Berlioz: A Listener’s Guide

Amadeus Pr. (Unlocking the Masters, Bk. 34). Jun. 2021. 168p. ISBN 9781538135587. pap. $38. MUSIC
Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803–69) is one of those intriguing apparent contradictions: an influential composer whose complicated, ambitious works are not performed so often as they might be, rendering him somewhat obscure. This listening guide is a welcome introduction to his work. Thematically organized, the book examines Berlioz’s literary inspirations (many of his compositions are overt adaptations), considers his sacred works (with some exploration of the composer’s agnostic beliefs, although here, as throughout the volume, biographical information is kept to a minimum), and offers extensive commentary on his best-known work, Symphonie Fantastique. Lederer (author of listening guides on Maurice Ravel, Giuseppe Verdi, and Ludwig van Beethoven, among others) treads a fine line, not assuming too much about his readers’ prior knowledge of classical musical terminology or compositional techniques. Nevertheless, the book is probably best read with Berlioz recordings at hand, in order to hear the highlights and effects he describes. This book has an accompanying selection of recordings and a chapter on the best conductors of Berlioz’s work—both are welcome features; still, one wishes for an actual discography.
VERDICT A concise and accessible introduction. For classical music listeners, particularly those seeking familiarity with Berlioz’s work.
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