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Louis Hector Berlioz (La Côte-Saint-André, France, December 11, 1803 – Paris, March 8, 1869) was a French composer and a leading figure of Romanticism. His best known work is the Fantastic Symphony (released in 1830). Berlioz was a great orchestrator and the influence of his music was extraordinary.
Berlioz was born in France in La Côte-Saint-André, between Lyon and Grenoble. His father was a doctor (he was a fan of acupuncture) and sent the young Hector in 1821 to Paris to study medicine. Berlioz was horrified by the dissection process and despite his father’s disapproval, he abandoned his career to study music. He attended the Conservatory of Paris, where he studied composition and opera, being very impressed by the work and innovations of his teacher Jean-François Lesueur.
The romantic movement
He quickly felt identified with the French romantic movement. Among his friends were the writers Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac. Later, Théophile Gautier would write:
- I think that Héctor Berlioz, with Victor Hugo and Eugène Delacroix, form the Holy Trinity of romantic art.
It is said that Berlioz had been an innate romantic, who experienced intense emotions from the earliest childhood, for example when he read passages of Virgil, and later in a series of amorous adventures.
At age 23 she fell in love with Irish Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson.
Smithson’s letters seemed so overly passionate to Berlioz that he rejected it completely. However, she was the inspiring muse of the symphony that Berlioz was preparing at that time.
In 1830, this fantastic Symphony generated by those emotions was considered “amazing and vivid”, but Smithson did not want to attend the Paris debut. At that time the autobiographical nature of this programmatic music work (which required listeners to read a booklet with their “plot” before the concert) was considered sensational and innovative justice.
In 1830 (the same year as the symphony debut) Berlioz won the Rome Prize, the most important scholarship in the world of music.
Due to the rejection of Smithson, Berlioz sentimentally joined Marie Moke. But this romance was abruptly ended by Moke’s mother, who married her to pianist and piano maker Camille Pleyel.
Berlioz, who at that time was already a scholar in Rome, planned to ride to Paris, disguise as a domestic servant, kill Moke, his mother and his pianist boyfriend and commit suicide. He came to travel a couple of thousand kilometers to Nice, until he was persuaded to abandon the idea.
Return to Paris and first marriage
After his return to Paris – after a two-year scholarship studying Italian opera in Rome – he learned that Harriet Smithson had finally attended a presentation of the Fantastic Symphony. She quickly realized that it was a clear allegory of the passionate letters that Berlioz had written to her. Soon they were married, but a few years later, disillusioned, they separated.
During his life, Berlioz was more famous as an orchestra conductor than as a composer. Periodically he gave concert cycles in Germany and England, where he directed operas and symphonic music, both hers and other composers.
Several were his meetings with the composer and virtuoso of the violin Nicolo Paganini. According to the Frenchman’s memoirs, Paganini, after attending a performance of his fantastic Symphony, offered him an important sum to write a piece for viola. Somewhat reluctant at first, a few weeks later Berlioz wrote a work, a concertante symphony, inspired by passages of the verse verse of Lord Byron Childe-Harold’s Pilgrimage. Unfortunately, the work was not to Paganini’s taste, who dismissed it as being of little technical complexity.
In 1838, he premiered his first opera, Benvenutto Cellini, whose libretto is based on the memories of the sixteenth-century Florentine sculptor of the same name. The response from the public and criticism is cold.
The money paid by Paganini allows him to pay off debts and work more calmly on his next work, the “dramatic symphony” Romeo and Juliet (whose “Dream of Love” will be considered by Berlioz himself as his “favorite composition”) . Richard Wagner, who was strongly impressed, attended the premiere, among other personalities, which only reinforced his great admiration for French.
In 1840, the French government commissioned the composition of a work that commemorates the ten years of the Revolution of 1830. Thus is born his Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale, premiered under the conduction of the same composer in the Place de la Bastille.
Hector Berlioz died in Paris on March 8, 1869. He is buried in the Montmartre cemetery with his two wives, Harriet Smithson (+ 1854) and Marie Recio (+ 1862).
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