Berlioz

BERLIOZ, HECTOR

BIOGRAPHY

(1803 - 1869)

In his own time Hector Berlioz was something of an outsider, as far as the French musical establishment was concerned. Nevertheless he remains the outstanding figure in French romantic music, typical of the period particularly in his literary interests. At first a medical student, he eventually entered the Paris Conservatoire, but encountered some difficulty in his subsequent career, as he strove for a hearing of his music. He earned his living in part as a critic and writer, and his Mémoires remain a fascinating if prejudiced account of musical life in Paris in his time.

Orchestral Music

The Symphonie fantastique of 1830, an orchestral work that contains autobiographical elements, suggested new paths in composition. This was followed four years later by Harold in Italy, for viola and orchestra, with a narrative programme of literary origin, written for but never performed by the great violinist Paganini. Concert overtures include a Shakespearean King Lear and two overtures based on the work of Sir Walter Scott, Waverley and Rob Roy. The overture Le carnaval romain (Roman Carnival) was derived from his opera Benvenuto Cellini, while Le corsaire has at least Byronic overtones. His interest in Shakespeare, increased by his love affair and later unsuccessful marriage with the Shakespearian actress Harriet Smithson, had a further result in the dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet.

Choral Works

Other important works by Berlioz include the Eight Scenes from Faust, later revised as The Damnation of Faust, one of the most original of a number compositions based on Goethe's drama. The Christmas oratorio L'enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ) is a significant and characteristic work, with the remarkable and extravagantly orchestrated Grande Messe des morts (Requiem) with its brass bands and massed choirs.

Operas

Equally extravagant is the opera Les Troyens (The Trojans), later divided into two parts, The Capture of Troy and The Trojans. Excerpts from the opera, the music for the Royal Hunt and Storm, in which the Carthaginian Queen Dido and her Trojan lover Aeneas realise their love for each other, can be heard in concert programmes

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Composers