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Shakespeare's Influence on Hector Berlioz
Transcript of Shakespeare's Influence on Hector Berlioz
- born 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England
- was a respected player by 1592 with Pembroke's Men
- in 1594, joined Lord Chamberlain's Men, where he acted, played and owned part of
- the company built the Globe theater in
- wrote a total of 38 plays
- died 1616
A few bars of the
- born 1803 in Cotê-St-André, France
- studied at Paris Conservatoire; fascinated with literature and Beethoven; won Prix de Rome
in 1830, married Harriet Smithson in 1833
- friends with Franz Liszt
- writer, critic, decorated with the
- died 1869
Romeo and Juliet
A drawing of Harriet as she appeared as Ophelia in Hamlet
Berlioz was completely obsessed with Harriet from the first time he saw her playing Ophelia in
at the Odéon theatre in Paris, 1827. She was actually an understudy for Maria Foote who fell ill that night. Legend goes that Berlioz declared, "I will marry that woman and write my grandest symphony on that play!" Berlioz' first advances repulsed her. But, even as Shakespearean play grew less popular, Harriet demanded more profit. Finally the William Abbot company split and left its financial troubles to her. Now Berlioz didn't seem like such a bad option. She married him in 1833, only a week after attending his re-written
Symphonie Fantastique or
Épisode de la vie d'un artiste
was written in 1830 by Berlioz. It was inspired mainly by Harriet Smithson. Because of the dynamic narrative and orchestral colour, it stands out as an example of the Romantic Era program symphony. At the premiere of the edited version in 1832, Harriet, reading the program, likely recognized that the
which recurs throughout the five movements represented her.
The drama of Shakespeare's works was an innate inspiration for Berlioz in whatever he wrote, but it is especially visible in this masterpiece.
"I witness[ed] the drama of that passion swift as thought, burning as lava, radiantly pure as an angel's glance, imperious, irresistible, the raging vendettas, the desperate kisses, the frantic strife of love and death . . . . the power of the acting, especially that of Juliet herself . . . "
- Berlioz, on seeing Romeo and Juliet performed 1827
Harriet as Juliet
In 1838 Berlioz received a large sum from Paganini and honored the gift by composing a program symphony:
Roméo et Juliette.
This work is one of Berlioz' finest.
"The sudden revelation of Shakespeare overwhelmed me. The lightning flash of his genius revealed the whole heaven of art to me."
The night after Berlioz saw Harriet in Hamlet, he returned to see her play Juliet in
Romeo and Juliet,
first written 1591-1596 by Shakespeare.
Berlioz wrote a set of originally two pieces for chorus and orchestra based on scenes from
The first is
La mort d’Ophélie
, and the second is
Marche funèbre pour la dernière scène d’Hamlet.
Both show the extreme emotion that Shakespeare's words could not express alone.
Did you know?
Watch this video to hear different interpretations of the idée fixe. The emotions that Shakespeare's plays evoked in Berlioz are clear in his passionate writing.
background music: the love scene from Berlioz'
Romeo and Juliet
Reichert, Max. "Berlioz and Shakespeare - a Romantic Life."
The Melbourne Shakespearean
. 2.2 (December 2001): Pages unknown. Web. 13 November 2013.
Mabillard, Amanda. "William Shakespeare of Stratford: Shakespeare's Education and Childhood." Shakespeare Online. 20 August 2000. Web. 13 November 2013.
Child, Theodore. "Shakespeare and Berlioz."
The Atlantic Monthly
48.290 (December 1881): 746-751. Web. 13 November 2013.
Trans. David Cairns. New York: Everyman's Library/Random House, 1912. Print.
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