Louis-Hector Berlioz was not a child prodigy, did not start serious study of music until he was an adult, and, unlike most other composers, never learned to play the piano or any other instrument. At his father’s wish, he enrolled in medical school instead. While in Paris studying for this degree, however, he became very interested in opera and started taking composition lessons. Furious, his father cut off all financial support. Still, through hard work, various musical successes and study at the Paris Conservatory, Berlioz achieved his ambition to be a composer.
Berlioz was noted for his orchestral writing and is credited with creating the modern orchestra. His ideas were quite grand; his Requiem uses an orchestra of 190, four additional brass and percussion ensembles, and a 210-voice chorus! Berlioz’ new style of musical composition led directly to the Romantic era.
Although he wrote several major musical works, Berlioz was better known in his lifetime as a music critic than as a composer. He also conducted most performances of his own works, not trusting this responsibility to anyone else.