Poetic Jolts, Autobiographical Infatuations: The Origins of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens

This essay traces the genesis of Berlioz’s opera Les Troyens (1856–63) to a climactic moment of self-discovery he experienced while reading Virgil as a youth. Dido’s suicide in the Aeneid one day aroused Berlioz’s autobiographical self-contemplation and awakened him to the literature that would later inform his music. A close reading of Berlioz’s Mémoires enables a comparison with autobiographers like Rousseau and Chateaubriand, whose youthful experiences with reading excited their earliest autobiographical revelations. Berlioz’s discovery also provoked a sequence of painful but stimulating bursts of inspiration, as though he were obsessed with instants of self-contemplation induced by artistic stimuli. Finally, Berlioz’s late musical tribute to Dido in the last three acts of Les Troyens can also be a tribute to his autobiographical awakening from childhood.

Dane Stalcup
Volume 47.1–2