BERLIOZ, Hector (1803-1869)
Plaque erected in 1969 by Greater London Council at 58 Queen Anne Street, Marylebone, London, W1G 8HW, City of Westminster
Music and Dance
Hector BERLIOZ 1803-1869 COMPOSER stayed here in 1851
The celebrated French composer Hector Berlioz visited London for the Great Exhibition in the summer of 1851, and stayed at 58 Queen Anne Street in Marylebone.
COMPOSER AND CONDUCTOR
Born near Lyon, Berlioz devoted himself to composition from the 1820s. During the following decade he produced his most popular works, including Symphonie Fantastique (1830), Harold en Italie (1834) and Roméo et Juliette (1839). He also made his name as a conductor at this time, and in 1843 published the important Grand Traité d’Instrumentation et d’Orchestration Modernes.
THE GREAT EXHIBITION
In 1851 Berlioz made the second of five trips to London, lodging in an apartment above the New Beethoven Rooms at 58 (formerly 27) Queen Anne Street, an 18th-century house altered around 1840–50, where the Beethoven Quartet Society held its meetings from 1845.
Rather than conducting his own works, Berlioz was entrusted with ‘the stupid job of examining the musical instruments sent to the [Great] Exhibition’. Early each morning he walked across Hyde Park to the Crystal Palace at South Kensington. He found the task painful: ‘It splits your head to hear these hundreds of wretched machines, each more out of tune than the next.’
There were some compensations, however. On some evenings he listened to the concerts held in the drawing room below his room at number 58. He described one such occasion in a letter home:
I could easily hear the whole performance by simply opening my door. One evening I heard Beethoven’s trio in C minor being played. I opened my door wide, Come in, Come in, welcome proud melody! How fine and beautiful it is.
On another occasion that summer he attended a charity concert at St Paul’s Cathedral where there was a chorus of 6,500 children. He was deeply moved by the experience and subsequently added a part for children’s voices in his composition for the hymn Te Deum.
Berlioz returned to London in 1852, 1853 and, for the final time, in 1855, conducting a series of performances of his works. He died in Paris on 8 March 1869.