Charles de Bériot-Caprices

Posted on July 19th, 2015 by

Like so many musicians, I am fascinated by studies. At least twice a year I lay my more regular concert repertoire to once side, and explore the etudes of a specific violin/composer. What I have found, and this is, I have also discovered, not such a common approach, is that it is vital to ‘take the course’, when working with such material. Whether a composer is offering materials for a pedagogical or artistic goal, or (more often than not) both, I find it vital to respect their aims, to let them shape my physical and musical corpus in the way that they have imagined. So I never cherry pick, but take on the whole set of studies, and, as music as possible, try to do this in the manner which the author intended. This has another benefit, in offering a ‘way in’, both to the composer’s mindset and physiological approach, but to their milieu.

 Charles de Bériot-at the Conservatoire in Brussels, Februrary 2015

Charles de Bériot-at the Conservatoire in Brussels, Februrary 2015

So studying Charles de Bériot’s extraordinary sets of caprices not only opens the door into the Franco-Belgian school, but also ( I like to imagine), his relationship to the world of the dramatic stages, and most of all, of course, his relationship, musical and emotional to the love of his life, the great ‘Malibran’.

Maria Malibran-Teatre Principal de Barcelona

Maria Malibran-Teatre Principal de Barcelona

He never recovered from her death in 1836, but I like to think that the carefully callibrated emotional studies, and then (sometimes bizarrely named) ‘scenes’ offer a view of their shared dramatic imagination.

Charles de Bériot lays down a serious challenge to every violinist!

These Charles de Bériot studies and caprices were recorded in 2006, but have been only available online, so not many people have heard them. They are, in my opinion, ideally suited to the clear and dramatic sound of the 1699 Stradivari on which I recorded them, the Crespi.

Prelude or Improvisation (without Opus)


12 Scenes or Caprices, Op. 109

No. 1. La Separation

No. 2. La Polka

No. 3. Le Lezard

No. 4. Le Depart

No. 5. La Fougue

No. 6. La Banniere

No. 7. Le Caprice

No. 8. Saltarella

No. 9. La Reine

No. 10. Marche Russe

No. 11. L’inquietude

No. 12. La Consolation

8 Studies Op Posth.

No. 1. Graduated shading phrase by phrase

No. 2. Dramatic character, masked contrasts, frequent opposition

No. 3. Brilliant character energetic pronunciation

No. 4. Example of punctuation in the energetic style

No. 5. Character grave and sweet. Liquid emission of sound

No. 6. Martial accents, Rhythmical time, bow firm and sustained

No. 7. Accent of rage. With animation and vivacity

No. 8. Imitation of old master.

PSS . Recorded 2006

Violin- Antonio Stradivari 1699 (Crespi) from the Collection of the Royal Academy of Music

Charles de Bériot was nineteen years old when he arrived in Paris, determined to meet Viotti, then at the end of his ill-starred tenure at the Opéra. He did not consider himself to be a finished artist at the time that he importuned Viotti for lessons. However , he was brushed off, with the warning that study might destroy his uniqueness of style and technique.  It as reported that Viotti said:

“You have a fine style! Give yourself up to the business of perfecting it! Hear all men of talent; profit by everything, and imitate nothing.”

This may well have been right, but nonetheless, the Belgian put himself under the wing of the next generation and sat in Pierre Baillot’s class for a some months.  Although his individuality did not lend itself to submitting to the conservatoire regime, the results were very apparent; de Bériot’s systematic approach to the study of colour and articulation, revealed in  legion études and descriptive caprices, whilst never venturing into dramatic hubris or technical excess, speaks of his relationship with Baillot’s inherent classical restraint and organisational vigour, unified with imagination and an enthusiasm for timbre, so eloquently revealed in  Baillot’s  L’Art du Violon.

Sculpture: Portrait bust of Charles-Auguste de Beriot by Jean-Pierre Dantan. Head and shoulders. Plaster, c.1840.(Royal Academy of Music)


Composer Jeremy Dale Roberts

Great to have this – I’ve already tried to spin a kind of narrative for myself (La Séparation; Le Départ; La Fougue; l’Inquiétude; La Consolation; etc. Probably way off track). The music – like Alkan’s – is linguistically sometimes impoverished; but it’s interesting how, in both cases, pattern and the action of bow (and of course a dynamic plot) take the burden of expression and drama, rather than harmony or any distinction of line. I’m interested in the background. Way back I enjoyed a prolonged love-affair with that whole galère; and I found it poignant how the survivors – people like Georges Sand and Pauline Viardot moved on and ‘filled out’.