Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Hector Berlioz was one of the main French composers of the Romantic era. His orchestral works often required a much larger orchestra than was customary at the time. In addition to his renown as a composer, Berlioz was also an accomplished conductor, music critic, and head librarian of the Paris Conservatory of Music. He wrote one of the first textbooks on orchestration, arranged the French National Anthem, (La Marseillaise), and was the first composer to write for the saxophone. Some of his best known works include the Symphonie Fantastique, (one of the first program symphonies), and the orchestral song cycle Les nuits d’eté (“Nights of Summer”).

Berlioz drew upon all the arts for inspiration. His works were influenced by sculpture (the opera Benvenuto Cellini), poetry (the opera Les Troyens, based on Virgil’s Aeneid , as well as Harold en Italie, from Byron’s Childe Harold), literature (La damnation de Faust, after Goethe), and especially drama. Berlioz became deeply interested in Shakespeare and wrote 3 works derived from the playwright: the dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette, the comic opera Béatrice et Bénédict (from Much Ado About Nothing) and Tristia, (inspired by Hamlet).

Although he did not consider himself to be a religious man, Berlioz wrote a number of important sacred works, including a large-scale Requiem, a Te Deum, and the oratorio L’enfance du Christ, which is still frequently performed during the Christmas season.

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