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Berlioz Bicentennial
In 2003, classical music lovers mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz. But as his native country begins a year-long series of commemorative concerts and events, one particular proposal has sparked a bitter debate.

Comité International Hector Berlioz, the official committee formed to organize the national celebration, had hoped to cap off the celebration by removing the composer's remains from their current resting place in the Montmartre cemetery and placing them in the legendary Panthéon of Paris. Berlioz would join such national heroes as Voltaire and Victor Hugo in the Panthéon's necropolis, which the committee felt would give the composer appropriate national recognition during his bicentennial year.

Detractors of this plan claim that Berlioz's lukewarm sentiments towards the Republic should disqualify him from entering this shrine to republican ideals. The daily newspaper Le Monde wrote, "He may have invented the modern orchestra, but...he was an out-and-out reactionary." Others believe that the composer's wish -- to be buried next to his two wives, Harriet Smithson and Marie Recio, and among his friends in the romantic setting of Montmartre -- should be honored.

Supporters of the plan to inter Berlioz in the Panthéon (left) feel it is a tribute long overdue. Georges Hirsch, the Orchestre de Paris general director who is spearheading the committee, argues, "Not only was Berlioz a composer of genius, he was also a great writer and an innovator." Another proponent claims that "France's greatest ever composer does not have a single street named after him in Paris." (Though this may be true, there is in fact a square in Paris dedicated to Berlioz.)

The final decision on the move will be made by French President Jacques Chirac. He has already postponed the removal ceremony, originally scheduled for June 21, 2003, claiming that it is too soon after last year's installation of writer Alexandre Dumas. No future date has been set.


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