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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Romeo and Juliet (Berlioz)

Romeo and Juliet
[Dramatic symphony, with choruses, solos, chant, and prologue in choral recitative]

(Original French title: Roméo et Juliette)

Hector Berlioz

"Romeo and Juliet," entitled as above by Berlioz, was written in 1839. The work opens with a fiery introduction, representing the combats and tumults of the two rival houses of the Capulet and Montague, and the intervention of the Prince. It is followed by a choral recitative for four altos, tenors and basses ("Long smouldering Hatreds"), with which is interwoven a contrallo solo ("Romeo too is there"), the number closing with a passionate chorus ("The Revels now are o'er"). A beautiful effect is made at this point by assigning to the alto voice two couplets ("Joys of first Love") which are serious in style but vry rich in melody. A brief bit of choral recitative and a few measures of tenor -- Mercutio's raillery -- lead up to a dainty scherzetto for tenor solo and small chorus ("Mab! bright Elf of Dreamland"), and a short choral passage brings this scene to a close.

The second scene, which is for orchestra only, an impressive declamatory phrase developing into a tender melody, representing the sadness of Romeo and set in tones against the brilliant dance music in the distance acompanying the revel of the Capulets, is one of the most striking effects Berlioz has accomplished, and illustrates his astonishing command of instrumentation.

The third scene represents Capulet's garden in the stillness of the night, the young Capulets passing though it, bidding each other adieu and repeating snatches of the dance music. As their strains die away in the distance the balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet is given by the orchestra alone in genuine love-poem full of passion and sensuousness.

The fourth scene is also given to the orchestra, and is a setting of Mercutio's description of Queen Mab. It is a Scherzo, intensely rapid in its movement and almost ethereal in its dainty, grateful rhytmn. The instrumentation is full of subtle effects, particularly in the romantic passages for the horns.

In the fifth scene we pass from the tripping music of the fairies to the note of the woe. It describes the funeral procession of Juliet, beginning with a solemn march in fugue style, at first instrumental, with occasional entrances of the voices in monotone, and then vocal ("O mourn, O mourn, strew choicest Flowers"), the monotone being assigned to the instruments. It preludes a powerful orchestra scene representing Romeo's invocation, Juliet's awakening, and the despair and death of the lovers.

The finale mainly for double chorus, representing the quarrel between the Montagues and Capulets in the cemetery and the final reconciliation through the intercession of Friar Laurence, whose declamatory solos are very striking, particularly the air, "Poor Children mine, let me mourn you."

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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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