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Hector Berlioz

The legacy of French composer and conductor Hector Berlioz can be gleaned from his towering Symphonie Fantastique. First performed in 1830, it flaunts the composer's visionary orchestral techniques and its dynamic, sometimes volatile, use of the ideee fixe (a musical theme representing his beloved) hints at his polar personal temperament. Born December 11, 1803, he was a self-taught flautist, guitarist, and composer, and wrote small chamber pieces in his youth. He entered for the Prix de Rome four times before winning, which is an all too representative example French society's life-long disregard for the composer. Among his most important influences were Shakespeare, whose plays inspire three major works, the Irish Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, whom he wed after a fantastically bizarre courtship (which included composing Symphonie Fantastique), and Beethoven. Widely underappreciated, he relied on journalism and criticism for a living, producing the scathing satire of musical life in 19th century France in Evenings with the Orchestra. Between1842 and 1863, Berlioz spent most of his time touring Europe. He died on March 8, 1869.