Berlioz and Paganini

In the late 1820s/early 1830s, the biggest star in the musical firmament was Niccolò Paganini, best known for his mastery of the violin but who was equally accomplished on viola and guitar. Paganini, like Liszt, had come to Paris for an extended tour and had attended a concert of the Symphonie Fantastique in 1833. Paganini, … Continue reading Berlioz and Paganini

A Night at the Opera

Satie’s Parade, Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and Ravel's L'Infant et les Sortileges had their premiere at the Metropolitan Opera as a remarkable triple bill (sets by David Hockney!) in 1981. Seated at the rear of the orchestra section in Row AA was your truly, surrounded by many of the great and the good of … Continue reading A Night at the Opera

Romantic Music I: Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

And so we begin with Hector Berlioz, the original tortured Romantic in an era that was full of them.  Musicologists routinely talk about the “Three Bs”—Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.  But for me, the third “B” has been and always will be Berlioz.  And I’m not alone: The original phrase, coined in the 1850s, specifically included … Continue reading Romantic Music I: Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

A Brief (and Wholly Inadequate) Introduction to Romantic Music

When did the Romantic Period in music begin?  The generally accepted date is 1830, including by scholars who proclaim Schubert, who died in 1828, to be a Romantic composer.  The fact is that while we like to assign firm demarcation points, music, like life, evolves naturally, at fits and starts.  There is ultimately no correct … Continue reading A Brief (and Wholly Inadequate) Introduction to Romantic Music


Before diving into the Romantic Period, it is important to take stock of how the music world had changed over the last two centuries. Through much of music history to this point, the Church had been the primary benefactor of the great composers. As the Church's influence began to wane, particularly in the German States, … Continue reading Virtuosity