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Hector Berlioz

Louis Hector Berlioz (December 11, 1803 - March 8, 1869), French Romantic composer best known for the work Symphonie Fantastique, subtitled "An episode in the life of an artist", first performed in 1830. He was born in the south of France at La Cote-St. Andre[?] near Grenoble.

He became identified early on with the French romantic movement in Paris. Among his friends were writers such as Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac. Later, Théophile Gautier would write:

"Hector Berlioz seems to me to form with Hugo and Delacroix, the Trinity of Romantic Art"

Berlioz is said to have been innately romantic; experiencing emotions deeply from early childhood. This manifested itself in his weeping at passages of Virgil as a child, and later in a series of love affairs. Several times his affections were unrequited: his love for the Irish Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson[?] was the inspiration for his Symphonie Fantastique. He planned to murder Marie Moke, another of his loves, and then commit suicide, after he heard that she was to marry the piano maker Pleyel. However, Berlioz was residing in Rome at the time under a Prix de Rome scholarship, and she was in Paris. He got as far as Nice before giving up the idea.

Berlioz had a keen affection for literature, and many of his best compositions are inspired by literary works. For The Damnation of Faust, Berlioz drew on Goethe's 'Faust', for Harold in Italy, he drew on Byron[?]'s Childe Harold, and for Benvenuto Cellini he drew on Cellini's own autobiography. For Romeo et Juliet he turned to Shakespeare. For his magnum opus, the monumental opera Les Troyens, Berlioz turned to Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The music of Berlioz enjoyed a revival during the 1960s and 1970s, due in large part to the efforts of British conductor Colin Davis, who recorded his entire oevre, bringing a number of Berlioz's lesser-known works to the light. Davis's recording of Les Troyens was the first complete recording of that work. The work, which Berlioz never saw staged in its entirety during his life, is now revived regularly. In addition to Symphonie Fantastique, other works of his currently in the standard orchestral repertoire are his "légende dramatique" La Damnation de Faust and "symphonie dramatique" Romeo et Juliet (both large scale works for mixed voices and orchestra), and the song cycle Les Nuits d'Été (originally for voice and piano, later with an orchestral accompaniment).

While Berlioz is best known as a composer, he was also a prolific writer, and supported himself for many years writing musical criticism. He wrote in a bold, vigorous style, at times imperious and sarcastic. Evenings With the Orchestra (year?) is a scathing satire of provincial musical life in 19th century France. Berlioz's Memoirs (1870) paints a magisterial portrait of the Romantic era through the eyes one of its chief protagonists.

Hector Berlioz is buried in the Cimetiere de Montmartre[?] with his two wives, Harriet Smithson (died 1854) and Marie Recio (died 1862).

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