Composer Corner: Berlioz

December 12, 2016

December's composer of the month is Hector Berlioz


Born: Dec. 11, 1803

Died: Mar. 8, 1869


Five facts:

• The composer's father (a respected physician) wanted Hector to study medicine. He studied for a couple years but hated it — much to his father's dismay — and began to study music. One of the final "straws that broke the camel's back" was an anatomy class during which Hector decided he'd had enough and leapt out a window.

• It is believed that Berlioz composed Symphony fantastique (at least a part of it) under the influence of opium. Leonard Bernstein once said, "Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral."

• Niccolo Paganini commissioned a viola concerto from Berlioz, but the initial sketches weren't difficult enough (and there were too many resting measures) for the violist. Those sketches eventually became Harold en Italie.

• Fellow French composers had strong opinions on Berlioz. Ravel said he was "a musician of great genius and little talent," while Debussy called him "a monster."

• His Grande Messe des morts (Requiem) is scored for a huge collection of over 400 performers, including singers and four brass bands. In the score, he noted, "if space permits, the chorus may be doubled or tripled, and the orchestra be proportionally increased."


Three important works:

• Symphonie fantastique (1830)

• Grande Messe des morts (1837)

• Le carnaval romain (1844)