“There’s nothing to be done in this ghastly country, and I can’t leave it quickly enough. I’m waiting till the German translation of Faustis finished before setting forth to find cities more hospitable than our rascally Paris. Only barnyard fowls live happily on their own dung heaps.” With that, Hector Berlioz slammed the door on his native land, supposedly shutting up shop as a composer forever.

The year was 1846, and though the Parisian critics had on the whole applauded his Damnation of Faust,the slushy winter streets had put off a bewildered public and Berlioz, self-funding his work as usual, had lost his shirt. The following years saw him trekking from St Petersburg to London, building a reputation as the greatest conductor of his age. But not a note of music did he write.

Had that been that, there would have been no Trojansand no Beatrice and Benedict. Berlioz enthusiasts would have been sorely disappointed, among them Sir Andrew Davis, a long-time fan of the maverick Frenchman. “I love wacky – some of my best friends are eccentric,” he chuckles over the phone from his base in Chicago. “I would have given anything to...

This article is available to Limelight subscribers.

Log in to continue reading.

Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism.

Subscribe now