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First Sunday Music - Berlioz

Posted on 05/03/2009 11:04:37 AM PDT by HoosierHawk

Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz

Louis Hector Berlioz was born in La Côte-Saint-André in the French province of Isère on December 11, 1803. He began studying music at age 12 by writing small compositions and arrangements. His father, a physician, sent him to Paris to study medicine. Berlioz was horrified by the process of dissection, and, despite his father's disapproval, abandoned medicine to pursue a career in music. He studied music from 1823 to 1825 at the Paris Conservatoire under the French composer Jean François Le Sueur and the Czech composer Anton Reicha.

When he was twenty-three, Berlioz was overwhelmed with the works of Shakespeare and also fell madly in love with a Shakespearean actress, Harriet Smithson, to whom he wrote such wild, impassioned letters that she considered him a lunatic and refused to see him. To depict his "endless and unquenchable passion," Berlioz wrote the Symphonie fantastique in 1830, which "startled Parisians by its sensationally autobiographical program, its amazingly novel orchestration, and its vivid depiction of the weird and diabolical."

In 1830, the same year as the symphony's premiere, Berlioz finally won the Prix de Rome, submitting a new cantata every year until he succeeded at his fourth attempt. The prize subsidized two years' of study in Rome.

When he returned to Paris, he finally met and married Harriet Smithson - after she had attended a performance of the Fantastic Symphony and realized that it was a depiction of her. Berlioz's son Louis was born in 1834, but his marriage was already in trouble. Harriet was driven to alcohol by the collapse of her acting career, prompting Berlioz to begin an affair with the singer Marie Recio. The marriage finally broke up in 1841.

A performance of Berlioz's music in 1833 caught the attention of Niccolo Paganini, the great violin virtuoso. Paganini lavished praise upon Berlioz and commissioned him to write a work for viola and orchestra. When Berlioz sent him the first movement of the new work, Paganini rejected it because of its lack of "complexity." Eventually the piece became Harold in Italy, a symphony for viola and orchestra, and the other three movements were completed in 1834. After hearing it for the first time, Paganini, according to Berlioz's Mémoires, knelt before Berlioz in front of the orchestra and proclaimed him a genius and heir to Beethoven. The next day he sent Berlioz a gift of 20,000 francs, the generosity of which left Berlioz uncharacteristically lost for words.

Harold in Italy was followed by the Grand Messe de Morts (the Requiem) in 1837; Roméo and Juliet, a 'dramatic symphony', in 1839; and the Symphonie funebre et triomphale in 1840.

Berlioz completed the dramatic cantata La Damnation de Faust in 1846, but it was a failure in Paris. The Te Deum and the oratorio L'Enfance du Christ followed in the years 1850 and 1854, Béatrice et Bénédict in 1862 and in 1856 Berlioz embarked on his massive opera Les Troyens, based on Virgil's Aeneid, which he finished in 1863. Attempts to have it staged in Paris were futile, due to the work's immense scale. Despite these setbacks, Berlioz was beginning to receive international recognition for his music, and his writings, particularly his Treatises on harmony and orchestration, became standard textbooks.

After 1840, Berlioz decided to conduct most of his own concerts, tired as he was of conductors who did not understand his music. This decision launched what was to become a lucrative and creatively fruitful career in conducting music in England, Germany and Russia both of himself and other leading composers. As one of the first great conductors, he influenced a whole generation of musicians. But his last years were bitter. The loss of his father, his son Louis (1867), two wives, two sisters and friends merely accentuated the weary decline of his last years. He was passed over for important positions and honors and composed very little during the six years before his death in 1869.

Read much more of Berlioz.

Harold in Italy

Symphonie Fantastique

The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

TOPICS: History; Music/Entertainment
KEYWORDS: classicalmusic; firstsundaymusic
Prayers for our troops, veterans, families, friends, and allies.

Classical Music presented on the first Sunday of every month.

To be added to or removed from the First Sunday Music ping list, FReepmail HoosierHawk.

1 posted on 05/03/2009 11:04:37 AM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: Brad's Gramma; bperiwinkle7; Cincinna; curmudgeonII; Duke Nukum; EveningStar; laurenmarlowe; ...

Ping to First Sunday Music with Hector Berlioz. Enjoy!

2 posted on 05/03/2009 11:05:49 AM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: HoosierHawk

Thank you.

3 posted on 05/03/2009 11:07:58 AM PDT by curmudgeonII (Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.)
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To: HoosierHawk

I love his Requiem - must be performed in a cathedral! The brass ensembles calling to each other during the the “Tuba mirum” section of the “Dies irae” sends chills up my spine.

4 posted on 05/03/2009 11:09:54 AM PDT by COBOL2Java (Obamanation: an imploding administration headed by a clueless schmuck, with McCain as his Kowakian)
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To: HoosierHawk
Thanks for the link to Berlioz. I read read Jacques Barzun's biography of Berlioz a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. Berlioz was one of the great romantic composers.

As the article mentions, Berlioz fell in love with a Shakespearean actress. Shakespeare's plays took Paris by storm in the 1830s. His future wife was one of the great stars of the stage. Learning English was the fashion so that people could read Shakespeare.

5 posted on 05/03/2009 11:19:32 AM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: COBOL2Java; HoosierHawk
There are some links you should dig up, if possible.

One is the Lacrymosa from the Requiem. It's in 9/8, but it's not in the traditional 3 groups of 3. It's 9 straight beats with the strong beat on 6. Near the end, there is a titanic struggle over E (brass) versus F (chorus) as a heaven-versus-hell battle. Then for the crowning touch, Berlioz staggers the chorus and orchestra a half beat off each other down the A major scale to take advantage of the echo in the hall (or church). It's one of the most amazing moments in music.

The Dies Irae from the Requiem is another amazing piece. He has a separate section of timpani on stage along with 4 brass bands in the balconies. Choristers have told me that the din is so trmendous that they are totally dependent on the conductor to stay together. Before the brass bands come in, the sopranos work the theme (A minor), then the tenors take up the march (B-flat minor), and the chorus works it up as a canon (D minor). It abruptly switches to E-flat major ("Tuba mirum spargens") as the brass bands echo off each other in fanfares, climaxed by the chorus singing over the drums. There is a short transition in A-flat minor ("Mors stupebit") before we go through the brass band section again, but with the basses taking up a chant along with the brass. The piece ends quietly, as though the chorus and orchestra are too shocked by what they have just performed.

The Sanctus from the Requiem features a tenor suspended from a catwalk and the only complete fugue in the piece.

His song cycle, "Les Nuits d'ete" shows a saner side of the composer. Elly Ameling's performance is prety much definitive.

6 posted on 05/03/2009 11:49:19 AM PDT by Publius (Sex is the manifestation of God's wicked sense of humor.)
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To: HoosierHawk
Thanks. I especially love the portraits and photographs of the great composers when they're posted. I was thrilled to death when an actual photograph of Chopin was posted about a year or so ago!

I haven't listened to much Berlioz as he never caught my ear. However, I didn't like Richard Strauss at all until I gave some serious listening and study to his work.....and now I look forward to hearing just about all of his compositions.

I'll pursue the Berlioz links above tonight.....and see if he gets a 10 or a 5 with me.

He sure had a stormy adult life, that's for sure!


7 posted on 05/03/2009 12:23:23 PM PDT by MinuteGal
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To: Publius; COBOL2Java; HoosierHawk
The Requiem also requires a lot of percussion and, hence, earplugs. It was a bear to sing, if I remember correctly. After a while, they start to run together.

And the Damnation of Faust is, plain and simply, weird. Besides, the men get the two really good choruses to sing.

8 posted on 05/03/2009 12:30:37 PM PDT by Desdemona (Tolerance of grave evil is NOT a Christian virtue.
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To: HoosierHawk

Berlioz! Thx.

9 posted on 05/03/2009 12:58:29 PM PDT by JoeProBono (A closed mouth gathers no feet)
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To: stripes1776
Berlioz was also quite a talented writer. I remember reading his "Evenings with the Orchestra" in college:

During the performances, the musicians tell tales, read stories, and exchange gossip to relieve the tedium of the bad music they are paid to perform.

In a certain opera house of northern Europe, it is the custom among the members of the orchestra, several of whom are cultivated men, to spend their time reading books -- or even discussing matters literary and musical -- whenever they perform any second-rate operas. This is to say that they read and talk a good deal. Next to the score on every music-stand, some book or other is generally to be found, and a performer apparently most absorbed in scanning his part, or most earnestly counting his rests while watching for his cue, may actually be giving all his attention to Balzac's marvelous scenes, to Dickens's enchanting pictures of social life, or even to the study of one of the sciences.
One man, however, never strayed from his post:
One man only in this orchestra does not allow himself any such diversion. Wholly intent upon his task, all energy, indefatigable, his eye glued to his notes and his arm in perpetual motion, he would feel dishonored if he were to miss an eighth note or incur censure for his tone quality. By the end of each act he is flushed, perspiring, exhausted; he can hardly breathe, yet he does not dare take advantage of the respite offered by the cessation of musical hostilities to go for a glass of beer at the nearest bar. The fear of missing the first measures of the next act keeps him rooted at his post. Touched by so much zeal, the manager of the opera house once sent him six bottles of wine, "by way of encouragement." But the artist, "conscious of his responsibilities," was so far from grateful for the gift that he returned it with the proud words: 'I have no need of encouragement.' The reader will have guessed that I am speaking of the man who plays the bass drum.
Berlioz was quite the satirist; it's a very good work to read!
10 posted on 05/03/2009 1:07:27 PM PDT by COBOL2Java (Obamanation: an imploding administration headed by a clueless schmuck, with McCain as his Kowakian)
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To: COBOL2Java
Berlioz was quite the satirist; it's a very good work to read!

Thanks for the review. I will put this book on my list to read. Berlioz was also a journalist. He was a music critic for various French publications. This was how he supported himself while he wrote music in his free time.

11 posted on 05/03/2009 2:10:15 PM PDT by stripes1776 ("That if gold rust, what shall iron do?" --Chaucer)
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To: curmudgeonII; Desdemona; Publius; COBOL2Java; MinuteGal; MEG33; stripes1776; JoeProBono
I'm glad you all enjoy.

I'm slowly building an archive of "First Sunday Music" and will have it completed next month. For those interested, you can access it here.

12 posted on 05/03/2009 3:53:58 PM PDT by HoosierHawk
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To: HoosierHawk

Super! Added to Favorites. Thx.

13 posted on 05/03/2009 3:59:10 PM PDT by JoeProBono (A closed mouth gathers no feet)
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To: HoosierHawk

Now in favorites..You are expanding my usual classical listening and knowledge..

14 posted on 05/03/2009 4:45:08 PM PDT by MEG33 (God Bless Our Military)
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To: HoosierHawk
Please give us a 'heads-up' when you complete the archive.
I was hoping that you'd do this.
15 posted on 05/04/2009 5:40:22 AM PDT by curmudgeonII (Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.)
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