The Day Berlioz Shared A Pineapple With Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 8 December 2019 | 3:30:00 pm

From The Boston Musical Intelligizer. Written by Ralph Locke

In 1860, Richard Wagner was in Paris, trying to arrange for the Opéra to give the world premiere of the revised version of Tannhäuser. In a letter probably written in May of that year, Hector Berlioz invited him to come over to dine. The various guests that evening, he promised, will share “a very lovely pineapple” direct from Brazil. And, after everyone else leaves, he and Wagner “will have the freedom to spend time together in my study.” Presumably, he meant that the two would talk about topics of common interest, such as the Parisian musical world or the recent activities of their mutual friend Franz Liszt. Berlioz’s pineapple letter has now been published for the first time, in the book under review (pp. 548–49). It was apparently written later than any other that survives between Berlioz and Wagner. (They did meet again two months later at the home of Pauline Viardot—the renowned mezzo-soprano and composer—for an advance hearing of parts of Tristan und Isolde.)

Earlier that same year, Berlioz had written a sharply disapproving newspaper column about Wagner’s musical style. Still, the friendliness evident in this letter shows him interested in maintaining an active relationship with Wagner based on an open exchange of views. The pineapple letter will, I hope, lead commentators to be more cautious when they—or we, for I am as guilty as anybody in this—write or tell students, about a supposed sudden and complete breakdown in the relationship between these two bold spirits during the last decade of Berlioz’s life.