Berlioz, Hector

BORN 11 Dec 1803, La Côte St.-André, Isère (near Grenoble): 83 Rue Nationale - DIED 8 Mar 1869, Paris: rue de Calais 4
REAL NAME Berlioz, Louis Hector
GRAVE LOCATION Paris: Montmartre Cimetière, 20 Avenue Rachel (division 20)

Louis Hector Berlioz was the son of a physician. He started studying music when he was twelve, but because his father didn't approve he never learned to play the piano. Instead he played the guitar, the flageolet and the flute. His first compositions were romantic like himself. In 1821 he went to Paris to study medicine, but he visited the opera and started studying at the library of the Conservatoire, where Cherubini tried to remove him because he was no formal student. But professor Jean-François Le Sueur supported him and in 1824 he broke off his medical studies.

In 1826 he started studying composition under Le Sueur and Reicha at the Conservatoire. He failed to win the Prix de Rome several times until he won it in 1830. In the same year he composed his "Symphonie fantastique" and it was first performed on 5 Dec 1830 in Paris. He started a relationship with the pianist Maria Moke and they became engaged. He left for Rome on 30 Dec 1831. There he received a letter from Maria's mother that the engagement was off and Maria would marry Camille Pleyel instead. He decided to kill the three of them, stole a pair of pistols and left for Paris. When he arrived in Nice he realised the stupidy of his plan and returned to Rome.

After his return in Paris in 1833 he started a relationship with the singer Harriet Smithson. Although he spoke no English and she spoke no French they married on 3 Oct 1833 with Liszt as one of the witnesses. On 14 aug 1834 they had a son, Louis. His opera "Benvenuto Cellini" failed in 1836. Because success in France came hard he travelled to Germany, Austria, England and Russia where he conducted operas. In 1844 he separated from Harriet and in 1846 his opera "La damnation de Faust" was another failure, although it was highly acclaimed in later times. In 1850 he became head librarian at the Conservatoire in Paris and this supplied him with a steady income.

In 1854 Harriet died and in October he married his mistress Maria Recio. In 1856 he went to Weimar to attend a performance of "Benvenuto Cellini" conducted by Liszt. Liszt was schocked to learn that Berlioz didn't appreciate the music of Richard Wagner at all. The Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein advised him to compose a new opera and this would become "Les Troyens". He composed it between 1856 and 1858 but never saw it performed in its entirety during his lifetime.

His wife suddenly died in 1862, aged 48. At Montmartre cemetery he met a young woman named Amélie and a close relationship developed between them. To his regret she ended the relationship in February, 1863. Early in 1864 Harriet Smithson's he was present at the opening of Harriet's grave. Her remains were transferred to Montmarte because the Saint-Vincent cemetery was to be demolished. Later in 1864 he received the Légion d'honneur. In August of that year he heard that Amélie had died. He discovered her grave when he walked at Montmartre cemetery and she was dead for six months at that time.

In 1866 he met Liszt for the last time. In 1868 he performed in Saint Petersburg, but he was exhausted when he returned. In 1869 he died at his home in Paris.

• Wife: Smithson, Harriet (1833-1854, Paris: British Embassy)
• Wife: Recio, Maria (1854-1862, Paris)

Related persons
• was a friend of Carolina, Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein
• was a friend of Ernst, Heinrich Wilhelm
• cooperated with Falcon, Cornélie
• was a friend of Hiller, Ferdinand
• cooperated with Liszt, Franz
• knew Paganini, Niccolò
• was a friend of Paganini, Niccolò
• was engaged to Pleyel-Moke, Marie Félicité
• was pupil to Reicha, Anton
• has a connection with Sax, Adolphe

5/12/1830Premiere of "Symphonie Fantastique" by Berlioz at the Conservatoire in Paris. It was a program symphony and an important work of early Romanticism. After the concert Franz Liszt took him out for dinner. They had met the day before and Liszt was very enthousiastic about the music of Berlioz. [Liszt, Franz]
9/12/1832The "Symphonie Fantastique" and "Le Retour à la vie" by Berlioz are performed at the Conservatoire in Paris. His friend Franz Liszt was in the audience and so was his future wife Harriet Smithson. [Liszt, Franz][Smithson, Harriet]
3/10/1833Berlioz marries the actress Harriet Smithson. The wedding took place at the British Embassy in Paris. Liszt was among the witnesses. [Liszt, Franz][Smithson, Harriet]
31/1/1836Sigismund Thalberg performs at the Conservatoire concert at the Revue et Gazette musicale in Paris. Berlioz praised his performance in his review for The Ménestrel. [Thalberg, Sigismund]
0/4/1841Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto" performed by Berlioz and Liszt in Paris. Berlioz was the conductor and Liszt was the soloist. [Beethoven, Ludwig van][Liszt, Franz]
12/8/1845Beethoven statue in Bonn unveiled. It was created by Ernst Hähnel and unveiled in honour of the 75th anniversary of Beethoven's birth. Franz Liszt was actively involved in the project and donated over 10,000 francs. Schlegel had been the head of the organising committee but he died in May, 1845. Professor Heinrich Breidenstein, who had first expressed the idea, took over his position. The ceremony was attended by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Hector Berlioz, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Ignaz Moscheles, Charles Hallé, Jenny Lind, Pauline Viardot, Lola Montez, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and Maria Kalergis. [Hallé, Charles][Lind, Jenny][Liszt, Franz][Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix][Meyerbeer, Giacomo][Montez, Lola][Schumann, Robert][Viardot-Garcia, Pauline]
16/4/1849Premiere of Meyerbeer's "Le prophète" with Pauline Viardot as Fidès. It was performed by the Opera of Paris at the Salle Le Peletier. Jeanne-Anaïs Castellan was Berthe and Gustave-Hippolyte Roger was Jean. Narcisse Girard was the conductor. In the audience were Chopin, Verdi, Théophile Gautier, Delacroix, Ivan Turgenev and Berlioz. It was a great succes and in July it was performed at Covent Garden in London. [Chopin, Frédéric François][Delacroix, Eugène][Gautier, Théophile][Girard, Narcisse][Meyerbeer, Giacomo][Verdi, Giuseppe][Viardot-Garcia, Pauline]
17/2/1855Premiere of Piano Concerto No. 1 by Franz Liszt. It was performed in Weimar. Liszt was at the piano and Berlioz was the conductor. Liszt had written the main themes in a sketch book in 1830. [Liszt, Franz]
0/7/1860Act Two of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is performed at the house of Pauline Viardot. It was performed by Pauline Viardot, Richard Wagner himself and Karl Klindworth. Hector Berlioz and Marie Kalergis, in whose honour the event was organised, were present. [Klindworth, Karl][Viardot-Garcia, Pauline][Wagner, Richard]
21/10/1861Gluck's "Alceste" is staged at the Opera in Paris with Pauline Viardot-Garcia singing. Berlioz had made adjustments to the opera and it was her last big success on the stage. In 1866 this version was produced again with Marie Battu singing. [Gluck, Christoph Willibald von][Viardot-Garcia, Pauline]


The grave of Hector Berlioz at the Cimetière Montmartre, Paris.
Picture by Androom (20 Feb 2016)


• Halloran, Annemarie, Liszt’s Heroes: An investigation into the Artistic Interdependence, 2005
The Hector Berlioz Website: Berlioz and Liszt
The Hector Berlioz Website: Berlioz and Wagner
Hector Berlioz - Wikipedia
Sigismond Thalberg - Wikipedia

Bernard, Simon

Published: 28 Jan 2018
Last update: 19 Apr 2020