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Grande Ouverture du Roi Lear (Hector Berlioz)




Berlioz read Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1831 during his journey to the Villa Medici as winner of the Prix de Rome of 1830. Shortly after his arrival in Rome, he learned that his fiancée, Camille Moke, had broken off their engagement and married the piano manufacturer Camille Pleyel. His immediate reaction was to return to Paris to take revenge by murdering the culprits, then killing himself. By the time he reached Nice, however, he had calmed down. He was delighted by the town and its location and surroundings: he later recalled that period, in April-May 1831, as the happiest three weeks of his life. It was there, on the shores of the Mediterranean, that he composed his extensive overture Le roi Lear (the longest one he wrote). It makes no claim to follow the action of Shakespeare’s play, although, as the composer admitted, the drum beats from the timpani towards the end of the slow section announce “Lear’s entrance to his council chamber for the scene where he divides his states”. As for the king’s madness “I only intended to portray it towards the middle of the allegro when the lower strings take up the theme of the introduction during the storm” (letter of 2 October 1858). This unusual work was first performed, with Narcisse Girard conducting, in the auditorium of the Paris Conservatoire on 22 December 1844. The structure of the work does not follow the usual canons: the first part, Andante non troppo lento, ma maestoso, takes up more than a third of the total duration, and the second one, Allegro disperato ed agitato assai, has little to do with sonata form. The discourse takes unpredictable directions, but the piece ends triumphantly, in keeping with conventions.

    Person - 1
  • BERLIOZ, Hector (1803-1869)
  • Theme - 1
  • Concert – Les sociétés de concert au XIXe siècle
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  • Ramaut, Alban – Entre rêve et réalité : l’Angleterre d’Hector Berlioz