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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-notch biographical writing, 2 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Cairns has achieved something remarkable with this book. Making sense effortlessly of the twists and turns of Berlioz's career, his switch from monumental pieces like the Requiem to the fizzing orchestral fireworks of Benvenuto Cellini, his love-hate relationship with his writing -- all this and much more. He really makes us feel we know the man, as so few of his contemporaries can have. And while Cairns is, as you'd expect, masterful in dealing with Berlioz's music, he sheds if anything even more light on Berlioz the man. The end is unutterably sad. Perhaps the only criticism is that it is hard, reading this book, to understand why anyone could fail to be immediately won over by Berlioz's output, then or now...!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The last word on Berlioz?, 15 Mar 2006
A. M. Munford "Mike Munford" (Welshpool, Powys United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
50 years ago, two ambitious young British musicians became aware of the neglected genius of Berlioz. At that time, only the Symphonie Fantastique, the Carnaval Romain overture and three Faust pieces were performed in concerts. Harold, some excerpts from Romeo and one or two other items were available on 78 recordings. The Requiem, the Trojans, Benvenuto Cellini gathered dust: extravagent eccentricities, probably unperformable and certainly uncommercial. The end of the century saw the climax of the Berlioz revival and of the careers of Sir Colin Davis and David Cairns. The publication of the long-awaited second volume of Cairns' biography coincided with the start of Davis's final great cycle of performances. All Berlioz's works are now widely known. Even his early mass has been rediscovered, performed and recorded. LPs. tapes and now CDs have familiarised us with Berlioz, as with many other neglected composers. But much credit of course goes to Davis, the great interpreter and to Cairns, the untiring propagandist and critic, now the author of the great biography.

It is a remarkable biography. Berlioz at last stands before us as a living man: a son, a husband, a father; a great artist, but also a gentleman, a man of great moral strength. Not only Berlioz:perhaps the greatest revelation of the book is the real Harriet. Only Marie Recio remains elusive.

All Berlioz lovers will buy this book and treasure it. Yet it is not the last word. For Cairns' purpose is to place Berlioz: to put him firmly where he should belong, in a musical tradition which starts with medieval plainsong and is has been represented in the 20th century by Stravinsky, Britten, Messiaen... How could he do otherwise? David Cairns is an establishment music critic. And yet to write in Volume One of Berlioz as 'the greatest French composer between Rameau and Debussy'! Is London only the greatest city between Dover and Milton Keynes? Cairns has shown us Berlioz the man. Berlioz the composer is much more: he is still our great contemporary, for no one who has followed can be compared with him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial and unrivalled, 28 July 2014
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Berlioz Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness (Hardcover)
Previous reviewers have already more than adequately praised this extraordinary two volume biography, absolutely definitive in its its scholarship and detail and remarkably entertaining in the thrust of its narrative.

At first, the reader may be daunted by the sheer volume and depth of the content, but Cairns knows what he is about, judiciously adding layer upon layer of fact, circumstance and context to paint a comprehensive portrait of an exceptionally complex, courageous and original genius.

Where and when he tentatively speculates, Cairns makes that completely clear but he has unearthed so much in the way of evidence for any theories that he posits, that he never gives the impression of defaulting into idle speculation. As in his wonderful book on Mozart's operas, he selects passages from contemporary letters and provides just enough musical commentary to enhance his narrative.

The perpetual struggle that was Berlioz's life is totally absorbing. He was relentlessly denied opportunity in his homeland by the cabal of envious, reactionary establishment figures in the Parisian musical world who typified everything that was petty and mediocre. Not for nothing did an exasperated Verdi dismiss the Opera as "la grande boutique". His personal life was blighted by terrible losses and sorrows such as his marriage to his alcoholic first wife Harriet and the early deaths of his mother, second wife Marie, sisters Nancy and Adele, and son Louis.

Nonetheless, he inspired from a circle of supporters a loyalty and devotion equal to the persecution of the establishment and ultimately he triumphed - but, ironically unable to contemplate quitting for ever the city he both loved and loathed, he experienced his greatest successes in Germany, London and, above all, St Petersburg, where he was feted and lionised. Only in Russia did his music make him any real income, however, for much of his life journalism sustained him.

His energy and idealism and commitment to a career which was opposed by his beloved father and thwarted by both design and accident, make an inspirational story. Cairns helps the reader appreciate the melodic, textural and rhythmic originality of his revolutionary scoring. This is essential reading for the Berlioz devotee.

PS: an interesting little sideline is the fact that the early Mass referred to here as lost has of course since the publication of this biography been found and performed (see my review of Gardiner's recording).
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Berlioz Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness
Berlioz Volume Two: Servitude and Greatness by David Cairns (Hardcover - 4 Nov 1999)
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