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Music / Hector Berlioz

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"Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its students."

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 a "dramatic symphony" based on Romeo and Juliet and a full opera based on 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."), as well as the Te Deum, specifically its second movement, "Tibi omnes", which was used as the backdrop to the lighting of the Flame for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.


Berlioz's music provides examples of:

  • Darker and Edgier: His Damnation of Faust, opposed to Johann Wolfgang von 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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  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: France had a lukewarm attitude towards Berlioz's works and still does to this day. But Berlioz was greatly acclaimed in England, Germany, and Russia, his works even a source of inspiration to a young Tchaikovsky .
  • Uncommon Time: An early scene in The Childhood of Christ features 7/4 time, when King Herod's fortune tellers prophecy disaster for their ruler.


Example of: