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Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness 1832-1869: Servitude and Greatness 1832-1869 v. 2 Paperback – 2 Nov 2000

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 2 edition (2 Nov. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140287272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140287271
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 5.8 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 660,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Amazon Review

The conclusion to David Cairns's epic biography of Hector Berlioz has been eagerly awaited ever since volume one, Berlioz: the Making of an Artist appeared in 1989. With an achievement as massive as that highly praised volume part of the tension of waiting for the follow-up involves wondering whether Cairns can capture again the sweep, the vividness and the power of his first book. But he has managed to do exactly that.

Cairns picks up the story at the time of Berlioz's marriage to Harriet Smithson in 1833, with whom he had been obsessively infatuated for so long. It's a mournful story, with her alcoholism, the separation in 1844 and her premature death in 1854, Cairns links the vicissitudes of Berlioz's own life directly with his music. The composition of La Morte d'Ophelie marks the symbolic end of their marriage. "The elegaic significance of this infinitely sad melody would be hard to miss". Cairns writes sensitively and evocatively about Berlioz's music, and one of the central pillars of this second volume is a compelling defence of Berlioz's Trojans (1856), his much-maligned and chopped-about masterpiece. Critics of the day were not kind: "so vulgar, so badly designed and so distorted with impossible modulations that one would take it to be the music of a deaf man;" said one. There were many cartoons, which Cairns reprints, along the lines of "New method of killing cattle to be introduced at all slaughterhouses" in which an ox is pictured felled by having The Trojans played to it through a large tuba. But Cairns convincingly demonstrates just how far ahead of his time Berlioz was, and how heroic was his struggle to have this titanic opera performed and accepted in the teeth of persistent obstacles. It is Cairns' opinion that Berlioz, "like the biblical man, was born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." His biography follows the tragedies and the triumphs of this larger-than-life individual with a narrative force as strong as a good novel. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

David Cairns was chief music critic of the Sunday Times from 1983 to 1992, having earlier been music critic and arts editor of the Spectator and a writer on the Evening Standard, the Financial Times and the New Statesman. From 1967 to 1972 he workedfor the London branch of Phonogram.

Customer Reviews

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By Ralph Moore TOP 100 REVIEWER on 28 July 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Biographies, the cradle-to-grave type, don't often come as good as this, it's so well written, so comprehensive, telling such a compulsive tale, it does full justice to its exceptional subject. It's up there with the best in the genre. For me this would include Leon Edel on Henry James, Hilary Spurling on Matisse, Hermione Lee on Virginia Woolf, Michael Holroyd on Lytton Strachey. It has the sweep, not just of the best of his music, such as The Trojans (my favourite of his works) which it resembles in scope and magnificence, but of great English, French and Russian nineteenth century novels. Though the two volumes, of which this is the second, amount to 1300 pages between them and require a large investment of time, it's well worth it, and even more so if you are steeped in the music of Berlioz and interested in 19th century French cultural history. His was an exemplary life dedicated, against many odds, to composing music that was revolutionary for its time; he fought against ignorance and prejudice amongst his peers and critics all his life, and, early in his career against his beloved parents too, often remaining poor. He is the great romantic figure of nineteenth century French music.

In volume one we saw how his first thirty years shaped him. His determination to be a composer was precocious and withstood sustained pressure against it, particularly from his father, who was very slow to warm to his son's greatness. We see the growth of his early compositions, his teachers, his attempts at official acceptance, the formidable opposition he encountered.
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