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Length: c. 8 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: March 11, 1928, Georg Schnéevoigt conducting
In ways the most typically "Romantic" of these composers - a storyteller who wrote true program music - Berlioz is said to have been innately romantic, experiencing emotions deeply from early childhood. The French poet and playwright Théophile Gautier wrote of him, "Hector Berlioz seems to me to form, with Hugo and Delacroix, the Trinity of Romantic Art."
In 1831, while visiting Rome, Berlioz discovered that his fiancée, Camille Marie Moke, had left him for another suitor. After trying to drown himself in the Mediterranean, he spent time in Nice, where he took to reading pirate romance novels beneath a ruined coastal tower, and began working on possible stage works. Thirteen years later, on orders from his doctor to rest, he revisited Nice and worked his original sketches into his Corsaire Overture, which was originally called La Tour de Nice (The Tower of Nice).
The Overture's three sections are introduced by lacerating strings and woodwinds. The first section has a slow, unfolding melody, and the second is a spiky, strident allegro that uses the same melodic material. The third section reiterates the allegro even more dynamically, expanding the use of woodwinds with more forceful percussive chords, leading to a huge climax of blaring brass. The music bounds brashly on to a massive conclusion. The Overture was first played in Paris in 1845 under its original title, then revised and retitled Le Corsaire Rouge after The Red Rover by James Fenimore Cooper (a favorite writer of Berlioz), then finally issued as Le Corsaire, suggesting the poem of the same name by Byron.
- Jessie Rothwell is the Publications Coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also writes music, plays oboe, and sings Bulgarian folk music.