Hector Berlioz’s work was relatively neglected in his native France for much of the 19th century – indeed, his final words are reported to be “at last, they are going to play my music” – although he achieved a greater degree of popularity in neighbouring countries.

But his influence on classical music cannot be overstated, and under the direction of French conductor Raoul Lay, the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra will perform two works that showcase Berlioz the innovator.

Soprano Gillian Zammit will join the orchestra for a performance of the song cycle Les Nuits d’Été, a setting of six poems by Théophile Gautier. The theme of the work is the progression of love, starting from its blossoming at a time of youthful innocence, to the anguish at its loss and the increasing distance of its memory, to the hope of its final, eternal, renewal. Few attempted to emulate his creation of an orchestral song cycle until Mahler took the genre up decades later.

The Symphonie Fantastique, meanwhile, is an early example of programme music: the musical depiction of an artist who takes opium in the midst of despair at unrequited love. Described by Leonard Bernstein as the first musical expedition into psychedelia, it is a key example of Berlioz’ innovations in the development of orchestration and symphonic form.

This concert is supported by the Valletta 2018 Foundation.