|A leading figure of French Romanticism, Hector Berlioz was considered to be an outsider as far as the French musical establishment was concerned and not all his works were well received.|
Much against his family's wishes Hector Berlioz abandoned his medical studies in favour of a career as a composer.
While Hector Berlioz was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire, he fell in love with the Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, who had come to Paris to perform in a season of William Shakespeare and they were married a year later.
Hector Berlioz loved literature of great themes and passions and some of his greatest works were inspired by the writings of Byron, Shakespeare and Goethe.
The years following his second marriage to the singer, Marie Recio, were the happiest and most productive of his life. He spent much of his time travelling in Europe, finding audiences outside Paris more receptive to his innovative ideas.
He was admired as a conductor, critic and writer. He wrote two volumes of Memoirs which are a fascinating, if prejudiced, account of musical life in Paris in his time.
In his own time Hector Berlioz was something of an outsider, as far as the French musical establishment was concerned. Nevertheless he remains the outstanding figure in French romantic music, typical of the period particularly in his literary interests. At first a medical student, he eventually entered the Paris Conservatoire, but encountered some difficulty in his subsequent career, as he strove for a hearing of his music.
He earned his living in part as a critic and writer, and his "Memoires" remain a fascinating if prejudiced account of musical life in Paris in his time.
"The Symphonie fantastique of 1830", an orchestral work that contains autobiographical elements, suggested new paths in composition. This was followed four years later by Harold in Italy, for viola and orchestra, with a narrative programme of literary origin, written for but never performed by the great violinist Paganini.
Concert overtures include a Shakespearean King Lear and two overtures based on the work of Sir Walter Scott, Waverley and Rob Roy.
The overture "Le carnaval romain" (Roman Carnival) was derived from his opera Benvenuto Cellini, while "Le corsaire" has at least Byronic overtones.
Hector Berlioz's interest in William Shakespeare's work, increased by his love affair and later unsuccessful marriage with the Shakespearian actress Harriet Smithson, had a further result in the dramatic symphony "Romeo and Juliet".
Other important works by Hector Berlioz include "The Eight Scenes" from Faust, later revised as "The Damnation of Faust", one of the most original of a number compositions based on Goethe's drama. The Christmas oratorio "L'enfance du Christ" (The Childhood of Christ) is a significant and characteristic work, with the remarkable and extravagantly orchestrated "Grande Messe des morts" (Requiem) with its brass bands and massed choirs.
Equally extravagant is the opera "Les Troyens" (The Trojans), later divided into two parts, "The Capture of Troy and The Trojans". Excerpts from the opera, the music for "The Royal Hunt and Storm", in which the Carthaginian Queen Dido and her Trojan lover Aeneas realise their love for each other, can be heard in concert programmes.