It is fairly safe to say that–with the possible exception of
Liszt–there is no musician about whom people differ so strongly as
about Berlioz. His case is, indeed, unique. We are pretty well agreed
as to the relative positions of the other men; roughly speaking, all
cultivated musicians would put Wagner and Brahms and Beethoven in
the first rank of composers, and Mendelssohn, Grieg, and Dvořàk
in the second or third. Even in the case of a disputed problem like
Strauss, the argument among those who know his work is not, I take it,
as to his being a musician of the first rank, but as to the precise
position he occupies among the others of that limited regiment. Upon
Berlioz, however, the world seems unable to make up its mind. The
dispute here is not as to where he stands among the great ones, but
whether he really belongs to the great ones at all. Though there is
no absolute unanimity of opinion upon the total work of, say, Wagner
or Beethoven–no complete agreement as to the amount of weakness
that is bound up with their strength–there is at all events perfect
unanimity of opinion that Wagner and Beethoven are of the royal line.
But we have Berlioz extolled to the skies by one section of competent
musicians, while another section can scarcely speak of him politely; he
really seems to create a kind of physical nausea in them; and some of
them even deny his temperament to have been really musical. There is
surely nothing in the history of music to parallel the situation. The
difference of opinion upon him, be it observed, is quite another thing
from the frequent and quite excusable perplexity that men feel over a
_contemporary_ composer. Men drift widely apart over Wagner while he
is alive; but the next generation, at all events, sees him practically
through the same eyes. The quarrel over Berlioz is not a contemporary
quarrel; the bulk of his most significant work had all appeared before
1850, and yet here we are, half a century after that time, still
debating whether he is really one of the immortals. For many people
Schumann’s old question, “Are we to regard him as a genius, or only a
musical adventurer?” still remains unanswered.

On the whole–looking for a moment only at the external aspect of
the case–the current is now flowing not from but towards him. Even
putting aside the exceptional spasm of 1903, the centenary of his
birth, he probably gets more performances now than he ever did. Messrs.
Breitkopf and Härtel are bringing out a magnificent complete edition
of his works in score, superbly edited by Weingartner, the great
conductor, and Charles Malherbe, Archivist of the Paris Opera; while
in the admirable little Donajowski editions the full scores of the
_Symphonie fantastique_, _Harold en Italie_, _Roméo et Juliette_, and
half-a-dozen of the overtures, can now be had for a total expenditure
of a few shillings. Publishers do not generally take to bringing out
full scores, particularly at very low prices, unless there is some
demand for the works; and I think we may take it that just now there is
a quickening interest in Berlioz. Yet all the while the critical war
goes on, without signs of compromise on either side. The attitude of
a great many people is of course to be explained partly by imperfect
acquaintance with Berlioz’s work, partly by their having revolted
against him at the outset and never settled down to ask themselves
whether their first impressions did not need revising. It is not every
one who has either the candour or the capacity for hard and patient
work of Weingartner, who has placed on record his own progress from
the traditional view of Berlioz as “a great colourist, the founder
of modern orchestration, a brilliant writer, and, in fact, almost
everything else except a composer of inspiration and melody,” to
the view that Berlioz is one of the great masters, rich in feeling,
in beauty, in inventiveness. Many worthy people no doubt took their
cue from Wagner, who, besides giving a nonsensical pseudo-analysis
of Berlioz in _Opera and Drama_, referred to him disparagingly in
a well-known letter to Liszt. It is tolerably clear, however, that
Wagner knew comparatively little of Berlioz at that time, and that in
running down _Benvenuto Cellini_ and _La Damnation de Faust_ he was
only indulging that unfortunate habit of his of expressing himself
very positively upon subjects he knew nothing about.[1] But put aside
all the criticism of him that comes from imperfect knowledge–and it
must be remembered that up to quite recently it was not easy to get a
perfect knowledge of him, for his scores were rather scarce, and so
badly printed as to make the reading of them a trial–Wagner’s
and we are still left face to face with a certain amount of good
critical intelligence that cannot, do what it will, take to Berlioz’s
music. And since criticism is, or ought to be, concerned not only with
the psychological processes that go to make a work of art, but also
with the psychological processes that make us judge it in this way or
that–it is worth while trying to discover what it is in Berlioz that
makes so many worthy people quite unsympathetic towards him.