Music Composers

Hector Berlioz-Part 3

But here new obstacles grew in his way. The director of the Conservatoire, Cherubini, had issued an edict that men and women were to enter the building from opposite sides. Berlioz did not conform to the order and presented himself at the wrong door and brushing aside the servant who tried to stop him made himself at home in the library. Cherubini became furious and forbade Berlioz to use the library. Things were smoothed down afterwards, but from that time dated a mutual aversion between the famous master and the hot-headed young artist. A greater difficulty was the cessation of the monthly allowance for 120 francs from his father. He had to live in a garret, dined upon bread and dates, and taught anyone who would learn of him.

Then came the long struggle for recognition. Five times in five consecutive years (1826-1830) he entered the competition for the Prix de Rome, failing four times but never losing courage and faith in his own power, and gaining the prize at his fifth effort, with his Sardanapalus.

In this time falls his first meeting with Henrietta Smithson. An English company had come over to Paris to perform Shakespeare, and at their first performance of "Hamlet" he saw, as Ophelia, Miss Smithson, who was going to play such a momentous role in his life. The impression made upon Berlioz's heart and mind was equaled only by the agitation into which he was plunged by the poetry of the drama. He became a martyr to insomnia, he lost all taste for the best-loved studies and got sever spells of deathlike torpor.  An English writer has stated that, in seeing Miss Smithson at the performance of Romeo and Juliet, Berlioz said: "I will marry Juliet and will write my greatest symphony on the play." He did both, but at that time he never would have dared to think of the realization of those dreams, comparing the brilliant triumphs of Miss Smithson, the darling of Paris, and his sad obscurity. However, he decided that she should hear of him; she should know that he also was an artist. He would give a concert of his own compositions. But where find the money for the musicians and the hall? Cherubini, the arbiter of the Salle du Conservatoire, the only one appropriate to his purpose, was opposed to giving the concert, but Berlioz, after a persistent fight, succeeded in securing the orchestra, the hall, chorus and parts and he gained a decided success. "Nothing is lacking to my success, not even the criticism of Panseron and Brugnieres, who say my style is not to be encouraged."

The Etude Magazine September 1919





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