William Sterling

Hector Berlioz

Berlioz, his Life in Music

An examination of his life and music using his own remarkable autobiography as a guide. Unlike many of his contemporaries such as Mendelssohn, Chopin and Liszt, Berlioz was not an infant prodigy. In fact he never mastered any instrument and always composed in silence away from the piano, an instrument he blamed for most of the worst music written by his fellow composers. However, he possessed one of the most fertile imaginations of any composer and was the first composer to consider himself a revolutionary and the first completely Romantic composer. No work has had a greater effect on other musicians than his Fantastic Symphony, inspired by his obsession with the Shakespearean actress, Harriet Smithson. Many of his works challenged the orchestras of the day in ways that have rarely been matched since and many of his works had to wait for years before the necessary forces could be brought together to play them. Today, many of his orchestral works are among the most performed in concert halls and on disc. The course took a chronological approach to Berlioz’s life and works paying particular attention to his own memoirs, the first by a great composer and still amongst the most readable. He had very strong ties with other composers such as Paganini, Liszt and Mendelssohn and these relationships were studied comparing the mutual influences in their music. Among the works that were studied were his operas Beatrice and Benedict, Benvenuto Cellini and the Trojans, his symphonies The Fantastic, Romeo and Juliet, Harold in Italy and Funebre et Triomphale, overtures like Roman Carnival, Le Corsair, Les Francs Juges, King Lear and Waverley and choral works such as his Te Deum, the Grand Messes des Morts (Requiem), The Childhood of Christ and the Damnation of Faust.

I ran this course at Crayford Manor (Bexley College) January-April 2004.  I subsequently used it to give two talks on Berlioz, one for the DfE Music Society in January 2007, the other for the HSE European Society also in January 2007.


Below is the spreadsheet I created for the course.

Berlioz life and works