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
BIRTH NAME Berlioz, Louis Hector
GRAVE LOCATION Paris: Cimetière de Montmartre, 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: Église de la Sainte-Trinité)

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
• was drawn by Kriehuber, Josef
• cooperated with Liszt, Franz
• knew Paganini, Niccolò
• was a friend of Paganini, Niccolò
• was engaged to Pleyel-Moke, Marie Félicité
• was pupil of Reicha, Anton
• has a connection with Sax, Adolphe
• was a friend of Schuncke, Ludwig
• met Wallace, William Vincent

0/12/1824Berlioz attends a performance of Weber's "Der Freischütz" at the Odéon Theatre in Paris. It was the first time he heard the music of Weber. [Weber, Carl Maria von]
0/9/1830First meeting between Berlioz and Spontini 
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. Spontini also attended the concert. [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]
22/12/1833Liszt participates in a concert conducted by Berlioz [Liszt, Franz]
28/12/1834Liszt particiapates in a concert given by Berlioz. He played movements from the Symphonie fantastique. [Liszt, Franz]
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]
10/9/1838Premiere of Berlioz's opera "Benvenuto Cellini" at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris. François Habeneck was the conductor. Singers were Julie Dorus-Gras, Rosinze stolz, Gilbert Duprez and Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol. 
25/4/1841Beethoven'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][Delacroix, Eugène][Gautier, Théophile][Girard, Narcisse][Meyerbeer, Giacomo][Verdi, Giuseppe][Viardot-Garcia, Pauline]
12/2/1851Berlioz' obituary for Spontini is published in "Débats". It was his most extensive article on Spontini and Berlioz could draw from his many conversations with Spontini during the 1840s. 
20/3/1852Liszt conducts "Benvenuto Cellini" by Berlioz in Weimar. Further performances followed on 24 March and 27 March. [Liszt, Franz]
14/11/1852Berlioz and Marie Recio arrive in Weimar. During the following weaks Franz Liszt would conduct the revised version of Berlioz' opera "Benvenuto Cellini". The performances took place on 17, 21, 23, 25 and 30 november. On 20 November Berlioz conducten a concert at the theatre in Weimar. Berlioz and Marie left Weimar on 24 November. [Liszt, Franz][Recio, Maria]
3/2/1853Liszt conducts exerpts of works by Berlioz at the theatre in Weimar. Berliz had sent him the music "The Damnation of Faust" and "Romeo and Juliet". [Liszt, Franz]
10/5/1853Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz meet at Liszt's hotel in Paris. The next day, in the presence of Wagner, Berlioz sang at breakfast and Liszt played excerpts from "Benvenuto Cellini". [Liszt, Franz][Wagner, Richard]
5/10/1853Liszt conducts exerpts of Berlioz' "Romeo and Juliet" a the Karlsruhe Festival. Berlioz wasn't in Karlsruhe at the time. [Liszt, Franz]
1/12/1853Franz Liszt arrives in Leipzig. On that day he attended a concert by Berlioz and at the home of Ferdinand David he played a paraphrase on two themes of Berlioz' "Benvenuto Cellini". [Liszt, Franz]
27/1/1854Liszt conducts Berlioz' "La Fuite en Égypte" in Weimar [Liszt, Franz]
3/5/1854Berlioz and Marie Recio arrive in Weimar. They were on their way from Dresden to Paris and stayed in Weimar until 6 May. [Recio, Maria]
20/6/1855Wagner and Berlioz dine together at the flat of Prosper Sainton in London. They had their differences and the diner and a few other meetings brought them closer. They wrote positive accounts of their meetings to Franz Liszt who very much wanted them to get along well. However, they were again reserved regarding each other afterwards. [Wagner, Richard]
16/2/1856Franz Liszt conducts Berlioz' "Benvenuto Cellini" in Weimar. It was the revised version and Berlioz and Marie Recio were in Weimar at the time. [Liszt, Franz][Recio, Maria]
18/2/1856Berlioz and Marie Recio walk out during a performance of Wagner's "Lohengrin" conducted by Liszt in Weimar. It happened on 18 February of shortly afterwards. It was the first time Berlioz heard Wagner's music. Although Berlioz and Recio attented the full second performance on 24 February it clouded the friendship between Liszt and Berlioz. [Liszt, Franz][Recio, Maria][Wagner, Richard]
16/3/1856Franz Liszt conducts Berlioz' "Benvenuto Cellini" in Weimar. It was the second and last performance after the concert on 16 February. [Liszt, Franz]
18/11/1859Premiere of Berlioz' version of "Orfeo ed Euridice" at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. Paulie Garcia-Viardot was a female Orfeo and Berlioz had adapted the work with her voice in mind. Marie Sasse sang the part of Eurydice. Other singers were Marie Ernestine Marimon and Mme Moreau. Adolphe Deloffre was the conductor. It was a success both with the public and the critics. Viardot-Garcia sang her part 121 times until mid-June 1861. [Viardot-Garcia, Pauline]
25/1/1860Richard Wagner conducts a series of concerts at the Salle Ventadour of the Opéra italien in Paris. The concerts included extracts from his operas "Lohengrin", "Tannhäuser" and "Tristan und Isolde". The first concert was visited by Daniel Auber, Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Ernest Reyer, François-Auguste Gevaert and Jules Champfleury. The second concert took place on 1 Febraury 1860 and the third concert on 8 February 1860. During the series he met Charles Baudelaire, who was much impressed by Wagner's music. [Auber, Daniel][Baudelaire, Charles][Gounod, Charles][Meyerbeer, Giacomo][Wagner, Richard]
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]
13/3/1861Premiere of Richard Wagner's revised "Tannhäuser" at the Salle Le Pelletier in Paris. The performance was requested by Emperor Napoleon III after a suggestion by Pauline von Metternich. Urged by the members of the Jockey Club, Wagner had added a ballet to his opera. However, Wagner let the ballet start immediately after the ouverture, while it was known that the gentlemen were only present from the second act because they first finished their diners. The performance was disturbed by booing. Hector Berlioz was in the audience. After three performances "Tannhäuser" was over in Paris. [Napoleon III Bonaparte][Niemann, Albert][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)


• Gutman, Robert, Richard Wagner, Der Mensch, sein Werk, seine Zeit, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, München, 1989
The Hector Berlioz Website: Berlioz and Liszt
The Hector Berlioz Website: Berlioz and Spontini
Alceste (Gluck) - Wikipedia
Beethoven Monument - Wikipedia
Benvenuto Cellini (opera) - Wikipedia
Hector Berlioz - Wikipedia
Le prophète - Wikipedia
Sigismond Thalberg - Wikipedia

Bernard, Simon

Published: 28 Jan 2018
Last update: 19 Apr 2022