Farewell Charles de Bériot!

Charles de Bériot, violinist, composer, teacher, philosopher, artist, died on either 8 or 9 April 1870. This sesquicentennial has sadly been eclipsed by the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, both of which have been recently pushed aside due to the worldwide Covid-19 epidemic. While most of us are currently spending our days at home, I wanted to draw attention to this remarkable musician who made an enormous contribution to the history of violin playing. His significant catalogue of compositions and pedagogical works (somewhere between 150 and 200 works), most importantly the five volumes of his violin method, have lost popularity with the passage of time and sadly most young violinists today only know his name in association with the handful of pieces which have been included in the Suzuki Violin Method.

Even the life of this remarkable Belgian was eclipsed by the tragic life of his first wife Maria Malibran. While the latter has been the subject of a large number of books and articles, the details of de Bériot’s life have scarcely been researched, his entry in the Grove Music Online is a mere four paragraphs and only includes a selective list of his works. In Belgium his importance has been eclipsed by the generation of his followers Henri Vieuxtemps and in turn Eugène Ysaÿe. Inhabitants of Brussels may associate him with his two houses which have since become town halls for the regions of Ixelles and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, both of which were not only his homes but centres of cultural life for the capital.

While we have a rather significant collection of items which belonged to Maria Malibran in the Brussels Conservatories Library, RISM only lists 10 autograph manuscripts of de Bériot. I believe the nachlass of de Bériot was passed down through his son Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot and is most likely in the possession of a family of noble descent in France. This collection was reported to even contain philosophical writings by de Bériot!

As I am writing this the cemeteries of Brussels have been closed and I am unable to make another pilgrimage to de Bériot’s mausoleum. I am inspired to continue sharing interesting facts from the life of this amazing musician and 19th century personality. If you are a violinist, why not look up a work of de Bériot on IMSLP and pay a small tribute?

In today’s blog post I have translated, together with the help of Mary Bardet of the University of Birmingham, a lesser known early biographical sketch of de Bériot. The original text of this article is in italics, my commentary on it is in bold between brackets.

Let me first leave you with the closing remarks from de Bériot’s third volume of his violin method, which I leave in the original French:

Par métaphore : L’art représente à l’imagination un arbre qui s’élève dans l’immensité et dont la gloire couronne le faîte. Chaque artiste a pour objet d’en atteindre le plus haut point. Les branches de cet arbre sont les divers genres qui au lieu d’entraver l’artiste dans sa marche, lui font de leur obstacle un point d’appui. Mais celui qui cédant à la disposition de sa nature s’écarte du centre pour suivre une de ces branches dont l’accès lui semble plus facile, se trouve engagé dans l’impasse d’une manière. L’autre au contraire qui s’attache avec amour à ce milieu où viennent converger toutes les nuances de l’art sait en faire sa substance et fortifié par elles, il porte son talent vers les régions infinies de la perfection.

Galerie de portraits d’artistes musiciens, du Royaume de Belgique, Brussels, V. Deprins, c. 1843

There are men whose name alone acts as a talisman against indifference and serves as an absolute guarantee of success: if they keep to themselves, we complain about it, we ask for them; if they perform we are moved, we rejoice, they stir up a sense of inspiration, which we seize eagerly, savour with delight. Charles de Bériot is one of these fortunate men; whether he is performing or composing each act is a veritable event in the musical world and becomes a new triumph for himself. But here at least the public’s sympathies are fully justified; who else but De Bériot has known how to deploy the rare and precious faculties of virtuoso and composer that together make up an exceptional artist? Who else has known how to build their reputation on a better foundation? He possesses solid virtues that fear nothing from vagaries of fashion, and with which, whatever happens, he will always inspire admiration.

BÉRIOT (CHARLES-LOUIS DE) [De Bériot’s name was always given as Charles-Auguste.], born in Leuven on 20 February 1802, is descended from an old and well-regarded family. At an early age he lost both his parents who were members of the nobility [While we do not have information about de Bériot’s parents we do know that his uncle Joseph de Bériot was mayor of Leuven from 1800 to 1804. De Bériot’s great-grandfather was a nobleman from Sevry, Belgium where he is buried. The family is of Spanish descent. De Bériot’s noble lineage would be recognized officially in 1853.]; but he soon encountered a musician from his hometown, by the name of Terby [The name of De Bériot’s first violin teacher was Tiby as can be seen by the dedication of his opus 1.], who would become both a second father and teacher to him and who zealously cultivated his musical talents. He progressed so swiftly on the violin that, at barely nine-years-old, he earned the admiration of his compatriots for the way he performed Viotti’s concerto, in a minor, at a public gathering. “Nature has given De Bériot” said one Belgian musical expert (Fétis, Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. II, Brussels, 1835) “the feeling for an exquisite intonation which fuses in his playing with a naturally elegant taste. Blessed with a meditative nature [De Bériot was deeply interested in philosophy and especially the method of Joseph Jacotot who taught at the university of Leuven from 1818 to 1830.], and having no immediate role model to emulate, he searched by himself for the principles of beauty, the notions of which he could only obtain through his own spontaneous actions. [Fétis often emphasized the ingenuity of De Bériot. While this may well have been completely true, stressing his originality also increased the independence of the Brussels Conservatoire’s violin teaching as opposed to the Paris Conservatoire.] A good disposition, both moral and physical, plus a good start in education, quickly led De Bériot towards gaining a truly remarkable talent, one which only needed contact with other types of talent in order to gain polish, and by coordinating all parts concerned, allowed it to take on a definitive character.”

At the beginning of 1821, De Bériot left for Paris where he firstly played for Viotti, director of the opera at the time, who gave him great encouragement. [In a letter to his childhood friend Eugène Fontaine dated 13 July 1821, De Bériot actually says that he met Viotti for the first time after having auditioned for the Paris Conservatoire.] He then entered the Conservatory, under Baillot, but only stayed a few months, preferring to succumb to his natural instinct, to his own particular genre, rather than bending to fit in with set scholastic forms. [Viotti’s advice to De Bériot, quoted in the letter mentioned above was, “Try to listen a lot, and take what seems good to you, be like a bee and you will create a genre.”] Consequently, he had the opportunity to perform in several concerts where he wrought great success, both as a performer and a composer.

De Bériot’s fame reached England so he made his way there and, after a successful stay in London, he travelled around all the major cities of Great Britain. His success there was even greater than that in Paris and consequently he accepted several proposals that would involve subsequent trips to MEETINGS, or music festivals that cropped up each year sometimes in London or Manchester, or at other times in Birmingham or Liverpool.

On returning to his home country De Bériot received a salary of 2000 florins from King William [William I of Orange king of the Netherlands of which Belgium was then a part of.], naming the young artist first solo violin in his private music ensemble. He lost this position during the revolution of 1830; but if we are not mistaken, it was given back to him a few years later by the new king. [De Bériot did indeed receive the title of first solo violinist to King Léopold I of Belgium.] Additionally, he was named a Knight of the Order of Leopold, in 1837, and earlier had received the Iron Cross as author of the national song: LA MARCHE BELGE. [De Bériot’s work is entitled “Marche des belge chant patriotique”.]  He was a member of several musical societies, including amongst others the famous St Cecilia of Rome. [The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.]

Having become an intimate friend of Madame Malibran [Maria Malibran née Felicitas Garcia Sitches was perhaps the most famous member of a large family of musicians which included Manuel Garcia and Pauline and Paul Viardot. De Bériot was also a distant cousin by marriage to his colleague Hubert Léonard.], De Bériot travelled with the famous singer in Italy and England. In Naples, where he performed at a concert held at the Saint Charles theatre [Teatro di San Carlo], he was lauded with an enthusiasm rarely shown in this country towards instrumentalists, Italians generally choosing to reserve this kind of enthusiasm for their preferred predilection: the voice. On 29 March 1836, De Bériot married Madame Malibran in Paris; returning to Brussels a few days later, the two famous artists gave several concerts, of which the benefit for the Poles (at the Temple des Augustins) [The Temple des Augustins no longer exists in Brussels but its facade can still be seen on the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Brussels. The church served as a concert hall for the conservatoire until the erection of its own building in the late 19th century.] would prove to be the most brilliant and productive of all. The couple set off to England for a festival where they had been asked to perform and which was due to take place in Manchester in September of the same year; but alas! they would not travel back to the continent together. Madame de Bériot-Malibran sung in the quartet of FIDELIO [Beethoven] and had agreed to a duet of ANDRONICO [Mercadante]with Madame Caradori [Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan]. The thunder of applause that had welcomed her had scarcely died down when this celebrated artist, moments ago so brilliant, so animated, fell unconscious. [Maria Malibran died due to injuries from falling from a horse in July of 1836. Among the items in the Malibran collection in the Brussels Conservatoires Library is the horsewhip said to have been used that fateful day.] Transferred back to her hotel, she received medical attention that would prove to be too late, she died on 23 September. Her remains were returned to Brussels several months later and placed with great pomp and circumstance in Laeken cemetery, where her husband had erected a mausoleum. [Maria Malibran was buried in Manchester on 2 October 1836. At the end of November her mausoleum was being built and she was reinterred there on 4 January 1837. The director of the Brussels Conservatoire, François-Joseph Fétis, delivered one of the addresses as he would at the funeral of Charles de Bériot in 1870. The students of the conservatoire also performed during the service.]

De Bériot, cruelly heart-broken, was not heard from during the fifteen months following his wife’s demise; he only decided to reappear in public for a large charity event: a benefit concert for the poor given in Brussels’s city hall on 15 December 1837. [De Bériot performed his 1st and 5th airs variées. His sister-in-law Pauline Viardot née Garcia also sang during the concert.] Since then he has given several concerts both in Belgium and during subsequent trips to France and Germany. In Vienna he received seven encores for his TREMOLO [Le tremolo caprice sur un theme de Beethoven, opus 30. The term tremolo should not be confused with the modern technique. De Bériot’s tremolo was a type of bariolage bowing.], amidst the liveliest enthusiasm ever given to an artist. What can we add to this! [This concert was also in the company of Pauline Viardot and occurred during a European tour in 1838.]

De Bériot’s oeuvres are divided as follows: Dix Etudes, ou caprices, premier livre d’étude. – Six études brillantes, deuxième livre d’études. – Six caprices brilliantes. – Three concertos. – A trio on the motifs of Robin des Bois. – Eight Airs variés, among which the famous Trémolo. – Twenty-two pieces entitled: Duos, or Fantasies, or Souvenirs, or Variations, or Nocturnes, composed on the motifs of operas or original themes, with Labarre, Osborne, Herz, Benedict, Schoberlechner and Wolff.

When we say that De Bériot’s compositions are expertly organised to brilliant effect, with a full, bold daringness, wherein the accompaniment is treated not only with taste but with expert knowledge, the counterpoint perfectly executed, the repeats prepared with marvellous address, we will only have pointed out the most vulgar of qualities; however we would be incapable of attaining the individual essence of the master, this moving charm, this warmth which exudes a nervous energy and yet remains contained, this wonderful feeling that marks each of his works, and to which his performance alone holds the secret.

As for De Bériot’s playing, nothing could be more perfect. Everything is so round, so pleasant, so blended together, so exact, so precise that nothing else could even come close. It must be said: it is not simply the bow strokes, his magnificent double cadences and trills which uplift you, it is not simply that one listens to him open-mouthed, but that we hear them with a soft, indelible inner pleasure. Everything is song, everything is sound. None of this “tour de force” could be classified as charlatanism; everything is noble, dignified, calm and perfect. When we examine the bowing of this splendid virtuoso, we can find nothing pedantic, nothing artificial, nothing stiff, nothing affected; but the greatest lightness, the most incredible ease, and always the purest sound, the smoothest, whether he is crying an elegy from his adagio, or singing the lively, crisp poetry of his rondo, or else playing his variations always so flowing and charming, or perhaps modulating the vibrations so gracefully interlaced into his tremolo. [It is not clear whether the author is referring to vibrato or another effect.] No other virtuoso has ever produced a double cadence with more body, more polish, more depth, of lightness and at the same time expression. De Bériot’s playing is all sentiment, total perfection. When you have heard this magical bow, you can no longer be surprised that at the Manchester festival the English didn’t want to cancel his performance, whilst at the same time his wife, the queen of song, this Marie that we cannot forget, lay on her deathbed.

There was only one opinion in the French art world, to name de Bériot violin professor at the Paris conservatory, a position left vacant following the demise of Baillot. [Pierre Baillot died in 1842 and there was much speculation on the part of the French and Belgian press as to who his successor would be. At various times it was announced that De Bériot had accepted or rejected the position. De Bériot ultimately declined and the position was split between the Belgian Lambert Massart and the Frenchman Jean-Delphin Alard.] “It would be desirable” the NATIONAL reported “that an artist as eminent as De Bériot, whose name has become European, should be the successor to the greatest violinist of our times and these circumstances, which only occur once in an artist’s career, should lead him to accept such a noble heritage.”

“It would take nothing less than Mr. de Bériot’s exceptional talent to silence the genuine displeasure of seeing a foreigner occupy such an important position in a national establishment.”

The musical art world can be reassured, De Bériot will not be leaving his homeland, he is staying amongst us; because there is a possibility of him founding a special class for the violin at the Brussels Conservatory, where he can train students worthy of his reputation and of that of Belgium, one which he himself quickly raised to prominence in the musical field. [In 1843 De Bériot was hired by the Brussels Conservatoire to start a “classe de perfectionnement” for violin, a position he would hold for nine years and which solidified the reputation of that institution for violin teaching.]

© Text, Richard Sutcliffe 2020

© Translations, Richard Sutcliffe & Mary Bardet 2020

Charles de Bériot and the chinrest

The 19th century saw the evolution of the violin and its technique from essentially a baroque instrument to that which we know today. One of the many innovations made to the instrument, and which in turn influenced its technique, was the chinrest. The reader will undoubtedly be familiar with the story of Louis Spohr’s chinrest invented in the first decades of the 19th century. This invention appears to have been rarely adopted by players.

French and Belgian violinists resisted the use of a chinrest until the early 20th century, with some notable exceptions such as Pablo de Sarasate and Eugène Ysaye. A Google Image search for either of these violinists will show multiple photos of them performing with and without chinrests. In La Grammaire du violon of 1924, Martin-Pierre Marsick, who had studied with Désiré Heynberg, Hubert Léonard and Lambert Massart, expressed his dislike of the chinrest when discussing shifting:


No work on the violin has explained the manner of “shifting”.

This constitutes, however, the “Secret of playing the violin”.

From the 3rd position and higher on the violin, the left hand extends supported by the thumb, on the neck, and descends to 3rd position; but from the 3rd position to the 1st, we discover the difficulty of descending the thumb easily, and it is in this last descent that the terrible vice of raising the left shoulder to squeeze the violin and preventing it from coming away from the neck.

From this, cushions upon cushions, mechanical chinrests, all sorts of artificial things to support the instrument. While the violin is pushed behind the line of the left foot, the right arm follows the movement, both arms are deviated to the left, a vicious position which negates and stiffens all the movements of the performer. …[1]

Charles de Bériot’s Méthode du violon of 1857 makes no mention of a chinrest, however in a later edition[2], published by Schott frères in Paris a few years later, a newly invented chinrest by de Bériot is mentioned. This chinrest did not appear in any of the subsequent translations or editions of the method. De Bériot describes it thus:

New Chinrest

Something which has always preoccupied me is the hold of the violin between the chin and the clavicle.

I have remarked, as all violinists can, that this sort of vice that the chin and the shoulder are obliged to form, in order to hold the violin when the left hand passes from one position to another causes irreparable damage to the instrument.

As we can see on all violins that have been played a lot, the rubbing of the chin removes a part of its varnish, the wood becomes worn by impregnating it with the natural moisture of the skin, which is increased more by the act of playing.

A greater inconvenience still, is that this pressure which the artist is obliged to create and which increases more in the fear of having the violin slip from the collar, forms a mute which reduces a part of the vibrations of the instrument.

In addition, the efforts of the shoulders of the performer in order to maintain his violin deprives him of all grace and ease.

We even see artists use their handkerchiefs as small cushions, in order to secure the instrument.

We have searched in vain up until now for a way to avoid this inconvenience.

However in Germany, they tried a sort of little plate on which the chin pressed that, without touching the belly of the instrument, put no pressure on it; but, either because of the weight of this device, or because of its lack of elegance, artists did not accept it. I think as well that its principal fault was distancing the artist from his violin; and all performers like to feel their instrument, we could say to become one body with it. This aids inspiration.

All the inconveniences which we have just discussed led me to discover, after lots of trials, the simplest way in the world, for which I am complimented on its efficiency each day.

This device consists of a small plate of ebony above the violin. A piece of paper the size of the wood is first glued to the violin and which will then receive the device, this permits it to be detached without damaging the instrument. The upper part of this device being adorned with little decorations which are lightly carved into the ebony, effortlessly inhibits the instrument from sliding and slipping from the collar, and thus giving the artist a great security in the shifting of the left hand.

Custom will without doubt make some observations on what the eye could find disgraceful in this small device. I have little to say to deter this objection. While performing, my device, being hidden by the chin, does not hurt the eye; otherwise, it is in its case.

As routine is the antithesis of progress, we can only succeed by freeing ourselves from this laziness, and logic demands above all that we try something new before rejecting it.[3]

De Bériot also includes an illustration of his newly invented chinrest:

Figure 1- C. de Bériot, Méthode de violon, p. 6.

As we can see it is indeed quite small in relation to the tailpiece and the curve of the lower bout of the instrument. There are two well-known photographs of de Bériot by Ghemar frères. They both show de Bériot and his violin. The first shows de Bériot holding his violin on his knee and upon close examination we see this type of chinrest. I have also been informed that a similar type of chinrest is in the Hill Collection but have not been able to verify this.

If de Bériot invented a “better chinrest” in the late 1850s why was it not adopted by French and Belgian violinists of the time? I feel that it is important to take the following points into consideration.

De Bériot suffered from ill health from the mid-1840s until the end of his life. These illnesses included some form of paralysis to his left arm and at least a partial loss of vision. This type of chinrest may have offered some reassurance to him given his unique physical limitations.

In addition, de Bériot was not an active teacher at the time of the publication of his method.  While he did teach some students privately, his direct influence on the next generation of violinists was greatly diminished in comparison to his years as a professor at the Brussels Conservatory. The leading teacher at the Brussels Conservatory, Hubert Léonard, did not use a chinrest as seen by the following indication from his 1877 method:

The chin must not lay too much on the violin, neither should it be placed on the tailpiece, but right next to it.[4]

De Bériot says that a piece of paper must first be glued to the violin under the chinrest. The installation of such a chinrest would not have been easy and would possibly damage the violin. Also adapting the chinrest to the individual curve of the belly of each violin would have been complicated.

Another factor to take into consideration in the history of the development of the chinrest and its gradual adoption during the 19th and 20th centuries, and one which deserves to be further researched, is the influence of the style of dress on the position of the violin. In the other photo of de Bériot by Ghemar frères, which I am able to reproduce, we can see the typical type of dress of the period. This included a high collared shirt, bow tie, vest and outer jacket.

Figure 2-Charles de Bériot

The violin in the photo is the same as the previously mentioned photo. If we look at the lower left bout of the instrument, we can see that the chinrest is imperceptible. De Bériot says in his method:

The violin is placed on the left clavicle, pushed against the neck, and supported by the collar of the shirt and the jacket which naturally make it incline towards the right.[5]

A shift away from the high collared shirt towards a more modern collar caused the chin and neck to come more into contact with the instrument. As de Bériot mentions in his chinrest description, this can be harmful to the varnish. If we compare the above photo to a photo of Eugène Ysaye in 1883, we see that the style of dress has changed, and the high collared shirt is gone.

Figure 3-Eugène Ysaye, 1883

Personal inquiry to the Brussels Fashion and Lace Museum revealed that the type of clothing worn by de Bériot would have been at least 2 cm thickness in total above the shoulder. I would further hypothesize that the use of a shoulder rest could coincide with thinner clothing. The abundance of photographs of violinists from the late 19th century provides abundant material for a very interesting study on this subject.

© Text and translations, Richard Sutcliffe 2020

[1] M. P. Marsick, La Grammaire du violon, Paris, L. Maillochon, 1924, p. 72.

[2] This edition has the plate numer S 229.

[3] C. de Bériot, Méthode de violon, Paris, Schott frères, s.a., p. 6.

[4] H. Léonard, École Léonard pour le violon, Paris, Richault, 1877, p. 1.

[5] C. de Bériot, Méthode de violon, p. 4.

Beginning at the end (Charles de Bériot)

De Bériot’s mausoleum in the cemetery of Laeken, Brussels, Belgium

Charles-Auguste de Bériot was born on 20 February 1802. In the 150th anniversary year of his death I have decided to take a look at this well known but under researched founder of the Belgian violin school. As the title of this post says, lets begin at the end.

On 9 April 1870, Charles de Bériot died rather suddenly of what was described at the time as encephalitis. He was 68 years old and had been suffering from various illnesses for over 15 years.

During the height of their careers de Bériot and his wife, the opera singer Maria Malibran, were European superstars. Their movements and concerts were published in the press throughout the continent. While his international reputation diminished over the years, de Bériot remained an important figure in the musical life of the Belgian capital, organising various concerts around the city as well as in the concert hall built next to his home.

The day of his funeral, a description of his funeral and the speech given by the director of the Brussels Conservatory, François-Joseph Fétis was published in the Indépendance Belge 13 April 1870.

The funeral of Charles de Bériot was celebrated today at eleven o’clock, amongst numerous participants.

From ten o’clock, the funeral home, on the rue Ducale, was inundated by a crowd of friends and admirers of the illustrious deceased. All the celebrities of the musical world were gathered there, with those of politics, administration and science.

The mortal remains of Charles de Bériot rested in a chapel, on the ground floor.

François-Joseph Fétis by Jean-Baptiste Madou

A farewell speech was given, before removing the body, by Mr. Fétis the elder, director of the Conservatoire de Bruxelles and member of the Académie royale of Belgium. – Here is the text of the speech:

“Belgium, the Académie and the Conservatoire royal de musique have lost, in the person of Mr. de Bériot, one of their most famous representatives. Virtuoso of the first order, chief and founder of the Belgian violin school, so famous in the two worlds, composer for his instrument, of music which has become classic; Mr. de Bériot, received for his honour, diverse titles of which one alone would have been sufficient to honour his memory for posterity. An elementary instruction in his art was the only one he received from a master[1]: a sense of beauty, incessant study and meditation, were the only reasons for his exceptional talent.

Hardly twenty years old, Mr. de Bériot saw his success begin abroad: Paris, London, Vienna, all of Germany, all of Italy, applauded with delight the precious qualities of this talent so pure, the ampleness and smoothness of sound, the imperturbable intonation, the suppleness and accentuation of the bow; finally, the charm of style, the sovereign force in the arts as in literature, whom no one more than he knew its secret. Not submitting to the influence of any school, he was the creator of his own[2], and, by this independence of feeling and manner, he united originality with his other qualities. This is what artists know as the school of Bériot, as we knew those of Corelli, Tartini and Viotti[3].

Giovanni Battista Viotti after Trossarelli

Bringing the same sentiment to the composition of his works[4], the same taste, the same charm as in his playing, de Bériot showed himself to be an eminent mélodiste, and at the same time an innovator; his concertos, his études, his airs variés, do not recall the works of violinists who preceded him: hearing them today, we immediately recognize the unique style of the author. The critics said that this music was less difficult than it seems: there could not be better praise. Brilliant, without searching for a tour de force, it is above all music and not an acrobatic exercise[5]; it procures the success of the artist who performs it and charms the audience instead of surprising them.

Lambert Massart’s copy of De Bériot’s 12 Études, B-Bc FC-11-MM-1039-(6)

As with the teaching of all great professors, that of Mr. de Bériot incited enthusiasm among his students. His first concern was to develop in them the sentiment of beauty of sound, as well as that of absolute intonation, by the examples he gave them; then he taught them, with an admirable patience, the techniques by which one can acquire these essential and too rare qualities. As for the way of the bow, no one could demonstrate as well as he its force and variety. The products of his school have, besides, proved his excellence as a professor, and the phalanx of his eminent disciples, dispersed in the principal cities of Europe and other countries, are still its brilliant manifestation.

Lambert Massart’s copy of De Bériot’s École transcendante, B-Bc FC-11-MM-1039-(8)

In what I have just said, I only spoke, sirs, of the artist; however, who’s interest is not captured if we consider that Mr. de Bériot, deprived of sight for the last fifteen years of his life, and victim of several serious chronic sicknesses, such as asthma and laryngitis, did not lose his old generosity towards the young and artists? That notwithstanding the cruel crises of these ills, his philosophical resignation did not abandon him, and that he rediscovered his sweet happiness as soon as he experienced some relief? What we can’t admire enough, was to see him, when his suffering was not too severe, retain all his pride for the art and all the seduction of his talent, until the introduction of a new evil, the paralysis of his left arm, took away from him forever this last and supreme consolation.

Charles de Bériot, photograph by Ghemar frères

And now, farewell! Farewell de Bériot! It is a friend of your youth who says it with pain[6], in the name of the Académie, who was honoured to have you counted amongst the number of its members, and of the school who you were the model for.”

When Mr. Fétis had finished speaking, the funeral procession began its march to go, by the rue de la Loi, to the church of Sainte Gudule…

The cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula, Brussels, Belgium

In his quality as an officer of the Ordre de Léopold, Charles de Bériot had the right to military honors. They were rendered to him. Musket fire saluted the body of the deceased as it left the funeral home. A detachment of grenadiers, proceeded by a military band playing funeral marches, served to escort the convoy.

The body was brough by hand to the church.

The pallbearers were Mr. Fétis the elder, member of the Académie royale; Mr. Henri Vieuxtemps, the most famous of the students of de Bériot; Bosselet, teacher at the Conservatory, and Mr. Crest, representative of the crown prosecutor, ex-secretary of the Conservatory.

The mourners were led by Mr. Charles de Bériot, son of the deceased, and by Mr. Colonel de Francquen, his brother-in-law.

Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot

The inhumation of the great artist took place, after the funeral service, at the cemetery of Laeken, where his first wife already rests, Maria Garcia Malibran.

© Text and translations, Richard Sutcliffe 2020

[1] De Bériot received music and violin lessons as a child from Jean-François Tiby in Leuven, his birthplace. He received advice from various violinists including Pierre Baillot and Giovanni Battista Viotti during his youth.

[2] De Bériot is widely credited as the founder of the Belgian violin school. Fétis would also call Lambert-Joseph Meerts, De Bériot’s colleague at the Brussels Conservatory, a founder of the Belgian violin school.

[3] Viotti was the founder of the French violin school of the early 19th century, from which the Belgian violin school stems.

[4] De Bériot composed well over 200 works, mainly for violin.

[5] This is undoubtedly Fétis alluding to the works of Paganini as being acrobatic.

[6] Fétis undoubtedly had met De Bériot while both were in Paris during the 1820s.

Do you know De Bériot?

Charles-Auguste de Bériot, by Henri Grevedon, 1838

On February 20th, 1802 one of the most influential violinists of the 19th century was born in the town of Louvain, Belgium. In 2020 we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles de Bériot’s death. It is remarkable that such an influential figure, not only for the history of violin playing but for 19th century music in general, has not been studied in detail.  His wife, the opera singer Maria Malibran, has been the subject of numerous monographs and articles, mostly due to her tragically early death. De Bériot had a life that was no less tragic and left an enormous musical legacy as well as teaching some of the most influential violinists of the mid to late 19th century. Amongst these we can count another Beligan violinists, Henri Vieuxtemps (born 200 years ago today), who’s influence in turn on Eugène Ysaÿe is well known.

This series of blog posts will focus on various aspects of De Bériot’s life and works, his importance as a violinist and teacher but also his lesser known side as a 19th century renaissance man.

Do you know De Bériot?

He’s killing students, or how to get rid of that oboe teacher!

The personnel file for Louis Joseph Friard, oboe teacher at the Brussels Conservatory. Etat du personnel enseignant 1833 – 1907 Conservatoire royal de musique de Bruxelles, B-Bc ARC-007.

For a long time, I have been preoccupied with the ways to improve the teaching and study of the oboe at the conservatory. I have frequently spoken to the professor about the poor intonation of his students, a defect which sadly has its source in the ear of the master; but he reacted to my observations as a landscape painter who saw nature in yellow and red, and who was shocked to be told that the trees were green. It was clear to me that changing the professor was the only way of remedying this problem; but humanistic considerations always stopped me at the moment when I wanted to propose the subject. Having arrived in Brussels in [18]24, Mr. [Louis Joseph] Friard was named professor of oboe at the Royal School of Music in 1825.[1] He now has twenty-four years of service. Married and the father of a family, the only thing left to him today is his position at the conservatory and the fruits of some savings as a means of living. I believe that he is not a naturalized Belgian, and consequently we are not able to grant him a pension.

Nevertheless, there is a very grave consideration which obliges me to bring the replacement of this professor to your attention, and to look for a way to assure a provision for his long service. The consideration is: by a vicious system of breathing technique, Mr. Friard seems to have seriously damaged the health of his students; because Joseph Disclyn, who obtained a second prize in 1837, died of a chest illness the year after his concours. Ferdinand Vanden Heuvel, first prize in 1843, and his brother Henri, second prize in the same year, both died from the same illness in 1844. Charles-Hector Martinent, a talented musician, succumbed to a similar illness, after having obtained the first prize in 1846. Finally, the student [Michel] Van Lamperen, who was awarded a second prize last year, caught the same illness, and was forced to suspend his studies, he will not be able to participate in the concours this year. Mr. Victor Lafaye, another talented musician, also suffered for a long time and was noticeably worse; but as he took a job in the government, he has stopped practicing his instrument, and his health returned.

I am not a doctor and cannot decide if all the students who died prematurely had a deformation which caused these morbid results; but I have observed that nothing similar has manifested in the other wind instrument classes.

To sum up, I think, sirs, that occasion is favorable to suggest Mr. [A.] De Labarre as a replacement to Mr. Friard[2]

This somewhat shocking letter, written on 17 June 1849, to the administrative commission of the Brussels Conservatory from the director François-Joseph Fétis, undoubtedly had an enormous effect. Nevertheless, Louis Joseph Friard was to remain oboe teacher until 1861, when he was made a professor emeritus followed by his retirement in 1865 at the age of 75 years old. Was the oboe truly such a deadly instrument? Is this why Fétis found it necessary to replace Friard and if so, why did he remain professor for another twelve years?

Fétis clearly liked to stir things up among the administrative commission of the conservatory. This commission had to approve of all of Fétis’ choices of teaching personnel, as well as budget and regulations for the school. These decisions would then be passed on to the Ministry of the Interior, under whose jurisdiction the conservatory fell. Anyone wishing to advance his career in the conservatory not only had to be on friendly terms with its director, but more importantly with the highest levels of the Belgian government. Fétis resented this constant control by an unmusical governing body and often rebelled against it. This is not at all surprising. While Fétis had not been the first choice for director of the new conservatory in the newly founded nation of Belgium (in fact he was practically at the end of the list behind many famous musicians and composers), as part of his application he was asked to draw up a blueprint for the teaching of music, not only in the conservatory but in the whole of the country. This investment of power in one person led to frequent conflicts.

The story of the oboe class begins the previous year. In June of 1848 a French oboist A. Delabarre solicited a position at the conservatory as teacher of a second class of oboe, the first being that of Friard. His rather detailed solicitation letter sheds some light about oboe playing at that time.


The improvements that you have introduced at the Royal Conservatory of Music have given me hope that you will be disposed to favorably receive my request for which the interest of art is attached rather strongly, in order to erase any question of personal interest.

As I have been called upon many times as a member of the jury for the concours of wind instruments, I was convinced that the teaching was on the path of progress, and that the professors have made it their work to pass on to their students a correct and easy technique, by adopting the [instruments] with perfect mechanism. The oboe class is the only one which has not achieved the same result, and since its existence, that is to say for more than twenty years, it has not trained one student who has achieved the acclaim that so many other classes of the Brussels Conservatory have.

Without permitting myself to condemn any type of teaching; and without having the intention to contest the merits of an old system [of instrument], I would like to propose, sirs, to open a new class, and to admit me as professor for the new system oboe, or oboe perfectionné.[3] Many years of research and conscientious study have revealed to me the secrets of this instrument, the resources of which, neglected or ignored until now in Belgium, are necessary for the exigences of modern composers.

I will not refer to my past in Paris, as first prize of the conservatoire and artist of the grand opera: it is sufficient to have the honor of being known to many of you, sirs, and notably the director of the Brussels Conservatory, to not have need of any other recommendation. I permit myself only to anticipate an obstacle, the only one possibly which can inhibit or delay my admission. I am speaking of the worries that you could have for the increase in your budget. I would respond to this objection by declaring my ambition is limited to proving that I can produce students, and that my pretentions are very modest so that the sum of appointing two professors together will not exceed the sum of a sole appointment; leaving to your wisdom to compensate me later when the circumstances permit it, and according to the merit that you have accorded me.

I dare to hope, sirs, that my proposition will seem convenient enough to merit, for your part, a favorable response.[4]

Little is known of De Labarre (Labarre or Delabarre as he is also referred to), except that prior to his arrival in Brussels he had been working in Ghent and that he currently held a position in the royal court ensemble as well as the opera. This solicitation was passed on to Fétis in July of 1848 and only in August of the same year did Fétis offer a reply.


The solicitation of Mr. Labarre … dealing with creating a second oboe class at the conservatory, there are two principal questions to examine here: the first is to know if the Minister of the Interior will grant an increase in subsidies to create a second oboe class, and if he is prepared to do this, if there are not more urgent needs for the school. As I do not have information on this first point, I don’t think I can give advice on its usefulness.

The second question to examine is this one: is the number of oboe students great enough that it would be good to establish two classes for this instrument? Here I can definitively reply, no. This instrument offers such little opportunities to those who study it, that it is only by great pains that I arrive at four or five students in the one class that exists at the conservatory, even though I provide instruments to the beginners.

Mr. Labarre is an artist of admirable talent; but no matter what my desire might be to attach him to the establishment under my direction, I have made him aware that I cannot touch the position of the current professor until there is a law for the pensions accorded to professors of the conservatory. Anyway, if Mr. Friard has for a long time lacked results in his teaching, we must give him credit that, for a few years, he has made successful efforts, as he trained Mr. La Faye [who according to Fétis’ letter mentioned above was already sick and had ceased playing the oboe], Martinent [who according to Fétis would die in a few months], and especially Mr. Pleetinckx [the eventual successor to Friard in 1861], who obtained the first prize this year, and who will be a very distinguished oboist.

Mr. Labarre has said in his solicitation that two classes, according to his modest pretentions, would not cost more than one! What does he mean? Will he teach for free? We have never accepted this sort of proposition at the conservatory, because we well know that it leads to future engagements.[5] Is he proposing to divide the salary of one professor between two? Aren’t the rights of the current professor being violated at this point, and I don’t think the commission would agree to this. Mr. Labarre has already deprived Mr. Friard of a necessary part of his income by coming from Gent to take his place as first oboist at the theater: he can not want to deprive him of the half of the meager sum which remains for supporting his family. After these considerations, I admit that I do not understand how two classes would not cost more than one.

For the rest, I do not know how the Minister of the Interior feels about Mr. Labarre, so I don’t think I can make any conclusions about this affair.[6]

Fétis changed his tune in June of the following year by pressing the mater saying that Friard’s teaching was killing his students! It seems from this letter that Fétis had had some limited contact with De Labarre. The commissions’ advice to the Minster of the Interior was that it was currently impossible to accept this solicitation as there was no need for a second class. A similar letter was also sent to De Labarre.

In April 1849 De Labarre repeated his solicitation this time with a different approach.

Mr. Minister,

The director of the Royal Conservatory of Music has let me know of his intention to admit me as professor of oboe to remedy the weakness in a class who’s results have never been, it seems, very satisfactory; and he has authorized me, at the same time, to communicate his desire to you to hopefully agree to make an improvement which, from the point of view of art, must be considered necessary.

I have not forgotten, Mr. Minister, that I had the honor to be presented to you by the minister of France, and the liberty that I take today to ask for your benevolent support, proves to you how much value I attach to the support of a honorable man and the confidence that I have in your true passion for the arts.[7]

Following this renewed solicitation, Fétis changed his approach, as seen in the letter of 17 June 1849. The principal hindrance in replacing Friard was the fact that he was French. Foreign teachers had no right to a state pension at this time. Fétis would effectively be leaving Friard in poverty. The reply of the commission to Fétis brings to light another issue at the Brussels Conservatory.

Mr. Director,

Before following up on the propositions which you have made on the 17th of this month [June] … concerning Mr. Friard and de Labarre, we thought it would be good see what the dispositions of these men would be in respect to the proposition which you made concerning sharing [the teaching position] and to please let us know if there is Belgian artist with equal talent to Mr. de Labarre, who is a foreigner. It is evident that being of equal talent, it would be preferable to have a Belgian.[8]

In the continuation of his letter of June 1849 seen above, Fétis suggested retaining a portion of De Labarre’s salary to support Friard until a pension could be provided. We see as well that the issue of nationality is raised. The creation of the Brussels Conservatory was wrapped up in nationalistic feelings. Prior to Belgian independence in 1830, musicians wishing to train at the highest level had to go abroad and most chose Paris. Liberating themselves from this French dependence was of utmost importance.

When replying to the commission, Fétis further illuminates the situation of oboists in Belgium.


Regarding the positive advice that I had the honor of addressing to you concerning the solicitation of Mr. De Labarre you asked me : 1° If I knew a Belgian oboist who, with equal qualities to this French artist, would have the advantage of being from our country; 2° If he [De Labarre] would accept the position of professor with a salary reduced by the sum retained for Mr. Friard.

My reply to the first question must be negative, because there is not in Belgium a single artist who can be a good professor of oboe. This instrument has for so long been a weak part of our orchestras. I was so convinced of this truth that I had at various times, made attempts to draw to Brussels Mr. Barré, De Lavigne or Verroust, who are today the virtuosi of this instrument; but their demands were such, that I could not follow up on these overtures. Mr. De Labarre is not of the same rank, but is nevertheless a very capable artist, who did not hesitate to study the new key system by which the oboe has become acceptably in tune, and which he adopted, despite the awkwardness of learning a new fingering. This man has taste and intelligence, and I do not doubt that he will be a good teacher and train good students.

In regard to the second question, I can confirm, yes, Mr. De Labarre will accept the temporary salary of six hundred francs; but it is evident that a man of talent would only consider this salary as leading to a better one. What he proposes, is to show his capacity, by training good students; after which he would demand to have a better salary. …[9]

We learn that the Belgians are still playing on an outdated system of oboe. The salaries at the Brussels Conservatory were a pittance and only the highest placed professors, among them Fétis himself, earned enough to live from. As seen in the illustration from the records of the conservatory personnel we see that the highest salary that Friard earned was 1,000 francs. The reduced salary proposed by Fétis would leave Friard with 400 francs per year to support himself and his family. To put this in perspective Fétis himself was paid 5,000 francs per year and the teachers of trumpet and trombone 500 per year. Even the piano tuner was paid 200 francs a year.

In September 1849, the commission and Fétis further discussed this salary reduction which had been proposed to De Labarre but not to Friard. Fétis explains that of course Friard would wish to keep his position at full salary, but:

… I have only proposed his replacement because the teaching of oboe is the sole which is completely defective at the conservatory. This has been notorious for some time; if I hadn’t proposed this improvement of courses earlier, it is because I didn’t find anyone in the country who was capable of improving it and that, for some part, I always hoped that the revolting injustice of refusing a pension for professors of the schools of art would stop. Nevertheless, waiting longer for the improvement of oboe classes is no longer possible. …[10]

The final reply to the situation from the commission is found in a letter of October 1849.

Mr. Director,

The commission has attentively examined your reports …, concerning Mr. Friard and de Labarre and despite the all the repugnance we have for the extreme of firing a professor, we are led to believe as you, Mr. Director, that the interest of the Conservatory necessitates the regeneration of the oboe in this establishment, acknowledging that it is almost notoriously public knowledge that Mr. Friard is no longer at the height of teaching in his art, notably concerning the oboe, and we are disposed to adopt the combination [of professors] which you have proposed; but this affair is delicate and we would like as much as possible to soften the regrets of Mr. Friard and to save his pride. To this effect and before making a positive decision on this point, we ask you, Mr. Director to please speak with Mr. Friard to make him understand, without confirming our intentions, that he is being threatened with being fired simply because of the current insufficiency and that it is in his interest to request an honorable retirement with the provisionary indemnity from the salary of his successor. This way we reach our goal without a violent shock, without too much trouble.[11]

The correspondence of the administrative commission has no further mention of this affair, however in the minutes of its meetings[12] we see that Fétis informs them on 18 October 1849 that he does not feel it is necessary for him to talk to Friard. The response of the committee comes on 29 October 1849 stating that if Fétis will not discuss the matter with Friard then there is no call to change the current personnel situation.

Most likely there is more to this story than what we can glean from these documents. Perhaps Friard had connections with highly placed government officials or the royal family, which could be why he maintained his position for a further 16 years. Or perhaps De Labarre withdrew his solicitation and there was no viable candidate until 1861 when Friard’s own student would take over. We can however assume that the Brussels Conservatory remained behind the times in its oboe curriculum, both the capacity of its teacher as well as the type of instruments which they used.

© Text and translations, Richard Sutcliffe 2019

[1] The École royale de musique was the forerunner of the Brussels Conservatory.

[2] Uncatalogued correspondence of the Commission Administrative of the Conservatoire Royal de Musique de Bruxelles, 17 June 1849 n° 590.

[3] Correspondence with the period oboist and researcher Christopher Palameta suggests that the “new system” referred to here would have been at least the 13 keyed instrument with a newly designed bore invented by Triébert in 1843.

[4] Uncatalogued correspondence of the Commission Administrative of the Conservatoire Royal de Musique de Bruxelles, 28 June 1848.

[5] In fact, in a letter dated 19 February 1849 n° 545, Fétis proposes exactly the same proposition in order to incorporate Hubert Léonard as a violin teacher to replace Lambert Joseph Meerts who was suffering from a mental illness.

[6] Uncatalogued correspondence of the Commission Administrative of the Conservatoire Royal de Musique de Bruxelles, 18 August 1848 n° 497.

[7] Idem, 4 April 1849.

[8] Idem, 28 June 1849 n° 233.

[9] Idem, 29 July 1849 n° 611.

[10] Idem, 28 September n° 632.

[11] Idem, 3 October 1849 n° 252.

[12] Procès-verbaux des Séances de la Commission administrative du Conservatoire Royal de musique de Bruxelles N°s 354 à 507 3me volume du 13 juillet 1846 au 26 décembre 1853, B-Bc ARC-001-(3).

The Death of Mr. Georg Fabrizius

Richard Sutcliffe – Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel

A lot was promised to me, and I was cruelly deceived. Only one way remains for me, because everything conspires against me in order to make me falter: that is to end my life. Well, so be it: my heart will cease beating. Still there was something, in that sorely tested heart. But being unhappy in this world is the fate of all artists. My journey ends, and God forgive me![1]

Louis Schoonen

This is the suicide note that Louis Schoonen, the Belgian writer, found in the room at the Hôtel de la Bourse, which was rented by the 26-year-old German violinist Georg Fabrizius. Schoonen met with the violinist after a rehearsal for a concert that was supposed to be performed at the Brussels opera house on 1 November 1847. He describes him as having a soft and nervous character but with talent. He was a dreamer and always seemed sad and longing. His violin playing had been criticised, but the director of the Brussels Conservatoire, François-Joseph Fétis, approved of his compositions.

Schoonen had left Fabrizius in a café near his hotel to speak with Auguste Nourrit, the director of the opera house, and when he returned, the violinist had disappeared. In his room the authorities found: his violin, clothing, papers, passport, letters, a medallion of his father’s military service in 1814 and a lock of hair from a German woman who had been his lover.

Several days after this account was published in the Belgian press, Schoonen published another article, which detailed the events which followed Fabrizius’ mysterious disappearance.

Notified that a discovery had been made, as a result of the disastrous decision that this artist taken, I went to Laeken. There in the presence of a body, through whose heart two bullets had bored, I was convinced of the horrifying truth. The maimed corpse was as I could confirm, that of the poor Fabrizius! I recognized it easily, even with its distorted face.

Palais of Laeken in northern Brussels

The body was found yesterday morning by a young man from Laeken in a forest on one side of the royal palace; it had been almost completely buried by leaves which the fall winds had strewn on the ground. The out of the way location and complete lack of information about the path the unfortunate soul had taken, after leaving the theatre, are the reason that the corpse had been hidden so long from the search efforts.

Two fired pistols laid next to the body of Fabrizius. He only had his watch and two violin strings in his possession, the latter which I had bought for him at the instrument maker Vuillaume, for a rehearsal.

A great amount of blood had flown out of his mouth, as a result of the heavy shock caused by the two pistol shots, which the artist had fired into his left side.

I have to say; I shudder to think about it! To commit suicide in that way, in those conditions…

Place de la Bourse

When I searched room number three at the Hôtel de la Bourse, in the presence of several others, I found, among other things, bullets of a small calibre, firing capsules and a pistol’s ramrod. I could not find the actual weapons.

One obligation remains for me, as I am the prime witness in this case, that is, to do credit to the proper character of a man, whose name people involved in the affaire use in error or malice. People have mistakenly assumed, I don’t hesitate to admit, that Mr. M… by his words or deeds could have contributed to the sad decision, that led to the end of the existence of this German composer. More than any other – and there is a lot of convincing evidence for this – Mr. M… served to present this young, foreign artist to Brussels – in a season which has been so ungrateful for artists that want to give concerts. The letter of recommendation by his professor to Mr. de Bériot is still pasted into his wallet, which I presented to the prosecutors.

Regarding the rumours which people spread in Brussels about Georges Fabrizius’ debts, – I can confirm they are false. Mr. Georges Fabrizius had given one of his hosts a 300-franc deposit, twice the amount he owed. For the rest, the Count Coghen and Mr. Rittweger, director of the bank, wanted to help the poor musician, they told me this twice, so that he wouldn’t be in poverty.

Poor artist! Poor soul! … You dreamed of such fame and fortune; but fate killed you from sorrow, after art had made you useless! …

P.S. A condition which I have been made aware of, and which makes this dramatic and sad disaster even worse, is, that I have been assured, that Mr. Georges Fabrizius killed himself five days ago. This supposes, that, as it is nine days since his disappearance, having made the firm decision to kill himself, he must have hesitated to put something so disastrous in motion.

If this is true, it is a horrible case, to think of the pains that this man must have undergone. On one side the prey of sombre despair, floating between an overturned present and an agonizing future, scared on one side to leave a career so soon, happier days would arrive, and to some extent pushed towards an abyss by necessity, to end a life, out of fear of being made ridiculous – he would have, according to the lines that he wrote, been saved by the smallest encounter, but fate, which seemed to follow him to his end, did not want the encounter to take place![2]

Reports of Fabrizius’ suicide and the circumstances leading up to them appeared in several Belgian newspapers from in the period between October 30th and November 12th. Later in November and December it was also reported in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung, the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, La revue et gazette musicale de Paris, and L’Italia musicale. Outside of these references I have not been able to locate any information about this young violinist. He is described as having served in the courts of Schleswig-Holstein and Schauenbourg-Lippe, placing him in northern Germany. The press refers to him as Fabricius as well as Fabrizius and undoubtedly his first name was Georg rather than Georges.

La Monnaie/De Munt

His scheduled performance at the royal theatre (known today as La Monnaie/De Munt) was for 1 November 1847. On that same day the press reports the program as including three pieces to be performed by Fabrizius: Variations brillantes sur un theme de Beethoven, Caprices pour violon seul and Le Carnaval de Venise. It is not clear how many, if any, of these pieces are original compositions. Their titles resemble works by de Bériot, Paganini and Ernst. The rehearsal which seems to have triggered this whole series of unfortunately events was also described in the press, but not in the flowing prose of Louis Schoonen:

The incident which motivated the change in program at the Théâtre Royal has had distressing consequences. It seems that after having heard Mr. Fabrizius practice his pieces which he had proposed to perform that evening, they [the administration of the theatre] were obliged to make him understand that he did not have enough talent to play violin in public in the country of [Charles] de Bériot and [Henri] Vieuxtemps, and by stubbornly wanting to appear in the announced performance, he would expose himself to insults.[3]

It is not clear who took the decision to terminate the performance. One report says that Fabrizius called in sick, but it is possible that theatre made a hasty decision to change that day’s programming. Instead of the concert, which was to include Fabrizius, they scheduled a performance of the Diamants de la Couronne, a comic opera by Auber. However, they seem to have not been able to arrange for all the singers and ultimately had to cancel the concert all together. This left an outraged public who demanded refunds.

Auguste Nourrit

The director of the theatre at the time Auguste Nourrit, who had been nominated in 1847, resigned in November of the same year due to mishandled finances. His attempt to avoid a hostile public by refusing Fabrizius the right to perform may have led to an even worse financial situation as all the tickets had to be refunded.

 For a 19th-century violinist, performing in Brussels or Paris and receiving a positive review was a sure guarantee of a successful career. We are led to believe, by Schoonen’s account, that Fabrizius was in fact invited to come in perform by Mr. M. The fact that Fabrizius had a letter of recommendation to de Bériot and that Fétis, the director of the conservatoire, had review Fabrizius’ compositions may suggest that the German violinist intended to enrol at the conservatory. While Fabrizius would have been one of the older students at that institution, it was not unheard of to accept students of his age in the classe de perfectionnement of Charles de Bériot.

The Belgian musical public was aware of the importance of the Brussels Conservatory and its violin classes, particularly that of Charles de Bériot. When reviewing a concert of the Polish violinist Apollinaire de Kontski only three years later, Le Diapason says:

The Belgian public is too accustomed to hearing good violinists from their own country to be surprised by those who arrive from abroad. The Belgian Violin School occupies the first rank, thanks to the talent of our virtuosi who are appreciated everywhere for their fullness [of sound] and grand style, and have made themselves the most advanced representatives of the art.[4]

Charles de Bériot

While never overtly hostile in their published reviews about foreign violinists, the press usually remained cold to them and as Charles de Bériot said:

To keep on the path of beauty and truth in the arts, what is necessary? To know oneself well. But as “pride tries to deceive oneself”[5]and that criticism frequently irritates or discourages us, we think that the surest way is to judge oneself. That is to discern in the praises that we receive the healthy advice which is almost always present in what is not said. Thus, do they praise your energy? Be careful, it is because you lack grace. Do they speak often of the delicacy of your talent? Be persuaded that you have neither fullness nor force. It is thus a fair mind always takes as advice the counter of praise, in order to never fall into inevitable exaggeration by forcing the trait which they admire.[6]

It is this world of veiled, or perhaps not so veiled criticism, that Nourrit had hoped to spare the young Fabrizius. As a big fish in the large pond of the norther German courts, he had not only entered the ocean that was the Brussels public, but the figurative spawning grounds of the leading violin school in the world.

© 2019 Richard Sutcliffe


De Bériot, Charles, Méthode de violon (Paris: Schott, c.1857)

Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung

                Vol. 8, nr. 151, 18 December 1847, pg. 608

Le Diapason

                18 April 1850, pg. 39-40


                5 November 1847, pg. 2

                7 November 1847, pg. 2

                12 November 1847, pg. 2-3

Indépendance Belge

                1 November 1847, pg. 3

                2 November 1847, pg. 2

                5 November 1847, pg. 3

L’Italia musicale

                Vol. 1, nr. 21, 24 November 1847, pg. 167

Journal de Bruxelles

                10 November 1847, pg. 2

Neue Berliner Musikzeitung

Vol. 48, 24 November 1847, pg. 395

Vol. 53, 29 November 1847, pg. 435

La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris

                Vol. 14, nr. 46, 14 November 1847, pg. 375

[1] Handelsblad, 7 November 1847, pg. 2.

[2] Hadelsblad, 12 November 1847, pg. 2-3.

[3] Indépendance Belge, 5 November 1847, pg. 3.

[4] Le Diapason, 18 April 1850, pg. 39-40.

[5] De Bériot is quoting Molière’s Le Tartuffe.

[6] De Bériot, Méthode de violon (Paris: Schott, c. 1857), pg. 254.