11 December marks the birthday of French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz. Berlioz was born in France at La Côte-Saint-André in the département of Isère, near Grenoble. His father, Louis Berlioz, a respected provincial physician and scholar who is widely credited for first experimenting with and recording the use of acupuncture in Europe, was responsible for much of the young Berlioz’s education. Louis was an agnostic, with a liberal outlook; his mother, Marie-Antoinette, was a devout Roman Catholic.
Despite his parents’ disapproval, in 1824 he formally abandoned his medical studies, in 1826 he began attending the Conservatoire to study composition under Jean-François Le Sueur and Anton Reicha. He submitted a fugue to the Prix de Rome, but was eliminated in the primary round. Winning the prize would become an obsession until he finally won it in 1830, submitting a new cantata every year until he succeeded at his fourth attempt. Between 1830 and 1847, Berlioz wrote many of his most popular and enduring works. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works, and conducted several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians.
Berlioz was known both as an innovator and as a practical musician, in addition he was a writer and critic whose literary achievement is hardly less significant than his musical output. Few musicians have ever excelled in all these different fields at once.
Below is a sample (movement 4) of one of Belioz’s most famous works, the ‘Symphonie Fantasique’, conducted here by Leonard Bernstein….