Evenings with the Orchestra

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, May 15, 1999 - Music - 381 pages
3 Reviews
During the performances of fashionable operas in an unidentified but "civilized" town in northern Europe, the musicians (with the exception of the conscientious bass drummer) tell tales, read stories, and exchange gossip to relieve the tedium of the bad music they are paid to perform. In this delightful and now classic narrative written by the brilliant composer and critic Hector Berlioz, we are privy to twenty-five highly entertaining evenings with a fascinating group of distracted performers. As we near the two-hundredth anniversary of Berlioz's birth, Jacques Barzun's pitch-perfect translation of Evenings with the Orchestra —with a new foreword by Berlioz scholar Peter Bloom—testifies to the enduring pleasure found in this most witty and amusing book.

"[F]ull of knowledge, penetration, good sense, individual wit, stock humor, justifiable exasperation, understanding exaggeration, emotion and rhetoric of every kind."—Randall Jarrell, New York Times Book Review

"To succeed in [writing these tales], as Berlioz most brilliantly does, requires a combination of qualities which is very rare, the many-faceted curiosity of the dramatist with the aggressively personal vision of the lyric poet."—W. H. Auden, The Griffin
  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - futursonic - LibraryThing

A group of bored musicians stuck playing overrated operas in a small town is the background for this book. The musicians, with nothing left to do in the days before portable television, tell stories ... Read full review

Review: Evenings With the Orchestra

User Review  - Laurie Graham - Goodreads

A well-kept secret, at least from me. I can't believe it's taken me all these years to discover this book. I've always loved Berlioz's music but I had no idea he was such a sharp-penned funny writer ... Read full review

Contents

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About the author (1999)

French composer Hector Berlioz was one of the most influential composers of the romantic period in music. The son of a French physician, Berlioz showed an aptitude for music at an early age and taught himself to perform and compose. For a time, his father indulged his son's pastime, but in 1821 he sent the young Berlioz to Paris to study medicine. Although he attended lectures at the medical school there, Berlioz gave most of his attention to music, studying with a private music teacher and composing his own pieces. Finally, in 1826 Berlioz abandoned his medical studies and enrolled at the Paris Conservatory. To support himself, he gave music lessons and wrote articles on music. While at the Paris Conservatory, Berlioz applied for the Prix de Rome. He entered the contest four times before finally winning the prize in 1830. In that same year, Berlioz completed the Symphonie Fantastique, his most ambitious and well-known work. Based on Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey, the symphony is an example of program music, that is, music that represents a story or sequence of ideas. Berlioz developed the genre of program music into a highly regarded art, drawing themes from the works of William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lord Byron, and Theophile Gautier. Because the unusual nature of his compositions failed to win him much recognition, Berlioz was forced to earn a living as a music critic and music librarian. By the time he was 34 years old, he had established a pattern in his career: Each new musical composition was greeted by a mixture of wild enthusiasm from younger composers and hostility from the entrenched musical establishment. Although he did achieve some measure of fame in later life, Berlioz's genius went largely unrecognized. Despondent in later years because of a broken marriage and financial problems, Berlioz composed the dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet. His last years were lived in bitterness and loneliness after the death of his second wife and his son. Berlioz has been called the greatest composer of melody since Mozart. He is also recognized as a master of the orchestra, having greatly expanded its expressive range through his profound understanding of individual instruments. Finally, his experimentation with new musical structures and meters freed younger composers from the strict requirements of classical musical forms and opened the way to other musical approaches. Berlioz died in Paris in 1869 after a long illness.

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