Berlioz, Hector
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Born: 11 December 1803, Côte St.-André, France
Died: 8 March 1869, Paris, France

Hector Berlioz (1867) by Gustave Courbet, Musee d'Orsay, ParisBerlioz, Hector

Berlioz was groomed, by his father, to study medicine but he choose to study music instead. He was ambitious, but the Paris establishment rejected his appeal to get an academic office, obliging him to make a living as a critic. After a few years in Paris, Berlioz received the Prix de Rome, which permitted some time in Rome at government expense.

Berlioz in Rome (c 1832) by Emile Signol, Villa MediciThat same year, he published the Symphonie FantastiqueA Witches' Sabbath from 'Symphonie Fantastique', Op.14 - Hector Berlioz, a musical description of the reveries of a frustrated artist - one of the most influential programmatic works of the 19th century. With this revolutionary and original work, he managed to convince the actress Harriet Smithson to marry him. The symphony is in five movements, instead of the classical four and uses the recurrent and short theme (idee fixe), which symbolizes the "loved one".

Paganini paid him to write the composition Harold in Italy, a symphony with viola solo, but it was never performed by the great violinist.

His Requiem is a good example of Berlioz's remarkable and extravagant orchestration, with more than 400 instruments and voices, brass bands and massed choirs. Although the Requiem was well received by the audience and commissioned by the French government, it didn't compensate for the failures of his operas.

Berlioz died after a 2 year illness, and after the deaths of his second wife and his son.

Berlioz with his poor orchestra players - a caricature from 1846, Bibliotheque de l'Opera, ParisBy his understanding of individual instruments, and, although he was not a good player on any instrument (He played Guitar relatively good), Berlioz greatly increased the expressive capabilities of the orchestra. He was a main figure in the romantic era and helped to shape the modern orchestra. Many composers, among them Liszt, Mahler, Saint-Saens, Richard Strauss, Gounod, and Wagner were influenced by his unorthodox musical structures and meters which helped free them from the restrictive classical forms.

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