Author Topic: Lives of the composers  (Read 2017 times)

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Offline knight66

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Lives of the composers
« on: August 21, 2010, 10:11:11 PM »
The idea of this topic is to attract stories and facts about composers that might prompt people to find out more. A miscellany, the interesting, the unexpected, the decidedly odd can find a home here.

Hector Berlioz: Living the Romantic Life.

Berlioz won a musical composition prize the winner of which was to live two years in Rome. The real attraction of the competition was the five years stipend that formed part of the prize. For one of three unsuccessful attempts at this 'Prix de Rome' was the cantata 'La mort de Cleopatre'. It broke composition rules and so, much as it is now admired, the academic judges discarded it. The piece which won him the prize, 'La mort de Sardanapale' he subsequently destroyed and only a fragment of it survives. It may have stuck to the stuffy rules and pleased the judges, but it did not please him.

He hated Rome saying it was..."the most stupid and prosaic city I know; it is no place for anyone with head or heart."

David Cairns wrote an authoritative biography on Berlioz, the following story is from it.

During his stay in Italy, he received a letter from the mother of his fiancee informing him that she had called off their engagement. Instead her daughter was to marry Camille Pleyel (son of Ignaz Pleyel), a rich piano manufacturer. Enraged, Berlioz decided to return to Paris and take revenge on Pleyel, his fiancee, and her mother by killing all three of them. He created an elaborate plan, going so far as to purchase a dress, wig and hat with a veil (with which he was to disguise himself as a woman in order to gain entry to their home). He even stole a pair of double-barrelled pistols from the Academy to kill them with, saving a single shot for himself. Meticulously careful, Berlioz purchased phials of strychnine and laudanum to use as poisons in the event of a pistol jamming.

Despite this careful planning, Berlioz failed to carry through with the plot. By the time he had reached Genoa, he realised he left his disguise in the side pocket of a carriage during his journey. After arriving in Nice (at that time, part of Italy), he reconsidered the entire plan, deciding it to be inappropriate and foolish.

« Last Edit: August 21, 2010, 10:14:34 PM by knight »
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Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Lives of the composers
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2010, 08:50:38 AM »
The lives of Romantic composers, on the whole, present counterpoint, accompaniment, colour and frequently clarify certain works. Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique without the commentary of his pursuit of Harriet Smithson is an incomplete experience. One of the movements, the Witches' Dance gives, for instance, quite a psychological insight as to his own obsessiveness and jealousy.  Harold in Italy comes to life via reading his own adventures while wandering around the Boot in his own authoritative autobiography.

This "Evenings in the Orchestra" is really a fine read. In one of the stories a jealous suitor crushes his unfaithful lady and friend by an encroaching mechanical fence.  Besides his orchestral and harmonic innovations, he already forsaw technical developments like air travel in another of his stories.

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

― Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds