Sunday, June 6, 2010

Letters II

To his parents

Rome, 24 June 1831

... I went to Tivoli last Saturday, at two in the afternoon, in the middle of the dusty heat. There were two of us. We got three quarters of the way there but then felt exhausted and hailed a passing carriage. It's fifteen miles from Rome to Tivoli. we arrived at half past eight, and the next morning got up at four and went staight off exploring. I've never seen anything so exquisite: the waterfalls, clouds of powdery spray, the smoking clefts, the fresh cool river, the cave, the innumeral rainbows, the olive groves, the hills, the country houses, the village - the whole thing is enchanting and unique. The people there are very handsome, but they beg even more than they do in Rome; only, their begging hasn't the unpleasantly debased quality of the Romans'. They do it quite brazenly - they name the sum they want and laugh as they do so, as if it were a joke between you. Some young men and women aged between twenty and thirty, who were harvesting and saw us go past, shouted out: "Hey, sir come on, give us half a paolo (five sous), baiocco (one sou), what's it to you?" ...

The evening before last, I felt some emotion for the first time in our convent. There were four or five of us sitting in the moonlight round the fountain on the little staircase which leads to the garden. We drew lots for who would fetch my guitar, and as the audience consisted of the few fellow-students whose company I can bear, I did not need any pressing. As I was beginning an aria from Iphigeneia in Tauris, M. Carle Vernet appeared. After a couple of minutes he began to weep and sob out loud, then he fled into his son's drawing room, crying out in a choked voice: "Horace, come here!" "What is it, what is it?" "We're all in tears". "Why, why, what's happend?" "M. Berloiz us some Gluck. Oh, how right you are (turning to me), it's overwhelming. You know, you're a melancholy man, I understand you, I do, there are people who -". He couldn't finish. But no one laughed. The fact is we were all moved. I was in the mood, it was night, I felt quite free from anxiety beneath that resonant porch, and I let myself go as if I had been alone...

Hector Berlioz

A Selection of his Letters

Selected, editted and translated by Humphrey Searle