À travers chants
'To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer third-rate operas, ridiculous concerts, indifferent performers, mad composers, or to take arms against this sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep – no more; and by a sleep to say we end the assaults on the ear, the torments of heart and mind, and the thousand hurts inflicted upon our intelligence and our senses by the practice of criticism. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep, to sleep, perchance to have a bad dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what tortures may come in dreams when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, what mad theories shall we have to examine, what discordant music to hear, what idiots to praise, which outrages to see inflicted on masterpieces, what absurdities to hear applauded, what windmills to see mistaken for giants?'
(Hector Berlioz: To be or not to be - A paraphrase)
For many people, Berlioz is the epitome of French Romanticism in music. His Symphonie fantastique (1830), premièred a few months after the ‘battle of Hernani’ and the July Revolution, which inspired Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, is his manifesto of musical Romanticism: the form, dependent on the ‘idea’, is freed from pre-established structures; the orchestration, unprecedented in its originality, reflects the unsettled state of the passions (‘le vague des passions’), and stimulates the listener’s visual imagination. The composer’s audacities were to encounter many obstacles, which in turn were to sustain the invention of new means of expression. After the failure of Benvenuto Cellini (1838), Berlioz developed the singular dramatic forms of Roméo et Juliette and La Damnation de Faust. In order to defend his own music and that of the composers he admired, he wrote criticisms that show remarkable literary skill, and he took up the baton and became one of the greatest conductors of his time. The virulence with which he denounced academicism, however, should not blot from our memory the fact that he received a solid training with Reicha (counterpoint) and Le Sueur (composition) at the Paris Conservatoire. Berlioz was five times a candidate for the Prix de Rome (obtaining it in 1830), which was essential if a composer wished to see his works performed at the Académie Royale de Musique (Paris Opéra). Fascinated by Beethoven and Weber, Shakespeare and Goethe, he also revered Gluck and admired the eighteenth-century opéra-comique, and for Les Troyens he took inspiration from Virgil. For in Berlioz, fervour and passion always went hand in hand with discipline and reason.