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Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness, 1832-1869 v. 2 Paperback – 1 Oct 2003

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Paperback, 1 Oct 2003
£55.41 £29.71
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Description


Named a "Notable Book of 2000" by the "New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Cairns was chief music critic of the Sunday Times from 1983 to 1992, having earlier written for the Spectator, Evening Standard, Financial Times and New Statesman. From 1967 to 1972 he worked for the London branch of Phonogram, planning and carrying out large-scale recordings of Haydn, Mozart, Berlioz and Tippett. In 1991, in recognition of his services to French music, he was made Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Actively involved in music making, he was co-founder of the Chelsea Opera Group and is now conductor of the Thorington Players. His highly acclaimed two-volume Berlioz biography has won many major awards. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 5 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Berlioz finally gets the royal treatment he deserves! 1 May 2000
By dominick del giudice - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As a dedicated Berliozian since my teens, I've read several biographies on him in both English and French, but nothing comes close to David Cairns' exhaustive (but never exhausting) treatment, not even Jacques Barzun's now-classic treatment which helped to ignite the Berlioz revival decades ago. Part of the reason is the author's style--consistently engaging without ever becoming weighed down by boring detail. Cairns has a way of enlisting the reader's sympathies not only for Berlioz himself but also for his wife Harriet Smithson and his son Louis as well as his friends like Paganini and Liszt who fostered his career. These are all well-rounded portraits of some of the most prominent figures of an immensely eciting period of musical history. Most of all, one gets an indelible impression of Berlioz not only as a musical genius but even more as a brilliant writer. His letters, hundreds of which are fully quoted, reveal him as a man passionately dedicated the cause of great music and willing to express his honest convictions regardless of the opposition of the the crowd of mediocrities who had turned the Parisian musical environment into a haven for everything meretricious. It is sad to read of the success of such minitalent as Adolphe Adam , Auber and Thomas while Berlioz, the greatest French musician of his time (or perhaps the Greatest French musician, period) was forced to earn his living as a critic. If this book has any drawbacks, it is in the relatively little space devoted to discussion of the music itself. What the author does write about Berlioz's works is so insightful that it leaves me wishing for more--a lot more. This is especially true of Les Troyens. A vast opera such as this cannot be adequately discussed in a few paragraphs. But, admittedly, this is a biography, not a work of musical analysis. I'm grateful for what we have--a vivid portrait of a musical genius who really come alive as never before in these pages. Berlioz was incapable of writing a dull page. His letters are full of vivid imagery--metaphors and similes that paint the picture or express the thought memorably. My favorite example is, I am afraid, one that shows the caustic side of the man: Describing the singing of his mistress--later his wife--Marie Recio, he wrote "She sings like a cat". But I should not end on that note--Berlioz was a kind man as well as a genius--what a contrast to Wagner, whose overwhelming music caused the undeserved neglect from which Berlioz is still recovering over a century after his death. I hhope this book will send its readers back to the music as it has done for me.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial and unrivalled 28 July 2014
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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).
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The last word on Berlioz? 15 Mar. 2006
By A. M. Munford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A massive treatise, seldom dull, often enlightening 22 Sept. 2002
By madamemusico - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book in July and am still reading it, though I am now more than halfway through it. Like any biography of this size, Cairns occasionally runs into the "and then he wrote....and then he played..." syndrome, and to be honest, after a while each struggle to pull together an orchestra and interest an audience reads like each previous instance. On the other hand, it dispels many myths about Berlioz and his acceptance in his time, among them the fact that he never really stopped loving Harriet or her artistic soul even after her descent into alcoholism, delusions and strokes. It also shows that Berlioz did indeed have his champions, even in Paris where he also had enemies, based solely on the fact that his music was multi-rhythmic and therefore hard to follow! Among the many champions of his music were the Germans, Austrians and Russians, but especially the Hungarians and British, who heard and appreciated the great and wonderful things in his music.
The person one feels sorriest for is his son Louis, born into a marriage that Berlioz' father and sisters opposed, sent to boarding school when his mother descended into alcoholism and madness, seldom receiving the bonding love of his all-too-busy father. We also learn that Berlioz purposely suppressed inspirations to compose symphonies because he couldn't afford to perform them, and he wanted to use the money to help set up his son as a sailor.
Best of all, however, we get a VERY realistic glimpse into the performing world of the early-to-late 19th century, in which composers had to foot the bill for the performance (and copying) of their own works, playing to half-filled houses and often losing money on their ventures. We also learn of the strengths and weaknesses of the various musical centers of Europe, particularly the weaknesses, so much so that the composer often deleted movements from his symphonies and masses because the performers could not play them correctly. Thus the "golden age" of the Romantic era is dispelled as a myth propagated by rumor and hearsay. The reality is far less sunny, making us realize that even then art music struggled to find an audience and be appreciated.
Most of all, one suffers along with Berlioz, feels his angst and anguish as he struggles time and again to establish and re-establish himself in the face of organized, official opposition. Yes, there were critics and audiences who did recognize his genius and love his music, cruel reviews and nasty caricatures to the contrary, and this acceptance was much more widespread among lay listeners than we have been led to believe. Berlioz was cheered, mobbed and loved by practically every European culture center EXCEPT Paris, and even there he had his partisans....just never enough to keep him afloat financially or help him get his music produced.
If you love classical music and enjoy Berlioz, this is a recommended read.....just go slowly, don't try to speed-read through it, and you will get a lot more out of it.
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