In the program notes on Berlioz’s selections from Romeo and Juliet for the concert of New York Philharmonic on 22 April 2017, Keller has successfully presented Berlioz’s biography to the audience.

 

The writing is opened by an interesting statement, “Berlioz was a genius there can be no doubt, but genius does not always ensure a calm passage through life. (Keller 2017)” Surely, the idea of a genius having a dramatic life is able to capture readers’ attention. However, it is questionable that everyone agrees Berlioz was a genius as a composer. Although this big statement might be controversial, it makes me want to read more about the article on Berlioz.

 

The program notes follow a conventional structure that Keller first provided biographical facts of the composer, contextual details of the piece and some descriptions of the music.

 

Firstly, Keller mentioned Berlioz’s struggle of pursuing a career in music despite the fact that his father wanted him to become a doctor. Keller later described Berlioz’s student life at the Paris Conservatoire, where Berlioz won a composition prize, which allowed him to stay in Italy (Keller 2017). This paragraph links well to the introduction of the piece of Romeo and Juliet that Berlioz composed the work under the heavy influence of Italian culture and landscapes.

 

In the next paragraph, Keller introduced the idea of the Romanticism and Romantics’ close connection to Shakespeare. Keller could have elaborate more on this topic. For example, numerous romantic composers were also inspired by Shakespeare and composed music based on Shakespeare’s literary works, such as Liszt’s Hamlet (Sanders 2007). Furthermore, it would be helpful for the audience to know how Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet fits in this concert program.

 

This program notes are well written that it contained much interesting biographical information of the composer. Moreover, some background knowledge of the piece is provided. Yet, there is an imbalance between biographical facts and the context of the piece. In general, it would be beneficial for the audience if more focus was given to the context of the piece, instead of only giving attention to the composer’s life.

 

References

Keller, James M. “Notes on the Program .” New York Philharmonic. April 2017. https://nyphil.org/concerts-tickets/1617/saturday-matinee-berlioz-and-elgar?clicklocation=hp_mc.

 

Sanders, Julie. Shakespeare and music. Polity Press, 2007.

 

 

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