Hector Berlioz  
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz, in full Louis-Hector Berlioz (born December 11, 1803, La Côte-Saint-André, France—died March 8, 1869, Paris), French composer, critic, and conductor of the Romantic period, known largely for his Symphonie fantastique (1830), the choral symphony Roméo et Juliette (1839), and the dramatic piece La Damnation de Faust (1846). His last years were marked by fame abroad and hostility at home.

Early career
The birthplace of Berlioz was a village about 35 miles (56 km) northwest of Grenoble in the French Alps. France was at war; the schools were disrupted; and Berlioz received his education from his father, an enlightened and cultured physician, who gave him his first lessons in music as well as in Latin. But, like many composers, Berlioz received in his early years little formal training in music. He worked out for himself the elements of harmony and by his 12th year was composing for local chamber-music groups. With help from performers, he learned to play the flute and the guitar, becoming a virtuoso on the latter.

In 1821 his father sent him to Paris to study medicine, and for a year he followed his courses faithfully enough to obtain his first degree in science. He took every opportunity to go to the Paris-Opéra, however, where he studied, score in hand, the whole repertory, in which the works of Gluck had for him the most appeal and authority. His musical vocation had become so clear in his mind that he contrived to be accepted as a pupil of Jean-François Lesueur, professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. This led to disagreements between Berlioz and his parents that embittered nearly eight years of his life.

He persevered, took the obligatory courses at the Conservatoire, and in 1830 won the Prix de Rome, having received second prize in an earlier competition.

These successes pacified his family but were, in a sense, incidental to his career, for in the same year he had finished and obtained a performance of his first great score, which is also a seminal work in 19th-century music, the Symphonie fantastique.

It was in some respects unfortunate that, instead of being able to follow up this success, Berlioz was required, under the terms of his prize, to spend three years abroad, two of them in Italy. During his long Paris apprenticeship, he had experienced the “revelation” of two modern musicians, Beethoven and Weber, and of two great poets, Shakespeare and Goethe. He had meanwhile fallen in love, at a distance, with Harriet Smithson, a Shakespearean actress who had taken Paris by storm; and, on the rebound from this rather one-sided attachment, he had become engaged to a brilliant and beautiful pianist, Camille Moke (later Mme Pleyel). In leaving Paris, Berlioz was not only leaving a flirtatious fiancée and the artistic environment that had stimulated his powers; he was also leaving the opportunity to demonstrate what his genius saw that modern French music should be. The public was content with the “Paris school,” dating back to the 1780s, and there is evidence that all Europe (including the Vienna of Beethoven and Schubert) accepted the productions of André Grétry, Étienne Méhul, Luigi Cherubini, and their followers as leading the musical world.

Painting of a young Berlioz by Émile Signol, 1832.
  Berlioz wanted to bring forward the work of Weber and Beethoven (including the last quartets) and add contributions of his own. He also preached, for the sake of dramatic expression in music, a return to the master of the stage, Gluck, whose works he knew by heart. These three musicians were all in some sense dramatists, and to Berlioz music must first and foremost be dramatically expressive. This doctrine he had begun to expound in his first musical reviews, as early as 1823, and, with the sharpness and strength of an early vision, it remained the artistic creed of his mature years. When one understands its intellectual and intuitive basis, one understands also the reasons for his dynamic career. What may look like self-seeking—the unceasing effort to have his music played—was, in fact, the dedication of his tremendous energies to a cause, often at the expense of his own creative work. The result of his many journeys to Germany, Belgium, England, Russia, and Austria-Hungary was that he taught the leading orchestras of Europe a new style and, through them, taught a new idiom to the young composers and critics who flocked wherever he went. Before these “campaigns” began, however, Berlioz had his time of reflection in Italy. He wrote in his Mémoires (1870) how unproductive he was after the rich output of the Paris years, which had brought forth an oratorio, numerous cantatas, two dozen songs, a mass, part of an opera, two overtures, a fantasia on Shakespeare’s Tempest, and eight scenes from Goethe’s Faust, as well as the Symphonie fantastique.
Even in Italy, however, Berlioz filled notebooks, met the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka, made a lifelong friend of Mendelssohn, and tramped the hills with his guitar over his shoulder, playing for the peasants and banditti whose meals he shared. The impressions gathered in Italy remained a source of both musical and dramatic inspiration down to the last of his works, Les Troyens and Béatrice et Bénédict (first performed 1862). Meanwhile, his love affair stagnating and his impatience with life at the Villa Medici in Rome becoming acute, he returned to France after 18 months and forfeited part of his prize.

Crop of a carte de visite photo of Hector Berlioz by Franck, Paris, c. 1855
  Mature career
Back in Paris, he set about conquering it anew. He put together a collection of earlier pieces in a form then fashionable, the monodrama, or recitation by one actor interspersed with musical scenes. Since the Symphonie fantastique had ended with the death and demonic torments of the protagonist, Berlioz called his new work Le Retour à la vie (later Lélio, after the hero’s name). First performed in 1832, this concoction, which contains three or four delightful pieces, enjoyed great success, and Berlioz had reason to think himself launched again.

A series of accidents brought him in touch with the actress Harriet Smithson, whom he married on October 3, 1833. The marriage did not last, though for some years the couple led a peaceful existence at Montmartre in the house that Maurice Utrillo later never tired of painting. Among the visitors there were the young poets and musicians of the Romantic movement, including Alfred de Vigny and Chopin. It was there that Berlioz’s only child, Louis, was born and also where he composed his great Requiem, the Grande Messe des morts (1837), the symphonies Harold en Italie (1834) and Roméo et Juliette (1839), and the opera Benvenuto Cellini (Paris, 1838).

It was after the premiere of Harold en Italie that Berlioz had the astonishing experience of seeing the famous violin virtuoso Paganini fall at his feet and declare that he was a genius destined to carry on the new musical tradition initiated by Beethoven.
The next day Berlioz received 20,000 francs with a letter from Paganini repeating this judgment. Using the money to free himself from journalistic drudgery, Berlioz composed the choral symphony Roméo et Juliette, dedicated to Paganini.

In Paris it was always expected that a composer, regardless of his bent, should be tested at the Opéra. Berlioz’s friends intrigued to procure the assignment of a libretto. An adaptation of Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography was secured, and Berlioz finished his score in a short time. The intrigue now passed to the other side, which saw to it that the production of Benvenuto Cellini at the Opéra failed. From this blow the work itself and the composer’s reputation in France never recovered during his lifetime. The score is a masterpiece, and the attribution of the failure to the libretto shows ignorance of the qualities of both the libretto and the music.

Pencil drawing of Berlioz,
by Alphonse Legros, c.1860

  The Requiem of 1837 had been a government commission for a ceremonial occasion designed to encourage the Rome laureate. The request to compose another work for a public ceremony—the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (Funeral Symphony) for military band, chorus, and strings, commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution (1840)—was intended as a partial solace for the defeat of Benvenuto Cellini.

A few years before, Berlioz’s literary gifts had won him the post of music critic for the leading Paris newspaper, the Journal des Débats, and his employers wielded political influence. Once again, there were intrigues, but the score of the Funeral Symphony was ready for the inauguration of the Bastille column.

Unfortunately, the music was drowned out by the drum corps, a disaster that Berlioz repaired by giving the work the following month at a concert hall. This was the score that Wagner, then seeking fame in Paris, admired so wholeheartedly.

Berlioz was able to put Wagner in the way of some musical journalism and thus began a fitful connection of 30 years between the two men whose influence on modern music still resembles a battle of ideals: Berlioz aiming at the creation of drama in and through music alone; Wagner at marriage of symphony with opera. Although Berlioz and Wagner met again in London in 1855 and found each other congenial, their philosophical differences generally kept them apart.

After 1840 Berlioz’s life consisted of a series of tours across Europe. The last of these was an exhausting series of concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1867, when he was desperately ill. But it had the effect of introducing the Russian Five, notably Mussorgsky, to his style through his manuscript scores and his conducting. For Berlioz was the first of the virtuoso conductors, having made himself such in order to supply the deficiencies of men who were unable to direct the new music according to the new canon: play what is written. Moreover, the rhythmical difficulties of his scores and the unfamiliar curve of his melodies disconcerted many. The orchestras themselves had to be taught a new precision, vigour, and ensemble, and this was Berlioz’s handiwork. Wagner’s memoirs bear testimony to this “revelation of a new world,” which he experienced at Berlioz’s hands in 1839.

Berlioz by Pierre Petit
  On orchestration itself (and, even more important, on instrumentation) Berlioz produced the leading treatise, Traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes (1844). Much more than a technical handbook, it served later generations as an introduction to the aesthetics of expressiveness in music.
As Albert Schweitzer has shown, its principle is as applicable to Bach as to Berlioz, and it is in no way governed by considerations of so-called program music. To this last-named genre of dubious repute, Berlioz did not contribute more than the printed “story” of his first symphony, which is intelligible as music, without any program.

Among Berlioz’s dramatic works, two became internationally known: La Damnation de Faust (1846) and L’Enfance du Christ (1854). Two others began to emerge from neglect after World War I: the massive two-part drama Les Troyens (1855–58), based on Virgil’s story of Dido and Aeneas, and the short, witty comedy Béatrice et Bénédict, written between 1860 and 1862 and based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

For all these Berlioz wrote his own librettos. He also wrote a Te Deum (1849; perfomed 1855), which is a fitting counterpart to the Requiem, and between 1843 and 1856 he orchestrated his songs, including the song cycle Les Nuits d’été (Summer Nights). Among his best known overtures are Le Roi Lear (1831), Le Carnaval romain (1844), based on material from Benvenuto Cellini, and Le Corsaire (1831–52).

In Berlioz’s final years he was incapacitated by illness and saddened by many deaths. His first wife, from whom he was separated but to whom he still felt a deep attachment, died in 1854; his second wife, Maria Recio, who had been his companion for many years and whom he had married when he became a widower, died suddenly in 1862. Finally, his son, Louis, who was a sea captain and on whom he concentrated the affection of his declining years, died of yellow fever in Havana at the age of 33.

Last photograph of Berlioz, 1868
The outstanding characteristics of Berlioz’s music—its dramatic expressiveness and variety—account for the feeling of attraction or repulsion that it produces in the listener. Its variety also means that devotees of one work may dislike others, as one finds lovers of Shakespeare who detest Othello. But Berlioz also presents a particular difficulty of musicianship in being closer to the true sources of music than to its German, Italian, or French conventions; his melody is abundant and extended and is often disconcerting to the lover of four-bar phrases; his harmony may be obvious or subtle, but it is always functional and frequently depends on elements of timbre; his modulations can be harsh and may even seem harsher than they would in another composer, because he uses his effects sparingly and achieves much by small means and adroit contrasts. This is also true of his orchestration, generally light and transparent, never pasty. As George Bernard Shaw said: “Call no conductor sensitive in the highest degree to musical impressions until you have heard him in Berlioz and Mozart.”

The Belgian composer César Franck once said that Berlioz’s whole output is made up of masterpieces.
He meant by this that each of the composer’s dozen great works was the realization of a conception distinct from all the others, rather than successive efforts to attain perfection in the last or best of a series. Franck’s judgment is borne out by the fact that, unlike many composers, Berlioz almost never repeats himself. Rather, he created a fresh style for each of his subjects, with the result that familiarity with one is no guarantee of ready access to another. Nothing could be less alike than the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale and Roméo et Juliette or than the Requiem and L’Enfance du Christ. To be sure, Berlioz’s harmonic system seems the same throughout, partly because it deviates so noticeably from common expectation and partly because its nuances are only now being appreciated for what they are, instead of being looked upon as clumsy attempts to do something else. Again, his melody and free counterpoint everywhere carry his mark—the sinewy originality and dynamic equilibrium of the former, the ingeniously careless independence of the latter. Yet, out of these characteristic elements Berlioz makes a radically different atmosphere for each of his dramas and within them for each of his dramatis personae. Only a repeated hearing of any given work discloses all the power and art (including what would now be called psychology) that it contains. This does not mean that these works are without flaw; it does mean that they embody unique conceptions, to be taken for what they have to give and which no other composer provides.

In the creation of drama and atmosphere, Berlioz excels in scenes of melancholy, introspection, love—gentle or passionate—the contemplation of nature, and the tumult of crowds. His intention throughout is to combine truth with musical sensations, be they powerful or (to quote Shaw again) “wonderful in their tenuity and delicacy, unearthly, unexpected, unaccountable.”
Much might be added or quoted that would show the extent to which Berlioz’s music still needs careful and dispassionate study. In 1935 the respected British musicologist Sir Donald Tovey, who had not before heard Les Troyens, declared that it is “one of the most gigantic and convincing masterpieces of music drama.” And, he went on, “You never know where you are with Berlioz.” What is certain is that books that date from the 19th century or echo its views, with or without a bias toward Wagner or Debussy, will mislead the student and possibly close the ears of the listener. It is easy to represent Berlioz as merely a craftsman in tone colour who helped develop the resources of the orchestra. But with the repeated performance of the major works all over the Western world, the more comprehensive judgment has come to prevail that Berlioz is a dramatic musician of the first rank. Before 1945 the Berlioz repertoire was limited to the Symphonie fantastique and a few brief extracts. The great works, done once and usually with insufficient preparation, produced little effect and confirmed the wisdom of letting them lie. The advent of long-playing records radically altered the situation. Audiences can now judge the interpretations that they are being given, and thus they hear Berlioz performances with a knowledge and critical attention comparable to those with which they hear other composers.

Jacques Barzun

Encyclopædia Britannica

Hector Berlioz Conducting

Hector Berlioz was born near Grenoble in the Freneh Alps. As a child he was a voracious reader, particularly of Virgil, Shakespeare, and Goethe. He never learned to play the piano, and lessons on the flute lasted just a year. Only on the guitar, a gift from his father, did he attain a degree of proficiency.

Despite young Berlioz's musical aspirations, parental expectations of a career in medicine led first to studies at a medical college in Paris. But the desire to be a composer was too strong, and to his parents' chagrin he abandoned medicine and went to the Pans Conservatoire to study composition. Berlioz proved to be a troublesome student. His ideas were conceived on a grand scale and were difficult to perform because of the large forces required. Nevertheless he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1830 and his father finally accepted that his son was a composer.

Berlioz's first major piece was the Symphonic fantastique, one of the most original and revolutionary concepts ever penned. Like many works from the Romantic period the Symphonie is "programme music": the second movement describes a ball; the third, a successor to Beethoven's Pastoral symphony, is a depiction of nature; and the fourth is a gruesome "March to the Scaffold." The inspiration for this monumental work was unrequited love; the main musical idea throughout the work represents the woman in question, actress Harriet Smithson. Berlioz had seen the performances of Shakespeare that had made her the darling of the French capital, but she refused to let him woo her. When she heard the symphony she had inspired, however, she fell in love with its author and the two were married.

In 1834, Berlioz was commissioned by Paganini to write Harold in Italy, another massive work that has a major solo part for the viola. Paganini was disappointed that the solo role did not give him more to play and never performed the work, but lie remained friendly with Berlioz and in 1838 his gift of 20,000 francs enabled the Frenchman to give up music criticism, which he loathed, to concentrate on composing. More large-scale works followed, including a Requiem commissioned by the French government in 1837 that required a monumental 220 players and 200 voices.

After all his efforts, Berlioz's first marriage was a failure and he separated from Harriet in 1844. Undeterred, he married again, this time Marie Recio, whom he had met in 1 841.

This was also the year he completed the charming song-cycle Les nuits d'ete (Summer nights) for mezzo-soprano and piano. In 1856 Berlioz orchestrated the work, in which form it is better known today. A master of orchestration, Berlioz wrote a pioneering essay on the subject in 1844. It remains an important reference for composers today.

In 1856 Berlioz embarked on his grandest work, the opera Les Troyens (The Trojans), regarded by many as his masterpiece. He used the operas of Cluck as models, perhaps because of the Classical rather than Romantic subject matter, and took three years to complete it. Because of its length, Les Troyens was divided into two parts to facilitate staging, Acts 1 and 2 becoming La prise de Troie (The capture of Troy) and Acts 3 to 5 Les Troyens a Carthage (The Trojans in Carthage).

Berlioz died m 1869 and was buried in Montmartre in Paris. Curiously, the French did not automatically take him to their hearts, and for many years his works were more popular in Germany, England and Russia — the countries he regularly visited on conducting tours - than in his native land.


The Damnation of Faust
Soliste: Hugo Peraldo 

La damnation de Faust 

Soliste: J. Berthelon 

Beatrice et Benedict


Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Symphonie Fantastique
Un bal (Valse: Allegro non troppo)


Kysilko, Janna
Les Nuit d'Ete

The Best of Berlioz
Carnaval romano
1. Carnaval Romano, Op. 9
Sinfonia Fantástica, Op. 14, "Episódio da Vida de um Artista"
2. Rêveries. Passions. Largo. Allegro Agitato e Apassionato Assai
3. Un Bal. Valse. Allegro Non Troppo
4. Scène Aux Champs. Adagio
5. Marche au Supplice. Allegretto Non Troppo
6. Songe D'Une Nuit du Sabbat. Larghetto. Allegro

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Hector Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Orchestra: New Philharmonia Orchestra
- Conductor: Leopold Stokowski
- Year of recording: 1968

"Symphony Fantastique: Épisode de la vie d'un Artiste ... en cinq parties" (Fantastic Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts) Op. 14 written in 1830, is perhaps the most famous program symphony.

There are five movements, instead of the four movements that were conventional for symphonies at the time:
00:00 - I. Reveries: Largo - Passions: Allegro agitato e appassionato assai
13:12 - II. Un Bal (Valse): Allegro non troppo
19:04 - III. Scene aux Champs: Adagio
35:15 - IV. Marche au Supplice: Allegretto non troppo
39:20 - V. Songe d'une Nuit du Sabbat: Larghetto - Allegro

HECTOR BERLIOZ.- Romeo y Julieta Op 17
Parte I
1. Introducción: Combate - Tumulto
Intervención del príncipe
Prólogo -- Estrofas - Scherzetto
Parte II
2. Romeo solo - Tristeza
Sonidos distantes del concierto y del baile
Gran fiesta en lo de los capuletos
3. Escena de amor - Noche serena
El jardín de los Capuletos en silencio y desierto
Los jóvenes Capuletos saliendo del banquete y cantando canciones del baile
4. Scherzo:Scherzo de la reina Mab
Parte III
5. Cortejo fúnebre de Julieta: "Jetez des fleurs pour la vierge expirée"
6.Romeo en la tumba de los Capuletos
Despertar de Julieta - Alegría delirante, desesperación
Agonía y muerte de los amantes
7. Finale
La multitud corre hacia el cementerio
Pelea entre los Capuletos y los Montescos
Récitatif et Air du Père Lenfants que je pleure"
Juramento de reconciliación


Contralto: Patricia Kern
Tenor: Robert Tear
Bajo: John Shirley-Quirk

John Alldis Choir

Orquesta Sinfónica de Londres Y coros

Director: Sir Colin Davis

Romeo y Julieta (Roméo et Juliette en francés es el título original) es una sinfonía dramática, una sinfonía coral a gran escala, para solistas, coro y orquesta del compositor francés Hector Berlioz, basada en la obra homónima de William Shakespeare. El libreto fue escrito por Émile Deschamps y corresponde al Op. 17 y H. 79. Fue estrenada en el conservatorio de Paris el 24 de noviembre de 1839.

Misa de requiem - Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz - Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem)
Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
- Choirs: London Symphony Chorus, Wandsworth School Boys' Choir
- Conductor: Sir Colin Davis
- Soloist: Ronald Dowd (tenor)
- Year of recording: 1969

Requiem (Grande Messe des Morts), for tenor, chorus & orchestra, H. 75 (Op. 5), written in 1837.

- Introit
00:00:00 - 01. Requiem aeternam & Kyrie: Introitus
- Sequence
00:11:41 - 02. Dies irae: Prosa, Tuba mirum
00:25:25 - 03. Quid sum miser
00:28:43 - 04. Rex tremendae
00:35:39 - 05. Quaerens me
00:40:59 - 06. Lacrymosa
- Offertory
00:52:08 - 07. Domine Jesu Christe {Offertorium}
01:03:06 - 08. Hostias
- Sanctus
01:06:45 - 09. Sanctus
- Agnus Dei
01:18:02 - 10. Agnus Dei

Berlioz - Te Deum, op.22 - Abbado (1981)
En 1981, Claudio Abbado donnait une saisissante interprétation du "Te Deum" d'Hector Berlioz, dans le cadre somptueux de la cathédrale St Alban, près de Londres, à la tête des musiciens de l'Orchestre des Jeunes de la Communauté Européenne (EUYO), formation qu'il avait fondée trois ans plus tôt.
L'occasion de revoir le maestro Abbado, et le ténor mexicain Francisco Araiza (Te ergo quaesumus) dans cette oeuvre de premier plan, rarement donnée, qui trouve ici sa version de référence.
Berlioz: L'enfance du Christ, oratorio | Orchestre National de France
Stéphanie d'Oustrac: Marie
• Stéphane Degout: Joseph
• François Lis: Hérode
• Jeremy Ovenden: un récitant - un centurion
• Nahuel di Pierro: Polydorus - un père de famille

Orchestre National de France
Conducted by James Conlon

Hector Berlioz La Damnation de Faust A.S.von Otter K.Lewis J-van Dam Georg Solti
Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust - London, 1962 (Crespin, Turp, Roux; dir. Monteux)
Faust: André Turp
Marguerite: Régine Crespin
Méphistophélès: Michel Roux
Brander: John Shirley-Quick
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
dir. Pierre Monteux
rec. March 8th 1962
Berlioz - Symphonie funèbre et triomphale
I. Marche funèbre: Moderato un poco lento 0:00
II. Oraison funèbre: Adagio non tanto 17:34
- Andantino un poco lento e sostenuto 22:46
III. Apothéose: Allegro non troppo e pomposo 25:52

John Alldis Choir
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Génie de la Liberté on top of the July Column

Berlioz - Harold In Italy
John Eliot Gardiner , Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, Gerard Causse Soloist
Hector Berlioz - Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
Le carnaval romain, ouverture pour orchestre (Roman Carnival Overture) Opus 9. Composed in 1843 and first performed at the Salle Herz, Paris on 3 February 1844. A stand-alone overture intended for concert performance, made up of material and themes from Berlioz's opera Benvenuto Cellini, including some music from the opera's carnival scene.

Conductor: Yoav Talmi
Orchestra: San Diego Symphony Orchestra

Paint: "New Rome, The Castle of S. Angelo", Silvestr Shchedrin (1823).

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