Les Soirées de l’orchestre
A musical nightmare is one of those indescribable realities that you hate and despise, which haunt you, irritate you, give you a pain in the stomach comparable to indigestion; it is the sort of work that carries an infectious germ and that in spite of every sanitary precaution finds its way somehow or other into the heart of all that is noblest and most beautiful in music; and yet it is endured with a wry face and not booed, sometimes because such works are put together with a low sort of talent, sometimes because the composer is a nice fellow you would not want to hurt, or again because the work bears some relation to a doctrine dear to a friend, or yet again because the connection is with some idiot who has had the conceit to pose as your enemy, and you do not want to appear to concern yourself with him by treating him as he deserves.
Many people see Berlioz as the personification of French Romanticism in music. His Symphonie fantastique (1830), first performed a few months after the “Battle of Hernani” and the July Revolution that inspired Delacroix's Liberty leading the people, is a “manifesto of Romanticism” as envisioned by Berlioz: the form, stemming from the “idea”, freed itself from pre-established structures; the orchestration, unprecedented in its originality, reflects the “vague des passions” (vagueness, uncertainty of sentiment and passion) and stimulates the visual imagination of the listener. The composer encountered many obstacles in his bold endeavour, and they in turn provided nourishment for the invention of new means of expression. After the failure of Benvenuto Cellini (1838), Berlioz developed the unusual dramatic forms of Roméo et Juliette and La Damnation de Faust. In order to defend his music and that of the composers he admired, he wrote criticism that revealed a remarkable literary talent, and he took up the baton, becoming one of the greatest conductors of his time. The virulence with which he denounced academicism, however, should not make us forget the solid training he received with Reicha (counterpoint) and Le Sueur (composition) at the Paris Conservatoire. Berlioz was a candidate for the Prix de Rome five times (finally meeting with success in 1830), which was indispensable for his works to be played at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opéra). Fascinated by Beethoven and Weber, Shakespeare and Goethe, he also revered Gluck and the eighteenth-century opéra-comique, and took inspiration from Virgil for Les Troyens. For with Berlioz, the heat of the passions was always combined with the discipline of reason.