One of my favorite stories from Berlioz’s life comes from his memoirs. While working as a guitar teacher at a girl’s boarding school, Berlioz met a young piano teacher named Camille Marie Moke, who worked at the same school. Miss Moke offered herself as a lovely distraction to Berlioz as he attempted to move on from a woman who refused to pay him notice. In his memoirs Berlioz describes the relationship in his usual passionate language:
“If I were to describe the whole affair and the incredible incidents of every kind that it gave rise to, the reader would no doubt be entertained in an unexpected and interesting fashion. But, as I have stated before, I am not writing confessions. Suffice it to say that Mlle M--- set my senses on fire till all the devils of hell danced in my veins.”
Not long after this, Berlioz became the distinguished winner of the Prix de Rome, requiring his presence in Italy for designated period. Berlioz requested Camille’s hand in marriage the evening before his departure and she gladly accepted.
After spending some time in Rome, Berlioz began to wonder why he never received letters from his lover. When he discovered that she married the piano maker, Camille Pleyel, he became overcome by rage and passion. Disguising himself as a female maid, he plotted to travel to Paris where he would kill the newlyweds. Prior to reaching his destination, the composer realized the impracticality of his plan, knowing that it would only be successful if he in turn took his own life following the homicide. Discouraged and heartbroken, he returned to Italy.
People do crazy things when they are in love. Our friend Berlioz felt passionate toward multiple ladies. His passion toward another woman, Harriet Smithson, would lead to the creation of one of his most sought-after works. On Wednesday we’ll discuss the love affair behind Symphonie fantastique.