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Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz (1803-69)


Born near Grenoble in 1803, Berlioz was the son of a doctor and began medical studies himself but against his father's wishes he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire and was drawn to the Romantic movement which, in Paris, was represented by the authors Dumas (fils) and Hugo, and by the painter Delacroix. During his student years, he became obsessed with winning the Conservatoire's Prix de Rome, eventually succeeding on his fifth attempt in 1830; the same year also saw the composition of his best-known work, the Symphonie Fantastique, which was inspired by his unrequited obsession with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson.

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Most of his works are grand in scale, requiring large forces and dealing in emotional intensity. He developed 'programme music' (compositions based around a story), as in Harold in Italy and the Symphonie Fantastique, and was a master orchestrator (his 1844 Treatise on Instrumentation influenced Strauss and Mahler, among other late Romantic composers).


You can view Presto's hand-picked selection of favourite Berlioz recordings here.

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