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This biography of composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) describes with unprecedented intimacy, affection, and respect the life of one of France's greatest artists. After long being regarded as an oddity and an eccentric figure, Berlioz is now being accepted into the ranks of the great composers. Based on a wealth of previously unpublished sources, and on a profound understanding of the humanity of his subject, David Cairns's book provides a full account of this extraordinary and powerfully attractive man.
Volume II follows Berlioz's life from 1832 to his death in 1869, his most active years as a composer, conductor, and critic. This volume provides telling portraits of those close to Berlioz: his two wives, his son and his sisters, his friends and colleagues, fellow composers and critics. Cairns vividly evokes Berlioz's music and the music-making world of nineteenth-century Paris. Volume II also includes chapters on Wagner, Berlioz's career as a critic, the composer's concert tours in Germany, Russia, and England, and much more.
Posted December 28, 1999
Nearly 50 years ago, two ambitious young British musicians became aware of the neglected genius of Berlioz. At that time, only the Symphonie Fantastique, the Carnaval Romain overture and three Faust pieces were performed in concerts. Harold, some excerpts from Romeo and one or two other items were available on 78 recordings. The Requiem, the Trojans, Benvenuto Cellini gathered dust: extravagent eccentricities, probably unperformable and certainly uncommercial. At the ened of 1999, London has seen the climax of the Berlioz revival and of the careers of Sir Colin Davis and David Cairns. The publication of the long-awaited second volume of Cairns' biography has coincided with the start of Davis's final great cycle of performances. All Berlioz's works are now widely known. Even his early mass has been rediscovered, performed and recorded. LPs. tapes and now CDs have familiarised us with Berlioz, as with many other neglected composers. But much credit of course goes to Davis, the great interpreter and to Cairns, the untiring propagandist and critic, now the author of the great biography. It is a remarkable biography. Berlioz at last stands before us as a living man: a son, a husband, a father; a great artist, but also a gentleman, a man of great moral strength. Not only Berlioz:perhaps the greatest revelation of the book is the real Harriet. Only Marie Recio remains elusive. All Berlioz lovers will buy this book and treasure it. Yet it is not the last word. For Cairns' purpose is to place Berlioz: to put him firmly where he should belong, in a musical tradition which starts with medieval plainsong and is has been represented in the 20th century by Stravinsky, Britten Messiaen... How could he do otherwise? David Cairns is an establishment music critic. And yet to write in Volume One of Berlioz as 'the greatest French composer between Rameau and Debussy'! Is London only the greatest city between Dover and Milton Keynes? Cairns has shown us Berlioz the man. Berlioz the composer is much more: he is still our great contemporary, for no one who has followed can be compared with him. If the new millenium sees the revival of music as a serious form of human expression, Berlioz must be the starting point.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.