The Musical Madhouse

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University of Rochester Press, 2003 - Music - 239 pages
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Hector Berlioz's Les Grotesques de la musique is the only one of his books that has never been translated into English in its entirety. It is by far the funniest of all his works, and consists of a number of short anecdotes, witticisms, open letters, and comments on the absurdities of concert life. Alastair Bruce's fluid translation brings to life this important composer and bon vivant/. He does a wonderful job of conveying all the puns, jokes, and invective of Berlioz's prose as well as the nuances of his stories. He even imitates a Tahitian accent in the translation, as Berlioz does in the original. The notes will give the reader insight into the innuendos and in-jokes that fill the pages. This translation will take its place among other translations of Berlioz's prose writings, bringing to the reader more lively examples of a still misunderstood composer caught up in the musical life of mid-nineteenth century Paris. With an introduction by Hugh Macdonald. Alastair Bruce is a London-based management consultant and former treasurer of the Berlioz Society. Hugh Macdonald is General Editor of New Berlioz Edition.

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About the author (2003)

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.

Alastair Bruce is a London-based management consultant and former treasurer of the Berlioz Society.

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