Berlioz’s Plot to Assassinate Pleyel

Early in 1831, just after Berlioz won the Prix de Rome and began his two years of study at the Academy there, his fiancé Marie Moke — the piano virtuoso he proposed to after his infatuation with English actress Harriet Smithson when unreciprocated — called of their engagement at the insistence of her mother and married piano virtuoso Camille Pleyel (owner of the famous piano manufacturing company his father had founded, Pleyel et Cie), instead. Berlioz, in one of his quintessentially Romantic fits of rage, planned to travel back to Paris while the orchestra at the the Academy of Rome was rehearsing and performing his Symphonie Fantastique to murder Marie, her mother, Pleyel, and then himself. He purchased a woman's maid costume to disguise himself for the assassination, complete with dress, hat, and green veil. He left Rome and traveled by carriage to Genoa; upon arrival there he realized his luggage had been lost and he had to have himself fitted for a woman's maid costume a second time. He made it just across the border into France, as far as the city of Nice, before he calmed down a little and reconsidered his plan. He stayed at Nice for a month, pondering everything and composing the King Lear Overture there. Berlioz's assassination plan fell through when the police at Nice became suspicious of the stranger with a maid's dress and loaded pistols, who had no piano and told them he was composing a music about an English king 800 years ago while he walked up and down the beach. So he returned to Rome to finish his studies at the Academy, and did not assassinate his former fiancé, her mother, or the owner of the Pleyel piano company.

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