Music / Hector Berlioz

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Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 — 8 March 1869) was a French composer, conductor and music critic of the Romantic Era. An extremely controversial figure due to the direction in which he took his compositions, 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 operas 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. (In fact, 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:

  • 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 of Goethe's version. 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 of the play. It instead focuses on the psychologies and repartee of the two protagonists.
  • Love and Death: The core themes of his works.
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