Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz
11.12.1803 - 8.03.1869


Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer and was best known for his compositions titled as,”Symphonie fantastique” and “Grande Messe des morts” (a Requiem).

Berlioz Hector has also made rich contributions to the modern orchestra with his “Treatise on Instrumentation”. As a conductor, Hector had introduced huge orchestral forces in some of his works.

Berlioz Hector has composed around 50 songs, and has contributed in several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians.

Berlioz Hector was born on December 11, 1803, in France at La Côte-Saint-André in the département of Isère, near Lyon. Hector’s father was a respected provincial physician and scholar. Hector’s father was an atheist too, and has a liberal outlook.

Hector’s mother was an orthodox Roman Catholic. Berlioz had five siblings in all, three of whom died in adulthood, while the other two, who named as, Nanci and Adele, respectively, survived throughout Hector’s life.

Berlioz was not a child prodigy and he began his musical study, when he was just 12 years old.In the same age, Hector began writing small compositions and arrangements. Soon Hector became proficient at guitar and flute. He learned harmony by textbooks, for which, he was not formally, guided and trained.

The majority of Hector’s early compositions were based on romances and chamber pieces. Berlioz’s father was against his passion for musical study, so due to his father's discouragement, Berlioz Hector never learned to play the piano.

According to Hector, he experienced his first passion for a woman at the age of 12, with an 18 year old next door neighbour named “Estelle Fornier. At that time, he appears to have been innately Romantic, and started to read Virgil in Latin and Shakespeare and Beethoven.

In 1821, when Hector was 18 years old, he went to Paris for getting higher study in medicine, but Hector was not interest in this field and later failed in his exams. Then Hector began to take advantage of the institutions and began to visit the Paris Conservatoire library, by seeking out scores of Gluck's operas and made some personal copies of them.

In short, despite his parents' disapproval, Hector formally abandoned his medical studies to pursue a career in music. While staying in Paris, Hector visit to the Paris Opera, where he saw Iphigénie en Tauride by Christoph Willibald Gluck, a composer whom Hector came to admire above all, jointly alongside Ludwig van Beethoven.

Then he heard two operas by Gaspare Spontini, who was a well known composer of that time and put a great influence over Hector, soon they became best friends and later championed, when they were working as a critic.

Afterword, Hector devoted his interest towards composition. For this purpose, Hector was first encouraged by Jean-François Le Sueur, (a director of the Royal Chapel and professor at the Conservatoire).

In 1823, Hector Berlioz wrote his first article, which was actually, a letter to the journal Le Corsaire defending Spontini's La Vestale. Later Hector had composed several works including Estelle et Némorin and Le Passage de la mer Rouge, which do not exist now.

Hector Berlioz also composed the Messe named “Solennelle”. Although, this Messe was rehearsed and revised after the rehearsal, but not did not perform in the same year. Later, this score was burnt by Berlioz but soon it was miraculously re-discovered in 1991.

In 1825, Hector started to compose the opera named as, “Les francs-juges”, which was completed IN the next year but was not performed. Today, Berlioz’s this work survives only in the shape of fragments and often played in concert.

In 1826, Hector got admission in Conservatoire to study composition under Le Sueur and Anton Reicha. Here, Berlioz also submitted a fugue to the Prix de Rome, but this was eliminated in the primary round.

Later, Hector start submitting a new cantata every year until he succeeded at his fourth attempt and won.

In 1827, Berlioz Hector composed the Waverly overture after Walter Scott's Waverley novels. He also started working as a chorus singer at a vaudeville theatre.

In the next year, Hector met with Harriet Smithson at the Odéon theatre playing Ophelia in Hamlet and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Soon Hector became infatuated by both actress and playwright and he began to send messages to Smithson.

Despite the fact that, Hector did not understand English and similarly, Harriet did not know how to speak French? They both got married on October 3, 1833, in a civil ceremony at the British Embassy with Liszt as one of the witnesses.

Hector had also created close relationship with a singer named, “Marie Recio”, who later become his second wife. Later, Marie Recio was unexpectedly died on June 13 at the age of 48. Her sudden death was due to heart attack.

Hector had a close friendship with Amélie, a 24 years young woman, with whom Hector met at Montmartre Cemetery. Similarly, he developed deep relationship with Mikhail Glinka, with whom he was initially met in Italy and later they remained a close friend. Mikhail was Hector’s very corporative friend and in between 1844 to 1845, she persuaded Berlioz to make one of two tours of Russia.

In 1828, Berlioz Hector heard Beethoven's 3rd and 5th symphonies, which were performed at the Paris Conservatoire. Later it became more popular and overwhelming. Soon, Hector began to study English and wrote musical criticism. He finished his Symphonies fantastic composition, in 1830. That soon proved as a great work, and opened new doors for Berlioz’s fame and notoriety.

Hector had also composed the French national anthem titled as, “La Marseillaise” as well as narrate an overture to Shakespeare's The Tempest, which was the first of his pieces to play at the Paris Opera.

Later, this performance ironically criticized, and almost deserted.

Franz Liszt, who was a friend of Hector and has also attending the concert, later transcribe the entire Symphonie fantastique for piano and enable it more appropriate accounting to the public demands.

In 1831, Berlioz Hector left France for Rome, prompted by a clause in the Prix de Rome, and stayed in Rome for two years. While staying in Italy, Hector did not compose any major works, but later his travels and experiences much inspired and influenced on his next musical work.

In Rome, Berlioz Hector stayed at the French Academy in the Villa Medici, where he found the city distasteful, and mentioned this experience such as,

"Rome is the most stupid and prosaic city I know; it is no place for anyone with head or heart."

Thus, Hector left the city and made frequent trips to the surrounding country. He continued to travel throughout his stay in Italy. He visited Pompeii, Naples, Milan, Tivoli, Florence, Turin and Genoa. Berlioz returned to Paris in November 1832.

In 1855, before returning to Rome, Berlioz composed the overtures to King Lear in Nice and Rob Roy, and began work on a sequel to the Symphonie fantastique, Le retour à la vie (The Return to Life), renamed Lélio.

In between 1830 to 1840, Berlioz wrote many of his most popular and enduring works, which includes; Symphonie fantastique (1830), Harold en Italie (1834), the Grande Messe des morts (1837) and Roméo Et Juliette (1839).

Due to the fund of Paganini, which he had given to Berlioz after hearing Harold, Hector was able to own debts and suspend his work as a musical critic. Afterword, Hector focused on composing the "dramatic symphony" Roméo et Juliette for voices, chorus and orchestra.

Later in 1839, Hector’s Roméo et Juliette, which was based on a series of three concerts, was performed in front of great audiences, including Richard Wagner, in 1839.

Hector’s most well known pieces titled as “the Grande Messe des morts”, faced a great opposition from Luigi Cherubini, who was the music director of the Paris Conservatoire; as “the Grande Messe des morts”, was based on a state-commissioned work in which much bureaucracy had to be endured.

Later, Berlioz Hector introduced the "love scene" in this choral symphony; which was most Hector’s favorite composition. This requiem became successful both at home and abroad; unlike Hector’s later great vocal works such as, La damnation de Faust and Les Troyens, which got commercial failures, when played. In the same year Berlioz Hector’s Roméo et Juliette was premiered, which got fame and proved as very successful.

While serving as Conservateur Adjoint or Deputy Librarian in a Paris Conservatoire Library, Berlioz Hector not only supported himself but also his family by writing musical criticism for Paris publications which primarily named as, Journal des Débats for over thirty years, but later as Gazette musicale and Le Rénovateur.

After the 1830s, when Hector was in France, he found that it was very difficult to achieve recognition as a musician in France. Thus, he planed to visit other countries for getting more musical experience.

In between 1842 to 1863, Hector traveled to Germany, England, Austria and Russia, where he performed many operas and orchestral music. Hence, in all of his lifetime, Hector proved himself as a famous conductor as he was a composer.

In 1840, Hectors’ grand symphony titled, “funèbre et triomphale” was commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution of 1830. This symphony was completed in much haste, and was performed just days after it completion, due to a strict deadline.

Similarly, in 1841, Berlioz Hector composed recitatives for the production of Weber's opera titled as, “Der Freischütz” which was later performed at the Paris Opera.

In the following year Hector Berlioz finished his song composition for piano, this song was titled as, “cycle Les nuits d'été”, which later became very successful.

In early 1844, Berlioz produced several serialisations for music journals, after being highly influenced by a Treatise, based on the subject of Instrumentation and was published for the first time.

In 1847, Hector visited England, where he was appointed as a conductor at the “London Drury Lane Theatre” due to the favor of a very popular French musician named as, “Louis Antoine Jullien”. Louis Jullien was deeply impressed by Hector’s naturally gifted quality, when he first heard the Berlioz’s beautiful orchestra, which was performed at a promenade concert in London.

While staying in London, Hector also paid attention to learnt more English, and became very successful in this mission, but he still could not understand half of what was said in conversation by English people.

In 1850, Berlioz Hector appointed as the Librarian Head at the Paris Conservatoire, it was the only official post, which Hector would ever hold and got a valuable source of income, in his whole life.

Berlioz Hector also performed an experiment on the work of many vocal critics, and composed a work named as, “the Shepherd's Farewell”, which was later performed in two concerts under the guise of a composer named Pierre Ducré.

He suffered with an intestinal illness which would plague Berlioz for the rest of his life, and later became apparent to him. Due to this ailment Berlioz Hector could not composed his new opera entitled as, Edouard Bénazet, but two years later Berlioz wrote Béatrice et Bénédict for him instead of it, which was soon accepted.

Soon in 1860, Hector’s Béatrice et Bénédict was completed and was performed on February 25, 1862, at the Paris Opera.

This great opera composer died on March 8, 1869, at his home in Paris. Berlioz’s funeral ceremony was held at the recently completed Église de la Trinité on March 11, and he was buried in Montmartre Cemetery, near the graves of his two wives, who were exhumed and re-buried next to him.

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