seem ironic, since Wagner did this later in his career, particularly when he conducted Beethoven. 21
These two types of virtuosity fit loosely with two types of conductors sprouting up across Europe in the 1830s: those of high art music, who were bringing the public new works as well as those forming the emerging canon, and conductors of light music, whose main intentions were accessibility, entertainment, and profit. These two types have been identified in John Spitzer’s article, “The Entrepreneur Conductors and Their Orchestras.” 22This division between high art and popular music conductors is convenient, but the dividing lines are not always clear. One conductor may cross over into the other genre, as Berlioz did when he led “monster concerts” with hundreds of musicians. Jullien also crossed over when he brought the masterworks of Mozart and Beethoven to a demographic who might not have heard such music otherwise. 23 However, these divisions serve the purposes of this essay, as a clear distinction exists between the overall goals of Jullien and Musard and those of Habeneck and Berlioz. Musard and Jullien, who became known through their visual splash, personal appeal, and keen business sense, exemplify popular music conductors who entertained audiences and sought profit or fame. By contrast, Habeneck and Berlioz did not reach the same star status among their audiences, but as conductors of serious music, they became legendary for their skill and rigor in leading, their promotion of “great” music, and their innovative techniques, which influenced the future of conducting.
The Popular-Music Conductors: Philippe Musard
The first conductor in Paris to become internationally known among popular audiences was Philippe Musard (1782–1859). In his later life and after his death, orchestras in Europe and the United States followed his pattern in their own “concerts à la Musard.” After training as a violinist at the Paris Conservatoire, Musard formed an orchestra which performed in Paris and across Europe from 1833 until 1848. His orchestra’s concerts, meant to appeal to a broad audience, drew from the popular repertory and consisted of arrangements of popular opera tunes; overtures by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Weber; Musard’s own compositions; and dance tunes. 24 Sumptuous decor and personal theatrics characterized the Concerts-Musard, held in the open air at the Champs-Elysées, indoors at the Salles St. Honoré and Vivienne, and the Opéra balls. 25 Musard’s concerts were not for sitting and reverently listening, but rather, for walking, talking, taking refreshments, and dancing. He was known for his eccentric and sometimes shocking actions in front of the crowd: throwing his baton, smashing chairs, or walking to the edge of the stage and firing a pistol into the air in the heat of a performance. 26 These actions lent visual excitement to the show, but they also conveyed Musard’s emotional and even bodily investment in the music. As a result, he became one of the first conductors to draw an audience not by the talent of his players or the works they performed, but by his reputation. 27
His behavior was not without its critics. Berlioz, for one, blamed Musard for feeding Parisians’ thirst for sensationalism. 28 Musard, Berlioz lamented, catered to the same gentlemen of Paris who paid to see a bull eaten alive by dogs. 29 Even worse, Musard’s financial success had led him to consider himself a second Mozart. 30 He made at least 20,000 francs per year, which was equivalent to the lifetime earnings of an unskilled worker and would be nearly $800,000 today. 31 Though Berlioz would eventually earn 20,000 francs in one year (this was the amount Paganini would give Berlioz three years later for writing Harold en Italie), it pained him to know that he struggled to produce music of artistic substance while Musard profited by cranking out cheap dance tunes. 32
While Berlioz may have been disgusted, there was no denying that Musard’s tactics were effective. Despite what Berlioz perceived as low-class sensationalism, many people considered Musard to be a true artist. The saying in Paris was, “If you want to hear a musician, go and listen to Musard!” This saying contrasted Musard with his rival, Jullien, the other conductor of promenade concerts, whom the saying labeled “a handsome man” rather than a musician. 33 Musard’s performances were popular, drawing audiences of one thousand or more per night, including the king of France, intellectual and artistic elites, and tradesmen. 34 The guest list for the 1836 season’s inaugural concert, for example, included writers George Sand, Alfred de Musset, and Théophile Gautier, as well as musicians Giacomo Meyerbeer and Franz Liszt. 35
The luxurious setting of Musard’s concerts no doubt contributed to their popularity. In the summer the orchestra performed in gardens, and in winter it performed in halls lavishly furnished with candles, mirrors, richly upholstered furniture, and walls sumptuously painted with garden scenes. 36 But the larger draw was the man himself, whose ability to convey music in his facial expressions and physical movements seems to have been unrivalled. A review in a weekly music journal describes the thrall in which the audience was held to Musard: “This is no man, no mere musician, but a god who conducts the orchestra. Now he rolls his eyes like two flaming orbs, now he casts his calm gaze from right to left and back from left to right. His indefatigable bow marks every note, from whole notes to sixteenth, and seems to convey the sound directly to his listeners’ ears.” 37
The supernatural aura intimated in this review (Musard is “no man”; his eyes are “flaming orbs”) is a frequent trope in Musard’s press reviews. As they also did with Paganini, reviewers often commented on his grotesque appearance and framed his musical prowess as a product of the occult. 38 The reference to “his indefatigable bow” indicates that Musard was of the French violinist-conductor tradition and, like many others, conducted for part of his career with a violin bow. However, a later review mentions Musard’s baton, a “small black scepter” which resembled a piece or licorice or a fragment of broom stick. 39 Gautier, a repeat attendee at Musard’s concerts, captured his dark personality thus:
Our friend came to take us and led us to the auditorium, to the foot of the musicians’ platform, to make us see Musard unleashing the carnival by a sign of his conductor’s baton. Musard was there, gloomy, ghastly, and pockmarked, his arm extended, staring. Certainly, it would be difficult for a priest of a bacchanalia to have a figure more dark and sinister….When the moment came, he bent over his desk, extended his arm, and a hurricane of sounds broke out suddenly in the fog of noise that hung over our heads….And it seemed as if the buglers of the Last Judgment were engaged to play quadrilles and waltzes….The dead would dance to such a music. 40
Musard’s nickname, in fact, was “the Paganini of dance.” 41 Just as Paganini always dressed in black, ill-fitting clothes and was extremely pale and haggard, Musard always dressed in black and was yellow-skinned and unkempt. 42 Paganini mesmerized audiences through his contradictions: he was humorous and tragic, good-natured and diabolical, physically weak and mind-bogglingly dexterous. 43 Musard also contained a strange mixture of power and weakness: a journal reminisced that it was a “curious thing that the great amuser, this surprising leader of crowds, was a small man with a sad and colorless aspect.” 44 Perhaps seeing someone small and unattractive rouse a crowd into revelry was fascinating for audiences; they may have seen something to which they could relate, or fantasize about, in this misfit who could command the center of attention.
The cartoonist Cham (Amédée Charles de Noé) continued to caricature Musard after his career ended, fully conveying his paradoxical power and weakness. Figures 2 and 3 show his pockmarked skin and aggression while depicting him as a conqueror and Napoleonic figure. (Incidentally, another virtuoso, Liszt, was also famously compared to Napoleon. 45)
Figure 2: Musard’s Aggression.
Cham, caricature of Musard, in Louis Huart, Bibliothèque pour rire: Le Bal Musard; 60 vignettes par Cham (Paris: Aubert, 1850), 3. Public domain image from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2009-49977, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5730667r (accessed February 2, 2017).
Figure 3: Musard as Napoleon.
Cham, “L’astronome Balochard découvre l’étoile de Napoléon Musard,” Album du Charivari (Paris: 1851). Public domain image found at https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Musard (accessed February 2, 2017).
Figure 4 shows Musard at home alone on a Monday after a weekend of revelry. He is sitting in his house robe, next to a pot of tea, and “hiding his crown” under a cotton cap—all of these items dwarfing him, by the way. Even this god was “prey in all measures to poor humanity,” according to a magazine in which this image was published. 46
Figure 4: Musard at Home.
Cham, caricature of Musard, in Louis Huart, Bibliothèque pour rire: Le Bal Musard, 3. Public domain image from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2009-49977, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5730667r (accessed February 12, 2017).
Musard’s reputation endured, and decades after his death, magazines still published retrospectives and tributes to him. 47 Considered godlike in his ability to control and communicate with musicians and audiences alike, he had earned a reputation on par with that of Paganini and become the first conductor to maintain a successful freelance career.
Figure 5: Musard Carried in Triumph at the Bal de l’Opéra, 1846. 48
Charles Vernier, Au Bal de l’Opéra, no. 19 (1846). Public domain image found at https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Musard (accessed January 31, 2017).
Patterning himself after Musard and producing similar promenade concerts, Louis-Antoine Jullien (1812–1860) equally exploited visual aspects of performance. However, as the first conductor to truly understand the power of marketing, he surpassed Musard in the publicity he incited. 49 Jullien had been a composition student at the Paris Conservatoire and prolifically published piano arrangements of his repertoire for people to enjoy at home, advertising these publications nearly weekly in Parisian music journals. 50 Unlike the other advertisements, his concert announcements in the Gazette musicale were verbally extravagant and florid. And, as seen in Figure 6, he was among the first conductors to print his name in large letters on concert posters; only soloists like Paganini had done so before.
Figure 6: Jullien’s Concert Poster at Drury Lane Theatre, 1841.
Image from Carse, The Life of Jullien.
Jullien’s career in Paris was brief and brilliant: it lasted only three years, from 1836 to 1839, when he fled to London to escape incarceration for bankruptcy. Despite his marketing, he had been unable to compete with Musard. 51 Paris, however, had made its impression on him, and in London he made an unforgettable impact as a popularizer and showman as yet unsurpassed. 52 In Harold Schonberg’s opinion, Jullien was “the originator of the line that was to lead to men like Leopold Stokowski and Leonard Bernstein.” 53 These were the charismatic conductors of next century who brought classical music to the people. Stokowski (1882–1977) led the Cincinnati and Philadelphia Orchestras, among others, and conducted Disney’s Fantasia; Bernstein (1918–1990) directed the New York Philharmonic, composed Broadway shows, and hosted the Young People’s Concerts, televised and easily-accessible lectures on classical music.
Jullien was also a precursor to the limelight-loving, autobiography-writing twentieth-century virtuoso conductors who, like Herbert von Karajan, were the primary marketing forces of their orchestras. 54 In London, Jullien published an eleven-part biography in The Musical World, a sensational tale including descriptions of four narrow escapes from death and his childhood history of phonophobia (fear of music), apparently caused by his overly sensitive musical ear. 55 When he toured in his later career, he warmed public interest ahead of his concerts by circulating “authentic” biographies in town newspapers. These biographies framed him as an incredibly sensitive musician, and the story of his early phonophobia only furthered this agenda. Another similar story claimed that he defected from the French Navy because the shrieks from the wounded on the battlefield were so out of tune. 56 Rather than earning him ridicule or accusations of effeminacy as they might today, such tales reinforced the idea that Jullien’s relationship with music was extraordinary, sensitive, and personal.
From the time he was christened with thirty-four middle names, he aimed for grandiosity in everything he did. 57 Regarding his plan to publish a musical arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer, he told a friend, “Just imagine, the work will bear on its title page two of the greatest names in history:
THE LORD’S PRAYER
This near self-deification went beyond the self-aggrandizement of any other virtuoso at the time. Some of Jullien’s contemporaries certainly thought highly of themselves. Liszt and Wagner, for example, positioned themselves as successors to Beethoven. Liszt told the story of receiving the Weihekuss (“kiss of consecration”) from Beethoven as a child, and Wagner published his novella, Pilgrimage to Beethoven (Paris, 1840), in which Beethoven entrusts him to carry forward his musical mission. 59 Alternately, Paganini had promoted a diabolical, Faustian persona. 60 But Jullien’s self-confidence bordered on insanity. Berlioz, who worked with Jullien in London for half a season, described him as delusional, a person who would try to mount Robert le diable on six days’ notice, “despite the fact that he possesses neither music, English translation, costumes nor scenery and the singers in his company do not know a note of the work.” 61
Regarding the question of whether Jullien was a good musician or simply an overly-promoted celebrity, the best answer is likely that he was a little of both. 62 In the opinion of the contemporary British journalist George Sala, Jullien’s orchestra was composed of musicians of soloist quality, too good to play under even Britain’s favorite conductor, Michael Costa. Sala described Jullien this way:
Alas! To some men, howsoever talented, charlatanism seems to adhere like a burr and will not depart. Jullien must have caught this stain at the battle of Navarino or at the Jardin Turc, and it has abided by him ever since. There is not the slightest necessity for this clever, kindly, and really accomplished musician—to whom the cause of good and even classical music in England owes much—to be a quack, but I suppose he can’t help it. 63
The large extent to which Jullien built his fame through rather gaudy visual phenomena represents one factor that made him appear as a charlatan. In contrast to Musard, he was handsome and impeccably well dressed, which can be seen in Figure 7. “If you want to see a handsome man,” the Parisian witness wrote, “go and eat an ice at the Jardin Turc and sit at Jullien’s feet.” 64 In England, Sala described him as “Jullien the Superb, maestro of the ambrosial ringlets, the softly-luxuriant whiskers and moustaches, gracilis puer of the embroidered body-linen, the frogged pantaloons, the coat with moire antique facings, the diamond studs and sleeve buttons.”65
Figure 7: Portrait of Jullien.
Charles Baugniet, “Louis-Antoine Jullien,” lithograph (London: M. & N. Hanhart, 1846). Public domain image from the Bibliothèque nationale de Paris, département Musique, ESTMACNUTTGF011, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84543333 (accessed December 9, 2016).
In her dissertation, “Embodying Music: The Visuality of Three Iconic Conductors in London, 1840–1930,” Holly Mathieson argues that his cultivation of the visual influenced Jullien’s popularity and the development of conductors who came after him:
It may seem peculiar that a musician should be described as picturesque, but Louis Jullien embodied a little-acknowledged, yet pivotal concept pertaining to the mid-nineteenth-century conductor, which was to influence the ongoing development of his profession. He was primarily a visual phenomenon: his unique visuality permeated every facet of his life, and was acknowledged by contemporary commentators to contribute directly to his success as a conductor, both in terms of his musical output and the cultivation of his fame. 66
Two specific aspects of Jullien’s visual gimmickry coalesced with the deific association he attempted with the Lord’s Prayer arrangement: a jeweled baton he used to conduct Beethoven and a large, richly upholstered chair where he rested onstage between pieces (see Figure 8). 67
Figure 8: Jullien and His Chair.
“The British Army Quadrilles, Covent Garden, 1846,” reproduced in Carse, The Life of Jullien, 58.
These two props were not mere opulence; they visually underscored Jullien’s privileged connection to music. The jeweled baton was brought out on a cushion (or a silver platter, depending on the version of the story) by a servant. It was twenty-two inches long (large by today’s standards) and made of maple entwined with gold circlets and two gold serpents, each with a diamond on its head. 68 This baton, analogous to a scepter, symbolized both Jullien’s effort with Beethoven’s music and his power in being able to conduct it. 69 Collapsing onto the chair between pieces conveyed the physical sacrifice he made for the music. This gesture encapsulated Jullien’s tragic heroism; it portrayed him as pitted against difficulties and weaknesses, which he overcame. The throne-like appearance of the chair again connected Jullien with kingship or deity. 70 With both the scepter and throne, he symbolized himself as a powerful and self-sacrificing leader of his subjects. These props reinforced the concepts of adversity vanquished, body and energy sacrificed in a great pursuit, and service and reverence offered to art.
In many ways, Jullien aspired to outdo Musard. While Musard identified with ugliness and dark occultism, Jullien aligned himself with beauty, royalty, and deity. Musard, however, achieved his reputation naturally, with a modesty and quietness that was recognized at the time. He did not advertise himself in newspapers or allow statues to be erected in his honor; he only let others talk about him and carry him on their shoulders. 71 His service to art was to facilitate others’ revelry, not to inflate his own fame. In contrast, Jullien earned his reputation through his own effort. While Jullien identified himself as a god through monarchial accoutrements and holy co-authorship, reviewers called Musard godlike of their own accord.
The Serious-Music Conductors
The virtuosity of Musard and Jullien focused on exhibitionist theatrics, personal expression, and the ability to lead crowds. Habeneck and Berlioz manifested virtuosity through the difficulty of their repertoire, their gravity, and their proficiency in directing the orchestra, their “mega-instrument.” Indeed, both men were described in the nineteenth century as “playing the orchestra.” 72 This most impressive kind of virtuoso was one who demonstrated control over a massive number of musicians and the growing complexity of the nineteenth-century repertoire. Berlioz wrote to Liszt:
Then, I grant you, the composer-conductor lives on a plane of existence unknown to the virtuoso [soloist]. With what ecstasy [the conductor] abandons himself to the delights of playing the orchestra! How he hugs and clasps and sways this immense and fiery instrument! Once more he is all vigilance. His eyes are everywhere. He indicates with a glance each vocal and orchestral entry, above, below, to the left, and to the right. His right arm unleashes tremendous chords which seem to explode in the distance like harmonious projectiles. 73
Berlioz seems almost to lose himself in the dramatic power he saw in this role.
Aside from demonstrating the conductor’s power, Berlioz and Habeneck both assisted in moving orchestral repertoire toward increasing complexity through their intense rehearsal technique. Berlioz performed his own works, which were considered some of the most demanding and bizarre in the repertoire at the time. Habeneck conducted new works (including those by Berlioz) and also played a major role in solidifying the canon of masterworks by “introducing” Beethoven’s symphonies to France. 74 Both conductors participated in the Romantic period’s shift in taste toward difficult music and the establishment of the classical canon, and were celebrated for their work on the podium. 75
François-Antoine Habeneck (1781–1849), a name unfamiliar to many classical musicians today, was hailed as “the famous Habeneck” in his time. 76 He was enormously influential within the Parisian music scene. As director of the Paris Opera and the best orchestra in Europe, the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, he was connected with the careers of nearly every important musician who performed in Paris. 77 For his contemporaries and later critics, he was the standard against which all other conductors were measured. 78 Nearly all scholarship on Habeneck credits him with establishing a long-lasting set of expectations for the conductor’s role and persona.
As a key transitional figure in the history of conducting, Habeneck began his career as the concertmaster of the Conservatoire orchestra and eventually shifted from playing his violin to leading the orchestra with his bow as a baton (see Figure 9). 79
Figure 9: Habeneck and Solo Violinist at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.
S. Germain, “Salle des Concerts du Conservatoire,” L’Illustration 1, no. 7 (April 15, 1843), 101. Public domain image from https://archive.org/stream/lillustrationjou01pari#page/100/mode/2up (accessed January 31, 2017).
Unlike others, Habeneck was not a composer; he wrote a few violin pieces, but nothing of consequence. Instead, he was a pioneer in conducting as a self-standing profession. Conducting historian John Spitzer has noted that the separation of conducting from composing “mystified the skills and technique of the conductor” for the audience and drew their attention to the conductor’s manners, appearance, and interpretations of the music. 80 This moved conducting beyond the simple, practical organization of players into the realm of visual performance. It also made Habeneck a communicator to the audience, and not solely to the musicians. Habaneck’s contemporary, the music critic Joseph d’Ortigue, said that the Habeneck seemed to channel the very soul of the composer to the listener through players. 81 This concept of authenticity was highly valued by music theorists at the time; it was the ability to create an inspired, seemingly improvised, and genuinely expressed performance that was also true to the composer’s intentions. 82
Habeneck conducted rehearsals with infamous strictness, the same kind of ill temper and austerity conductors like Hans von Bülow and Arturo Toscanini would later assume. The art critic Gustave Planche said in 1836, “Monsieur Habeneck’s ability has for a long time been proverbial, and [he has] excited universal admiration for the precision and discipline of his government.” 83 The contemporaneous composer and musicologist Georges Kastner called him “the ideal sort of conductor” because of his “perspicacity, cold blood, perseverance, patience, and firmness.” 84 Wagner observed, “He was the master—and everyone obeyed him.” 85 Habeneck refused to be challenged, even by the composers whose works he rehearsed. In one instance, Habeneck abruptly ended a rehearsal when Berlioz requested a faster tempo for his piece. Berlioz recorded in his memoires that Habeneck “stopped, and, turning round to the orchestra, said, ‘Since I am unfortunately unable to satisfy M. Berlioz, we will leave it at that for today. You may go, gentlemen.’ And there the rehearsal ended.” 86
Caricatures—and even portraits—of Habeneck symbolize his inflexibility. In Figure 10, Habaneck’s frame, arms, and face are all square and regulated in the caricature of him performing with Liszt. In contrast to the winning graces of Jullien or tragicomedy of Musard, Habeneck’s portraits are austere, resolute, respectable (see Figure 11).
Figure 10: Caricature of Habeneck, Liszt, and Luigi Lablache.
Henri Lehmann, “Liszt jouant ‘Grand galop chromatique,’” color illustration (1843). Public domain image from the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg, NIM35493, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10219978h (accessed December 14, 2016).
Figure 11: Portrait of Habeneck.
P.C. Van Geel, “François-Antoine Habeneck,” lithograph (Paris: Kaeppelin, 1835). Public domain image from the Bibliothèque nationale de Paris, département Musique, Est.Habeneck003, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8420708b (accessed December 14, 2016).
In contrast to Musard’s and Jullien’s nightly performances, the Société des Concerts performed only six concerts a year under Habeneck and sometimes rehearsed a piece for years before performing it. This was a far cry from the typical practice, in which new repertoire received little rehearsal and was frequently led by a conductor with little more familiarity than the musicians (as the agonizing, early-career experiences of Berlioz with other conductors show). In Habeneck’s orchestra, each musician knew his part as if it were chamber music. 87 Consequently, the Société des Concerts performed with such ease and comprehension that listeners could appreciate works which they had previously considered impenetrable. 88 This did much for the establishment of the classical canon.
Habeneck’s popularization of Beethoven’s symphonies in France represents his most enduring legacy. According to the story, he invited a number of musicians over for “lunch” in 1826, and they arrived to find not food, but parts for Beethoven’s Third Symphony waiting for them. Lunch was not served until four hours later, but their interested had been piqued, and they continued to rehearse Beethoven’s music for two years, at which time they became an official, government-funded orchestra. 89 Composed mostly of young Conservatoire students and graduates, the Société des Concerts became a marvel in Europe; in 1832 Mendelssohn referred to it as “the best orchestra I have ever heard.” 90 Because of the orchestra’s preparedness, audiences finally understood and appreciated Beethoven, whose music they had previously resisted for its difficulty. Under Habeneck’s twenty-year tenure, the orchestra gave 158 performances of Beethoven’s symphonies, thirty of Haydn’s, twenty of Mozart’s, and five of Mendelssohn’s. 91
Habeneck’s goal of gaining acceptance of Beethoven’s music in France was almost a religious mission. David Cairns observed that exposure to unfamiliar and great music gave Habeneck and his musicians “the sense of adventure and excitement, the conviction … that they were engaged in a heroic enterprise, a historic mission.” 92 This spirit is confirmed in an 1843 account in the periodical L’Illustration: “Singlehandedly, Habeneck had already made deep and conscientious study of Beethoven’s processes and style; he had divined the secrets of this mysterious genius and vowed in his heart a cult for Beethoven for which he searched for converts everywhere….This was, for artistic France, like the discovery of a new universe, and the revelation of a new god.” 93
In summary, Habeneck brought orchestral performance to new levels of proficiency. He rehearsed rigorously, communicated enlightened interpretations of music to his audiences, and performed difficult repertoire at a highly competent level. He was revered as a prophet of music, particularly for promoting the new musical religion which was Beethoven. These accomplishments made him the first successful and respected non-composing conductor in France.
The next great French conductor, Hector Berlioz (1803–1869), surpassed Habeneck in technique, musicality, and communication with the orchestra. 94 Through his development of formalized technique, he brought about the next phase of virtuosic conducting. His colleagues and today’s scholars have recognized him as a virtuoso for his combined strengths of conducting, composing, and organizing players. 95
Yet, unlike the other conductors studied here, Berlioz was slow to reach positive reception in Paris. Initially, if he received press attention at all, critics discussed his compositions and not his conducting. But even while undervalued in his own city, he was appreciated in other European cities, particularly London, Vienna, Weimar, and St. Petersburg. 96 He toured prolifically, often by invitation, to conduct his own music and that of others, and he was often treated as a celebrity. In 1845 Vienna, Berlioz was quite fashionable: ladies were wearing bracelets, rings, and earrings ornamented with his likeness, and artists were vying to paint his portrait. 97 The next year in Prague, he wrote to his friend Joseph d’Ortigue that the public “went off like a barrel of powder, and I am now being treated here like a fetich, a lama, or a manitoo [sic]….There is adoration—the word is laughable but true.” 98
Each of these words associates Berlioz with an exotic spiritual force or object of reverence—a fetich, an archaic spelling of fetish, is an object of an irrational reverence or devotion, a lama is a priest or monk in Tibet or Mongolia, and a manitou is a spiritual force revered by Native Americans. The exoticism was key; Berlioz was a stranger in these places. Though he was perhaps the first French art-music conductor to be in demand for performances in other countries, his thoughts always returned bitterly to the reception he lacked in his own city. 99 He wrote d’Ortigue, “They have honoured me with a banquet—they have decorated me with the Order of the White Eagle—the King has presented me with a snuff-box—the newspapers here laud me to the skies—let Paris know it.” 100
Give me orchestras to lead, give me rehearsals to go through, let me stay eight or even ten hours on my feet, practicing with the chorus, singing their parts when they miss, while I beat time for the rest until my arm gets cramped and I spit blood; let me carry music desks, double basses, and harps; compel me to correct proofs during night time, and I will do it….I have done it and can do it again. 101
There never lived a musician who adored his art more than did Berlioz; he was indeed “enthusiasm personified”….and what a picture he was at the head of this orchestra, with his eagle face, his bushy hair, his air of command, and glowing with enthusiasm. He was the most perfect conductor I have ever set eyes upon, one who held absolute sway over his troops and played upon them as a pianist upon a keyboard. 102
Berlioz began conducting in 1834 to ensure that his works were performed as he intended. In a pleasant exception to the majority of his experience, he thanked Robert Schumann for initiating a performance of Les francs-juges which was well rehearsed and performed in Leipzig:
I have, as yet, to be satisfied with the various musical societies who have thought fit to make the same experiment. Apart from those of Douai and Dijon, the remainder have been discouraged after a single rehearsal, and the work, after having been mutilated in a thousand different ways, has been consigned to the shade of the libraries as worthy, at most, of a place in a collection of monstrosities. 103
After several concerts in which his pieces were performed badly because of inadequate rehearsal time and conductors who did not understand his scores, he warned, “Unhappy composers! Learn to conduct, and how to conduct yourself well (with or without a pun), for do not forget that the most dangerous of your interpreters is the conductor himself.” 104
Berlioz was in an advantageous position to develop his conducting technique. For one, since he was not an instrumental performer (an unusual state when compared to other conductors), he was not distracted by the execution of a violin or keyboard part. 105Additionally, through his tours of Europe, he had the opportunity to create an informed approach based on observing other conductors. He wrote his treatise, Le Chef d’orchestre: théorie de son art, in 1855. His innovations—sectional rehearsals, a full score for the conductor, the consistent use of a baton, and never beating time on the music stand (as other French conductors, including Habaneck, sometimes did)—made him the first truly modern conductor in France, and these innovations are still followed today. 106 As Kern Holoman writes, “His notions of the craft of conducting, moreover, came to be the very rules of the profession.” 107
Berlioz considered it his task to convey the music’s expression to the musicians, emphasizing the conductor’s role as a communicator and not just a keeper of time: “It is essential that one feel that the conductor himself is moved, that he understands, for only then are his feelings and emotions communicated to those under his command, only then are they warmed by his inner flame, electrified by his inner electricity, and swept away by his intensity.” 108 Berlioz wrote that a conductor must have a certain “indefinable gift” to link himself with those he directs. 109
Berlioz was not visually flamboyant in the manner of Musard or Jullien, but he was passionate. Matching the shock of always-tousled red hair on his head, he was fiery and in constant motion, leaping, crouching, and gyrating as he motioned to particular players. 110 Still, we can trust that he was not overly showy. Much later in Berlioz’s career, Rimsky-Korsakov noted that the motions of the former were “simple, clear, beautiful.” 111 And Holoman notes that Berlioz was “studiously unpretentious in costume and manner” and “acknowledged the public as little as possible, feeling that bows provoked unwarranted applause.” 112 This does not mean, however, that Berlioz was opposed to grandeur. His ideal was that the orchestra would contain at least 467 instrumentalists. 113 He realized and even exceeded this number when he organized several monster concerts in Paris during the 1840s. One included five assistant conductors and over twelve hundred musicians. 114
These monster concerts had been preceded by a positive turn in Berlioz’s critical reception in Paris in 1839, when he conducted his Roméo et Juliette. This was his most demanding conducting job to date, and the performance was met by an ecstatic audience response. Berlioz added two extra performances of the work and still had to turn people away at the box office. 115 One anecdote attests to the celebrity status Berlioz acquired at this point: wanting a souvenir of the night’s performance, an Englishman paid 120 francs to bribe a servant for Berlioz’s baton. 116 Wagner was present at this performance and was highly impressed. He commented that “it was the impact of orchestral virtuosity, such as I had never before dreamed of, that nearly overwhelmed me.” 117 This virtuosity from the orchestra was a result of Berlioz’s difficult part writing, his rehearsal with the orchestra, and his ability to lead it in stunning unity. 118
Berlioz’s reputation was borne out in his influence on the following generation of Parisian conductors: almost all of the conductors in Paris after Habeneck played under Berlioz’s baton at some point. 119 Outside of Paris, he earned the respect of Jullien, Liszt, Wagner, Hallé, and Thomas Beecham (founder of several London orchestras). 120 Holoman writes that Berlioz could claim much credit for the concept of virtuosic conducting, which solidified by midcentury because of the standards for high quality performances and conducting techniques he had set. 121 Peter Bloom goes so far as to credit Berlioz with animating a revolution in orchestral conducting virtuosity, one that would allow later conductors to raise themselves to the rank of demigods. 122
Figure 12: Berlioz in Concert.
Bezt, Lelior, Laurent Hotelin, and Recner, “Hector Berlioz,” engraving after J. I. Grandville (1846), from L’Illustration. Public domain image from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Musique, Est. Berlioz 039, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8415763t (accessed December 14, 2016).
Conductors after Berlioz did indeed continue to rise to stardom. American Theodore Thomas (1835–1905), briefly a student of Jullien, was one of the limelight-loving, autobiography-writing conductors described earlier. The first director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he claimed the position of absolute authority and main soloist at each concert. He wrote in his autobiography that when the soprano Adelina Patti disagreed with him about the tempo of her aria, insisting that she was the prima donna, his response was, “I beg your pardon, Madame. Here, I am the prima donna.” 123
This diva-like behavior from conductors became widely acknowledged. In 1895, a newspaper editorial by the music critic Joseph Bennett observed cynically, “As prime donne are rivals, so now are conductors rivals, and as each ‘first woman’ seeks to out-shine her colleagues, so does the conductor, impelled by the exigencies of his position, try, as the vulgar phrase is, to ‘go one better’ than others.” 124 Expressing nearly the same sentiment as Wagner had in 1840, Bennett claims that this devolution began “as soon as the chef d’orchestre lifted himself … from the position of a student-translator, hidden as much as possible behind the work interpreted, into the position, almost, of a creative artist.” 125
Through the rest of the nineteenth century and into the early part of the twentieth, conductors often took generous interpretive license with composers’ works. Wagner, for instance, rewrote parts of Beethoven’s symphonies since Beethoven had, after all, been deaf and must not have realized his mistakes in instrumentation. Mahler also heavily edited music he conducted, believing that he could see contradictions between the score and what the composer (Beethoven or Schumann, for example) surely meant. 126
Willem Mengelberg (1871–1951) was another of these interpreters. He has been called “the greatest virtuoso, a sort of Horowitz of the orchestra, a conductor of high emotionalism and infinite vigor” because of his magnificent expressive effects with the orchestra. 127 His expressive effects including slowing between contrasting sections and having the strings use portamento to slide into notes in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, for instance. 128 In the same line as Wagner and Mahler, Mengelberg frequently made changes to the score, joking that he knew what the composer wanted. Unfortunately, Mengelberg’s reputation died with him, as the period for interpretive virtuosity had become passé. 129
One of his chief competitors was Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). They were even co-conductors of the New York Philharmonic for a time, until Mengelberg was pushed out for disagreements in artistic direction. Toscanini resolutely turned the values of virtuosic conducting away from Wagner’s interpretive stance and toward objectivity and fidelity to the score. 130 George Szell attests to Toscanini’s shaping of history, since he “changed the whole concept of conducting and … rectified many, many arbitrary procedures of a generation of conductors before him.” 131
Though his personal interpretations were not of principal interest in his performances, Toscanini was nevertheless a marvel for audiences. This was due, in part, to his phenomenal photographic memory and the ability to reproduce entire pieces after a mere glance at the score. He also had an indefinable mystical allure (perhaps of the kind to which Berlioz referred). Critics found him entrancing; one said that he seemed to be looking at the sound rather than the musicians when he conducted. 132
Toscanini was backed by a huge amount of marketing. The RCA record label profited by promoting him as “the greatest conductor of all time.” He was on the cover of Time magazine on April 26, 1948, where he was described as a terrifyingly stern, dictatorial conductor (the article drew an explicit parallel between him and Hitler or Mussolini), but also as an everyman who enjoyed playing with his grandchildren, playing practical jokes on his friends, and watching wrestling and children’s shows on the television in his living room. 133 Personally, Toscanini was decidedly against public attention, routinely refusing interviews and photo ops. But every non-interview and non-photo created even more publicity; his reputation grew to cult status, and he enjoyed the same celebrity and gossip as the Hollywood stars. 134 People knew both his professional accomplishments and the mundanities of his life, even recalling that he “took sunbaths, rarely ate meat, ignored drafts, and averaged no more than one cold per year.” 135
A conductor who reached an even higher superstar status, and who perhaps stood for the epitome of virtuosic conducting, was the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan (1908–1989). To an extent, he followed Jullien’s example in his self-cultivation, control of media, and stage mannerisms. Karajan owned his own private film company, produced promotional materials and recordings of his performances, and was exacting about the angles and lighting used in photographs and video footage. 136 Conducting with his eyes closed and without a score, he gave the impression of being a medium, or even spiritual source, for the music—a channel, as Habeneck had been. Karajan’s efforts to attract notice succeeded: he sold over 200 million records, the highest of any classical musician, and amassed enough wealth to own a private jet, an assortment of expensive sports cars, and four houses (each with its own staff). 137
Today, the conductor receiving the most public notice is Gustavo Dudamel (b. 1981), a vivacious prodigy hired by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age twenty-eight; he became the inspiration for the eccentric conductor character in the Golden Globe-winning web series, Mozart in the Jungle. With Dudamel, “the marketing machine has gone into overdrive,” positioning him as a fiery young Latin: Dionysian, electrifying, “the poster boy for classical music’s attempts to connect to younger and more diverse audiences.” 138 Dudamel’s name on concert advertisements sometimes supersedes the names of soloists or even composers. An excellent communicator, with each cue he gives, he seems not to be so much guiding the musicians as showing the audience how to listen. His enthusiasm is infectious, and his verve, impressive ability to conduct from memory, and command have earned him a substantial audience.
I have by no means given an exhaustive list of virtuosic conductors. Such a list would also include Hans von Bülow, Gustav Mahler, Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Alan Gilbert. Nor have I broached the subject of virtuosity in women’s conducting, though the more immediate question involves why there have not been more women in this profession. 139 Rather, I have attempted to show that a phenomenon which began two hundred years ago continues today, that is, the conductor as a soloist. Audiences continue to desire a lead figure who can transmit the spirit of the music, guide their listening, awe them with knowledge and command, and ultimately give them a show. Recent symphony orchestra marketing has used conductors’ personalities (from Toscanini to Dudamel) to boost audience interest in classical music. As this article demonstrates, this is nothing new. The skills and personalities of conductors have been tools to draw audiences to classical music for nearly two hundred years.
Each in his own way, the four Parisian conductors discussed in this article transformed the ways in which conductors present themselves and convey authority. Musard and Jullien provided examples of how conductors could hijack audience focus from instrumental virtuosos and become just as glamorous and compelling. Habeneck’s and Berlioz’s proficiency enabled orchestras to perform more advanced repertoire and opened the door for the expansion of modern music. By giving a focal point to musical interpretation, theses conductors taught audience members how to listen, especially to “difficult” music. In addition, Habeneck, Berlioz, and even Jullien demonstrated how important the conductor can be in the success of a musical work or institution—here, the works of Beethoven, Mozart, or Berlioz. More individual studies connecting the work of conductors to the success of certain composers offer opportunities for further research.
Illustrating the long history of personality-driven and spectacle-focused advertising of classical music, the conductors discussed here remind us that skill alone does not ensure reputation, financial status, or legacy. Musicians must offer something audiences can connect with, namely, an inspiring performance and personality. Be it through the performance of spectacle (as in Jullien’s perfectly groomed appearance, lavishness, and flaunted bursts of energy and exhaustion), morbid passion (Musard’s eruptions of violence paired with his dejection and lamentable sadness), severe command (Habeneck’s stern authority and rigor), or innovation (Berlioz’s fresh ears, ideas, and behaviors), a compelling performance must be marked by inspiration and personality.
I end with a quotation from a virtuoso instrumentalist, the mid-twentieth-century concert cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky. In his autobiography, Piatigorsky complained in his characteristically good-natured way that he often felt the conductor had replaced the instrumentalist as the chief figure of charisma and dexterity on stage. He explained the reason for this as he saw it, an explanation that I believe still holds true:
It is a conductor’s era….The popular interest for symphonic music could not alone sustain the great expense of keeping orchestras alive. Concerts had to be enhanced, illuminated with some new glamour, with something divine—a superman leader. Like no other musician, the conductor has answered the call. The focus of attention has shifted from prima donna, prima ballerina, and the virtuoso to a conductor, who, as a performer, has become all three in one. 140
In closing, I suggest that we continue to enliven our performances of classical music by encouraging this very human aspect of music making, which is the presence of personality and virtuosic display in musicianship.
Meagan Mason is a violinist and PhD candidate in historical musicology at the University of Southern California. She currently lives in Paris, where she is writing her dissertation, “Seeing Stars: Image Promotion among Virtuosi in Paris, 1830–1848.” She has presented her work at several international musicology and history conferences and has published “Paganini’s Body and Projection of Genius” in Porte Akademik Müzik ve Dans Araştırmaları Dergisi / Journal of Music and Dance Studies, 2015. She has served as the editor of Resonance Interdisciplinary Music Journal and published several collections of student violin music through her label Viva Violin, a subsidiary of Piano Pronto Publishing. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory University.
1. Virtuoso vocalists such as Adolphe Nourrit, Gilbert-Louis Duprez, Luigi Lablache, Maria Malibran, and Pauline Viardot also performed in Paris at this time, but most research on virtuosos’ popularity focuses on instrumentalists. For instance, Dana Gooley and Mai Kawabata have written in-depth studies of the celebrity personas of Liszt and Paganini, and Alicia Levin and Kristen Strandberg have written dissertations on the reception of piano and violin virtuosos in Paris. To my knowledge, no similar study of vocal virtuosos exists, though it would be valuable. Even though no vocalist achieved the same amount of long-term fame as Liszt and Paganini, they were still celebrated, discussed, and tracked in the media while touring Europe.
2. The cult of virtuosity was one issue that motivated Robert Schumann to start his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1834. See Peter Bloom, “Virtuosités de Berlioz,” Romantisme: Revue du dix-neuvième siècle, no. 128 (2005): 74.
3. The report from the Gazette musicale reads: “Who would believe it? The name of the great artists that the concert season sets in Paris, the interest that their talent and reputation inspire, are exploited at this time by swindling speculation, against which we must place our readers on guard. Officious persons present themselves to rich arts patrons, as agents of our musical luminaries, to offer tickets for a concert that will be given at the Salle Saint-Jean. People pay the price of the tickets, and present themselves at the designated day and hour. The door is closed! At the concert! And they have to leave with the annoyance of an inconvenience and anger over having been duped by a mystification in which the most honorable names were involved in an unworthy way. We cannot too strongly call the attention of the police to this type of industry, which can become so prejudicial to the interests of the artists.” From “Nouvelles,” Gazette musicale de Paris 3, no. 13 (March 27, 1836): 103. All translations in this article are mine unless otherwise indicated. Original: “Qui le croirait? le nom des grands artistes que la saison des concerts fixe à Paris, l’intérêt qu’inspirent leur talent et leur réputation, sont exploités en ce moment par une spéculation d’escroquerie, contre laquelle nous devons mettre en garde nos lecteurs. D’officieux personnages se présentent chez les riches dilettanti, comme mandataires de nos sommités musicales, pour offrir des billets pour un concert qu’elles doivent donner à la salle Saint-Jean. Ils perçoivent le prix de ces billets, dont les porteurs se présentent à jour et heure fixes au local désigné. Porte close! Point de concerts! et il faut s’en retourner avec l’ennui d’un dérangement et la colère d’avoir été dupes d’une mystification dans laquelle ont été mêlés indignement les noms les plus honorables. Nous ne saurions trop vivement appeler l’attention de la police sur ce genre d’industrie, qui pourrait devenir si préjudiciable aux intérêts des artistes.”
4. William Weber, “Mass Culture and European Musical Taste, 1770–1870,” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 25, no. 1/2 (June–December 1994): 187; José Antonio Bowen, “The Rise of Conducting,” in The Cambridge Companion to Conducting, ed. José Antonio Bowen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 108.
5. One notable exception was Jean-Baptiste Lully, who was a notoriously charismatic force. He was arrogant, scheming, energetic, and reactive (known to smash violins in rage). He had a vision to control the entire production of whatever he participated in. Moreover, he held his musicians to high standards, enforcing uniform bowing and making them the best orchestra in Europe. He might be called the first of the great conductors. See Harold Schonberg, The Great Conductors (London: Victor Gollancz, 1973), 35.
6. Schonberg, The Great Conductors, 32. For a history of conducting up to this point, see Harold Schonberg, “Bach and Handel” and “Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven,” in The Great Conductors, 33–64; Spitzer, et al., “Conducting,” Grove Music Online; Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, accessed March 12, 2015; or D. Kern Holoman, “The Emergence of the Orchestral Conductor in Paris in the 1830s,” in Music in Paris in the Eighteen-Thirties, ed. Peter Bloom (Northampton, MA, 1983), 374–430; and The Cambridge Companion to Conducting, ed. Bowen. Bloom, “Virtuosités de Berlioz,” 74.
8. Alan Houtchens, “Romantic Composers Respond to Challenge and Demand,” in The Orchestra: Origins and Transformations, ed. Joan Peyser (New York: Billboard Books, 2000), 175, quoted in Holly Mathieson, “Embodying Music: The Visuality of Three Iconic Conductors in London, 1840–1930” (PhD Diss., University of Otago, 2010), 16.
10. My discussion of Berlioz is partial and relatively brief since the bulk of Berlioz’s career and recognition occurred in the twenty years after the period I discuss in this article. Berlioz’s career ended in 1868. In contrast, Jullien’s career in Paris ended with his move to London in 1839, Habeneck’s with his retirement in 1848 before his death in 1849, and Musard’s with ill health in 1848. See Jules Prudence Rivière, “Musard’s Last Opéra Ball—His Death,” in My Musical Life and Recollections (London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Company, 1893), 75–76.
18. Kern Holoman writes, “Out of the shambles of post-Napoleonic concert life in France there flowered by mid-century the very notion of the virtuoso conductor, the development of a theory of his art, and a vastly improved standard of measure for the quality of orchestral performance,” see “The Emergence of the Orchestral Conductor in Paris,” 388. Other examples of this definition come from Peter Bloom, “Virtuosités de Berlioz,” and Cécile Reynauld, “Berlioz, Liszt, and the Question of Virtuosity,” in Berlioz: Past, Present, Future, ed. Peter Bloom (Rochester: Rochester Press, 2002).
19. Historian William Weber writes, “The conductors active during the 1840s … made themselves into charismatic figures at the podium and devised grand programs which made the music of the masters seem awesome rather than esoteric.” See Weber, “Mass Culture and the Reshaping of European Musical Taste,” 188. The Grove entry on conducting explains that in the transference of the virtuoso’s image onto the conductor, “the visual aspects of conducting style assumed new significance. The conductor took on the role of a leading stage personality and became the focus of adulation, criticism and applause,” see John Spitzer et al., “Conducting.”
20. Richard Wagner, “The Virtuoso and the Artist,” trans. William Ashton Ellis, in Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, Volume 7: In Paris and Dresden (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1898), 114: “Lo there the man who certainly thinks least about himself, and to whom the personal act of pleasing has surely nothing special to bring in, the man beating time for an orchestra. He surely fancies he has bored to the very inside of the composer, ay, has drawn him on like a second skin? You won’t tell me that he is plagued with the Upstart-devil, when he takes your tempo wrong, misunderstands your expression-marks, and drives you to desperation at listening to your own tone-piece. Yet he can be a virtuoso too, and tempt the public by all kinds of spicy nuances into thinking that it after all is he who makes the whole thing sound so nice: he finds it neat to let a loud passage be played quite soft, for a change, a fast one a wee bit slower; he will add you, here and there, a trombone-effect, or a dash of the cymbals and triangle; but his chief resource is a drastic cut, if he otherwise is not quite sure of his success. Him we must call a virtuoso of the Baton.”
25. The Salle St. Honoré was later known as the Salle Valentino. Gérard Streletski, et al., “Musard, Philippe,” Grove Music Online; Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, accessed February 1, 2017.
27. Adam Carse, The Life of Jullien, Adventurer, Showman-Conductor and Establisher of the Promenade Concerts in England together with a History of Those Concerts up to 1895 (Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1951), 11.
28. Berlioz was perpetually disillusioned with what he considered to be France’s musical poverty, a disillusionment at least partly caused by the country’s lack of acceptance of him. He wrote in 1847, “France is becoming more and more profoundly stupid in all that relates to music.” See Hector Berlioz, Letter XXIV, dated November 1, 1847, Life and Letters of Berlioz II, trans. H. Mainwaring Dunstan (London: Remington and Co., 1882), 206.
31. Ibid. I reach the number $800,000 through this calculation: An unskilled worker earned 30 francs per month in 1838, so 20,000 francs is 55 years of income. See Lilian Noack and Dieter Noack, “The Cost of Living in Daumier’s Time,” last modified June 30, 2016, H. Daumier: His Life and Work, accessed October 5, 2016, http://www.daumier.org/176.0.html. In today’s money, if we consider that an unskilled worker earns about $1,200 per month, this is $792,000 over a lifetime. According to another source, in the late 1830s, Musard was rumored to be making 50,000 francs a year, or nearly $2 million. See Weber, The Great Transformation of Musical Taste, 214.
32. Coincidentally, 20,000 francs was also the amount Jullien offered Berlioz to conduct his orchestra in London for the 1847 season, including four concerts of Berlioz’s own works. Berlioz accepted the offer and did the work, but he was never paid because of Jullien’s bankruptcy. See Berlioz, Life and Letters of Berlioz I, trans. H. Mainwaring Dunstan (London: Remington and Co., 1882), 165.
37. The quotation is from an 1830s review in Le Menestrel. It is reproduced in Fétis, Biographie universelle des musiciens—Supplément et complément publié sous la direction de M. Arthur Pougin II (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1880), 255, and found in translation in Spitzer, “The Entrepreneur-Conductors,” 16.
38. See Mai Kawabata, Paganini: The “Demonic” Virtuoso (Woodbridge, UK, and Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2013); Meagan Mason, “Paganini’s Body and Projection of Genius,” Porte Akademik Müzik ve Dans Araştırmaları Dergisi/Journal of Music and Dance Studies 12 (Autumn 2015): 63–71.
40. This performance may have been particularly affective, loud, and darkly intoned because the orchestra included saxophones, which were new instruments at that time. Théophile Gautier, La Presse 10, no. 3530 (December 29, 1845): 2, 4th and 5th columns, accessed October 13, 2016, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4301665: “Notre ami vint nous prendre et nous conduisit dans la salle, au pied de l’estrade des musiciens, pour nous faire voir Musard, déchainant le carnaval par un signe de son bâton de chef d’orchestre. Musard était là, morne, livide et grêlé, le bras étendu, l’œil fixe. Certes, il est difficile pour un prêtre de bacchanales d’avoir une figure plus sombre et plus sinistre….Le moment venu, il se courba sur son pupitre, allonga le bras, et un ouragan de sonorité éclata soudainement dans le brouillard de bruit qui planait au dessus des têtes … et l’on aurait dit que les clairons du Jugement dernier s’étaient engagés pour jouer des quadrilles et des valses….Les morts danseraient à une pareille musique.”
50. He had not studied conducting as it was not yet taught at the Paris Conservatoire. According to John Goulden, the first to suggest that conducting was a teachable skill was Édouard Marie Ernest Deldevez, a student of Habeneck and author of a 1878 treatise on conducting, L’Art du chef d’orchestre. Note, however, that Berlioz had published his Le chef d’orchestre: théorie de son art in 1855, and Wagner had published Über das Dirigiren in 1869. See Michel Faul, Louis Jullien: musique, spectacle et folie au XIXe siècle (Biarritz, Paris: Atlantica-Séguier, 2006), 23, and Sir John Goulden, Michael Costa: England’s First Conductor: The Revolution in Musical Performance in England, 1830–1880 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2015), 44.
55. Carse, The Life of Jullien, 23. If it is true that Jullien reacted strongly to music, he may have had a condition now known as the rare Stendhal, or Florence, Syndrome. This condition of physically being overcome by art was described twenty years earlier by Stendhal, who experienced dizziness, fainting, and confusion at being overwhelmed by the art he saw in Florence. See Mark D. Griffiths, “Having an Art Attack: A Brief Look at Stendhal Syndrome,” Psychology Today, March 10, 2014, accessed November 14, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-excess/201403/having-art-attack. Berlioz acknowledged the violent effect music could have on listeners when he recorded the singer Malibran’s convulsions upon hearing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. See À travers Chants (Paris, 1862), 1–4, 5–7, trans. Piero Weiss, in “From the Writings of Berlioz,” Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, ed. Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin (Belmont: Thomson Schirmer, 2008), 297–298. From a different side, Jullien’s tale of fearing music as a young child seems like an intensification of the story of young Mozart fearing the sound of trumpets. See commentary on this Mozart story in Elisa Koehler, Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer’s Guide to Trumpet History and Literature (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), 3. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any evidence that Jullien knew this about Mozart.
56. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the citation for this anecdote. I recall reading it in a badly-garbled scan of an English journal, and this is all I know. Therefore, take this story with a grain of salt (as we should anyway).
57. He was named Louis George Maurice Adolphe Roch Albert Abel Antonio Alexandre Noé Jean Lucien Daniel Eugène Joseph-le-brun Joseph-Barême Thomas Thomas Thomas-Thomas Pierre Arbon Pierre-Maurel Barthélemi Artus Alphonse Bertrand Dieudonné Emanuel Josué Vincent Luc Michel Jules-de-la-plane Jules-Bazin Julio César Jullien after his thirty-five godparents, the members of his father’s band.
59. See K. M. Knittel, “Pilgrimages to Beethoven: Reminiscences by His Contemporaries,” Music & Letters 84, no. 1 (Feb. 2003): 19–54; Nicholas Vazsonyi, “Beethoven Instrumentalized: Richard Wagner’s Self-Marketing and Media Image,” Music & Letters 89, no. 2 (May 2008): 195–211.
63. The battle of Navarino was an 1827 naval battle in which Jullien may have fought, in which the French, British, and Russians fought against the Turks for Greece’s independence. The Jardin Turc was the site of his concerts in Paris. George Augustus Sala, Twice Round the Clock, or The Hours of the Day and Night in London (London: Richard Marsh, 1862), 382.
69. Mathieson’s dissertation, “Embodying Music,” gives this theory for Jullien’s practice of using a jeweled baton to conduct Beethoven: “The fact that he reserved this for Beethoven’s music gave conflicting messages to his audience. On the one hand he was signalling to them that Beethoven’s music required special attention or was different in some way, or that it was a higher class of music deserving of such luxurious and respectful treatment. It was also possibly a satirical gesture as, in his ostentatious way, Jullien may have been mimicking those conductors who venerated Beethoven by repeated programming of his symphonies and ensured the exclusivity of this music by restricting access to the wealthiest members of society. Jullien’s exaggerated display would have therefore informed his more democratic audience that they too were worthy of hearing Beethoven.” Mathieson, “Embodying Music,” 81.
70. Another conductor at this time also had a throne, it seems. The soprano Clara Novello wrote about her visit to Gaspare Spontini in 1837: “His house was a gallery of portraits of himself, alternating with sonnets in his praise, busts of himself, etc., all the way to his own sort of throne room, where he sat on a raised dais in an armchair with his portraits, busts, medals, and sonnets all around him.” See Clara Novello’s Reminiscences, compiled by Valeria Gigiucci (London: Edward Arnold, 1910), 21, 70. Spontini was living in Berlin at the time, but he had spent seventeen years of his early career in Paris (1803–1820), where he was well connected, conducting the Paris Opera and marrying a niece of the piano maker Sébastien Erard. It is possible that he had absorbed his grandiosity from the culture there.
72. On Habeneck, see Édouard Marie Ernest Deldevez, L’art du chef d’orchestre (Paris: Firmin-Didot et Cie., 1878), 12. On Berlioz, see examples cited in D. Kern Holoman, Berlioz (London: Faber and Faber, 1989), 424, for example, “How well I conducted. How well I played upon the orchestra,” Berlioz, letter of 25 April/7 May 1847, Correspondance générale III, 423. See more examples in Peter Bloom, “Virtuosités de Berlioz.” See also Reynauld, “Berlioz, Liszt and the Question of Virtuosity,” 116: “It seems clear that orchestral virtuosity, for Berlioz, is intimately associated with the virtuoso conductor. Indeed … Berlioz sees the conductor as the virtuoso and the orchestra as his instrument.”
77. As a measure of his influence, a search of “Habeneck” in Grove Music Online shows that he is mentioned in forty-five entries aside from his own biography. See also, “Chronique musicale—Concerts du Conservatoire,” L’Illustration 1, no. 7 (April 15, 1843): 101–102, and Carse, The Orchestra from Beethoven to Berlioz, 90ff.
78. Examples in Carse, The Orchestra from Beethoven to Berlioz: “[would] that an English Habeneck would have been discovered” (387), “we look in vain for signs of a man who could rank with Habeneck” (389), and “Lobe ranked Mendelssohn only with Habeneck” (350). A contemporaneous Parisian journalist called Habeneck “the perfect model,” “Nouvelles,” Revue et gazette musicale de Paris 4, no. 3 (January 15, 1837): 28, quoted in Southon, “L’émergence de la figure du chef d’orchestre et ses composantes socio-artistiques: François-Antoine Habeneck (1781–1849): La naissance du professionnalisme musical” (PhD diss., Université François-Rabelais de Tours, 2008, 88).
82. See Mary Hunter, “‘To Play as if from the Soul of the Composer’: The Idea of the Performer in Early Romantic Aesthetics,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 58, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 357–398, particularly the quotations from Pierre Baillot’s and Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s method books of 1835 and 1838, on pages 365 and 367, respectively.
83. Gustave Planche, Études sur les arts (Paris: Michel Lévy frères, 1855), 342–343, quoted in Nicolas Southon, “L’émergence de la figure du chef d’orchestre,” 88: “L’habileté de Habeneck est depuis longtemps passée en proverbe, et qu’il excite une admiration universelle par la précision et la discipline de son gouvernement.”
84. Georges Kastner, Supplément au Cours d’instrumentation considérée sous les Rapports poétiques et philosophiques de l’art à l’usage des jeunes compositeurs (Paris: Messonnier et Heugel, 1844), 15, quoted in Holoman, “The Emergence of the Orchestral Conductor in Paris in the 1830s,” 395–396.
86. Berlioz, The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, ed. David Cairns (London: 1977), 244, cited in David Charlton, et al., “Rehearsal,” The New Grove Dictionary of Opera; Grove Music Online; Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, accessed November 14, 2016.
87. I use the masculine pronoun because Habeneck’s orchestra, like all those discussed here, were composed of male musicians. Women were largely—or perhaps entirely—excluded from orchestras, as both musicians and conductors, through the nineteenth century. It was only in the late 1800s that women began to form female-only orchestras. In 1887, Marie Soldat-Roeger founded the earliest known example of these groups in Berlin. See Judith Tick, et al., “Women in Music, §II: Western classical traditions in Europe & the USA,” Grove Music Online; Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, accessed January 31, 2017.
93. “Chronique musicale—Concerts du Conservatoire,” L’Illustration 1, no. 7 (April 15, 1843): 102. Original context: “Seul, Habeneck avait déjà fait une étude consciencieuse et approfondie des procédés et du style de Beethoven ; il avait deviné tous les secrets de ce génie mystérieux, et lui avait voué dans son cœur un culte pour lequel il cherchait partout des prosélytes. . . . Nous n’essaierons pas de décrire les transports d’admiration et d’enthousiasme qui éclatèrent de toutes parts à l’apparition de ces chefs-d’œuvre si hardiment conçus, si neufs de pensée et de forme, si riches de coloris, si vastes de proportions, si magnifiques d’ordonnance. Ce fut, pour la France artiste, comme la découverte d’un nouvel univers, et la révélation d’un nouveau dieu.”
117. Richard Wagner, My Life, trans. Andrew Gray, ed. Mary Whittal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 191. This comment about the orchestra’s performance was different from those Wagner made about the other pieces on the program (Harold en Italie and Symphonie fantastique), which he praised as compositions and said nothing about their execution. He felt like “a mere schoolboy” next to Berlioz’s compositional prowess (192).
133. Paul Stefan, Arturo Toscanini (New York: Viking Press, 1936), 110, and “Robert Shaw in an Interview with Howard Dyck, CBC, 1992,” accessed October 7, 2016, http://robertshaw.website/toscanini-and-nbc/. See also Joseph Horowitz, Understanding Toscanini: A Social History of American Concert Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 286.
136. Herbert von Karajan: Maestro for the Screen, DVD, writ. and dir. Georg Wübbolt (Germany: Arthaus Musik, 2009). Karajan was not simply a visual phenomenon, but the visual was an important and intentional facet.
137. Wadham Sutton, “Superstar,” review of Herbert von Karajan: A Biographical Portrait, by Roger Vaughan, Musical Times 127, no. 1720 (July 1986): 389. See also the DVD, Herbert von Karajan: Maestro for the Screen.
139. See Shelley M. Jagow, “Women Orchestral Conductors in America: The Struggle for Acceptance—An Historical View from the Nineteenth Century to the Present,” College Music Symposium 38 (1998): 126–145, and Danielle Groen, “Why Are There So Few Female Conductors?” The Walrus (January–February 2017), accessed February 12, 2017, https://thewalrus.ca/why-are-there-so-few-female-conductors/.