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Berlioz: A Musical Apotheosis

Until the advent of the long-playing record, almost all of the music of Hector Berlioz was, for most Americans, a silent enigma, available only to those who could read a score and really hear it. Otherwise reasonable critics wrote of his "half-crazy ideas." Some argued that he achieved his effects, both good and bad, "by accident." Grove's bemoaned his lapses into bad taste and deplored his emphasis on "emphasis" rather than "beauty"—mystified by the intensity that marks his work. Such "advanced" musicologists as Paul Henry Lang, ex cathedra from Columbia University, blamed Berlioz for being both too tied to past practices and reaching too far forward into the future. And two composers who owed much to Berlioz, Debussy and Stravinsky, dismissed him as a "musical monster" and a "romantic orgiast."

I do not hold music critics in the same easy contempt that was George Bernard Shaw's stock-in-trade. But I have found it shocking that they should allow non-musical considerations to lead them astray. Much of Berlioz's reputation derived from his stormy role in French "musical politics and his battles with the corrupt establishment, and his reputation was tied to the famous Doré caricature—flying wild hair and coattails. Those who wanted to listen to what Berlioz created, rather than to what the critics said of him, had little...

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