Harriet Smithson


Harriet Smithson

Henrietta Constance (Harriet) Smithson (1800 - 3 March 1854) was an Irish actress, the first wife of Hector Berlioz, and the inspiration for his "Symphonie Fantastique".

She was the daughter of a theatrical manager. She made her first stage appearance in 1815 at the Crow Street Theatre, Dublin, as Albina Mandeville in Frederick Reynolds's "The Will". Three years later she made her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in "The Belle's Stratagem".

She had no particular success in England; but in Paris, in 1828 and 1832, whither she first went with William Charles Macready, she aroused immense enthusiasm as Desdemona, Virginia, Juliet and Jane Shore, in the tragedy by Nicholas Rowe. She had a host of admirers, among them Hector Berlioz, whom she married in 1833. They separated in 1840.

Hector Berlioz first discovered her at the Odeon performing the roles of Juliet and Ophelia and immediately fell in love with her, sending her letters despite their never having met. For many years this continued until the 1832 performance of his "Symphonie Fantastique", when he discovered a mutual acquaintance of theirs and offered him a box of tickets. She ended up coming to the performance, realizing that the symphony was about her (as was more than hinted at by the program notes) and eventually they married. After all this obsession, however, their marriage eventually failed.

At the time of her marriage her popularity was already over and she was deeply in debt. A benefit was given her, but she had the mortification of seeing a rival applauded when she herself was coldly received. She retired from the stage.

Louis Berlioz, the only child of Hector and Harriet, was born on 14 August 1834. As a young man Louis joined the merchant navy and rose to the rank of commander. He died on 5 June 1867 of yellow fever while on duty at Havana. His death dealt a devastating blow to his father.

*1911


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