Hector Berlioz: Fame Started with Defenestration

Written by


I recently saw a bottle of red wine with the name “Fenestra.” It made me think of one of Russian musicologist/lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky’s favorite oddball words, “defenestrate,” which means to jump out of or throw something or someone out of a window. “Fenestra” is Italian for window; in French it’s “fenêtre.” (The English word “window” has a Norse origin).  According to Wikipedia:  the term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618, which became the spark that started the Thirty years war. The “incident” refers to two imperial Hapsburg governors who were thrown out of the windows of the castle, then on the highest hill in the city.

A famous act of defenestration in the classical music world involves the renowned French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). Berlioz was sent to medical school in Paris at the behest of his physician father, Louis, who among other things was the first doctor in Europe to experiment with acupuncture. A musical prodigy, Berlioz hated medical school, and was so repulsed by witnessing the dissection of a human corpse that he jumped out of a second floor window to escape the institution.

Conservatoire to pursue his passion. Not long after his escape from med school, Berlioz fell passionately in love with a woman and was inspired by his romantic delirium to write his masterpiece Symphonie Fantastique, a work that Leonard Bernsetein once called the first musical expression of psychedelia because of its hallucinatory sonic landscape.

Berlioz never looked back, and he is one of the most famous French composers in history. It all started with defenestration.
RP Logo