Mikhail Aleksandrovich Berlioz versus Hector Berlioz
It is striking that there are several important characters in the Master and Margarita who share their names with famous composers of classical music: Dr. Stravinsky, a psychiatrist, and Igor Stravinsky; a theater director Rimsky and Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov; and, Mikhail Aleksandrovich Berlioz and French composer Hector Berlioz. This is almost impossible to be a coincidence, and there seems to be a message behind this. Bulgakov’s intent for using these names, however, is not obvious. While there are similarities between these fictional characters and real life composers, the link in the context of the novel is not apparent. I will focus on the Berlioz duo.
Both Bulgakov and Hector Berlioz seem to be drawing inspiration from Goethe since Hector Berlioz wrote an opera titled The Damnation of Faust which was based on Goethe’s Faust. Bulgakov has his own Berlioz (Mikhail “Misha” Aleksandrovich) square off with his version of Faust, Professor Woland. While Bulgakov and Hector Berlioz both seem to be fascinated with the mysticism in general and the character of Faust in particular, Misha Berlioz is an antithesis to this curiosity. He is editor of "a fat literary journal", and chairman of the board of one of the major Moscow literary associations, called MASSOLIT (probably the abbreviation for the Masters of Soviet Literature). He is a typical representative of the intellectual elite, a good follower of the official policy who cannot follow the dissenting opinions expressed by Woland as well as his supernatural gifts. Unlike real Berlioz, Misha Berlioz is both unable and unwilling to wrestle with unknown and unexplained (or unexplainable).
Hector Berlioz also wrote the well-known Symphonie Fantastique. In the fourth movement of this symphony, March to the Scaffold, the main character is seeing his own decapitation in his dream. Misha Berlioz also dies by being decapitated, but by a tram. Again, Bulgakov uses Hector Berlioz as an inspiration for his own literary creation.
While Hector Berlioz was often, as a composer, ahead of his contemporaries in his understanding of music and its complexity, Bulgakov’s Berlioz is a synonym for mediocrity. Hence it is unclear why Bulgakov chose the name Berlioz for his ordinary and conforming character. Or, did I misinterpret Bulgakov’s Misha Berlioz?