Berlioz was one of the towering figures of Romanticism: not only was he a great and revolutionary composer, but also the finest conductor of his day and an outstanding critic and writer. yet throughout his life he struggled for money and his music was persistently reviled in his native France. With exceptional insight and sympathy, the author draws together the major strands of Berlioz's life: his tempestuous marriage to the actress Harriet Smithson; the genesis of his famous works, including the "Requiem", "Romeo and Juliet" and his crowing masterpiece "The Trojans"; his friendships with Mendelssohn, Liszt, Princess Wittgenstein and Wagner; and finally, his last years haunted once again by personal tragedy. Here, as never before, is Berlioz the artist - and the man.
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At over 1500 pages, this monumental two-volume biography of France's greatest Romantic composer well deserves the accolades it will surely receive from musicologists. Cairns, chief music critic of the (London) Sunday Times from 1983 to 1992 and a distinguished visiting professor at the University of California at Davis, wrote the first volume more than ten years ago and published it only in Britain. Here, he presents a revised and corrected edition for American readers, along with the long-awaited second volume, which is nearly as voluminous. The sequel picks up the biographical thread in 1833 with the introduction of Harriet Smithson, the English actress who became Berlioz's muse, obsession, and wife. While the accounts of their tempestuous marriage make for fascinating and, at times, hair-raising reading, some of the most memorable passages are by Berlioz himself. His prose reveals him to have been a somewhat reluctant, often caustic, but always perceptive music critic. Both volumes are pure life narratives; there is no musical analysis, nor are there musical examples. At times readers, awash in biographical detail, may wish for more information on the music itself, but Cairns's prose is so elegant and readable, his subject so fascinating, and his scholarship so impressive that they will forgive him. Truly a definitive study, these two volumes belong in all major collections.
-Larry A. Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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