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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a definitive biography but a great read., 3 Dec 2006
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C. Bell (England) - See all my reviews
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This massive two volume biography of the greatest French composer of the Nineteenth Century has been praised and showered with awards. Not only is it now the definitive book on the composer, written by the Berlioz authority of our times but it is a totally absurbing account, not only of the music (which is still underestimated by many) but of the cultural history of the period too (the two volumes cover the years 1832-1836). The boy Berlioz witnessed the heady days of Napoleon's return from Elba, the young man was writing his Prix de Rome composition when the 1830 Revolution broke out and he lived to witness the reactionary stultification of France after the 1848 revolution.

David Cairns analyses the music in enough detail to guide us through Berlioz' still strikingly modern style without losing any less musicologically minded readers. He also offers a profound and penetrating analysis of this wonderfully human man who suffered throughout his life for his two great loves: music and women. Perhaps no other composer of the period was so interesting, so intelligently engaged in his times and so given to emotional excess.

Cairns paints a vivid picture in a surprizingly informal style which reads more like a Romantic novel than a biography. You really do have to read the next chapter to find out what happens. There is no loss of quality however, Cairns keeps us heads down as he passes scrupulously through each year putting the music into context - no composer's life was more expressed in music - and putting the man into the context of the times.

If Berlioz comes over as almost larger than life, it only goes to remind us that life is maybe bigger than many of us dare make it.

Don't be put off by the length, a big man deserves a big book and it is so very readable that you will regret coming to the end.
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Berlioz: Volume One: The Making of an Artist, 1803-1832
Berlioz: Volume One: The Making of an Artist, 1803-1832 by David Cairns (Paperback - 21 Oct 2010)
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