Hector Berlioz is one of the most idiosyncratic composers of the 19th century. He was the foremost French composer at a time when the main artistic endeavours of his country were in literature and the visual arts. He had deep roots in classicism yet his music fully embodied the romantic idiom and he massively contributed to the further development of Romanticism. During his lifetime he was also considerably well known as a music critic and conductor and wrote a Treatise on Instrumentation, a milestone in the evolution of the modern orchestra.
Berlioz was born in La Côte-Saint-André in 1803, the eldest son of a prominent doctor of great intellect and liberal outlook, who taught his son French and Latin literature, geography and gave him rudimentary lessons on the flageolet. He later went on to study flute and guitar with other teachers.
Interestingly, Berlioz never learned the piano and could not play more than a few chords. He learned harmony entirely without reference to a keyboard. As a young teenager, he began to compose ambitiously, but very little survives from this time. His musical horizons were still narrow by the time he was sent to study medicine in Paris in 1821 and he had never heard music by the major composers such as Beethoven, nor had he ever seen a full score. This changed when, within months of his arrival in Paris, he became a regular attendee at the Paris Opéra. Works by Gluck and Salieri made a lasting impression on him and he spent time at the Conservatoire library as often as he could, eventually being admitted to the composition class of Jean-François Le Sueur after being introduced to him by a friend. In was in these years that he focused on large-scale orchestral works for the first time. After eventually quitting his medical studies, he dedicated himself fulltime to music.