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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 11 December 1803La Côte-Saint-André, Isère, France
Date of Death 8 March 1869Paris, France
Birth NameLouis-Hector Berlioz

Mini Bio (1)

Hector Berlioz was born on December 11, 1803, into the family of Dr. Louis Berlioz and Marie-Antoinette-Josephine. Hector was the first of six children, three of whom died. He took music lessons at home from a visiting teacher and played flute and guitar. By age 16 he wrote a song for voice and guitar that was later reused for his "Symphonie Fantastique."

In 1821 Berlioz went to Paris to study medicine. His impressions of the Paris Opera performance of "Iphigenie en Tauride" by Christoph Willibald Gluck turned him on music forever. He spent more days at the Paris Conservatory than at the medical school. In 1823 he started writing articles on music for "Le Corsaire". He abandoned medicine for music and successfully performed his "Messe Solennelle" in 1825. After being "cursed" by his mother for abandoning medicine, his allowance from his father was reduced, and was forced to take such jobs as a choir singer to support himself. In 1828 he heard the 3rd and 5th Symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven and with that impression he read "Faust" by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. With such inspiration he started composing "La Damnation de Faust."

Berlios fell in love with Irish actress Harriet Smithson and became so inspired that he finished the "Symphonie Fantastique." He premiered the work and met Franz Liszt at the premiere. They became good friends and Liszt transcribed the "Symphonie Fantastique" for piano. In 1830, after being rejected by Harriett Smithson, Berlioz became engaged to pianist Camille Moke. He went to Rome as the Prix de Rome Laureate and met Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and the Russian Mikhail Glinka. All three became friends for many years. At that time Berlioz received a letter from his fiancée that she had decided to marry M. Camille Pleyel, a wealthy piano maker in Paris. He decided to return to Paris and kill his fiancée, Mr. Playel and himself, but the long trip cooled him down. He stopped in Nice and composed "Le Roi Lear," inspired by William Shakespeare's play "King Lear".

Back in Paris he became friends with Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas père, Niccolò Paganini, Frédéric Chopin and George Sand. He met writer Ernest Legouve and they became lifelong friends. In 1833 he finally married Harriet Smithson, with Liszt himself as one of his witnesses. Their son was born in 1834. Later he had a mistress, singer Marie Recio, whom he married after the death of Hariet Smithson in 1852.

Berlioz was an influential music critic. He wrote about Giacomo Meyerbeer, Mikhail Glinka, Paganini, Liszt and other musicians. From 1834-38 he completed the opera "Benvenuto Cellini". In 1938 his "Harold en Italie" was performed at the Paris Conservatoire. His friend Paganini was so impressed by that performance that he gave Berlioz 20,000 francs.

In the 1840s Berlioz toured in Europe and strengthened his friendship with Mendelssohn-Bartholdy', Richard Wagner, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Robert Schumann. After extensive concertizing in Belgium and Germany, Berlioz returned to Paris. There his friend Mikhail Glinka, who lived in Paris for over a year, came up with the idea of concerts in Russia. Berlioz's joke "If the Emperor of Russia wants me, then I am up for sale" was taken seriously. Having Mikhail Glinka as a convert, Berlioz was invited to Russia twice, and each tour brought him financial gain beyond his expectation. His deep debts in Paris were all covered many times over after his first concert tour of Russia in 1847. Back in Paris he was having difficulties in funding performances of his massive works and lived on his witty critical publications. His second tour of Russia in 1867 was so much more attractive that Berlioz turned down an offer of $100,000 from American Steinway to perform in New York. In St. Petersburg Berlioz took special pleasure in performing with the first-rate orchestra of the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

His second Russian concert tour was a successful finale to his career and life. Berlioz never performed again. He died on March 8, 1869, and was laid to rest at the Cimetiere de Montmartre with his two wives.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (2)

Marie Recio (1854 - 1862) (her death)
Harriet Smithson (1833 - 1842) (divorced) (1 child)

Trade Mark (1)

His big shock of deep red curly hair and his eagle nose

Trivia (8)

Was the first composer to write for suspended cymbal, in the last measure of "Symphonie Fantastique". Was also the first composer to specify what type of timpani mallets to use, as well as stickings, in that same piece.
Was actually planning a composition calling for 32 timpani.
Harriet Smithson was the inspiration for the "idee fixe" theme in the "Symphonie Fantastique", the work that made Berlioz famous.
While in Rome, he received a letter from the mother of his fiancée informing him that his betrothed had married another man in his prolonged absence. Upon hearing this, he concocted a ridiculously impractical and elaborate revenge plan. He disguised himself in drag (as a lady's maid), and traveled to the place of residence of the mother and daughter, equipped with two pistols and a vial of poison, planning to shoot the pair, then poison himself. He abandoned this plan halfway through the journey and never carried out his revenge.
He became infatuated with actress Harriet Smithson after seeing her act in a Shakespeare play just once. He attended all of her subsequent performances of Shakespeare and eventually persuaded her to marry him.
Only child: Louis Berlioz, born August 14 1834, from his marriage to Irish actress Harriet Smithson.
He wrote one of the first textbooks on orchestration. The book was an enormous influence on all future composers, and encouraged musicians to become more daring in their style of orchestration. It is still in print today, and still studied by musicians.
His 1830 "Symphonie Fantastique" was the first symphony in the history of music to have a definite "storyline". All of Berlioz's future symphonic works were similarly based on literary ideas. The "Symphonie Fantastique" also featured the most unusual orchestration ever heard in a musical work up to that time, and dramatically opened new possibilities in unusual instrumentation in classical music.

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