Hector Berlioz

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Berlioz Biography

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Berlioz's Third Century



    This page aims to provide a chronological outline of the main events in Berlioz’s career, with a listing of his major musical and literary works, and mention of the people who played an important part in his life. The page is not meant to be a full biography of Berlioz, and fuller details are to be found on other pages of this site, such as those on Berlioz and Paris, and his travels in France and to numerous other countries, including notably Italy, Germany and Central Europe, Russia and London, to which this outline provides numerous hyperlinks. It thus serves as a chronological index of Berlioz’s career as documented and illustrated on this site.

    The text is divided into eight sections, each covering a distinctive period of Berlioz’s life:

1. 1803-1821: Childhood at La Côte

2. 1821-1832: Student years in Paris and Italy

3. 1832-1842: Musical career in Paris

4. 1842-1848: Musical career abroad (1)

5. 1848-1856: Musical career abroad (2)

6. 1856-1863: Les Troyens

7. 1864-1869: Final years

8. Posthumous events

This page is also available in French

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 1. 1803-1821: Childhood at La Côte Saint-André


On 7 February Louis Berlioz, a young doctor from La Côte Saint André in the Département of Isère, and Marie-Antoinette-Josephine, daughter of Nicolas Marmion, a lawyer from Meylan, are married in her home town. She is 18 years old, he is 27.

Louis-Hector Berlioz is born at 5.00pm on 11 December at No. 83 rue nationale, La Côte Saint-André and is baptised in the chapel of the Church of Saint André (14 December). His paternal grand-father Nicolas Marmion and great-grand-mother Sophie Brochier are, respectively, his god-father and god-mother.

Dr and Madame Berlioz will have five other children of whom two will reach adulthood, Nancy and Adèle.

ca 1811

Following the closure of the local seminary, Dr Louis Berlioz takes charge of his son’s education.

ca 1815

Berlioz receives his first communion in spring where he undergoes what he calls his first musical experience.

He meets Estelle Dubœuf, his “first passion”, in Meylan, now a suburb of Grenoble.

Berlioz learns to read Virgil in the original Latin and translate it into French under his father’s tuition.


Berlioz learns to play the flageolet; earliest attempts at composition.


First compositions, including the Pot-pourri for six instruments, now lost.

Imbert, the second violin of the Théâtre de Lyon and engaged by the Mayor of La Côte to give lessons to the musicians of the National Guard, becomes Hector’s music teacher. Hector learns to play the flute.


Composition of two quintets for flute and strings. A theme from one of them is reused later in the overture to Les Francs-Juges.


In January Dr Berlioz buys a flute and later a guitar for his son who begins lessons on the instrument with his new teacher Dorant.

Berlioz composes Le Dépit de la bergère, which is published by Auguste Le Duc. The autograph is lost. The music was reused years later for the Sicilienne in Béatrice et Bénédict.

Composition of a piece for voice and guitar, Je vais donc quitter pour jamais, text by Florian. It will be reused for the first movement of the Symphonie fantastique (bars 3-16).

 2. 1821-1832: Student years in Paris and Italy 


Berlioz is made bachelier ès lettres at Grenoble on 22 March.

He departs for Paris to read medicine in late October.

First visit to the Opéra, where he sees a performance of Gluck’s masterpiece Iphigénie en Tauride (November). Shortly after he writes to his sister Nancy about this first experience.


He frequents the Conservatoire library, where he seeks out the scores of Gluck, which are available to the public, and copies large parts of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride and Iphigénie en Aulide. These copies in Berlioz’s hand have survived.

Berlioz hears Spontini’s music for the first time when he attends performances of La Vestale and Fernand Cortez at the Opéra. Later he will meet the composer and become a champion of his music. When Spontini dies in 1851 Berlioz will write his obituary.

He decides to devote himself to music. He is introduced by a friend to Lesueur, director of the Royal Chapel and professor at the Paris Conservatoire, who gives him encouragement.


Berlioz writes his very first article at the age of 20, in the form of a letter to the journal Le Corsaire, which is published in the issue of 12 August 1823

During a visit to La Côte in spring and early summer his family fails to make him abandon his interest in music, he wins over his father but his mother curses him.

Composition of Estelle et Némorin (now lost); the libretto is by Hyacinthe-Christophe Gerono, after Florian’s poem of the same title.

During the winter he writes an oratorio entitled Le Passage de la mer Rouge (The Crossing of the Red Sea; now lost) and shows it to Lesueur, who admits him as one of his private pupils.


He is made Bachelier ès sciences physiques (12 January).

Composition of the Messe solennelle, which is rehearsed (December) but not performed. He makes changes to it after he hears it at the rehearsal.

He finally abandons medicine and embarks on a career in music.

In December he attends a performance of Der Freischütz at the Odéon Theatre; this is Berlioz’s first acquaintance with the music of Weber.


His Messe solennelle is successfully performed at Saint-Roch on 10 July. The autograph score, believed to have been destroyed by him in 1827, is miraculously discovered in 1991 in a chest in the Church of St Carolus Borromeus in Antwerp.

Berlioz starts working on an opera, Les Francs-Juges, on a libretto by his friend Humbert Ferrand.

During the winter he composes La Révolution grecque (La Scène héroïque).


He is eliminated from the preliminary round of the Prix de Rome competition, the fugue he submitted for consideration is unsuccessful (early July).

He enrols at the Conservatoire in classes of Lesueur and Reicha (October).

He completes Les Francs-Juges in October. The libretto is later rejected by the Opéra (May 1828).


He is engaged as a chorister at the Théâtre des Nouveautés, to supplement his reduced monthly allowance from his father (March onwards).

He enters the Prix de Rome competition; his cantata La Mort d’Orphée does not win any of the two prizes (late July). The judges reject it on the ground that it was not playable (on the piano).

He composes the overture Waverley, inspired by Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels.

He sees two plays by Shakespeare staged by an English theatrical group at the Odéon: Hamlet on 11 September and Romeo and Juliet on 15 September. Harriet Smithson, the Irish actress plays the roles of Ophelia and Juliet. Berlioz discovers Shakespeare and falls instantly in love with the interpreter of two of his most famous characters.

The second performance of the Messe solennelle takes place at Saint-Eustache on 22 November, with Berlioz himself conducting for the first time.


He hears Beethoven’s Third and Fifth symphonies played at the Conservatoire, conducted by Habeneck (March onwards).

Berlioz gives his first orchestral concert on 26 May.

He enters the Prix de Rome competition for the second time; his cantata Herminie wins the second prize (July).

He discovers Goethe’s Faust, through Gérard de Nerval’s French translation, which will be the inspiration behind the Huit scènes de Faust which he starts later in the year (September onwards).


Huit scènes de Faust is published as opus 1 (late March-early April); Berlioz will later withdraw all the unsold copies. This work will in future be developed to form parts of La Damnation de Faust.

Le Ballet des ombres is published as opus 2 (December). Some music of this work will many years later be reused in the scherzo of Roméo et Juliette.

He hears Beethoven’s last quartets (March onwards).

Berlioz’s cantata Cléopâtre fails to win the prize at his third attempt to win the Prix de Rome (July).

He gives his second public concert on 1 November, the programme consists of works by himself and Beethoven.

Composition of Neuf mélodies irlandaises, setting Thomas Moore’s poems to music.

Revision of Les Francs Juges; the new libretto by Humbert Ferrand requires 5 or six new movements; there is no evidence that Berlioz wrote them. In any case the new libretto is rejected by the Opéra.

Berlioz reuses some of the music from the opera in his later works notably the Symphonie fantastique, Symphonie funèbre et triomphale and the Roman Carnival scene of Benvenuto Cellini. Of the opera the overture and some fragments survive. Berlioz conducted a number of performances of the overture during his career, and it has remained in the repertoire ever since.


Composition of the Symphonie fantastique (January-April).

He starts a relationship with Camille Moke, a young talented pianist. This is, it seems, his first relationship with a woman. They are subsequently engaged.

His cantata Sardanapale, which Berlioz described as a conventional academic piece of work, wins the first prize in the Prix de Rome competition (late July). Only a small fragment of this cantata has survived.

Arrangement of the Marseillaise (July-August); composition of the overture La Tempête, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest (August-October).

The Symphonie fantastique is premièred at the Conservatoire on 5 December, conducted by Habeneck.

Berlioz meets Liszt, who has attended the concert; it is the beginning of a long friendship between the two men which continues until the late 1850s. Later Liszt, who will champion Berlioz for years to come, transcribes the Symphonie fantastique for piano.

On 30 December he leaves Paris for Italy, spending some time en route in La Côte, Grenoble, and Lyon. As a Prix de Rome Laureate he is required to spend two years in Italy; his stay will in fact be much shorter.


He arrives in Rome in March 1831 via Marseille and Florence, and joins his fellow laureates at the French Academy in the Villa Medici. The Director of the Academy at the time was the painter Horace Vernet.

He meets Mendelssohn in Rome for the first time; they will meet again some years later when Berlioz goes on his first concert tour in Germany (1843).

He receives a letter from Camille Moke’s mother informing him that she has called off their engagement and married M. Camille Pleyel, a rich piano manufacturer (mid April). He decides to return to Paris to take revenge and kill all three – but by the time he arrives in Nice (at the time part of Italy) he has calmed down and decides to stay put.

While in Nice he composes the overture Le roi Lear, inspired by Shakespeare’s play of the same title, and starts work on the overture Rob Roy, and on Le retour à la vie (The Return to Life), later called Lélio; the music is largely based on previously written pieces.

After staying a month Berlioz leaves Nice (21 May) and returns to Rome (3 June), from where he makes visits to Tivoli and Subiaco (June-July), then stays in Rome (August-September).

Trip to Campania, where he visits Naples and Pompei, then returns via Tivoli to Rome on foot (October).

The première of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable at the Opéra is an outstanding success (21 November).

 3. 1832-1842: Musical career in Paris


In Rome he meets the writer Ernest Legouvé who soon becomes a life-long friend.

Berlioz composes the song La Captive in Subiaco (February), which is dedicated to Mademoiselle Louise Vernet.

While in Italy, Emile Signol draws Berlioz’s portrait.

He leaves Rome (2 May) to start the return journey to France, visits Florence, Milan and Turin on the way, and leaves Italy finally at the end of the month. He stays a few months en route at La Côte, where he briefly sees Estelle Fornier at the coach station to deliver her a letter at his mother’s request. He eventually arrives in Paris in November.

He plans a concert which takes place on 9 December; it consists of the Symphonie fantastique and Le retour à la vie, and is conducted by Habeneck. Among the audience are the ‘élite’ of Paris Society: Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas père, Heinrich Heine, Paganini, Liszt, Chopin, George Sand, Alfred de Vigny, Théophile Gautier, Jules Janin and.…Harriet Smithson; a few days later he is finally introduced to her.

He writes an autobiographical sketch, the first he is known to have written, which forms the basis of an article on him by his friend Joseph d’Ortigue, published on 23 December in the Revue de Paris.


Rob Roy, composed in 1831 during the time he spent in Italy, is performed on 14 April.

After a prolonged and (for Berlioz) painful courtship, Hector and Harriet marry on 3 October at the British Embassy in Paris; Liszt is one of the witnesses; Berlioz’s friend Thomas Gounet pays for the expenses. Berlioz and his bride spend a short honeymoon in Vincennes near Paris. The marriage takes place against the vehement opposition of Berlioz’s family, except for his younger sister, Adèle.


Composition of the symphony with solo viola Harold en Italie at Paganini’s request (January-June).

Berlioz and Harriet move to Montmartre.

Hector and Harriet’s son Louis is born on 14 August.

Composition of Sara la baigneuse for chorus and orchestra, on a poem by Victor Hugo.

Première of Harold en Italie at the Conservatoire on 23 November, Girard conducting.


Berlioz becomes music critic of the influential Journal des Débats, owned and run by the Bertin family. The position brings him a regular income and provides him with a powerful platform — but it also means that he has to spend a lot of time attending performances of other composers’ operas and concerts in order to write about them, the time which he could have spent composing his own music. He will come to detest having to write for various journals in order to earn a living.

Première of La Juive by Halévy at the Opéra (23 February).

Composition of the cantata Le Cinq Mai, setting to music a poem by Béranger on Napoleon’s death, first performed at the Conservatoire on 22 November.

He takes over conducting his own music himself and gives a concert at the Conservatoire (13 December).


Composition of the opera Benvenuto Cellini. It is inspired by the autobiography of the Italian renaissance sculptor, relatively recently translated into French. The libretto is by Léon de Wailly and Auguste Barbier. His friend Ernest Legouvé lends him money which enables him to complete the work.

Berlioz and Harriet attend the première of Les Huguenots by Meyerbeer at the Opéra (29 February).

Berlioz moves back from Montmartre to Paris (September).

Harriet Smithson appears on stage for the last time (17 December).


The Grande messe des morts (Requiem) is commissioned (March) and composed between April and June. It is performed under Habeneck’s baton at the Invalides on 5 December.


Berlioz’s mother dies on 18 February.

Benvenuto Cellini is premièred at the Opéra on 10 September; it is greeted with organised hostility and ends in failure.

After hearing Harold en Italie performed at the Conservatoire (16 December), Paganini gives Berlioz 20,000 francs.


Publication of the overture to Benvenuto Cellini, dedicated to Ernest Legouvé (January).

Thanks to Paganini’s gift Berlioz is able to devote much of his time to the composition of Roméo et Juliette which is completed on 8 September. The work is dedicated to Paganini, who died the following year without hearing the work.

Berlioz becomes Deputy Librarian (Conservateur adjoint) of the Conservatoire Library (9 February).

Berlioz is made Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (10 May).

First three performances of Roméo et Juliette under Berlioz’s direction at the Conservatoire on 24 November, 1 and 15 December; Wagner is present at the last performance.

Paul de Pommayrac draws a miniature portrait of Berlioz, which is now in the Musée Hector Berlioz at La Côte Saint-André.


The Symphonie funèbre et triomphale is commissioned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 1830 Revolution (March). Composed in June and July, it is performed in the open air under the direction of Berlioz himself (28 July). Berlioz leads the procession of musicians which ends at the Place de la Bastille, where a commemorative bronze column, the Colonne de Juillet, in honour of the victims of the revolution is inaugurated.

Berlioz visits his father at La Côte (September).


Composition of the Rêverie et caprice for violin and orchestra, based on a discarded aria from Benvenuto Cellini (March).

Berlioz writes recitatives for a production of Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Opéra (May), and also orchestrates Weber’s Invitation à la valse to provide ballet music for it (May-June).

Weber’s Der Freischütz is performed at the Opéra with recitatives by Berlioz (first performance on 9 June).

Les Nuits d’été (for piano and voices) is completed and published (September). Some years later all the six songs will be orchestrated.

Start of the composition of La Nonne sanglante, based on an episode of Lewis’s The Monk, on a libretto by Eugène Scribe (September).

Start of a series of 16 articles On Orchestration (De l’Instrumentation) in the Revue et gazette musicale (21 November 1841 till 17 July 1842); this will form the basis of his later treatise on orchestration, first published late in 1843.

Berlioz starts his relationship with the singer Marie Recio.

4. 1842-1848: Musical career abroad (1)


Completion of the ballad La Mort d’Ophélie on a poem by Legouvé (7 May), inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Concert tour to Brussels (September-October), as a preliminary to the first of many of Berlioz’s travels in Europe. Marie Recio accompanies him on this and subsequent tours.

In December, start of the long-projected concert tour to Germany, starting with Brussels, Frankfurt and Stuttgart.


Concert tour continues through Hechingen, Mannheim, Weimar, Leipzig, Dresden, Brunswick, Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover and Darmstadt (January to May).

On this tour he meets many composers — Mendelssohn (for the second time, in Leipzig), Marschner (in Hanover), Wagner (in Dresden), Meyerbeer (in Berlin) and Schumann (in Leipzig), who in 1835 had written an enthusiastic article on the Symphonie fantastique.

Berlioz returns to Paris in late May/early June.

Start of the serialisation of the Voyage musical en Allemagne in the Journal des Débats (from 13 August). This will be later incorporated in his Memoirs.

Composition of the overture Le Carnaval romain, based on music from act I of Benvenuto Cellini (completed in early January 1844).


Publication of the treatise on orchestration, the Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes (January).

The overture Le Carnaval romain is premièred as a concert piece at Salle Herz (3 February); the work was dedicated to the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen.

Start of the serialisation in Revue et gazette musicale of Euphonia, ou la ville musicale (from 18 February), later incorporated in Les Soirées de l’orchestre.

Composition of the Hymne à la France (June) for the Festival of Industry concert on 1 August.

Publication of Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie (mid-August). This will be later incorporated in his Soirées de l’orchestre, À Travers chants and Memoirs.

Recovering from his exertions Berlioz makes a trip to Nice from September to mid October; while there he composes the first version of an overture, which is first called La Tour de Nice [The Tower of Nice]. The work will be subsequently revised between 1846 and 1851 and renamed Le Corsaire.

Berlioz and his wife Harriet separate; he moves in with Marie Recio in her flat at 41 rue de Provence; Harriet continues to live at 43 and then 65 rue Blanche. From now on Berlioz will maintain two households; he continues to provide for Harriet and, a few years later when she becomes seriously ill, he pays for all her medical expenses as well.

In November, composition of the Three pieces for Alexander’s melodium-organ and of the Marche Funèbre pour la dernière scène d’Hamlet (the latter piece was never performed in Berlioz’s lifetime).


He gives four large-scale concerts at the Cirque Olympique (19 January, 16 February, 16 March, 6 April), the last two of which include music by Glinka.

Berlioz’s first concert tour in France: concerts in Marseille (19 and 25 June) and Lyon (20 and 24 July). Brief visit to La Côte to see his father (9 July). While in Lyon Berlioz meets again his old guitar teacher Dorant.

He attends the celebrations for the inauguration of Beethoven’s statue in Bonn (10-12 August), and writes a report on it, later included in Les Soirées de l’orchestre.

Start of the composition of La Damnation de Faust (September), which incorporates in a revised version the music from his earlier work, Huit scènes de Faust.

In October he leaves for Vienna where he gives three concerts (16, 23, 29 November). While there, August Prinzhofer draws Berlioz’s portrait (between 2 November and 31 December) and Joseph Kriehuber also draws his portrait (between 20 and 29 November).


Continuation of the concert tour in Germany and central Europe: Prague, back to Vienna, Pesth (in modern Hungary), Breslau, Prague again and Brunswick.

In January a poem in honour of Berlioz by the Viennese writer Johann Hofzinser is published in the journal Der Wanderer, and it looks forward to Berlioz’s forthcoming trip to Hungary.

At the request of a Hungarian friend, Berlioz orchestrates Hungary’s national anthem which is enthusiastically received when he conducts it at a concert in Budapest; he later incorporates it in the Damnation of Faust as the Hungarian March (Marche hongroise).

A second portrait of Berlioz by Prinzhofer in Vienna (between 1 January and 28 February).

Joseph Kriehuber draws a group picture of Berlioz and friends entitled ‘Une matinée chez Liszt’ (April.)

He returns to Paris in May.

Early in June he is commissioned to compose Chant des chemins de fer on a text by Jules Janin, which is performed in Lille (14 June) as part of the inauguration ceremony of the railway line between that city and Paris.

Performance of the Requiem at Saint-Eustache in memory of Gluck (20 August).

Completion of the composition of La Damnation de Faust (19 October) which is premièred at the Salle Favart on 6 December and repeated on 20 December; it is a failure and leaves Berlioz heavily in debt.


Berlioz makes his first visit to Russia (February-May); on 14 February he leaves Paris for Saint-Petersburg via Brussels and Berlin.

While in Saint-Petersburg, Berlioz meets Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein for the first time.

After a successful series of concerts in Saint-Petersburg and Moscow he returns home via Riga and Berlin, where he gives two concerts, with Harold en Italie, excerpts from La Damnation de Faust and other pieces in Riga (29 May) and La Damnation de Faust in Berlin (19 June).

Berlioz arrives in Paris in the last week of June.

He abandons the composition of La Nonne sanglante. Fragments of this opera survive. The libretto was later set to music by Gounod, and Berlioz reviewed the first performance of the work in 1854.

Start of the serialisation in the Journal des Débats of his account of his travels in central Europe and Russia (from 24 August), later incorporated in the Memoirs.

Visit of Berlioz to La Côte with his son Louis (8-20 September). This is Louis’s first visit to his grandfather’s home.

On 3 November he departs for London to make the first of his five visits. This visit will last over seven months (November 1847 - July 1848); he is engaged as conductor by Jullien, director of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

For the best part of this visit Berlioz stays at 76 Harley Street, which belongs to Jullien.

5. 1848-1856: Musical career abroad (2)


The February Revolution breaks out in Paris.

Berlioz begins the writing of his Memoirs in March during the stay in London.

His mistress Marie Recio joins him in London in April; they move to 26 Osnaburgh Street (since demolished and replaced by a block of flats).

Berlioz remains in London until mid-July.

His father Dr Louis Berlioz dies at La Côte on 28 July; Berlioz goes to La Côte on 21 August “to mourn the death of his father with his sisters” Nancy and Adèle. He also makes a pilgrimage to Meylan, where he first met Estelle Dubœuf back in 1815.

He returns to Paris in mid-September, and stays at 15 rue de la Rochefoucauld.

Harriet suffers a series of strokes which leave her almost paralysed. She needs constant attention and four servants look after her continuously; all paid for by Berlioz who visits her almost daily when he is in Paris.

Start of the composition of the Te Deum (October, completed in August 1849).

Berlioz conducts a concert in the palace of Versailles (29 October).


Berlioz moves to 19 rue Boursault (August).

Publication of Tristia (October), comprising at first Méditation religieuse, and La Mort d’Ophélie and later (in 1851) also the Funeral March for the last scene of Hamlet.

Publication of Vox populi (November), comprising La Menace des Francs and the Hymne à la France.


Berlioz launches the Société philharmonique de Paris (first concert on 19 February, conducted by Berlioz).

Berlioz succeeds as Librarian at the Paris Conservatoire (27 April); this will be the only official position that he will ever hold in France, and the only regular and assured source of income for the rest of his life.

Performance of the Requiem at Saint-Eustache (3 May).

Berlioz’s sister Nancy dies of breast cancer on 4 May.

Compilation of Feuillets d’album, comprising Zaïde, Les Champs, and Chant des chemins de fer; arrangement of Bortnianski’s Chant des chérubins and Pater noster (September).

Start of the composition of La Fuite en Égypte (October, completed by the end of the year), later incorporated in L’Enfance du Christ.

Publication of the collection Fleurs des landes, comprising Le Matin, Petit oiseau, Le Trébuchet, Le Jeune pâtre breton, and Le Chant des Bretons (November).


Death of Spontini (24 January); Berlioz writes a detailed obituary (12 February).

Berlioz applies to become member of the Institut de France to succeed Spontini (6 March), but is unsuccessful; Ambroise Thomas is elected (22 March).

Second and final season of the Société philharmonique de Paris (last formal concert on 29 April).

Berlioz travels to London for the second time between May and July, on official visit: he is sent by the French government as member of the international commission examining musical instruments at the Great Exhibition. The following year he gives a detailed account of this visit in Les Soirées de l’orchestre.


Third visit to London, between March and June. Berlioz is engaged by Frederick Beale, the co-founder of the New Philharmonic Society, to conduct six concerts for the Society at Exeter Hall.

While Berlioz is still in London, Liszt embarks on the revival in Weimar of Benvenuto Cellini and conducts on 20, 24 and 27 March performances of what was to become with Berlioz’s approval the Weimar version of that opera. These are the first performances of the work since the disastrous première in Paris in 1838.

Performance of the Requiem at Saint-Eustache (22 October).

Later in the year Berlioz and Marie Recio travel to Weimar (November) to attend a “Berlioz week” organised by Liszt. Benvenuto Cellini receives several performances in its revised ‘Weimar version’ at the Grand-Ducal Theatre.

Serialisation of Les Soirées de l’orchestre in Revue et gazette musicale (from 19 September), published as a book in December, with a second edition in 1854.


Berlioz travels to London for the fourth time, from mid-May to mid-July. He is invited by Frederick Gye, the director of Covent Garden, to produce and conduct Benvenuto Cellini at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Berlioz withdraws it after one performance (25 June), because of the audience’s hostile reception.

First visit to Baden-Baden to conduct a concert on 11 August, at the invitation of Édouard Bénazet, the director of the Casino; from 1856 Berlioz’s visits to Baden-Baden will become annual. The visit to Baden-Baden is followed by a trip to Frankfurt, where he gives two concerts (20, 24 August).

He embarks on a concert tour in Germany: Brunswick, Hanover, Bremen and Leipzig, between October and December.


Harriet Smithson dies on 3 March and is buried the next day in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent, a small cemetery in Montmartre. Later in 1864 she will be moved to Montmartre Cemetery, to her final resting place which she will share with Berlioz and his second wife Marie Recio.

Another concert tour in Germany: Hanover, Brunswick and Dresden (late March to early May).

Composition of the cantata L’Impériale (before July).

Completion of the composition of L’Enfance du Christ (July).

Trip to La Côte to settle his father’s inheritance (September).

Completion of the main part of Berlioz’s Memoirs (the last numbered chapter [59] is dated 18 October 1854). Later three new sections will be added: the Postscript, Postface and Trip to Dauphiné, respectively in 1856, 1864 and 1865 (the final version).

On 19 October Berlioz marries Marie Recio; he writes to his son that, having lived with her for 14 years, it was his duty to do so.

First performance of the complete L’Enfance du Christ at Salle Herz (10 December); the work is warmly received.


Revised version of Le Retour à la vie, now called Lélio (January).

Berlioz gives concerts in Weimar in February and Brussels in March.

The Te Deum is premièred at Saint-Eustache on 30 April, Berlioz conducting.

Fifth and last visit to London between June and July – Berlioz is engaged by Henry Wylde, the co-founder of the New Philharmonic Society, to conduct two concerts for the Society at Exeter Hall. During his stay he has a long meeting with Wagner at Sainton’s flat. Berlioz leaves England on 7 July never to return.

Berlioz serves on the jury of the Exposition universelle held in Paris (August-September).

In November, Berlioz gives three concerts at the Palais de l’Industrie, including the first performance of L’Impériale.

Publication from November 1855 to April 1856 of Berlioz’s account of his first trip to Russia in the Magasin des Demoiselles.

Publication later in the year of the second revised edition of the Treatise on Instrumentation and Orchestration which now includes a new chapter, Le Chef d’orchestre — théorie de son art (The Conductor — Theory of his Art).

6. 1856-1863: Les Troyens


Berlioz travels on a concert tour to Gotha and Weimar (end January to early March); in Weimar he attends another performance of Benvenuto Cellini conducted by Liszt (16 February). During his visit to Weimar Princess Sayn-Wittenstein convinces Berlioz that he must compose Les Troyens.

Completion of the orchestration of Les Nuits d’été.

Berlioz and Marie move to 17 rue de Vintimille in April, and stay there till October.

In April Berlioz begins the composition of Les Troyens; the opera is based on Books Two and Four of Virgil’s Aeneid, which Berlioz had first read as a child under his father’s guidance. Berlioz will write the libretto as well as the musical score.

Berlioz adds a Postscript to his Memoirs, dated 25 May 1856 (the first edition gives the year incorrectly as 1858).

Berlioz succeeds to Adam’s chair at the Institut de France (21 June). In July and August he visits Plombières (to take waters on his doctor’s advice) and Baden-Baden for the annual concert.

Berlioz and Marie move to 4 rue de Calais in October; this will be Berlioz’s last domicile in Paris till his death.

Onset of an intestinal illness from which he will suffer for the rest of his life and which will progressively get worse.


Continuation of the composition of Les Troyens.

Drawings and portrait of Berlioz by Nadar (January). 

Weber’s Oberon and Euryanthe are revived at the Théâtre-Lyrique (6 March and 1 September) and reviewed by Berlioz (6 March and 8 September).

Visit to Plombières and Baden-Baden in July and August.


Completion of the score of Les Troyens (April); further additions and revisions will be made later.

Visit to Baden-Baden in August. Bénazet commissions a new opera from Berlioz; the opera will not in fact be written, and two years later Berlioz will write Béatrice et Bénédict instead.

Berlioz stops in Strasbourg on his way back from Baden-Baden.

Parts of the Memoirs are serialised in Le Monde illustré, starting in September until September of the following year.


Publication of Les Grotesques de la Musique (March).

Visit to Bordeaux, where Berlioz gives a concert (8 June).

Visit to Baden-Baden in August.

Berlioz supervises the revival of Gluck’s opera Orphée at the Théâtre-Lyrique (November), with Pauline Viardot in the title role. His review of the production is later included in A Travers Chants.

Berlioz is acutely ill; he asks Bénazet to cancel his commission for Baden-Baden.


The Théâtre-Lyrique agrees to stage Les Troyens (January).

Review of Wagner’s concerts in the Journal des Débats (9 February), later incorporated in A Travers Chants.

Open letter by Wagner in the Journal des Débats in reply to Berlioz (22 February).

Berlioz’s younger sister Adèle dies of a heart-related illness on 2/6 March, shortly after being visited by Berlioz. She is buried in Vienne where she has been living with her husband and two daughters.

Berlioz reviews a production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio at the Théâtre-Lyrique in the Journal des Débats (19 and 22 May); the articles are later reproduced in A Travers Chants.

Berlioz visits Baden Baden (August), with a stop at Luxueil on the way.

Berlioz decides to have the vocal score of Les Troyens printed at his own expense (September); this appeared in 1862.

Berlioz starts composing Béatrice et Bénédict (October), which Bénazet will accept for the inauguration of the new theatre in Baden-Baden.


Composition of Le Temple universel (January-February).

Berlioz receives a silver crown from the youth of Györ to thank him for the Hungarian March (early February).

First performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Opéra, in the presence of Berlioz (13 March).

Les Troyens is withdrawn by Berlioz from the Théâtre-Lyrique but accepted by the Opéra (June).

Visit to Baden-Baden in August; the concert on the 26th is attended by Berlioz’s nieces Joséphine and Nancy Suat as well as by their father.

Articles on Gluck’s setting of Alceste in the Journal des Débats (October-December), subsequently reproduced in À Travers Chants.


Completion of Béatrice et Bénédict, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing; both libretto and score are by Berlioz himself. The autograph score is dated 25 February 1862.

Death of Halévy (17 March); Berlioz fails in his application to succeed him as permanent secretary of the Académie des beaux-arts.

Berlioz’s second wife, Marie Recio, dies of a heart attack on 13 June at the age of 48, while staying with some friends at Saint-Germain near Paris. She is buried at Montmartre Cemetery on 16 June and later moved to a private plot donated by one of Berlioz’s friends Édouard Alexandre.

Berlioz meets a young woman called Amélie at Montmartre Cemetery; though she is only 24 he comes close to her (late June).

First performances of Béatrice et Bénédict at Baden-Baden on 9 and 11 August. Madame Charton-Demeur sings the role of Béatrice.

Berlioz gives to Vladimir Stasov the manuscript of his Te Deum which he donates to the municipal library of St-Petersburg (11 September)

Publication of À Travers Chants (September).


Berlioz ends his relationship with Amélie at her request and is deeply upset (mid-February)

Les Troyens is withdrawn by Berlioz from the Opéra but accepted by Carvalho, director of the newly re-built Théâtre-Lyrique (mid February).

Visit to Weimar in April to conduct Béatrice et Bénédict in a German translation and in an augmented form (8 and 10 April); while in Germany he also goes to Löwenberg to give a concert there (19 April).

He conducts L’Enfance du Christ in Strasbourg on 22 June.

Visit to Baden-Baden in August to revive Béatrice et Bénédict in an augmented form (14 and 18 August).

Berlioz publishes his last signed article for the Journal des Débats on 8 October, on Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de perles [The Pearl Fishers].

Les Troyens are staged in a truncated form at the Théâtre-Lyrique. The work is eventually premièred on 4 November and runs to 21 performances until 20 December. Madame Charton-Demeur sings the role of Didon. Paris will wait another 140 years to see Les Troyens staged complete and without cuts in 2003 at the Théâtre du Châtelet, on the opposite side of the Place du Châtelet.

7. 1864-1869: Final years


Arrangement of the Marche troyenne as a concert piece (January).

Harriet Smithson’s remains are moved to the cemetery in Montmartre from the Saint Vincent Cemetery which was due for demolition (3 February or 3 March).

Berlioz finally resigns as music critic of the Journal des Débats (end March).

Death of Meyerbeer (2 May).

Berlioz adds the Postface to the Memoirs (first half of July)

Berlioz is made Officier de la Légion d’honneur at the same time as his friend Legouvé (12 August).

On 22 August, Berlioz hears from a friend that Amélie, who was suffering from poor health, had died at the age of 26. A week later, while walking in the Montmartre Cemetery, Berlioz discovers Amélie’s grave; she had been dead for six months. He is devastated.

Berlioz travels to Dauphiné to visit relatives: Adèle’s family in Vienne (30 August), Camille Pal (Nancy’s husband) in Grenoble (ca. 18 September). He revisits Meylan (22 September) and the next day meets Estelle Fornier in Lyon for the first time in over 40 years. He begins a regular correspondence with her.


The final section of the Memoirs, the Trip to Dauphiné, is completed and dated on 1 January. Berlioz sends the completed text to the publishers.

Completion of the printing of the Memoirs (1200 copies, on 29 July). Berlioz sends a copy to Estelle Fornier; the remaining copies are stored in his office at the Conservatoire awaiting posthumous publication (a copy of this early print is now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, and another in the Hector Berlioz Museum in La Côte).

Visit to Estelle Fornier in Geneva (18-25 August), followed by visits to his brothers-in-law Camille Pal in Grenoble (ca. 25-29 August) and Marc Suat in Vienne (29 August-9 September).


Berlioz meets Liszt for the last time (21 April).

Last meeting with his son Louis (early August).

Visit to Estelle Fornier in Geneva (15-19 September).

Successful revival of Gluck’s Alceste at the Opéra (first performance on 12 October). During the preceding months Berlioz had supervised the rehearsals (from July onwards).

Death of Joseph d’Ortigue, one of Berlioz’s closest friends (20 November).

Visit to Vienna in December to conduct the first complete performance there of La Damnation de Faust (16 December).


Visit to Cologne to give a concert (26 February).

His son Louis, who was commander of a merchant ship, dies of yellow fever in Havana on 5 June; Berlioz only receives the news on 29 June and is devastated.

In his study at the Conservatoire Berlioz reportedly destroys a large number of papers and memorabilia associated with his career (? mid July).

Berlioz draws up his will (29 July).

He visits Adèle’s family in Vienne in August and Estelle Fornier in St Symphorien, where she now lives with her son Henri and his family, in September. The visit on 9 September is the last time that he sees her.

He accepts an invitation from Grand-Duchess Yelena Pavlovna to make a concert tour in Russia (18 September).

Departure from Paris for Russia (12 November).


Berlioz returns to Paris from Russia exhausted (17 February).

Last trip to Nice early in March, where Berlioz suffers two falls.

He adds a codicil to his will.

In August he visits Grenoble for the last time to preside over a choral competition.


8 March: Berlioz dies at his Paris home No. 4 rue de Calais at 30 minutes past midday. His faithful servants, his mother-in-law Madame Martin and his devoted friends Ernest Reyer and Madame Charton-Demeur are with him in his final hours. The funeral service is held at the Église de la Trinité (11 March). He joins his two wives at Montmartre Cemetery.

8. Posthumous events


Following Berlioz’s express wish the Memoirs are posthumously published by Michel-Lévy Frères and the edition, dated MDCCCLXX, incorporates a photograph of Berlioz on the frontispiece.

Berlioz Festival organised by Ernest Reyer (22 March).

Early 1870s

Beginning of the Berlioz revival in Paris.


After an abortive start in March 1873 Édouard Colonne relaunches his concert society, the Association artistique des Concerts-Colonne, with weekly concerts at the Châtelet Theatre (8 November).


At the Concerts Colonne the Damnation of Faust emerges as Berlioz’s most popular work in France (February-March); over his whole career Colonne gave no less than 157 performances of the complete work.


Hans von Bülow stages Benvenuto Cellini in Hanover, the first performances of the work in Germany since 1856 (February-May).

Concert organised by Ernest Reyer at the Hippodrome in Paris to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Berlioz’death (8 March).

Jules Pasdeloup gives the first (concert) performances of the first two acts of Les Troyens, La Prise de Troie (November-December), ahead of Édouard Colonne.


A statue in Berlioz’s honour is unveiled at the Square Vintimille, later renamed Square Berlioz, in a ceremony held on 17 October.


First performance of Béatrice et Bénédict in Paris (3 June).

A fine copy of the statue in Paris is erected in the Place Hector Berlioz at La Côte Saint-André and inaugurated on 28 September.

Felix Mottl gives the first performance of the complete Les Troyens in Karlsruhe, spread over two evenings (6-7 December). Mottl was the first conductor to have performed all three of Berlioz’s operas.


First staged performance of Les Troyens à Carthage in Paris since 1863, at the same Théâtre-Lyrique and with cuts (9 June)


First staged performance of La Damnation de Faust in Monte Carlo in a production by Raoul Gunsbourg (18 February); the staging of the work was destined to have considerable success in France and abroad.


First staged performance of La Prise de Troie in Paris (November, with further performances in 1900)


Centenary of Berlioz’s birth: this provides the occasion for the first collected (but incomplete) edition of his musical works by Charles Malherbe and Felix Weingartner (1900-1907).

Inauguration of the statue of Berlioz by Urbain Basset in the Place Victor Hugo, Grenoble (15 August), followed by two concerts on 16 and 17 August.

Visit of Felix Weingartner to La Côte Saint-André (17 August).


First staged performance of Benvenuto Cellini in Paris since 1838, conducted by Felix Weingartner (3 April)


Inauguration of the Berlioz Museum at La Côte.


Centenary of Berlioz’s death: this provides the impetus for the complete publication of all his musical works, his literary works, critical writings, and correspondence, a task that was pursued over a period of years beyond the bicentary of 2003 and is now complete.


World-wide celebrations for Berlioz’s bicentenary.


Celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death.

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb on 18 July 1997;
Berlioz Biography created on 1 August 2004; numerous additions made since. Revised and enlarged on 1 February 2023

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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