Hector Berlioz

Berlioz, Louis-Hector

Louis-Hector Berlioz (lwē ĕktôr´ bĕrlyôz´), 1803–69, French romantic composer. He abandoned medical study to enter the Paris Conservatory as a composition student. In 1830 his Symphonie fantastique was first performed in Paris, marking a bold new development in program music. This work, with its recurring basic theme, departed from traditional symphonies in its loose form and highly emotional, personal style. That same year Berlioz won the coveted Prix de Rome. During the next decade in Paris he wrote the symphonies Harold in Italy and Romeo and Juliet, the opera Benvenuto Cellini, and a requiem. In 1842–43 he conducted concerts in Germany, Austria, England, and Russia. His outstanding "concert opera" The Damnation of Faust (1846) met with failure in his lifetime but is now considered a masterpiece. Another dramatic work is the gigantic opera The Trojans, completed in 1858 but not performed in its entirety until 1890. It was successfully revived after 1920. The nonliturgical oratorio The Childhood of Christ, for which he also wrote the text, was completed in 1854, and it was performed with great success for almost a century.

Some of Berlioz's works are scored for large numbers of instruments, not only for volume but for richness of tone color even in delicate passages. His ideas of orchestration influenced many later composers. A passionate and impetuous man, Berlioz had several love affairs and was twice married, first to Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress. He was librarian at the Paris Conservatory and an incisive, witty, and urbane author whose writings include music criticism, essays on the arts, memoirs (tr. 1969; rev. ed., 2002), and the amusing Evenings with the Orchestra (tr. 1956). His treatise on instrumentation (1843) was widely recognized as a standard text.

See his letters, ed. by J. Barzun (1954); biographies by J. H. Elliot (rev. ed. 1967), J. Barzun (2 vol., 3d ed. 1969), and D. Cairns (2 vol., 2000); studies by E. Newman (1910, repr. 1969), T. S. Wotton (1935, repr. 1969), B. Primmer (1973), and K. Holoman (1990).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Hector Berlioz: Selected full-text books and articles

Hector Berlioz By Tom S. Wotton Oxford University Press, 1935
French Music: From the Death of Berlioz to the Death of Faure By Martin Cooper Oxford University Press, 1951
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Hector Berlioz begins on p. 8
The Critical Composer: The Musical Writings of Berlioz, Wagner, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, and Others By Irving Kolodin Howell, Soskin, 1940
Librarian's tip: Contains several criticisms written by Berlioz
Treatise on Instrumentation By Hector Berlioz; Theodore Front Edwin F. Kalmus, 1948
Composers on Composers By John L. Holmes Greenwood Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: "Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)" begins on p. 27
The World of Great Composers By David Ewen Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962
Librarian's tip: "Hector Berlioz (1803-69)" begins on p. 179
Man and His Music: The Story of Musical Experience in the West By Alec Harman; Anthony Milner; Wilfrid Mellers Oxford University Press, 1962
Librarian's tip: "Berlioz" begins on p. 759
Romanticism (1830-1890) By Gerald Abraham Oxford University Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Berlioz in multiple chapters
Music Drama at the Paris Odeon, 1824-1828 By Mark Everist University of California Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: "Berlioz" begins on p. 213
The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction By Colin Lawson; Robin Stowell Cambridge University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: "Berlioz: Episode de la Vie d'un Artiste, Symphonie Fantastique en Cinq Parties Op. 14" begins on p. 124
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