Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz bigraphy, stories - A French composer, bandmaster and musical writer

Hector Berlioz : biography


Hector Berlioz was born in a provincial town, La-Cote-Saint-Andre located in the southeast of France. His father was a doctor. Berlioz spent his early years in the province where he used to listen to folk songs and learned about Greek mythology. There he learned to play the flute.

In 1821 Berlioz came to Paris where he started to study medicine. His parents wished that Hector became a doctor, but the young man was strongly attracted by music. That was the reason he gave up his studies for. He made some money singing in a chorus but mostly he lived in poverty. In 1825 in Paris his composition was performed for public for the first time. The performance was far from successful. Berlioz occupied himself with self-education; he took lessons from Jean Fracoin Le Suer. Later, soon after Berlioz entered Parish Conservatoire in 1826 he started taking lessons in classes of Anton Reicha and Jean Fracoin Le Suer polyphony course. Since 1828 Berlioz started to write critical articles and musical works and got acquainted with writers and musician being popular at that period of time, such as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Paganini and George Sand. Since 1828 till 1830 some of Berlioz’s compositions were performance, they were: overture “Waverly”, opera “Les Francs-juges” and symphony “Symphonie fantastique” – which drew audience’s attention to the young composer.

In 1830 Hector Berlioz finished the conservatoire. That very year he was awarder with Rome Prize for his academy cantata “Sardanapale”. Before that Berlioz had been trying to get the prize for three times but the members of the jury refused being puzzled by the choice. 1830 was the year when the revolution started. Berlioz sympathized with revolutionists and even arranged for instruments “La Marseillaise”. Soon after winning the prize, Berlioz moved to Italy as a scholarship holder. In Italy he got interested in Italian music, met with Glinka and learnt Byron’s poems. In 1833 Hector Berlioz came back to France having overture “Le roi Lear” and symphonic composition “Lélio, ou le Retour à la Vie” with him. Those were the compositions he wrote in Italy. “Lélio, ou le Retour à la Vie” was composed in melolog genre (a mixture of instrumental and vocal music with declamation) and continued symphony “Symphonie fantastique”.

Having settled down in Paris Berlioz developed his creative activity. He worked as a composer writing programme symphonies and operas, a bandmaster (mostly working in Paris Conservatoire) and musical critic. He wrote articles for “Gazette musicale de Paris”, then also for “Journal des Debats” till 1864. Berlioz got reputation of a serious and strict critic. However Berlioz’s operas were not that popular and he still was rather poor.

In 1839 hector Berlioz was given a position of the conservatoire librarian.

Since 1842 Berlioz spent much time being on tours abroad. He performed with triumph as a bandmaster and composer in Russia in 1847 and since 1867 till 1868. He gathered a great public in Moscow manege. Since 1867 till 1868 he lived in Saint-Petersburg at the address: Michailovsky palace, Injenernaya ul., d.4.

In 1856 Hector Berlioz was assigned to be a member of Art Academy.

In 1860ties Berlioz released collections of articles and later his own memoirs in 1870.

The private life of Hector Berlioz was darkened by a few unfortunate events that he described in details in his memoires. His first marriage with Irish actress Harriet Smithson finished with a divorce in 1843, it should be mentioned that Smithson suffered from incurable pervious disorder. After Harriet’s death Hector Berlioz married Marie Recio, a singer. Unfortunately she suddenly died in 1854. Berlioz’s son from his first marriage died in 1867. The composer himself passed away in 1869 dying in loneliness.


Berlioz was a glaring representative of Romanticism in music. He created a romantic programme symphony. His musical production was much alike Hugo’s literature production and Delacroix’s graphic art. He brought innovation to musical form fearlessly. He also experimented with harmony and instrument arrangement. Berlioz tented to grand performances and stage adaptation of symphonies.