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Hector Berlioz

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(1803 – 1869)

Louis Hector Berlioz (11th December 1803–8th March 1869) was a French Romantic composer best known for the Symphonie fantastique, first performed in 1830, and for his Requiem - Grande messe des morts - of 1837, with its tremendous resources that include four antiphonal brass choirs. Berlioz was born in France at La Côte-Saint-André in the département of Isère, between Lyon and Grenoble. His father was a physician, and young Hector was sent to Paris to study medicine at the age of eighteen. Berlioz was horrified by the process of dissection, and, despite his father’s disapproval, he abandoned his career path in medicine to study music a year later. He then attended the Paris Conservatoire studying opera and composition.

He became identified early on with the French romantic movement. Among his friends were writers such as Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Honoré de Balzac. Later, Théophile Gautier wrote, “Hector Berlioz seems to me to form with Hugo and Delacroix, the Trinity of Romantic Art.”

Berlioz is said to have been innately romantic, experiencing emotions deeply from early childhood. This manifested itself in his weeping at passages of Virgil as a child, and later in a series of love affairs. At the age of 23, his unrequited (at first) love for the Irish Shakespearean actress Harriet Constance Smithson was the inspiration for his Symphonie fantastique. In 1830, the same year as the symphony’s premiere, Berlioz won the Prix de Rome.

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