Berlioz: Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness, 1832-1869

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9780520240582: Berlioz: Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness, 1832-1869
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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 Based on a wealth of previously unpublished sources, and on a profound understanding of the humanity of his subject, David Cairns's book provides a full account of this extraordinary and powerfully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.

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Review:

The conclusion to David Cairns's epic biography of Hector Berlioz has been eagerly awaited ever since the first volume, Berlioz: The Making of an Artist, appeared in 1989. With an achievement as massive as that highly praised volume, part of the tension of waiting for the follow-up involves wondering whether Cairns can capture again the sweep, the vividness, and the power of his first book. But he has managed to do exactly that.

Cairns picks up the story at the time of Berlioz's marriage to Harriet Smithson in 1833, with whom he had been obsessively infatuated for so long. It's a mournful story, with her alcoholism, their separation in 1844, and her premature death in 1854. Cairns links the vicissitudes of Berlioz's own life directly with his music: the composition of La Mort d'Ophélie marks the symbolic end of their marriage. "The elegiac significance of this infinitely sad melody would be hard to miss." Cairns writes sensitively and evocatively about Berlioz's music, and one of the central pillars of this second volume is a compelling defense of the composer's Les Troyens (1856), his much-maligned and chopped-about operatic masterpiece. Critics of the day were not kind: "so vulgar, so badly designed and so distorted with impossible modulations that one would take it to be the music of a deaf man," said one. There were many cartoons, which Cairns reprints, along the lines of "new method of killing cattle to be introduced at all slaughterhouses," in which an ox is pictured felled by having The Trojans played to it through a large tuba. But Cairns convincingly demonstrates just how far ahead of his time Berlioz was and how heroic was his struggle to have this titanic opera performed and accepted in the teeth of persistent obstacles. It is Cairns's opinion that Berlioz, "like the biblical man, was born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." His biography follows the tragedies and the triumphs of this larger-than-life individual with a narrative force as gripping as a good novel. --Adam Roberts

From the Back Cover:

Praise for Berlioz, Volume I: )

"We now have a biography that not only takes in the immense documentation of Berlioz's early life but goes far beyond it in piecing together an incomparably rich portrait of the man and his milieu. . . . The picture is so vivid and the prose so magnetic that not a word seems wasted. . . . Cairns's biography of Berlioz must take its place with the handful of great lives of composers, such as Thayer's Beethoven, Newman's Wagner, and Walker's Wolf." (Hugh MacDonald, The Listener)

"Even at this halfway stage, [Cairns's] Berlioz stands as one of the great biographies of our day, and also one of the great feats of literary sympathy with an artistic genius, filled with a love, knowledge, and understanding of his subject that flame up on every page." (Max Loppert, Financial Times)

"This biography is kindled by sympathy and enthusiasm for its subject, and is written with a lifelong professional experience of Berlioz behind it. It is also beautifully and interestingly written. The chapters flow together like Berlioz's own harmonic changes, and with equal resonance." (Roger Norrington, Independent)

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780520222007: Berlioz: Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness

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ISBN 10:  0520222008 ISBN 13:  9780520222007
Publisher: University of California Press, 2000
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9780571274758: Berlioz: Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness, 1832-1869

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