Berlioz made a forceful impression on his contemporaries. In 1831 Mendelssohn wrote to his father:
Berlioz is a freak [verzzert, distorted, out of shape], without a spark of talent, fumbling about in the darkness and imagining himself to be the creator of a new world; he writes about the most terrible things, and dreams and thinks of nothing but Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe ...
Mendelssohn was wrong about the talent, and he should have added Shakespeare to the list of idols. He was right about the feeling of creating a new world, the extreme commitment to music and literature. Berlioz’s musical genius flowered at the time when the old classical era had waned and the romantic age in music was just beginning. He wrote marvellously about that volatile time, and no biography could hope to surpass the composer’s autobiography, the famous Memoirs. Hugh Macdonald acknowledges this early on, and his book is a quite different achievement.
The story of Berlioz’s life is a Romantic one. The young Berlioz renounced medicine for music despite stem familial opposition. He worked with fanatic determination, had faith in his own genius, and managed to give concerts of some early works. In 1827 he was smitten by Shakespeare