Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Settings of Romeo and Juliet: Berlioz

Today we continue our look at various musical portrayals of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Did you know that Hector Berlioz wrote his own dramatic symphony based on this beloved tragedy in 1839? After watching Harriet Smithson as Juliet in a theater production in 1827, Berlioz fell in love with both the actress and the play. He went on to write his famous Symphonie fantastique in 1830, inspired by his passion for Smithson. He then married Smithson several years later. The marriage did not turn out to be what he fantasized for so long.

It wasn’t until several years later that he was able to act on his love for Romeo and Juliet. Violin virtuoso NicolòPaganini offered to pay Berlioz 20,000 francs, rewarding him for his talent. He compared Berlioz to the late Beethoven and perhaps hoped the young composer would carry on Beethoven’s legacy in his own work. Berlioz used the money to devote his time to writing a large-scale symphony including solo voices, chorus, and orchestra—similar to Beethoven’s Ninth. This work, Romeo and Juliette, was completed in 1839 and later revised in 1846. The premiere included more than 100 singers and 100 instrumentalists. It is written in three parts and seven sections. Due to the grandeur and length of the performance, many orchestras today play excerpts rather the full symphony. Below, you can listen to the work in its entirety.

Be sure to tune into 90.9 this Friday, February 12 at 7pm for our annual Valentine’s Day special “Love Greetings,” hosted by Mark Perzel. When you download our free mobile app, you can listen to this special wherever you are that evening!