Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Berlioz

Music History Monday: A Marriage Not Made in Heaven

On this date in 1833 the 29 year-old French composer Hector Berlioz married the 33 year-old Anglo-Irish actress Harriet Smithson. They tied the knot at the British embassy in Paris; the wedding was officially witnessed by Berlioz’ good bud, the pianist and composer Franz Liszt. Berlioz had moved to Paris from his hometown in the French Alps in 1822, presumably to study medicine. His passport described the 18 year-old Berlioz as being: “About five foot three or five foot four in height, red hair, red eyebrows, beginning to grow a beard, forehead ordinary, eyes gray, complexion high.” What that passport description does not mention is that Berlioz burned with passion for pretty much everything except medicine, in particular music, theater, and literature. Predictably, he washed out of medical school within a matter of months. Unwilling to return home, he bounced around Paris living in poverty, and—when he had a little money in his pocket—he attended the opera standing room and took a few music lessons. After a rather difficult application process (it was rumored that Berlioz’ father had to bribe the admissions officer), the now 23 year-old Hector Berlioz entered the Paris Conservatory, a full five years older that most […]

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Scandalous Overtures — Hector Berlioz: Dressed To Kill

So here’s what happened. In 1830, the 26-year-old composer Hector Berlioz fell in love with an adorable 18-year-old pianist named Camille Molke. Within a couple of weeks they were under the covers (ahem!); within a month they were unofficially engaged. Camille’s mom, however, had other ideas. She proceeded to put Berlioz through more hoops than a circus dog, finally packing him off to Rome so that he might compose an opera “worthy of her daughter”. Soon after arriving in Rome, Berlioz received a letter from Camille’s mother informing him that Camille had married a rich geezer and that he – Berlioz – should quit causing trouble and GET OVER IT. Hector Berlioz reacted poorly. Let us observe Berlioz’s reaction through the lens of our contemporary break-up “literature”. … Breakup, Stage 1: The Protest Stage. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, “at this point, emotions range from despair to rage to intense love and hatred.” Yes indeed, Berlioz’s first reaction was murderous rage. His initial plan of action: kill the entire Molke family and then commit suicide. According to contemporary thinking, this was not an entirely constructive reaction. Men’s Health magazine recommends that Berlioz should […]

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