Hector Berlioz


Born: 1803   Died: 1869   Country: France   Period: Romantic
Berlioz, the passionate, ardent, irrepressible genius of French Romanticism, left a rich and original oeuvre which exerted a profound influence on nineteenth century music. Berlioz developed a profound affinity toward music and literature as a child. Sent to Paris at 17 to study medicine, he was enchanted by Gluck's operas, firmly deciding to become a composer. With his father's reluctant consent, Berlioz entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1826. Read more His originality was already apparent and disconcerting -- a competition cantata, Cléopâtre (1829), looms as his first sustained masterpiece -- and he won the Prix de Rome in 1830 amid the turmoil of the July Revolution. Meanwhile, a performance of Hamlet in September 1827, with Harriet Smithson as Ophelia, provoked an overwhelming but unrequited passion, whose aftermath may be heard in the Symphonie fantastique (1830).

Returning from Rome, Berlioz organized a concert in 1832, featuring his symphony. Harriet Smithson was in the audience. They were introduced days later and married on October 3, 1833.

Berlioz settled into a career pattern which he maintained for more than a decade, writing reviews, organizing concerts, and composing a series of visionary masterpieces: Harold en Italie (1834), the monumental Requiem (1837), and an opera, Benvenuto Cellini (1838), a crushing fiasco. At year's end, the dying Paganini made Berlioz a gift of 20,000 francs, enabling him to devote nearly a year to the composition of his "dramatic symphony," Roméo et Juliette (1839). And then, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution, came the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (1840).

Iridescently scored, an exquisite collection of six Gautier settings, Les nuits d'été, opened the new decade. This was a difficult time for Berlioz, as his marriage failed to bring him the happiness he desired. Concert tours to Brussels, many German cities, Vienna, Pesth, Prague, and London occupied him through most of the 1840s. He composed La Damnation de Faust, en route, offering the new work to a half-empty house in Paris, December 6, 1846. Expenses were catastrophic, and only a successful concert tour to St. Petersburg saved him.

He sat out the revolutionary upheavals of 1848 in London, returning to Paris in July. The massive Te Deum -- a "little brother" to the Requiem -- was largely composed over 1849, though it would not be heard until 1855. L'Enfance du Christ, scored an immediate and enduring success from its first performance on December 10, 1854. Elected to the Institut de France in 1855, he started receiving a members' stipend, and this provided him with a modicum of financial security. Consequently, Berlioz was able to devote himself to the summa of his career, his vast opera, Les Troyens, based on Virgil's Aeneid, the Roman poet's unfinished epic masterpiece. The opera was completed in 1858. As he negotiated for its performance, he composed a comique adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, which met with a rapturous Baden première, on August 9, 1862. Unfortunately, only the third, fourth, and fifth acts of Les Troyens were mounted by the Théatre-Lyrique, a successful premiere, on November 4, 1863, and a run of 21 performances notwithstanding. This lopsided production stemmed from a compromise (bitterly regretted by the composer) that Berlioz had made with the Théâtre-Lyrique.

Though frail and ailing, Berlioz conducted his works in Vienna and Cologne in 1866, traveling to St. Petersburg and Moscow in the winter of 1867-1868. Despondent and tortured by self-doubt, the composer received a triumphant welcome in Russia. Back in Paris in March 1868, he was but a walking shadow as paralysis slowly overcame him. Read less
Charles Munch conducts Berlioz
Release Date: 05/25/2018   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 19075816352   Number of Discs: 10
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Berlioz: L'enfance du Christ / Loges, Gens, Miles, Ticciati, Swedish Radio Symphony
Release Date: 11/19/2013   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 440   Number of Discs: 2
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Berlioz: Les nuits d'ete / Ticciati, Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Release Date: 02/23/2018   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 421   Number of Discs: 1
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Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique / Ticciati, Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Release Date: 02/23/2018   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 400   Number of Discs: 1
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Berlioz: Romeo et Juliette, Les Troyens: Two Scenes / Talmi
Release Date: 08/22/1995   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8553195   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14


Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1989 Remastered Version): I. Rêveries - Passions
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1989 Remastered Version): II. Un bal
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1989 Remastered Version): III. Scène aux champs
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1989 Remastered Version): IV. Marche au supplice
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1989 Remastered Version): V. Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat
About This Work
Berlioz composed this work in 1830 and conducted the first performance in Paris on December 5 of that same year. He revised it in 1832 and added two cornets to the instrumentation in 1845.

Berlioz the composer was a full-blown
Read more Romantic, whose infatuation-at-first-sight with a pretty British ingénue named Harriet Smithson influenced his Fantastic Symphony. Miss Smithson came to Paris to play Shakespeare, Berlioz's hero (along with Virgil, Goethe, Gluck, Beethoven, Lord Byron, and Victor Hugo). Harriet was "The Beloved" of his programme fantastique. "A young musician of morbid sensibility...in a paroxysm of lovesick despair" attempts suicide, but takes only enough laudanum to induce hallucinations, in which his Beloved appears as a recurring melody with several personalities, finally as a bacchante at a satanic ritual. Despite the lurid scenario, Berlioz's five-movement structure owes more to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony than anyone seems to have noticed at the time, or, for that matter, since. Where Beethoven whipped up a storm, Berlioz created a mob scene that concludes with the protagonist's death: his decapitated head bounces into a waiting basket pizzicato. In the finale, Berlioz went far beyond Beethoven's merrymaking peasants; he created a witches' sabbath, without precedent in music before 1830. Along with liberating orchestral color, he overthrew the tyranny of bar-lines, downbeat accents, and academic dogma.

"Dreams, Passions" begins with the hero's despair, a Largo introduction in C minor that leads to the main body of the movement in C (and later G) major, marked Agitato ed appassionato assai. The Beloved's signature melody is the main theme of a sonata structure with exposition repeat; she returns in the development, in the recap, and in a grand coda of notable length and contrapuntal éclat.

"A Ball" (Allegro non troppo, A major) is the waltz without a trio, although a contrasting section in F major has unison flute and oboe playing the Beloved's theme.

"Scene in the Fields" is an Adagio that begins and concludes with an antiphonal shepherds' duet on oboe and English horn. Near the end of a free-form central section, the Beloved appears. Four timpanists playing very softly -- a Berlioz signature -- imitate a distant storm before the two shepherds lead their flocks homeward.

The G minor "March to the Scaffold" recreates a scene from the Revolution, Allegretto non troppo, with a repeat usually ignored in twentieth century performances. The protagonist dreams he's been condemned to die for killing his Beloved, who appears briefly as a clarinet, and he is guillotined as the crowd shouts approval.

"Dream of the Witches' Sabbath" features a four-part structure after an eerie introduction in E flat. The Beloved's melody is the main theme of Part I, now, however, distorted and vulgarized by clarinets. Distant bells introduce Part II, in which bassoons and tuba play the Gregorian Dies irae. Part III is the Witches' Dance, a fugue that Berlioz called a ronde. Part IV combines the Dies irae and Witches' Dance until the latter triumphs, electrifyingly.

-- Roger Dettmer, All Music Guide Read less

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