Time for something of a musical homecoming. I’ll be featuring the music of Hector Berlioz a lot over the next few months, as we’ve just past the 150th anniversary of his passing after a 65-year life of struggle and hardship that was too rarely punctuated by triumph. Nevertheless Berlioz produced some of the most remarkable music of the 19th century, music that took well into the 20th century to find its greatest appreciation. And that appreciation is only growing as Berlioz grows in esteem.
Here we have one of the earliest works of his to survive. Berlioz was highly self-critical and thought nothing of destroying early works if he later judged them wanting; thus we actually know little of his most youthful work. This concert overture, based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverley, bursts with youthful exuberance and energy, especially in the thrilling allegro section that follows the score’s lyric portion. Scott wrote picturesque novels of adventure and intrigue, and Berlioz tries to capture some of that here. He’s not entirely successful, and the Waverley overture has its awkward moments like many of Berlioz’s works to come. But one can already hear the orchestrally-focused imagination at work, as Berlioz’s was a musical mind unfettered by training on the piano. What wonders would come later, once Berlioz had discovered Shakespeare and Byron and Beethoven!