Ordinarily, we know symphonies as symphony number whatever in whatever key. If we know them by a nickname, such as “Bear” or “Jupiter,” the composer seldom supplied it. Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique broke all kinds of molds. For one thing, it is the first of four of his symphonies, but not a one bears a number, and only two have the word “symphony” in the title at all. How did he become such a bull in a china shop? Continue reading →
In honor of the 150thanniversary of Hector Berlioz’ death, this seems like a good occasion to examine what he wrote about the trombone.
Although his Grande traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes (1843, 2ndedition 1855) is the first important orchestration treatise, it stands in a tradition that dates back nearly half a century.
Many other authors have written orchestration textbooks since then, but none have had Berlioz’ influence. Continue reading →
The Roman Carnival Overture is one of Hector Berlioz’ most popular pieces. It owes its existence to the utter failure of an opera now generally considered a masterpiece. Actually, Berlioz’ musical life suffered a number of odd twists and turns before he ever wrote the opera.
At his parents’ insistence, Berlioz began to study medicine in 1821, and hated it. He spent more time and energy studying and listening to music, and even composed a few pieces. In 1826, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatory. There, he studied composition with Jean-François Le Sueur and counterpoint with Anton Reicha.
He immediately began to apply for France’s most prestigious musical award, the Prix de Rome. On his fourth attempt, in 1830, he won by submitting a cantata that followed all the academic rules. It contained nothing of his own musical personality. He had already composed the Symphonie fantastique, which established his international reputation. Continue reading →