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Berlioz, Hector

Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803-69) wrote that “Beethoven opened before me a new world of music, as Shakespeare had revealed a new universe of poetry.” Bill covers the arc of Berlioz’s life and music, from leaving medical school in Paris to attend the opera and studying at the Paris Conservatory, then being a model of the Romantic movement. This week’s fifth episode features the last two movements of Symphonie Fantastique, displaying Berlioz's gift for spectacular drama and concludes with an excerpt from his setting of “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.


Program 1

The show begins with a passionate piece about obsessive love: the Herminie, something that seems to represent his own passion for women and music. It seems Berlioz loved music so much that he gave up studies in medicine to learn composition, soldiering on through his musical studies despite people like Rossini giving him a hard time for his lack of ability on piano. Next we hear the overture to his opera Les Francs Juges, which contains a good mix of influences from Rossini and the original material that so frightened Berlioz' teachers. A similar sound can be heard in the next piece, the second movement of The Death of Cleopatra. Throughout his life, Berlioz had two major influences: Shakespere and Beethoven. In the case of Shakespere, there was a woman attached, a woman who broke his heart and gave way to the piece we hear next: the first two movements of Symphonie Fantastique.

Berlioz: Herminie (excerpt)
Philharmonia Orchestra/JeanPhilippe Rouchon; Roslyn Plowright, s.
ASV 30

Berlioz: Les Francs Juges
LSO/C. Davis

Berlioz: Death of Cleopatra II
Philharmonia Orchestra/JeanPhilippe Rouchon; Plowwright, s.
ASV 30

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique I & II
Radio de Fussion Francaise/Beecham
ALP 1633
12:39, 6:42


Program 2

Despite being unlucky with women, Berlioz was successful with music, and Symphonie Fantastique was a major hit in Paris. To get over his broken heart which had inspired the piece, Berlioz wrote Lelio, which this segment begins with. He took it to Rome as his "return to life," and when it too was successful he returned to Paris where he debuted Harold in Italy, a five-movement symphony where the viola is prominantly featured, per Paganini's request. We hear the second and third movements. Berlioz continued his success when the French Minister of the Interior commissioned him to write a gigantic Requiem, which we hear several segments of before the segment closes.

Berlioz: Lelio (excerpts from)
LSO/ Boulez; John Mitchinson, t; John ShirleyQuirk, bari
Sony SM3K-64103(3)
5:29, 3:50

Berlioz: Harold in Italy, II & III   
BSO/Munch William Primrose, vla
RCA 68444-2
6:42, 6:30

Berlioz: Requiem (excerpts from)
RCA 62544-2
11:22, 5:14, 9:21


Program 3

The Requiem was a tremendous piece, and a tremendous success, and it spurred Berlioz on to compose a new opera called Benvenuto Cellini, an opera that despite Berlioz' personal approval of his work, did not stay in circulation for long. The overture, which we hear to start this segment, has. Next is Reverie et Caprice, a cavatina from the opera arranged for solo violin by Berlioz himself. Despite Berlioz not having much luck with Benvenuto Cellini, it has seen a modern day revival in a number of ways. Next is the opening to Berlioz' version of Romeo and Juliet, a dramatic symphony in which instruments take the roles of the players. There is not enough time to get to more of the piece in this segment, so we move on to three songs from Les nuits d'ete, a six-song collection for solo voice, standing in contrast to Berlioz' typical repertoire of gigantic public pieces. The last piece we hear in the segment is another of Berlioz' big hits, the Roman Carnival Overture, also related to Benvenuto Cellini.

Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini, overture
LSO/C. Davis
Phil 157302

Berlioz: Reverie et caprice
Quebeque Symphony Orch./ Talmi; James Ehnes, v
Analekta 23151

Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet (excerpt)
BSO/ Munch
RCA 34168

Berlioz: Les nuits d’ete (excerpts from)
BSO/Munch Victoria de Los Angeles, s
RCA 60393
6:26, 5:08, 3:40

Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
LSO/C. Davis
Phi 456143-2


Program 4

A typical situation for Berlioz was someone approaching him to write incidental music of some kind and Berlioz jumping in with both feet. In the case of what we hear first in this segment, Berlioz was approached to write incidental music for a production of Hamlet, but the project was cancelled and a single piece was salvaged: "Marche Funebre pour la Derniere Scene d'Hamlet." Next we hear several excerpts from a massive piece that Berlioz composed over a long period of time: The Damnation of Faust, based on the popular story by Göthe. The whole story is electric, and the atmosphere is very apparent even though we do not hear the whole thing. The segment finishes with a change of mood: L'enfance de Christ, a much less dramatic and somewhat pastoral sounding piece. We hear the opening of the second part.

Berlioz Marche funebre pour la derniere scene d'Hamlet
Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique/ Gardiner
Phi –446676-2

Berlioz: Damnation of Faust (excerpts from)
Philharmonia Orch. and Chorus/ Chung; Keith Lewis, Bryn Terfel, Anne Sofie von Otter, soloists
DG 453500-2 (2)
14:40, 8:03, 8:22

Berlioz:  L’enfance de Christ Part II, I & II
BSO/ Munch;New England Conservatory Chorus
RCA 61234-2
4:56, 4:04


Program 5

This final segment begins with Les Troyens, "The Trojans," Berlioz' second attempt at opera after Benvenuto Callini flopped. The whole thing cannot be played here, because it consists of two operas adding up to 5 hours. We hear three excerpts: the opening and two scenes. Next we hear the conclusion of a piece we heard in an earlier segment: the last two movements of Symphonie Fantastique, the march to the scaffold and the wild witches' sabbath. This final movement displays Berlioz' great gift for drama and hellish spectacle. The program closes on a quick little excerpt from Berlioz' setting of the French national anthem: La Marceillaise.

Berlioz: Les Troyens (excerpts from)
LSO and Chorus/Davis
Phil 456837
3:45,19:33, 6:35

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, IV & V
Radio de Fussion Francaise/Beecham
EMI 67972
5:13, 10:39

La Marceillaise (excerpt)



The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
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