Romantic composer, conductor and music critic Hector Berlioz was born in La Côte-Saint-André. His father, a physician by profession, was well-educated person, he taught the boy music, Latin, history, geography and other school disciplines. However, he refused to buy a piano for his son, and thus Berlioz was one of those uncommon composers that did not study playing the piano.
At the age of eighteen, Berlioz left for Paris to study medicine and was qualified in medicine as a doctor. Having fulfilled his father's will, he devoted his time to music. He lived from hand to mouth, in attics, but did not miss a single opera performance and spent all vacant hours in library, studying scores. Soon enough, Hector started to compete for Grand Prix de Rome, a French scholarship for arts students that was established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France. In 1828 and in 1829, he failed get it. When he got through the second round, the uprising began in Paris, later called The July Revolution. Berlioz finished his work just in time to join the rebellion on the last night of fighting. He was lucky to win the scholarship. Inspired by this success, Berlioz gave a concert, where he presented his new work – “Symphonie Fantastique” (Fantastic Symphony). Its full title is “Episode from the artist's life, a fantastic symphony in five parts”. “Fantastic Symphony” remains the most known work of the composer. Berlioz decisively destroys the conventional symphonic form, demonstrating radically different conception of orchestration and melodiousness.
The composer wrote the overture “King Lear” and the symphonic work “Le retour a la vie”, which he called "the monodrama of Lélio" (a mixture of instrumental and vocal music with recitation) during his two-year trip to Italy. The work became the sequel to “Fantastic Symphony” and was entitled "Coming back to Life". Berlioz returned to Paris, where he immediately organized a concert, the program of which included “Fantastic Symphony” and its freshly written sequel entitled “Coming back Life”. Quite by accident, the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, the composer's youthful romance, turned out to be among the audience on December 1832 concert. Five years earlier, Berlioz wrote her love letters, but she did not answered him. Now he received a note with compliments from her. He was shocked. A few days later, they finally met, Hector made a proposal of marriage and Smithson answered “yes” to it. The bride did not speak a word of French; the groom spoke no English…
In 1834, Berlioz created the symphony “Harold in Italy” that was inspired by the memories of this country and his passion for Byron. In 1838, the opera “Benvenuto Cellini” premiered in Paris. However, it proved a failure and was crossed out from repertoire after the fourth performance. For living, the composer turned to musical critique and assumed the post of deputy director the Paris Conservatory library. His duties were supplemented by regular tours as conductor. Berlioz conducted orchestra intuitively, but the audience was fascinated by his manner of waving the wand, sometimes bending rapidly, then shrinking, or even jumping up and down on the stage. He became famous as the outstanding conductor. Since 1843, he toured outside France - in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia and England. Everywhere he was successful, especially in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Berlioz was the first touring conductor that along with his own works, conducted the compositions by contemporary authors as well. The concerts helped Berlioz to test his artistic discoveries in practice. He was the first to use many unusual timbres and timbres combinations, introduced new traits to the strings. He summarized his ideas “The Treatise on Contemporary Instrumentation and Orchestration” (1844, 1855). The composer also wrote an essay on the art of conducting - "Orchestra Conductor".
The opera “La Damnation de Faust” (Condemnation of Faust) was written within a year and was based on the music of the earlier “Eight Scenes from Faust”. The Opera Comic premiered on December 6, 1846. On December 20, the last performance was given. The failure was devastating not only for the author's ambition, but for his financial situation as well.
Musical critique became the main earning capacity for Berlioz. Articles, reviews, musical novellas, feuilletons were subsequently published in several almanacs: "Music and Musicians", "Musical Grotesques", "Evenings in the Orchestra". The central place in Berlioz literary heritage is occupied by his memoirs - the composer self-authored biography written in brilliant literary style and giving a broad panorama of the Parisienne artistic and musical life in those years.
In 1854, Harriet died of a stroke. Later, Berlioz married for the second time. In 1862, his second wife, singer Marie Reсio, died suddenly of a heart attack. In 1867, the son of Berlioz that became a sailor died of yellow fever in Havana. Berlioz could no longer cope with this grief; he suddenly turned into a frail old man. He died in March 1869.
Berlioz life was tragic – his genius was unrecognized in his motherland. The last years of his life were gloomy and lonely. The composer's bright memories were associated with his voyages to Russia that he visited twice (in 1847 and in 1867-68). For the sake of a tour to Russia in 1867, the composer turned down the offer from Steinway to perform in New York for the fee of $ 100,000. Only in the Russian Empire the composer was successful with the public, he got recognition among composers and critics. The reason for the contradictory opinions about Berlioz as a composer was that from the very beginning of his musical career he took a completely new independent path. Berlioz was a vivid representative of romanticism in music, the creator of the romantic programmed symphony. He boldly introduced innovations in the sphere of musical form, harmony and especially instrumentation, tended towards theatricalization of symphonic music, the grandiose scale of works. Berlioz was the first composer of the French national school. All of his predecessors, who wrote operas in French, were either Germans or Italians.1957 became a milestone in the reappraisal of Berlioz reputation, when for the first time a professional opera company staged the original version of “The Trojans” in a single evening. It was at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the work was staged in English with some minor cuts, but its importance was internationally recognised, and led to the world premiere staging of the work uncut and in French, at Covent Garden in 1969, marking the centenary of the composer's death.