Sunday, December 11, 2005


Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz was born December 11, 1803, near Grenoble in France. His father was a physician, and decreed that Hector should study medicine; but the youth defied the decree, and sacrificed parental assistance, in order to gratify his unquenchable passion for music. His first compositions were rejected with ridicule, as too original and unintelligible. But he had the courage of his convictions, which were enlisted fearlessly in the cause of romantic, realistic musical expression, or Program-music, and in 1830 he won the Grand prix de Rome with his Cantata Sardanapal. His first Symphony, the Phantastique, shortly followed; then his Second, Harold en Italie (1834), and the dramatic Symphony Romeo and Juliet (1839), which were highly praised by the critics, but not accepted by the public.

In 1839 he was appointed "Conservator" of the Paris Conservatory, and later its Librarian. In 1843 he visited Germany, and extended his travels during the next few years to Hungary, Bohemia and Russia, meeting everywhere with that recognition and applause which were strangely withheld from him in his own country. In 1852 he conducted, in London, the New Philharmonic Concerts, and the next year his Benvenuto Cellini was given at Covent Garden.

After his death, March 9, 1869, his countrymen heaped honors upon his memory, but it was chiefly through the unselfish efforts of Schumann, Liszt and others in Germany, that the very great power of Berlioz' genius was apprehended, and his fame established. He was compelled to turn to journalism at times for his livelihood, and he proved to be remarkably fitted for this activity; from time to time he produced literary writings of great acuteness and power.

Berlioz may confidently be acclaimed as the originator of the Romantic movement (for while credit is given to Carl M. von Weber for the earliest recognizable impulses in this direction, his achievements therein are utterly incomparable with those of Berlioz) and he demonstrated his convictions with unfaltering, unbending, often vehement energy, and ultimately with complete triumph.

The attitude of Berlioz toward the orchestra, and his incredible development, enlargement and refinement of its resources, would alone suffice to place him in the front rank of musical path-breakers. Nor was he, notwithstanding his absorbing romantic tendencies, disloyal to classic forms and methods; these he embraced unquestioningly, and he employed them with as much fidelity as his expansive, nervous, unalterably poetic disposition and purpose would permit.


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