Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Hector 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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