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LOUIS HECTOR BERLIOZ

 

 

 

Biographical Information:

 

Born:  France, December 11, 1803

Died:  Paris, March 8, 1869

 

Composer and conductor who embodied the Romanic Period ideals.  Popularity and appreciation of his work came in the twentieth century.

 

Was not a great performer.  He never played the piano.  While growing up he played the flute and the guitar, but quit both of them early in his musical career.

 

He attended public school for a brief period, but was mostly educated at home by his father.  He was self-educated musically, finding any source he could for knowledge, including books, scores, and conversations with other musicians.

 

A disagreement ensued when Berlioz wanted to study music and his father wanted him to go into medicine.  Berlioz obtained his bachelor’s degree in medicine in 1821.

 

In 1826, he entered the Conservatoire with no assistance or allowance of funds from his parents.

 

He had a love of Shakespeare and many of his works were inspired by his plays:   Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and three pieces that were based on Hamlet alone.

 

He met and fell in love with Harriet Smithson on September 11, 1827 and his obsession with her and his unrequited love are the basis for his masterpiece, Symphonie Fantastique.

 

 

Compositional Techniques:

 

Used new/unconventional instruments to be introduced to the public with the intention of making them seen as traditional instruments.

 

Despised the idea of having the bass drum and cymbal attachment played together by one person.  He claimed it was a terrible way to save money and was musically incorrect.

 

In the modern orchestra of his time, a random musician would play the bass drum part, but it would be one who had no musical training on how to play it.  For this reason, when a roll was to be performed on the bass drum, Berlioz would assign the timpanist to play it on the bass drum himself.

 

He considered timpani to be the most important percussion instrument.  He was disappointed that it took composers so many years to realize that the drums could be used for more than just tonic and dominant relationships, but also include thirds and any other interval imagined.

 

Used percussion for effects such as marking the entrances of important characters or to convey sounds such as thunder.  He was also very exacting in writing for percussion.  He is credited as being the first composer to indicate  such elaborate details as what type of mallet to be used and to what pitch a tenor or bass drum should be tuned to.

 

Examples:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES

 

 

 

Berlioz, Hector and Strauss, Richard.  Treatise on Instrumentation.  Dover Publications.  New York.  1991.  Pgs.  370-399.

 

Holland, James.  Percussion.  MacDonald and James.  London.  1978.  Pgs.  11-14, 16-17, 29-30, 46-47, 62, 136.

 

Peinkofer, Karl and Tannigel, Fritz.  Handbook of Percussion Instruments.  B. Schott’s Sohne.  Mainz.  1969.  Pgs. 33, 40, 61, 88, 102, 121.

 

Saide, Stanley.  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.  Vol. 2.  Macmillan Publishers Limited.  London.  1980.  Pgs. 579-610.

 

 

 

VIEWING EXAMPLES:

 

Grande Messe des Morts, Op.5 (Requiem)

Roman Carnival Overture

Symphonie Fantastique

 

 

 

LISTENING EXAMPLES:

 

Berlioz.  Symphonie Fantastique.  Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique.  John Eliot Gardiner.  Philips Digital Classics.  1993.

 

Berlioz.  Requiem.  Boston Symphony Orchestra.  Seiji Ozawa.  BMG Music.  1994.