Donald Macleod and John Eliot Gardiner explore Berlioz the song writer and discover that Berlioz the song writer is really just another aspect of Berlioz the dramatist.
Donald Macleod explores the music of Hector Berlioz in conversation with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, in this Composer of the Week 'special' recorded at the celebrated conductor's Dorset farm. For Gardiner, Berlioz is perhaps the greatest of French composers, and he speaks with a lifetime's experience of studying and performing this remarkable music.
Today's programme explores Berlioz the song writer - and discovers that Berlioz the song writer is really just another aspect of Berlioz the dramatist. All of Berlioz's music is essentially dramatic. Often, incidents in his own life are seen through the filter of literature - Shakespeare, Goethe, Virgil - then converted into music, whether symphonic, vocal or operatic.
Irlande, a collection of nine songs to poems by the Irish writer Thomas Moore, is a case in point. At the time, he was still reeling from the double impact of Shakespeare and Harriet Smithson - the Shakespearean heroine and future Mrs Berlioz. He happened to pick up a copy of Moore's poems, with their atmosphere of heroism and patriotism, all steeped in the soft glow of Celtic romance, and it proved to be perfect material for him, besotted with his passion for the beautiful Irish actress.
Les Nuits d'Ã©tÃ©, 'Summer Nights', sets poems from the collection The Comedy of Death by Berlioz's friend ThÃ©ophile Gautier, and again they seem to reflect the emotional turmoil he was going through when he wrote them - the period when his flesh-and-blood relationship with the idealised Harriet was irretrievably breaking down. They're best known as an orchestral song-cycle - in fact, as the first ever orchestral song-cycle; another Berlioz 'first' - but they're presented here in the rarely played but magnificent version for voice and piano.