Composer Profile: Hector Berlioz, A Giant Among French Composers

By David Salazar

Hector Berlioz is one of the most influential French composers of all time.

Born on Dec. 11, 1803, Berlioz was supposed to become a doctor like his father. But he opted for a career in music and soon found himself at odds with the musical establishment in Paris. However, he would win the Prix de Rome in 1830.

His first opera, “Benvenuto Cellini,” was, unfortunately, a failure for Berlioz, but he recovered by composing one of his most famed works, “Romeo et Juliette,” thereafter. His next operatic work, “La Damnation de Faust,” was also deemed a failure.

“Les Troyens” and “Béatrice et Bénédict” would follow in his operatic output. The latter would have a successful premiere but would never establish a foothold in the repertory. More on the former work a little later.

Berlioz endured great tragedy in the latter years, losing his wife and son and died at the age of 65 on March 8, 1869.

Signature Works

As far as opera goes, Berlioz created quite a number of major works, but only a couple really get performances on a regular basis. “La Damnation de Faust” has grown in popularity in recent years, but the opera that has sustained a sturdy reputation (and see it grow as well) is “Les Troyens.”

The opera, based on “The Aeneid,” is often cited as one of the greatest operas ever created; many consider it one of the best, if not the best, French grand opera of all time. Ironically, its scale made it impossible to stage during the composer’s life.

Read More on Berlioz

John Nelson Talks About “Les Troyens”

A Survey of Berlioz’s operas

More Information on “Les Troyens”

Watch and Listen

Here is “La Damnation de Faust” starring Jonas Kaufmann, Susan Graham, and Jose Van Dam.

Here is a beloved recording of “Les Troyens.”


Opera Wiki