Lord George Byron is one of the most colorful figures in literature, personifying the Romantic movement in his life as well as in his multi-faceted writings. The shortness of his life and his dramatic death -- he is still revered as a near martyr in Greece -- further enhance his stature, and the term Byronic hero is as vital a reference today as it was during his lifetime. No surprise, then, that both his writing and his life have inspired countless composers, from the time of his life to the present; only Shakespeare and Homer can claim such a lasting influence. It is that brooding, tortured, magnificently dramatic Byronic hero who has inspired the most music, though Byron's lyrical and satiric works have also attracted composers. Manfred, in particular, is a guilt-tortured figure who dies magnificently defying the demons who try to claim him; this character practically demands a musical setting.
Byron was born to a noble but impoverished family, though his poetry soon won him fame and fortune, a fortune that turned to infamy with scandals of a suggested affair with his half sister and a stormy marriage that ended in divorce. He exiled himself to the continent, where his countless affairs continued to create scandal. He died of malaria while fighting in Greece for independence from the Turks. The best-known works based on his life or writing include Berlioz's Harold en Italie, Liszt's Tasso and Mazeppa, Nietzsche's Manfred-Meditation, Virgil Thomson's Lord Byron, Schumann's incidental music for "Manfred," Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, and Verdi's I due Foscari and I Masnadieri. The lesser-known and indirect influences are numberless. Upon hearing of his death, Rossini wrote a funeral cantata, Il pianto delle muse in morte di Lord Byron; certainly such a provider of musical inspiration deserved the tears of more than the literary muses.