Hector Berlioz did not begin to study music seriously until relatively late in his life. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1826, two years after discontinuing his studies in medicine. Berlioz, however, had displayed a unique ability in composition since the early stage of his career. His understanding of instruments in particular was extraordinary and gave him tremendous advantage in creating music that sounds entirely different from that of any other composer. The most significant as well as influential composition by Berlioz is undoubtedly Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 composed in 1830. In this piece Berlioz employed a variety of instruments that had been hardly utilized by the composers before him.
“Le carnaval romain” overture (“The Roman Carnival” overture), Op. 9 was composed in 1844. Its first performance took place in Paris on February 3, 1844 under the direction of the composer himself. The composition is a concert overture, not intended to be attached to any specific theatrical piece like operas and ballets. Some musical materials in it, however, were taken from Berlioz’s unsuccessful opera Benvenuto Cellini, Op. 23, first performed in 1838. The opera is about the well-known Italian Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini at the Carnival in Rome in 1532. The strong association between the opera and the concert overture is indeed the basis for the title of the latter. The overture calls for a less variety of instruments in comparison with Symphonie fantastique, yet Berlioz was still successful in producing rich tone colors no other composers of the time could have imagined.