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Classical Innovators: Hector Berlioz

December 15, 2008
by Liz Colville
Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) was a French composer best known for his contributions to the symphonic genre. Berlioz was greatly influenced by literature, particularly Goethe's “Faust” and was (as many people are) greatly moved by the work of Beethoven.

Bio of Berlioz

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Learn more about Berlioz from The Hector Belioz Website, a carefully researched site written by two fans. The biography page offers a timeline of important events in Berlioz's life, including when Berlioz saw Beethoven perform live, an incident that later shaped Berlioz's career in composition. The other pages on this site provide other detailed information about Berlioz, such as a comprehensive catalog of his finished and unfinished musical works.
The Internet Public Library provides a biography of Berlioz and information about his most famous work, "Symphonie Fantastique."  A crucial aspect of this symphony is its use of the idée fixe, meaning a motif that reappears throughout the work, uniting its five movements. Compare this to the German leitmotif concept pioneered by Liszt, Wagner and others.

Listening Closely

A page created for a project in a Caltech sacred music class offers musical excerpts from “Symphonie Fantastique,” Berlioz's “Requiem” and his opera, “The Damnation of Faust.”
Naxos provides an additional biography that outlines his professional work, as well as a discography of Berlioz pieces produced by the classical label. Sign up for a free trial subscription to gain access to samples from many of the albums available through Naxos.
Watch Noam Zur conduct the Israeli Philharmonic playing the fourth movement of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."
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