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Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

composer

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Berlioz / The Man

His ‘enormous shock of light-brown hair, against the fantastic wealth of which the barber could do nothing’ reminds us that Berlioz was a Romantic to the core.  Despite a poor grasp of English (at best), he seems to have had something of a penchant for Blighty – he was obsessed by Shakespeare, and even more obsessed by Harriett Smithson, the Irish actress he eventually married.  In his youth, his life was full of passion, love and energy, however in his old age he cut a rather more pessimistic figure.  In 1865 he bluntly noted ‘All my musical undertakings are finished; I have no desire to do anything more.  And all I now do is to read, meditate, struggle against daily weariness, and suffer ceaseless agonies from incurable neuralgia.’

Berlioz / The Music

Underrated for too long, his music is currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance with an increasing number of pieces joining the already popuylar Symphonie Fantastique in concert programmes. The main source of his musical inspiration was Beethoven who had freed the symphony from its 18th century constraints.  Berlioz’s large-scale orchestral pieces are some of his most powerful, being at once intensely personal and brilliantly grandiose.  The inheritor of his musical legacy was undoubtedly Wagner.  The title page of Tristan and Isolde is inscribed:

To the dear and great author of
Romeo and Juliet
from the grateful author of
Tristan and Isolde

At the Night Shift at the Roundhouse we’re playing extracts from Romeo & Juliet, one of his most ambitious compositions whose lush, extravagant and even avant-garde nature pushes the Orchestra to its technical limits.

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