Berlioz had just turned 50 when he began putting the final touches to L’enfance du Christ, but had already packed quite enough for one lifetime into those five decades. Winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome for composition in 1830, he had been inspired by his infatuation for one woman, Harriet Smithson, to write his groundbreaking Symphonie fantastique, then driven to murderous intent by his love for another, Marie Moke – mercifully, he aborted his plans to kill her and her fiancé. While Symphonie fantastique had been a roaring success, 1838’s Benvenuto Cellini then provided him with his first operatic failure.
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