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A Night At the Symphony: Hector Berloiz's The Overture to Benvenuto Cellini Opus 23

Updated on January 12, 2014
Hector Berloiz Cartoon Bust
Hector Berloiz Cartoon Bust | Source

Hector Berloiz

Hector Berloiz was born in France at La Cote-Saint Audre near Grenoble in the early 1800's and died March 1869.

In 1821 at the age of eighteen he was sent to Paris to study medicine after his father a renown physician of the time. He hated medicine and was disgusted by the practice of dissecting cadavers.

While in Paris Hector attended the Paris Opera, Iphigeniean Tauride by Christophe Willibald Gluck to be exact. Shortly afterwards in 1824 he ended his training in medicine and began to strictly compose.

In 1826 he was introduced to Shakespeare and loved Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. He fell deeply in love with Shakespeare and much of the literature of the time.

He also favored the Romantic Movement and was considered a part of the Romantic Movement himself.

In 1828 he was introduced to Beethoven and fell deeply in love with the composer. He also composed the work that would place him in history: Symphonie Fantastique. During this time he befriended Franz Liszt and the two of them were to become friends for the rest of their lives.

In 1831 he travelled around Italy and Europe and had his most productive period of composition in his life. Along with his Opera and Symphony he wrote a Treatise on Instrumentation and few other collection of essays on music and short stories that Auden had praised.

During his career Berloiz was considered the greatest conductor of his age.

A Bust Scultped by Benvenuto Cellini
A Bust Scultped by Benvenuto Cellini | Source

Who Was Benvenuto Cellini?

Benvenuto Cellini was born in Florence Italy in November of 1500. He was known throughout his life as a goldsmith, sculptor, and painter.

Cellini was a prime character in a cast of many during the Renaissance. Like most of the artist of the Renaissance his life was filled with drama and chaos mostly due to his sexual preference and promiscuity.

He wrote and Autobiography of his life and this work was used primarily as the basis for Berloiz's Opera.

Here is a list of some Cellini's greatest works:

"Leta and the Swan"

"Hercules and the Nemean Lion"


"The Crucifex et El Escorial"

Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" was his attempt to surpass Michelangelo's "David" and Donatello's "Judith and Helofernes" and was hailed as his masterpiece.

Comic Depiction of Berloiz Composing Cellini
Comic Depiction of Berloiz Composing Cellini | Source

The Opera of Benvenuto Cellini

Hector Berloiz wrote the Opera of Benvenuto Cellini in 1836 and based the Opera on Cellini's Autobiography.

This hub shares the Opera's overture which is a great piece of symphonic work but here I will share the story of the Opera of Benvenuto Cellini.

ACT 1 Tableau 1 (Balducci's Residence)

Cellini is brought before Pope Clement VII to build the bronze statue of "Perseus with the Head of Medussa." Cellini is in love with Balducci's daughter Teresa yet Balducci wants Fieramosca to marry her.

Fieramosca is Cellini's rival in sculpting and they are both fighting for the opportunity to sculpt for Pope Clement VII.

Cellini sneaks into the bed chambers of Teresa and him claim thier love to one another, little known to Cellini or Teresa both Fieramosca and Balducci are hiding in the room.

Balducci accepts Cellini's love for his daughter and Fieramosca is outraged.

ACT 1 Tableau 2 (Piazza Colomna)

Cellini sings about the joy of being a goldsmith while Fieramosca and his friend Pompea dress as monks and plan to kidnapTeresa.

While trying to kidnap Teresa Cellini stabs Pompea during a Harlequin performance and Pompea dies.

ACT 2 Tableau 1 (Ash Wednsday at Cellini's Studio)

Cellini sneaks away from the murder of Pompea dressed as a monk and goes to Teresa. Pope Clement VII wants to drop Cellini from creating his sculptor.

After much negotiating they come up with a deal. If Cellini can finish "Perseus with the Head of Medussa" by the evening Pope Clement VII would accept the sculptor and Cellini.

ACT 2 Tableau 2 (Ash Wednsday Evening at Cellini's Foundry)

Fieramosca decides to duel Cellini who changes his mind in the last minute.

Cellini finishes "Perseus with the Head of Medussa" and is able to strengthen his bond with Teresa.

In Conclusion

This hub discusses not only the life of Berloiz and his muse Cellini but also talks about the role literature plays in the creative process.

Berloiz's love of literature helped him to not only hear the story in Symphony performance of Opus 23 of Benvenuto Cellini but inspired him with the story of the Opera itself.

His love of Shakespeare and the literature of the time helped him to become not only the greatest conductor of his time but a writer of some esteem.

Anyways, if you hear of a performance of Berloiz by your local Symphony Orchestra you should attend not only to hear great music, but to support your local musicians.


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    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Eric Flynn and I agree, I also think that great artists seem to not stick to one type of medium or form. Jamie

    • Eric Flynn profile image

      Eric Wayne Flynn 4 years ago from Providence, Rhode Island

      Love the parallels of music and literature.... A great artist exists in any medium they choose

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you for the kind words, Kim. It is ok if your response is delayed, I have faith that it is for good reason. I enjoy your comments and your friendship here on Hubpages and respect that you probably have a life outside of this crazy forum. Jamie

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 4 years ago from North Carolina


      Sorry for such a delay in responding. Not been feeling so well, but finally on the mend. Per usual, you provide interesting information, and I continue to enjoy any hub authored by you.


    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Romeos Quill for stopping by, I enjoy Donatello's carving of St. Mark myself. I hope you have a great day. Jamie

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 4 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      P.S. I'm not condoning graven images here; it is the responsibility of the Catholic church to deal with that one as that statue lives in their backyard, so to speak.


    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 4 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      Sounds like a fascinating and very talented man who led quite a colourful life. I think this scene is a little too high brow for me but can certainly appreciate what other patrons and artists see here, and you've written quite an interesting biography about a gifted man who probably deserves more recognition than that which he receives. He must have been right up there if he is mentioned in the same breath as Michaelangelo and Donatello; seems that history has placed Michaelangelo at the pinnacle, although I think Donatello's carving of St. Mark was possibly the piece which surpassed Michaelangelo's sculptures with its life-like quality of workmanship.

      Best Wishes,