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D. Kern Holoman

ISBN 9780674067783

Publication date: 11/06/1989

For three decades, beginning with the Symphonie fantastique composed in 1830, Hector Berlioz and his music embodied the élan and exuberance of the Romantic era. This captivating and sumptuously illustrated biography is not only a complete account of Berlioz’s life, but an acute analysis of his compositions and description of his work as conductor and critic, as well as a vivid picture of his musical world.

D. Kern Holoman paints a full-length portrait of Berlioz: his personal and family life, his intellectual development and pursuits, his methods of composing (Berlioz at his work table, so to speak), the aim and style of his music criticism and travel writing, his innovations in staging and conducting performances, and his interaction with other composers, including Liszt, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Schumann, Glinka, Brahms, Verdi, Saint-Saëns, Gounod. In discussing Berlioz’s music, Holoman talks about specific techniques, takes note of influences and borrowings, and analyzes the concept of programmatic music developed in Symphonie fantastique, Harold in Italy, Romeo and Juliet, and The Damnation of Faust.

While following Berlioz’s career, we get a rich sense of the world in which he moved. We see the requirements and excitements of foreign concert tours, the music publishing and instrument-making businesses, the development of the modern concept of orchestral conducting, the use of newspapers for publicity, the composer’s working relations with impresarios and soloists.


  • Beautifully written… [A] comprehensive account of the life and works of the romantic composer whose brilliant music and eccentric life style dazzled and disconcerted his contemporaries. Without overemphasizing the sensational aspects of Berlioz’s turbulent personal life, the author skillfully weaves together autobiographical details and musical analysis, examining in depth the composer’s working methods and artistic development, and giving penetrating insights into some of his best-known works.

    —Publishers Weekly


  • D. Kern Holoman is Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis.

Book Details

  • 704 pages
  • 6-1/4 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press