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Hector Berlioz saw a performance by the famous Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, and fell in love with her. Today, the authorities might watch him, because it was more of an obsession — almost to the point to breaking modern stalking laws.

He remembered the exact date. It was a performance of Ophelia, on September 11th, 1827. He began writing love letters to her while she was still in Paris, one after another. She never answered them. That might have had something to do with the fact that his English was worse than her French. They did not meet while she was in his Paris.

Hurt by her non-response (though he blamed unreliable mail delivery), Berlioz did what any broken-hearted musician would do — he composed the largest symphony since Beethoven’s Ninth. When it premiered in Paris on December 5, 1830, it shocked its audience — but not Harriet Smithson, who wasn’t there. As a matter of fact, it would not be for another two years, when he sent a bunch of the best tickets to a mutual friend, that Smithson would hear the piece, and read the notes that all but mention her by name. Only then did she know of this composer who had been trying to get her attention. They met months later, and eventually married.

The marriage was a pretty happy one at first, despite the serious problem of the aforementioned communication gap. But her career was on the wane while his was on the rise, and she had trouble dealing with that. Her long-term drinking problem worsened, until she was totally debilitated, and deeply in debt.

Though Berlioz never stopped worshiping Smithson for the rest of her life, and never stopped caring for her and trying to pay her many debts, he forced himself to move on. He and Smithson had one son, Louis, who joined the merchant navy, and eventually made it to the rank of commander. When Louis died in 1867 of yellow fever while on duty at Havana, it hit Berlioz so hard that he could not recover. In less than two years, Hector Berlioz too was dead. He was 65.

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One Response to “Berlioz and the story of the Symphonie Fantastique”

  1. Nima Says:

    Thank you for this no none sense bit on Berlioz.

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