Hector Berlioz

1803 - 1869



French composer Hector Berlioz was born on December 11th 1803. He made several substantial contributions including his Treatise on Instrumentation. Some of his works specified enormous orchestral forces and he even conducted a number of concerts with more than 1,000 musicians. He also composed roughly 50 songs and his influence upon the development of Romanticism, particularly on programmaticism, was very significant. He had no formal training as a child and never learned the piano, unlike many of those who later became his contemporaries. He therefore taught himself harmony from textbooks alone. His parents disapproved of him having a career in music so forced him to study medicine at first. Having moved to Paris, he then began to enjoy all the cultural offerings that Paris gave him and, after a number of years, abandoned his career in medicine and began attending the Paris Conservatory in 1826. In 1830 after four desperate attempts, he finally won the Prix de Rome, moving to Rome for a number of years. He never actually wrote any works whilst in Italy, but the time he spent there was very formative and went on to influence and inspire many of his works. In 1830, Berlioz also completed what was possibly one of his most important works – Symphonie fantastique. The five-movement symphonic work depicts an artist who falls in love then, in a fit of hopelessness, poisons himself with opium. Berlioz provided extensive programme notes for each section with each idea in the note being clearly and vividly portrayed by the music. It has been suggested that the artist to whom Berlioz refers is almost certainly himself. This work brought Berlioz his first taste of fame and notoriety. The manner in which this work so clearly depicted non-musical concepts in musical terms was reasonably revolutionary, and had a particular influence on composers such as Claude Debussy and other impressionists. He died surrounded by friends at his home in Paris on March 8th 1869.


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