Music / Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 — 8 March 1869) was a French composer, conductor and music critic of the Romantic Era. An extremely controversial figure for the direction he took his composition, Berlioz had difficulty having his works performed in France, the story of which is told colourfully (though with exaggerations) in his Memoirs. He fared somewhat better abroad as his tours in Germany, Russia and England were relatively successful. Schumann was enthusiastic about his music, and Liszt was one of his champions.

A Shakespeare fanboy, Berlioz wrote several opera based on the Bard's works such as Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing (under the title Beatrice and Benedict). His best known work is Symphonie Fantastique, an early example of programme music, and one of the first examples of a psychedelic symphony. (Really, the programme to that work mentions a "sensitive artist" who "poisons himself with opium in a fit of despair.")

Berlioz's music provides examples of

  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy - He presaged the modern orchestra and Hollywood music a century ahead. The Witches Sabbath of the Fantastic Symphony "zooms in" at different demons in the Satanic procession. The Childhood of Christ's final moments seem draw away from the holy family and close the curtain. Such cinematic features can be seen in a lot of his other works.
  • Caustic Critic - Played Straight and Averted. He could write sarcastic, scathing reviews, demolishing mediocre composers. But compared to other critics, especially to the depths of slander, pettiness, and dishonesty they sank to, Berlioz is tame.
  • Darker and Edgier - His Damnation of Faust, opposed to Goethe's, gives no hope for Faust's salvation. Faust is taken to Hell by Mephistopheles, rather than redeemed by Gretchen.
  • Disneyfication - Berlioz's Damnation of Faust lacks the obscure philosophy as Goethe's does. Instead, it focuses on the love story between Faust and Gretchen. Nevertheless, it is Darker and Edgier.
  • Door Stopper - both volumes of his monstrous biography by David Cairns. Reading both volumes may take almost a year or more.
  • Lighter and Softer - Beatrice and Benedict, based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, lacks the villains and near catastrophe as in the play. It instead focuses on the psychologies and repartee of the two protagonists.
  • Love and Death - The core themes of his life and works.