In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Louis-Hector Berlioz

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Complete Edition of the Music

Music Louis-Hector Berlioz
Julian Rushton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0032


Louis-Hector Berlioz (b. 1803–d. 1869) was the most important French composer of the early to mid-19th century. He was born at La Côte-St-André, Isère, in southwestern France, and went to Paris to study medicine, his father’s profession, despite his determination to pursue a musical career. He was no virtuoso but played guitar and flute; exceptionally for his time, he was not a pianist. He became an important conductor, and not only of his own works. His early provincial isolation partly explains an originality most apparent in melody, rhythm, and orchestration, and sometimes misunderstood as incompetence (or, with melody, simply overlooked). His most reliable income was from his often brilliant journalism. He was never part of the Parisian musical establishment, but he was an important conductor and promoted musical events at his own financial risk. He traveled to promote his music in Germany and Russia and took conducting engagements in England. He was a strong influence on Russian composers; Liszt and Wagner were in his debt, as were younger French composers such as Bizet and Chabrier. In the latter part of the 20th century, increased performance, including recordings, and the publication of a complete edition of his works, established his reputation beyond doubt.

Reference Works

Knowledge of Berlioz has often been clouded by mistaken assumptions concerning the reliability of his memoirs, and by legends such as his alleged insistence on enormous orchestras. Future study is now firmly based on definitive catalogues of his works (Holoman 1987) and publications (Hopkinson 1981), while French and English publishers have produced alphabetically organized reference works (Citron and Reynaud 2003, Serna 2006, Rushton 2017). The major bibliographies (Wright 1987, Langford and Graves 1989) do not always overlap, and both can be consulted with profit, but they do not include more recently published work.

  • Braam, Gunther, and Arnold Jacobshagen, eds. Hector Berlioz in Deutschland: Texte und Dokumente zur deutschen Berlioz-Rezeption (1829–1843). Gottingen, Germany: Hainholz, 2002.

    A documentary compilation of the numerous references to Berlioz in German-language publications prior to Berlioz’s first visit to Germany.

  • Citron, Pierre, and Cécile Reynaud, eds., with Jean-Pierre Bartoli and Peter Bloom. Dictionnaire Berlioz. Paris: Fayard, 2003.

    Alphabetically ordered by topic, and written by experts, the entries cover technical questions as well as Berlioz’s works, people with whom he associated, those who influenced him, and those influenced by him, concluding with a bibliography.

  • Holoman, D. Kern. Catalogue of the Works of Hector Berlioz. New Edition of the Complete Works of Hector Berlioz 25. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1987.

    The most comprehensive guide, in the form of a catalogue with musical incipits, and packed with information on genesis, chronology, publication, and performance. Also catalogues Berlioz’s literary work, including newspaper articles.

  • Hopkinson, Cecil. A Bibliography of the Musical and Literary Works of Hector Berlioz. 2d rev. ed. Edited by Richard Macnutt. Tunbridge Wells, UK: Richard Macnutt, 1981.

    Pioneering work on details of published editions, handsomely illustrated. Original edition: Edinburgh: Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 1951.

  • Langford, Jeffrey, and Jane Denker Graves. Hector Berlioz: A Guide to Research. New York and London: Garland, 1989.

    An elaborate classification of literature about Berlioz, with more than one thousand entries, several of them not listed in Wright 1987. Although there is substantial overlap, this Guide to Research, part of a series from this publisher, is not arranged chronologically throughout but instead under headings (“Personality,” “Relation to Others,” “Style Analysis,” individual works, etc.).

  • Massip, Catherine, and Cécile Reynaud, eds. Berlioz, la voix du romantisme. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2003.

    Catalogue of the magnificent exhibition mounted by the French National Library for the bicentenary of Berlioz’s birth. Richly illustrated, and with numerous short essays by Berlioz scholars.

  • Rushton, Julian, ed. The Cambridge Berlioz Encyclopedia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    One of the series of Cambridge composer encyclopedias. Alphabetically ordered by topic. Written by an international team of experts, with entries on Berlioz’s life and works, including his literary and performing activity and musical style; on composers and other contemporaries; and topical articles tracing his association with publishers, singers, and performers. Includes an index.

  • Serna, Pierre-René. Berlioz de B à Z. Paris: Éditions Van de Velde, 2006.

    Single authored, idiosyncratic, entertaining, and almost entirely on Berlioz’s works plus a few other topics such as “Femmes” and “Voyages.”

  • Wright, Michael G. H. A Berlioz Bibliography: Critical Writing on Hector Berlioz from 1825 to 1986. Farnborough, UK: St Michael’s Abbey, 1987.

    More than 2,200 entries arranged chronologically. In addition to books and articles, lists numerous newspaper reports, in several languages, and provides indexes of issues of Julien Tiersot’s Berlioziana, and the Berlioz Society Bulletin.

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