~by Hector Berlioz
~translated by Jacques Barzun
Hector Berlioz, a French Romantic composer, is probably most famous for his orchestral work Symphonie fantastique. However, he was also a prolific writer and music critic. Evenings with the Orchestra is a satire of the condition of music in 19th century France. The premise of the book is unique and amusing. The chapters are organized into evenings that the "author" spent with an unnamed orchestra. The members of the said orchestra, forced to play operas of a worthless sort, find their time in the pit better spent telling stories and jokes, reading books and letters, and generally not paying any attention to what they're supposed to be doing. Unless, of course, the piece they are to be playing is deemed to be worthy of their talents. The "author" has taken it upon himself to record and publish these conversations, which range from fiction to biographical sketches, music criticism (or lack thereof) to the vexations of the players. In some parts, a background in music is needed to really understand what is going on, but it's not necessary to enjoy the majority of the book. It is rather long and sometimes dull, but a classic nonetheless.