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Essential Berlioz

Every composer has their musical DNA, their unique fingerprint, but few are more instantly recognisable than Hector Berlioz (1803–1869), whose dazzling orchestral colours often seem light years ahead of his time.Read more…

Berlioz was a maverick, who refused to follow rules or trends. A passionate obsessive, he fell for the actress Harriet Smithson, idolising her in his programmatic 'Symphonie fantastique', in which the besotted "hero", high on opium, hallucinates about being put to death for having killed his beloved, followed by a wild witches' sabbath.

Berlioz was witty critic in his spare time and was greatly inspired by literature inspired: Goethe ('La Damnation de Faust'); Shakespeare ('Roméo et Juliette'); Lord Byron ('Harold en Italie' and 'Le Corsaire') and Théophile Gautier ('Les Nuits d'été') count among his settings. He was wonderful at writing for voices. His grand masterpiece, which Berlioz never saw performed complete, was 'Les Troyens', an epic operatic take on Virgil's 'The Aeneid'.

Berlioz loved using unusual instruments and lavish forces: an ophicleide (a brass instrument resembling an elongated tuba) features in the 'Symphonie fantastique'; a "Jingling Johnny" or Turkish Crescent (a pole hung with metal bells) appears in the 'Grand symphonie funèbre et triomphale'; and his Requiem requires a staggering 16 timpani!

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