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Memoirs of Hector Berlioz from 1803 to 1865 [Paperback]

Hector Berlioz , Ernest Newman , Rachel Holmes , Eleanor Holmes
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1966
In these memoirs, considered to be amongst the best written by any musician, Berlioz provides an illuminating document of his time, while charting the course of his mostly unhappy career with good natured humour.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 533 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications Inc.; New edition edition (Dec 1966)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486215636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486215631
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.6 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 807,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant autobiograpy. 1 April 1998
By A Customer
I found this book engrossing, and I don't even particularly like Berlioz' music. He was bombastic, egotistical and extremely adept at telling a story. By the first paragraph I was hooked: "During the months which preceded my birth, my mother never dreamt, as Virgil's did, that she was about to bring forth a branch of laurel.... Strange, I admit, but true. I came into the world quite naturally, unheralded by any of the signs which, in poetic ages, preceded the advent of remarkable personages." I'll never forget the scene in which Berlioz, whose tragedies never seemed to end, had to go to the cemetery in Montmartre to attend the exhumation of the remains of his former wife. Always lively, Berlioz describes his travels and the people (famous and not so) that both adorned and plagued his world. "While posting from Berlin to Tilsit I had the ill-luck to have a music-mad courier, who tormented me dreadfully the whole time I was with him.... He had a mania for composing polkas and waltzes for the piano. He used to stop at the post-houses sometimes for an unconscionable time, and there, while he was supposed to be reckoning with the landlord, he was engaged in ruling music paper and jotting down the dance tune he had been whistling for the last three hours." The famous Hector Berlioz was then expected to "write the bass and harmony to it." An entertaining read, and an education.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply inspiring 8 Feb 2008
Simply one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Like the previous reviewer, I was hooked from the first page. Berlioz's style (which thankfully has not lost its charm and wit in translation) is very readable and superbly constructed. He was obviously an eccentric character, but a deeply passionate man both as a composer and as a lover. He takes us through his life in chronological order, from the village he was born in, to his visits to Rome, Moscow, and London, and his life in Paris. An amazing read for anyone interested in French music from any period and on any level, but also a must-read for those interested in 19th-century Europe, especially Paris. Apart from this, I feel there are some very valuable lessons for life we can all learn from Berlioz. I can honestly say I am a different person from reading this book. It is the only book I have read that has moved me to tears. After reading this, your perceptions on life and on music will change forever...for the better.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compliments to Mr. Cairns 3 Dec 2010
By Enrique
About the Memoirs: Great, impressive and touching book. It depicts the artistical life in that wonderful century, the romantic one. It's a novel, it's travel litterature, It's autobiographical, it's musical criticism, it's history, it's first hand history of music... If it is always convenient to know some biographical sketches of a composer in order to understand better his music, in the case of Berlioz it is absolutely necessary: whenever you listen to one of his works you'll be able to guess if the conductor has read his memoirs.

About the translation: Congratulations to David Cairns. NOt only for the translation, but for the huge amount of work devoted to HB. The composer would look upon Mr.Cairns with the same consideration he showed to some of his real friends.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Being there 9 Jun 2010
By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER
Not only was Hector Berlioz a composer of great originality and true genius, but was also a genuinely gifted writer. He was able to document his own life and times with such vividness and acuity as to make them seem almost contemporaneous with our own very different, and yet in some respects, very similar age. This book fairly gallops along from page one, at a ripping pace that leaves most thrillers seeming dull and turgid. The first thing that strikes one is the superb wit and gleeful irony that is often wicked but never really cruel. It is this sparkling wit that gives the memoirs their mercurial quality and makes the pages fly past.

Once he gets to Paris, and his musical education commences, we are shown that there have always been entrenched forces of musical inertia, who declare that everything worth doing in music has already been done. Conservatives who would insist that everything written after year x, or since the death of composer y, is simply not deemed to be music. These voices are forever pitched in a struggle with emergent, radical youth, for resources and audience attention. Long may this state of affairs continue. Berlioz was clearly a man imbued with an overwhelming sense of mission, who was obliged to wage an indefatigable struggle against a Parisian musical establishment who recognised but attempted to contain and stifle his obvious genius, in their efforts to resist what they deemed untoward innovation. This obliged him to acquire his highly developed powers as a self publicist, something which has caused numerous attempts by detractors and later researchers to seek to discredit the memoirs, but these attempts have usually foundered when records have been thoroughly reviewed.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Importance Of Being Hector: First Thoughts. 3 May 2002
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Anyone familiar with the works of Oscar Wilde will of course know where the "take-off" above comes from. And how trenchantly - even scathingly - funny that particular work is, even to the point where some folks have fun citing extended passages at will, out loud, just for the "yuks" it contains. Well, add "The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz" to that short list.

I am now barely 100 pages into this screamer, after having recently concluded reading the magisterial and sympathetic two-volume biography of Berlioz by David Cairns (who also provides the perfect translation of these Memoirs). Frankly, I wasn't sure that I could handle "yet more Berlioz" so soon after finishing the Cairns volumes (although Cairns provided plenty of justification, in terms of his ability to pinpoint Berlioz's scathing wit).

I shouldn't have worried.

Berlioz is certainly famous among music lovers, and musicians and composers, for a long list of "firsts": The first to take the proto-Romantic beginnings started so auspiciously by Beethoven to new heights, the first to expand the size (and instruments) of the classical orchestra to something closely resembling today's symphony orchestra, the first to write a detailed study on the uses of the instruments in the orchestra, including the effects of venue acoustics on the orchestra's sound... It's a long list, and this is just a part of it.

But Berlioz was also a brilliant writer. Inter alia, his "feuilletons" (music & arts criticism for the cultural journals of his time) and his "Evenings in the Orchestra" (including several of his better feuilletons) showed both his brilliance as a writer on the arts and his scathing wit. And that wit comes across as well in his Memoirs, as can be evidenced by this example on his very first page:

"Needless to say, I was brought up in the Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome. This charming religion (so attractive since it gave up burning people) was for seven whole years the joy of my life, and although we have long since fallen out I have always kept most tender memories of it. Indeed, such is its appeal for me that had I the misfortune to be born into the bosom of one of those schisms ponderously hatched by Luther or Calvin I should undoubtedly abjured it the moment I was able..."

It gets even better later on, and the Memoirs are very well served by Cairns's idiomatic translation that so perfectly captures the trenchantly ascerbic writing qualities of which Berlioz was so capable. (Apparently, earlier translations, whether due to "bowdlerization" or simple lack of supporting documents, did not succeed to the same degree in capturing all of these qualities.)

Berlioz started these Memoirs while in his mid-40's and while in London for performances of his works and finding himself with some spare time. From then until the end of his life two decades later, he would add to them, with the express requirement that they be published posthumously. There is no need to "wonder why" at this requirement: He had something to say about nearly everything and everybody in the world of music and culture of his time, and wasn't afraid to "name names." And good for him!

I hope to have more (but not too much more) to say about these alternately hilarious and moving Memoirs once I've finished them. In the meantime, I hope that these brief comments serve to whet your appetite for one of the best books ever written about music by a musician. And a suitably famous one at that. This hardcover version is inexpensive and beautifully bound; a worthwhile addition to every music lover's library.

Bob Zeidler
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Not Go Directly To The Source? 5 May 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The inimitable Hector Berlioz was a prolific writer (perhaps he missed his true calling). His memoirs are an irresistible and captivating read, giving us an all too brief window into his life-long struggles, both personally and professionally. Cairns did a bang-up job at translation (no real complaints here) and the Everyman's edition is splendidly printed.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - but not the best translation 8 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
The other reviews pretty much sum up the qualities of Berlioz's writing. Like others, I find is prose more inviting than his music. Immensely candid, entertaining and wonderfully written, it would be a great shame if only musicians were to read it - it's enjoyable on so many levels. The only reason I decided to write this was to urge anyone thinking of buying it to get hold of David Cairns' more modern translation. It reads far more fluently and somehow seems to get inside Berlioz's character in a way that the older translation doesn't. It also has among the appendices a valuable dissection of the contentious points and parts where Berlioz was economical with the truth.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic 9 Dec 2005
By ct reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a rare, surprisingly lucid, firsthand account of the life of one of the most influential and innovative composers in history. Descriptions of contemporaries, the artist's balance of art/business, and the intimate history of specific works (Fantastique, Harold, Faust, Les Troyens, etc) are valuable to those interested in classical music and period history.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musician & Story Teller, Berlioz surprises and delights 15 Feb 1999
By Li Ran (rli@fas.harvard.edu) - Published on Amazon.com
Is this guy for real?! Hector Berlioz seems too amazing to be true: I knew he was a superb music composer but I applaud him even more as an enchanting story teller. I should have guessed that the man who came up with the Symphonie Fantastique (a symphony with a story plot) could recount the extraordinary events of his life with such vivacity and good timing. And he did have some extraordinary events in his life. Exuberant, tortured, starving, successful, in love, angered, whatever the state of Berlioz's life, he lived it fully. At times soap opera-esque (I almost fell over reading about how he plotted to dress up as a maid and kill his faithless fiance), this book was a true joy to read. Thanks, Berlioz!
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