November 22, 2013

Hector Berlioz

Last week you found me slightly sidestepped because of Leonardo da Vinci, but the reason why I had bumped into him in the first place, was that I was on the hunt for Decaris’ stamps depicting Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust, a 1969 stamp set from Monaco.

Mephistopheles showing Faust the Goof Life

The set featured in last month’s Stamp Magazine and was described as being Decaris’ tour de force for Monaco. And it sure is. I was especially curious to see how he could translate music into stamp design. 

Minuet of the Goblins
Berlioz must have felt similar pressures when he tried to translate Goethe’s famous poem Faust into music. Although the story was already there, he never really nailed it and had to admit later on that his Faust worked better as a concert piece than as a staged work.

Faust led to Hell
And yet, the story is quite compelling. The aging Faust mourns his incapacity to achieve simple happiness and mourns his lost youth and innocence. He nearly ends his life but then the devil appears in the shape of Mephistopheles. He enchants Faust and shows him the good life. Mephistopheles also conjures up a beautiful woman. Faust and the beautiful Marguerite fall in love, but she is about to be hanged for having accidentally killed her mother. Pledging to do everything he can to save her, Faust sells his soul to the devil. They both ride into hell, thereby saving the lady who ascends to heaven.

Marguerite welcomed into Heaven
Looking at the whole set of nine stamps, what becomes clear is that Decaris seemed to have fared better than Berlioz. Decaris managed to incorporate the flow of music in his design by using the ploy of ‘surrounding’. On quite a lot of values you see the main subject surrounded by creatures. The images are created in such a way that these creatures really seem to dance around the main figure, as if a waltz was being played in the background.

The Sylphs' Ballet
It’s superbly done and I must admit I rate these stamps even higher than Decaris’ famous History of France stamp series, which is normally regarded as his masterpiece. One can only marvel at the design and amount of detail of the engravings.

The set was crowned by a tenth stamp, an airmail rate stamp, which is a direct reference to the reason why the set was issued in the first place: to mark the death centenary of the composer. Although different from the nine story stamps, the engraving of Berlioz’ bust is a very fine piece of work as well and a superb and fitting finale to the issue.

See yous later


  1. brilliant piece.. well done very good reading as well as such beautiful stamps

    Best wishes,.. Michael

  2. Hi Adrian, do you happen to know what the first stamp Decaris did for Monacoi? I'm trying to compile a complete list of all the stamps he worked on, and it's getting there but slowly :)

    1. I believe it is the 100f from the 1958 Virgin Mary at Lourdes set.