Hector Berlioz


Hector Berlioz described his own life as an “improbable novel” – and indeed, with its adventurous ups and downs between spectacular success and equally spectacular disasters, it offered sufficient material for a literary treatment. The composer, who was constantly plagued by financial worries and who also worked as a journalist throughout his life, unceremoniously took on the latter himself with his colourful [Mémoires], which owe more to fiction than to truth.

Berlioz was born in La Côte Saint-André bordering the French Alps in 1803. Like his father, he was supposed to become a doctor, so he began his studies in Paris at the Faculté de Medicine of the Université Royale de France, although he was more drawn to opera than anything else. He also spent a lot of time in the library of the conservatoire, where he studied scores. In 1826, Berlioz gave up his medical studies, which he had only half-heartedly pursued anyway, to join the composition class of Jean-François Lesueur. By this time, he had already achieved a certain recognition, particularly with the successful performance of his [Messe solennelle]. In 1830, his cantata [La dernière nuit de Sardanapale], which has survived only as a fragment, won him the Prix de Rome – the most coveted composition prize France had to offer, which included a scholarship for a stay in Rome. However, Berlioz’s troubled financial situation improved only marginally as a result of this success. Shortly before his departure for Italy, the pivotal concert of his career to date took place: the successful premiere of the [Symphonie fantastique]. The event led to a series of prestigious commissions – and further successes with works such as [Harold en Italie] and [Roméo et Juliette]. His opera [Benvenuto Cellini], on the other hand, with its literary ambitions, failed spectacularly, although Berlioz described this piece in particular as his “favourite score”. The composer never saw an adequate performance of his opera [Les Troyens], which dominated the last years of his life. Only a shortened – but successful – version was staged in 1863.


Show all 26
Help Contact
How to watch Newsletter Institutional Access Access Vouchers
Legal notice Terms of use Privacy Policy