Berlioz's final opera, Béatrice et Bénédict (1860–62) has generally been considered a light-hearted work, revelling in the simple joys of love. Yet his final development of the theme of love, which had preoccupied him at least since the Symphonie fantastique (1830), makes this opéra comique more serious than it might appear to be. Drawing on theories of the human subject by Badiou, Žižek, and Lacan, as well as on the resources of Schenkerian theory, this article invites a new attention on the ideological violence done both by conventional models of love (in this case, on the main characters in the opera) and by the language of tonality. Evaluation of the musical means by which Berlioz psychoanalyzes the characters of a masochist, Héro, and a hysteric, Béatrice, ultimately reveals a surprisingly provocative work of vivid psychological drama.
Berlioz, Love, and Béatrice et Bénédict
J. P. E. Harper-Scott is professor of music history and theory at Royal Holloway, University of London. His work has centered broadly on analytical, historical, and philosophical interpretations of music from Wagner to Britten, and includes the book Edward Elgar, Modernist (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and articles and book chapters on Wagner, Elgar, Walton, Britten, Vaughan Williams, and Strauss. His most recent book, The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2012), is at the same time a critique of existing historiographical and theoretical understandings of modernism and a proposal for an explicitly politicized new conception that draws on the leftist philosophy of Alain Badiou. He is currently working on both a monograph, Ideology in Britten's Operas (for Cambridge University Press), and a history of music since 1789.
I am grateful to Julian Rushton and Kiernan Ryan for their expert comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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J. P. E. Harper-Scott; Berlioz, Love, and Béatrice et Bénédict. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2015; 39 (1): 3–34. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2015.39.1.3
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