Yep. Hector Louis Berlioz was either plumb crazy or they just do not make men like that anymore — regarding romancing a woman, that is.
On September 11, 1827, 24-year-old Hector went to see "Hamlet." (Shakespeare was the rage just then with the enlightenment having just finished.) On stage, in the role of Ophelia, he saw the Irish beauty Harriet Smithson, the most famous actress of her day and Berlioz fell madly in love with her.
For the next 3 years, you cannot say that Berlioz pined for her. Pined would be an extremely vague and weak term compared to what he felt; he trembled all day for her, he felt her presence in every living breath that he took, he could not sleep for weeks at a time, he had no desire for food or drink, his head was swirling with images of her, her eyes, her voice 24/7.
Now, you have to understand that he had not actually ever met her. He had just seen her on the stage once.
Gentle ladies who are reading this column, I suppose that you wish that there were still men around like this, eh? And, I must say, I completely agree with you because the end result of his mad desire was his composing the world-changing "Symphonie Fantastique."
During those months of being a complete wreck over Harriet Smithson, Berlioz wrote this piece about her, for her.
We are going to perform this huge, astonishing, "prepare to be amazed" piece at the Friday, March 8 concert. You will see what I mean when you see and hear it.
In order to express his hunger, his fervor for Harriet, he composed a huge symphony that includes 2 tubas, 4 bassoons, 4 trumpets, 2 bass drums, 2 harps, and 4 percussionists playing tympani. We are about going to blow the roof off Bethel Auditorium.
In each of the movements there is what Berlioz called the idée fixe - or the fixed idea — that represents Ms. Smithson. It is in every movement, often changed quite a bit, but it shows you how very much this crrrrazy Frenchman had this babe on the brain.
In effect, it ends up being one of the greatest love stories ever told, just told with music.
You all know this piece; the famous March to the Scaffold where Berlioz dreams that in a jealous fit he has murdered his beloved and now he is being marched to the guillotine; the rowdy Witches' Sabbath where, in his passion-inspired dreams, he sees skeletons dancing about.
It is all in fun though really as they ARE all dreams. Believe it or not, after Harriet finally meets Berlioz 3 years later and she hears the "Symphonie Fantastique," they end up getting married.
We hope you will join us for this astonishing, mind-blowing piece of French history. It is tremendously urgent in its passion. You will certainly feel this too.