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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Harold in Italy (Berlioz)


Harolde en Italie
Op. 16
(English title: Harold in Italy)

Hector Berlioz
(1803-69)



1. Harold Aux Montagnes. Scenes de Melencholie, de Bonheur, et de Joie. (Harold in the Mountains. Scenes of Melancholy, Happiness and Joy.)

2. Marche de Pélerins, Chantant la Prière du Soir. (March of Piligrims, singing the Evening Prayer.)

3. Serenade d'un Montagner des Abruzzes à sa Maitresse. (Serenade of a Mountaineer of the Abruzzi to his Mistress.)

4. Orgie des Brigands. Souvenir des Scènes Précédentes. (Orgy of the Brigands. Recall the preceeding scenes.)

"Harold in Italy" was written in 1834, and first prouced at the Paris Conservatory, November 23 of the same year. The story of the symphony is the story of what Harold witneses in his wanderings. The restless, melancholy exile beholds Nature in her loveliest as well as her most majestic aspects, but they fail to cheer him. He is in the midst of a band of happy and devoted pilgrims journeying along to worship at some shrine, but religion no more than Nature can calm his troubled spirit. He witnesses a mountaineer serenading his mistress beneath her window, but the simple love-scene has no charm for him. In despair he joins the bandits , and rushes into one of their orgies, where at last all his better thoughts and nobler feelings are lost in a vortex of dissipation and frenzy.





The first movement ("In the Mountains") is divided into two sections, an Adagio Expressive of Harold's melancholy, and a strongly contrasting Allegro signifying his transient feeling of happiness and joy. The adagio opens with a characteristic phrase in the basses and 'cellos, to which the bassoon adds a theme in chromatic progression. This is relieved by a second thme, at first taken by the woodwinds and then developed by the viola, typifying the reflective character of Harold, as it does throughout the rest of the work. The harps and clarinets accompany the monologue as it moves on toward the second section of the movement. Four times the viola seeks to make the change, and at last seizes the joyous melody of the Allegro, and the music flows on to the close brightly and gracefully, richly colored, and always original and characteristic.

The second movement ("March of the Pilgrims") is one of the most charming numbers Berlioz has written. The march themes are very simple, but the composer has invested them with a peculiar charm by their sweetness and grace as well as by the richness of the instrumentation. The music is also very descriptive, and a pleasing effect is made by crescendo and diminuendo as the pilgrims approach, file past, and slowly disappear in the distance. The pretty scene closes with an evening prayer.

The third movement ("The Serenade") is a fit sequel to the second in its general character. It opens in genuine pastoral style, the horn and oboe giving a Tyrolean effect to the music leading up to a quaint and very refined serenade in slower time. But even in the serenade of the mountaineer, as in the march of the pilgrims, the unrestful and sad plaint of the viola is heard.

In the last movement ("The Orgy") Berlioz gives free rein to his audacity and love of the horrible, and ends the career of Harold, like that of the artist in the "Symphonie Fantastique," in a wild and crashing hurly-burly of sound intended to picture a foul and frenzied orgy. The movement opens with reminiscences of preceeding themes, woven together with great skill. Among them is the Harold theme, announcing his presence, and the march of the pilgrims taken by two violins and 'cellos in the wings, indicating their passage in the distance. As if Harold had turned for a moment and longingly listened to the beautiful melody, wishing that were with them, the viola replied to it. It is only a snatch, however, for at once the furious orgy begins which drowns every reminicence.





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