Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hector Berlioz - The Mozart you never heard of

Hector Berlioz
I'm not an expert in classical music. I like to listen to it and I know some of the German / Austrian composers. You know the famous ones like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Handel. I watched Amadeus - Great movie. But to tell you the truth, the people who follow classical music create a barrier for the casual listener to enjoy it.

It's a painful experience to strike up a conversation with one of these classical geeks at a cocktail party. Almost immediately they have to prove how much more cultured and educated they are. And how unworthy you are of enjoying this music. I remember a particularly unpleasant experience with a German-born violinist. I incorrectly said the name of a Mozart song and she actually turned her nose up at me and said, "This is why we do not approve of an American education." I should have given her the Three Stooges, Two Finger Poker.

The reason I tell you all this is because I recently listen to an incredible composition and it has an interesting back-story. And if I mess up the back-story I apologize in advance - you can blame it on my lack of culture and American education.

The composition is titled: Harold en Italie (Harold in Italy) by Hector Berlioz. I've never heard of Berlioz until just a couple of days ago.

Niccolo' Paganini (who I did know of) was a very famous violinist. Paganini had just obtained a Stradivarius viola, and if you know anything about instruments, a Stradivarius is like the Cadillac of violas and violins. Paganini didn't want to play any old jig on the instrument saying; he wanted to play the greatest of all songs and asked the composer Hector Berlioz to create it, " "But I have no suitable music. Would you like to write a solo for viola? You are the only one I can trust for this task."

Hector was totally stoked and immediately began work on the composition. Supposedly the music is based on Lord Byron's poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. When Hector finished the composition, he showed it to Paganini who didn't like it at all and told Hector it wasn't worthy of his Stradivarius.

Hector was undaunted by Paganini's rejection and decided to complete the work and on November 23rd, 1834, Harold en Italie premiered to standing ovations. It was a wild success.

Paganini did not get around to hearing the concert until some four years later but when he did, Paganini was so overwhelmed with admiration, he dragged Berlioz onto the stage "and there knelt and kissed his hand before a wildly cheering audience and applauding musicians. A few days later he sent Berlioz a letter of congratulations, enclosing a bank draft for 20,000 francs." - Wikipedia.

Somewhere I heard that 20k francs at that time would equal around 80k dollars today.

There's lesson in there somewhere, but I leave it to you to figure it out. But for right now .. push play and enjoy the music the great violin player Paganini got down on his knees and paid 80 grand for.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep everything PG or under or else I'll sick Elvis on you.