Hector Berlioz. Photo: Wikimedia

I suppose I knew about the connection between Berlioz and Wagner, in the recesses of my mind, but I think I had forgotten it. More specifically, there is a connection between Roméo et Juliette (Berlioz) and Tristan und Isolde (Wagner).

Last month, a concert of the New York Philharmonic began with excerpts from Roméo et Juliette (whose subtitle is “Dramatic Symphony after Shakespeare’s Tragedy”). The Philharmonic began with the music labeled “Roméo seul” (“Romeo Alone”).

And I thought, Hang on, am I listening to Tristan? A proto-Tristan?

Roméo et Juliette had its first performances in late 1839. Attending at least one of those performances was Richard Wagner (age twenty-six). He was gobsmacked. Wagner would not compose his Tristan until twenty years later. But the stamp of Berlioz is obvious.

Wagner acknowledged it, too. He was not exactly a humble sort—he often appears to have been his own god—but he was aware of his debt to Berlioz. When he sent the older composer the score of Tristan, he did so with an inscription: “To the great and dear author of Roméo et Juliette from the grateful author of Tristan und Isolde.”

Well.

Check out a few bars—or a lot of them—from Berlioz, here. And from the Tristan prelude, here. A real eye-opener, or ear-opener.

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