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Berlioz’s maternal grandfather Nicolas Marmion lived in Meylan near Grenoble and the young Hector and the rest of the family used to visit him every summer. It was in Meylan that he first met Estelle Dubœuf, his ‘youthful passion’. Estelle and her sister Ninon would normally pass part of the summer with their maternal grandmother Madame Anne Gautier in Replat, above Meylan. Nancy Clappier, Madame Gautier’s niece, was a close friend of Berlioz’s mother and the two families would often meet socially in Meylan.
Estelle Fornier (née Dubœuf), whom Berlioz refers to as his ‘Stella montis’ in his Memoirs, was born in 1797, six years before Berlioz. The younger daughter of a tax official from Grenoble, she is a central figure in those Memoirs from the early chapters to the conclusion. Berlioz first met her when he was 12 years old and fell in love with her instantly. It is not clear how many times they met. In the late 1820s Estelle married a man considerably older than herself, a rich lawyer called Casimir Fornier, who became president of the High Court in Grenoble. By this time Estelle had long disappeared from Berlioz’s life. She had six children, of whom four survived into adulthood. Her husband died in 1845, three years before Berlioz first revisited Meylan.
In 1848, when he made a pilgrimage to Meylan, Berlioz wrote, anonymously, a letter to Madame Fornier, who at the time lived in Vif, evoking his childhood passion.
Berlioz renewed his acquaintance with Estelle in September 1864 at her home in Lyon. He was accepted as a family friend by her and her son and his family, who by 1865 had moved to Geneva. Estelle’s son Charles and daughter-in-law Suzanne would visit Berlioz in Paris, and he would visit them and Estelle in Geneva every year, staying at the Hôtel de la Métropole, and later in Saint Symphorien back in France, until he was too ill to travel (see Memoirs and Correspondance générale, volume VII).
In his will Berlioz left her a life annuity of 1,600 francs which helped to make her last years more comfortable. Estelle died in 1876 and was buried in Saint Symphorien, where she lived towards the end of her life.
These pages tell the story of Berlioz’s romantic connection with Meylan in his own words. All translations from the Memoirs are our own.
It should be pointed out that the Meylan that Berlioz knew is Haut Meylan [High Meylan], on a steep hill on the slopes of Mt Saint Eynard, a much smaller community than the present day Meylan; the earliest buildings in the modern parts of the town lower down in the valley date from the 1950s.
The house of Nicolas Marmion, Berlioz’s grandfather
The house of Madame Gautier, Estelle Fornier’s grandmother
The Berlioz Monument
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The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18
The Berlioz in Meylan pages were created on 15 April 2004, and enlarged on 1 October 2009.
© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights reserved.
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