From Berlioz to Boulez

Roger Nichols
Foreword by Jeremy Sams

In compiling this collection of articles, interviews, radio plays and talks, acclaimed writer and broadcaster, Roger Nichols has created an engrossing chronicle of the century-and-a-half or so of French music from Berlioz to Boulez. He begins with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and ends with his obituary of Pierre Boulez. He looks at twenty significant composers on his journey through this turbulent and fertile period.

Book of the Year – Presto Music Awards 2022




Awarded the légion d’Honneur by the French government in 2006 for his services to French culture, acclaimed writer and broadcaster Roger Nichols invites the reader to accompany him on his journey through the century-and-a-half turbulent and fertile period in the history of French music from Berlioz to Boulez. In compiling his collection of articles, interviews, radio plays and talks, Nichols begins with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and ends with his obituary of Pierre Boulez. Along the way, he includes in-depth studies of Debussy and Ravel, connecting the two by a comparison of their operatic masterpieces, Pelléas et Mélisande and l’Enfant et les sortilèges. Twenty other significant composers from this fascinating period come in for Nichols’ hallmark combination of erudition and wit.

Book of the Year – Presto Music Awards 2022
Presto Music Awards 2022


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About the Author

After studying music at Oxford with Edmund Rubbra and Frederick Sternfeld, Roger Nichols taught in schools and universities until 1980, when he became a freelance author, reviewer, translator, editor, lecturer, broadcaster and pianist. He began broadcasting for BBC Radio 3 in 1976, mainly on French music since 1820, his documentary subjects including Alfred Cortot, Arthur Honegger and Maggie Teyte. His radio series The Harlequin Years, on music in Paris from 1917 to 1929, formed the basis of a book of the same title, published in 2002. Other publications include biographies of Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc. His editions of French music with Peters Edition of London include most of Ravel’s piano music and the complete Duparc songs using previously unknown material.

In 2006 he was appointed chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for services to French culture. Since 2007 he has contributed articles and reviews to BBC Music magazine. He and his wife Sarah have lived in Herefordshire since 1974.


Foreword by Jeremy Sams
Preface by Roger Nichols
1. Hector Berlioz – fantasy and fury
2. … and beyond …
3. Frédéric Chopin – a difficult genius
4. Charles Gounod
5. Edouard Lalo
6. Camille Saint-Saëns
7. Léo Delibes
8. Jules Massenet – a man of pleasure
9. Chabrier – selected letters
10. Heap, heap, Hurrah! – a review
11. The Angel of Laughter
12. Gabriel Fauré – Pelléas et Mélisande
13. Debussy – the reception of his music in Britain up to 1914
14. Debussy as man and artist
15. Debussy and Degas – beyond Impressionism
16. Debussy, Ravel and an orchestra for the 20th century
17. Debussy, d’Annunzio and Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien
18. Pelléas et Mélisande / L’Enfant et les sortilèges
19. Pelléas et Mélisande – reviews by d’Indy, Dukas and Willy
20. Who was Mélisande?
21. Pelléas et Mélisande – interview with Irène Joachim
22. Albéric Magnard
23. Florent Schmitt
24. Erik Satie
25. The Trouble with Satie
26. Parade – a mix of extraordinary talents
27. Le Groupe des Six – 100 years on
28. Reynaldo Hahn
29. Raveliana – new insights
30. Ravel and the 20th century
31. Ravel and the Dance
32. Ravel and Spain
33. Ravel, Dreyfus and Sex
34. Ravel and the critics
35. The Châtelet Ballet Gala of 22 April 1912
36. Music and Impressionism
37. Jean Cocteau and Igor Stravinsky
38. Arthur Honegger – Incantation to the fossils – a documentary
39. Francis Poulenc, French ballet, and the pleasure principle
40. Francis Poulenc – and the road to La Voix humaine
41. Maurice Duruflé
42 Messiaen and the journey to a world beyond
43. Messiaen – ornitheology and all that
44. Messiaen at 70 – an interview
45. Debussy and Messiaen
46. Ravel and Messiaen – accords and discords
47. Messiaen – Interview with Pierre Boulez
48. Messiaen – Interview with Dame Gillian Weir
49. Music in Paris in the 1940s
50. Henri Dutilleux at 75 – Conversations
51. Henri Dutilleux at nearly 90
52. Henri Dutilleux – Obituary
53. Pierre Boulez and André Schaeffner – a review
54. 30 years of IRCAM
55. Adieu, Pierre Boulez – Obituary


From Berlioz to Boulez truly takes you over a span of some 150 years – from the late Romantic to the Modern – all through the work of the greatest composers in France. Roger Nichols tracks trends, he follows friendships, notes where enemies were made, and places us in the middle of the most exciting periods in the development of music in France. We cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Maureen Buja –

This is a book to be savoured slowly like a fine wine. A work to relish and to linger over for a lifetime. It can be dipped into rewardingly but read from cover to cover, it is an enthralling chronicle of a turbulent and fertile period in the history of French music, from Berlioz to Boulez.
Jeremy Sams

…an engagingly-written style combined with authoritatively-researched content that is both entertaining to read and highly informative…
Book of the Year – Presto Music Awards 2022


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