Berlioz, Louis Hector
BERLIOZ, LOUIS HECTOR
Romanticist composer whose works and ideas were decisive in the evolution of modern music; b. La Côte Saint-André (near Grenoble), France, Dec. 11, 1803; d. Paris, March 8, 1869. His father was a dedicated physician with Voltairian ideas and, like his wife, of high social rank in the region. The child's musical gifts were soon evident, and long before his formal training he was setting songs from which he later rescued some of his most haunting melodies. His nonmusical studies were supervised by his father, who hoped he would become a doctor. To that end Berlioz went to Paris in 1821 to master the basic sciences. When he began studying with J. F. LeSueur (Napoleon's favorite composer) with a view to enrolling at the Paris Conservatory, Hector's allowance was cut off, and he survived by doing hackwork for music publishers and by singing in comic-opera choruses. He studied at the conservatory and, more importantly, at the Opera (then still dominated by the gluck and spontini repertory), but his teachers were slow to grasp his genius. Four times he was denied the Prix de Rome; when the prize was finally his, on the eve of the 1830 revolution, he had already performed his first masterpiece, Symphonie Fantastique.
In 1833 began what he called his "Thirty Years' War against the pundits, the routineers, and the tonedeaf." This crusade consisted of (1) "campaigns" of conducting in Europe's great cities, which set a new standard of orchestral musicianship; (2) tireless exposition, through brilliant writings in journals of opinion, of his beliefs on the current music-drama question—in essence, that music should be inherently expressive, not the handmaiden of text or program, but relying for dramatic effect on deployment of musical means (melody, rhythm, harmony, orchestration) within musical forms; and (3) composition of large-and small-scale works, which gave form to his ideals. Chief among these are the early dramatic symphonies: Fantastique (1830), Harold in Italy (1834), Romeo and Juliet (1839), and Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale (1840); the dramas per musica: Benvenuto Cellini (1838), Damnation of Faust (1846), The Trojans (1858), Beatrice and Benedict (1862); and the religious "dramas": Requiem (1837), Te Deum (1852), and L'Enfance du Christ (1854).
Although never a church composer, Berlioz was repeatedly drawn to religious subjects, and his intimate knowledge of the religious experience is reflected in his contemplative, ecstatic passages. His First Communion, which took place at an Ursuline convent to the accompaniment of the nuns' choir, became for him an ineffaceable experience of the ancient Catholic music tradition. Later, when he could no longer accept the Church's dogma, he
never lost his aesthetic sympathy and respect for its forms or his humility before its wisdom. All his works, sacred and secular, are characterized by dazzling variety in atmosphere, structure, and orchestral texture. His method of development and his harmonic progressions bewildered most of his contemporaries, and it is only since World War II that a more perceptive scholarly outlook has combined with the advantage of long-playing recordings to set Berlioz in proper perspective; the figure of an extraordinary artist and theorist is emerging.
Bibliography: l. h. berlioz, Memoirs, ed. e. newman, tr. r. and e. holmes (rev. ed. New York 1935); New Letters, ed. and tr. j. barzun (New York 1954); Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration (Paris 1844). r. rolland, Musicians of Today, tr. m. blaiklock (New York 1915). t. s. wotton, Hector Berlioz (London 1935). w. j. turner, Berlioz: The Man and His Work (London 1934). b. van dieren, in Down among the Dead Men (New York 1935). j. barzun, Berlioz and the Romantic Century, 2 v. (Boston 1950); Berlioz and His Century (New York 1956), contains complete list of literary pubs. A complete edition of his works is in preparation. e. baeck and h. baeck-schilders, "Antoine Bessems en het manuscript van Hector Berlioz' Messe Solennelle, " Musica Antiqua, 10 (1993) 77–80; "The Bessems Brothers and the Autograph of Berlioz's Messe Solennelle, " Revue Belge de Musicologie, 53 (1999) 151–157. p. bloom, "Episodes in the Livelihood of an Artist: Berlioz's Contacts and Contràcts with Publishers," Journal of Musicological Research, 15 (1995) 219–273. m.e. bonds, "Sinfonia anti-eroica: Berlioz's Harold en Italie and the Anxiety of Beethoven's Influence," Journal of Musicology, 10 (1992) 417–463. j. a. bowen, "Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Wagner as Conductors: The Origins of the Ideal of 'Fidelity to the Composer,"' Performance Practice Review, 6 (1993) 81–85. g. burgess, "Berlioz und die Oboe (Teil 1)," Tibia: Magazin für Holzbläser, 21 (1996) 81–93; "Berlioz und die Oboe (Teil 2)," Tibia: Magazin für Holzbläser, 21 (1996) 161–167. l. goldberg, "Aspects of Dramatic and Musical Unity in Berlioz's Les Troyens, " Journal of Musicological Research, 13 (1993) 99–112. j. langford, "The Byronic Berlioz: Harold en Italie and Beyond," Journal of Musicological Research, 16 (1997) 199–221. j. rushton, "The Overture to Les troyens, " Music Analysis, 4 (1985) 119–144; "(Louis-) Hector Berlioz," in International Dictionary of Opera, ed. c. s. larue, 2 v. (Detroit 1993) 125–129. t. schacher, "Geistliche Musik als 'drame sacré': Über den Einfluß Le Sueurs auf Berlioz' kirchenmusikalisches Werk," Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft, 8 (1985) 203–221. a. p. simco, "Performing the Timpani Parts to Symphonie Fantastique, " Percussive Notes: The Journal of the Percussive Arts Society, 36/2 (1998) 62–65.