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3.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 February 2007
This is a novel about the French composer Hector Berlioz and the Irish actress Harriet Smithson. Harriet came with a group of actors to perform Shakespeare in Paris in 1827, and as soon as Berlioz saw her performances, he became obsessed with her, worshipping her from afar: they did not actually meet for another five years, and then they married.

A great deal of research has gone into the book, but it is lightly worn. Berlioz first sees her perform about half way through the book; but in the early part we have a superb account of their lives before that time. Not only the principal characters, but the other members of their families are splendidly realized in the round, as is the social and political background of the time. Morgan also beautifully captures Berlioz' overheated Romantic sensibilities and Harriet's insecurities. His passionate wooing of her and her response are touchingly described, as is the brief period of happiness which follows.

Both had been warned that it was an unsuitable marriage; but who could have told just how it would turn out? The torture that afflicted both their lives makes painful reading.

The style is a little idiosyncratic. Sometimes events are narrated in the historic present, sometimes in the past tense; there are very many short fragments of sentences without a main verb; and I don't think I care for the intrusion at one stage of a libretto Morgan has invented, nor for the few pages of mock-Shakespearean drama that presumably presents itself to an opium-drugged Berlioz near the end. In the last 100 pages or so the power of the book slackens considerably, tragic though its material is. It is almost as if Morgan has himself lost interest. The chronology becomes too loose, and there is an unnecessary section on Mendelssohn. Personally I also think it would have been better to have put the material of the Prologue into the end of the book instead: coming at the beginning, it gives too much away. But the choice of vocabulary is always imaginative without being forced, and from a purely literary point of view, too, about three-quarters of the book is a real pleasure to read.
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on 31 August 2012
I've enjoyed a number of Jude Morgan's books, particularly Passion and The Taste of Sorrow (found the latter particularly haunting, and couldn't get some of the images out of my head for days - highly recommended). So I had high hopes for this, and whilst I enjoyed it as a good holiday read, it wasn't quite as fantastic as I'd expected.

He's extremely good at creating female characters, and in this book does so more successfully than the men which that meant there was an imbalance between Berlioz and Harriet Smithson. I've heard quite a bit of Berlioz (though he's not my favourite composer) but I didn't know anything about his personal life so I've learnt something, and Morgan captures well the challenges of being a woman and an actress at a time when that combination was synonymous with prostitution. But it just wasn't as good as I'd hoped.
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VINE VOICEon 1 October 2006
Jude Morgan's incredible novel PASSION about the loves of Byron, Shelley and Keats is the work for which he has so far been most acclaimed. Great as that masterpiece is and much as it gripped me chewed me up then spat me out so I felt I'd had every major emotional button pushed during my reading, I'd have to admit that I prefer SYMPHONY.

However, because 19th Century French composer Hector Berlioz might be considered to have a less universal appeal than the aforementioned Romantic poets, I do wonder if this will sell as well or get the rave reviews that PASSION received from critics. This is a shame because this novel is utterly fascinating and more concentrated. If one were to perhaps compare Jude Morgan to Leo Tolstoy; if PASSION were his WAR & PEACE, then this surely must be his ANNA KARENINA.

Where he scores most highly is in his depiction of Harriet Smithson, Irish actress who in 1827 wowed Paris theatre audiences with her blinding performances of Shakespearean heroines Ophelia and Juliet. Smithson was Berlioz's inspiration and later became his 1st wife. Berlioz is still shockingly forgotten when it comes to most peoples lists of great composers as his originality, inventiveness and dramatic power is comparable to Beethoven. Nevertheless, in having Harriet as the main character whilst Berlioz is demoted to her "love interest" we get an entirely new and illuminating look at the circumstances surrounding the man himself.

We also see the misery his defiance to the musical and societal conventions of his day caused those closest to him. Rather than reducing his parents and sisters to dull followers of the strictures of the age in which they lived, Dr and Finette Berlioz (his parents) come to life as totally 3-dimensional and rounded human beings. For example, one of the sadder moments in the book is the description of Berlioz's mothers' death which could have been a throw away sequence in the hands of another lesser writer.

The thing that strikes me most about the book, apart from its imaginative reinventions of things I thought I already knew about is the beauty and elegance of Morgan's prose. Certain sequences would cling to me for days after I had read it, like a peculiarly intense dream. I still remember Harriet's thoughts and feelings on going to the theatre for the first time as a little girl in Ireland, her feelings on hearing Berlioz's most famous work (Symphonie Fantastique) and the brilliant, sometimes hilarious sketches of celebrities in London and Paris in the 1st half of the 1800's such as Chopin, Liszt, Kean and Kemble. The way the period is brought to life is a tour de force. More than that, it reflects our own humanity back at us with a Shakespearean verisimilitude. The most powerful passages are Morgan's portrait of Berlioz and Harriet's ultimately disastrous marriage, and the emotional effect is devastating.

The last time a book has excited, moved or enriched me so much was PASSION. Hope Morgan is as appreciated as his work deserves to be and that he'll carry on with more of this extraordinary work.
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on 2 July 2009
Jude Morgan's book "Symphony" has a breathless quality which draws in the reader as he tells the story of Berlioz and the equally intriging story of his wife. Harriot's story, her unconventional upbringing, her theatrical family, her reluctance to become an actress, contrasts strongly with Berlioz' conventional childhood, family and background. In his case, he is expected to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor, but he chooses music instead. She however, takes to the stage and has some success in the theatre.
Link the two together and the result is inspired music from a nineteenth century genius.
Maybe Jude Morgan's style does break the rules, (sentences often without verbs), but it helps to illustrate how people of genius such as Berlioz can break the traditional rules in their own field and produce something unique.
Towards the end the style lacks the original warmth, maybe echoing the breakdown of their relationship, but the latter part of the book does lose some impetus as a result.
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on 6 August 2007
I bought this book after reading Passion by the same author and finding it surprisingly good. I am only halfway through this book and am finding myself incredibly irritated by Jude Morgan's attempt to use some kind of repetition technique to draw readers' attention to the similarities between events. He keeps slipping in the phrase 'It is, if you like, seduction,' within a thought, a conversation, a descriptive passage etc. I will kill somebody if he does it again because it blows the atmosphere and suspension of disbelief to smithereens! All you hear is the author's mind working as he inserts it once again, believing his poor readers to be too dumb to feel the 'seductive' elements of events, or even better to interpret the events' atmosphere themselves. He is terribly unsubtle in the way he does this - personally I remember if a phrase is used only once at the beginning and once at the end of a book let alone in every chapter! Used more sparingly it might have been a clever technique, jogging the reader's brain into recognition, as it is, the more you hear 'It is, if you like, seduction' the more it ceases to mean anything. Be more subtle Mr. Morgan, don't assume we all have no attention span/memory, let us get lost in the world you create, not be continually reminded of your prescence!
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on 28 August 2015
Enjoyed this book immensely. Will look for more books by the same author.
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VINE VOICEon 13 April 2008
I tried my best with this book - I really did, but could not get into it.

The style of writing I found rather 'clumsy' and difficult. I got to the point of about two hundred pages or so into it and simply had to give up. Nothing in it held my attention. I do hope that this is not the 'definite' style of writing from this author, as I still have another of Jude Morgan's awaiting me unread! There was a single point during my read where I did begin to think that this is getting good, and that I was actually able to follow for awhile, but then it reverted back to the clumsy and awkward writing again... I found it confusing and all the characters difficult to warm to in any way. The opening chapter I also found nonsensical.

Sorry, but despite its gorgeous cover, I could not recommend this book

Very disappointing...
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