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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > La Symphonie fantastique (Berlioz)

Symphonie fantastique
Op. 14
(English title: Fantastic Symphony)

Hector Berlioz

1. Adagio. (Reveries and Passions.)
2. Le Bal. (The Ball.)
3. Scène aux Champs. (Scene in the Fields.)
4. Marche du Supplice. (Journey to Execution.)
5. Songe d'un Nuit de Sabbat. (Dream in a Witches' Sabbath Night.)

The "Symphonie Fantastique," also entitled by its composer "Episode in the Life of an Artist," was written by Berlioz in 1829. Every momentof this strange work is prefaced by a regular program and accompanied by notes which call the hearer's attention beforehand to the scenes which the music is intended to describe. To describe the symphony it is hardly necessary to do more than to tell the bizarre story of an episode in the life of an artist, which is a very nightmare of passion.

In the opening movement he introduces a young musician madly in love with a woman of ideal perfection, represented by a musical figure he calls the "idée fixe." The whole movement is based upon this "fixed idea" representing the vague longings of love. These haunts the music as the vision of the ideal woman haunts the artist.

The second movement introduces us to a ball, but even in the midst of the festivity, and listening to the sensual strains of the waltz, the face of the loved one haunts the artist. From a technical point of view this movement shows the great skill of the composer in the symphonic treatment of a waltz rhythm, but the brilliant dance music is ever and anon interrupted as the melody which belongs to the loved one asserts itself through the bewitching strains.

The third movement, "Scène aux Champs," is one of the quiet pastoral beauty, through it gathers gloom as it proceeds and closes in ominous darkness and silence. The lovers is in the fields at evening and hears the shepherds' answering songs, sung by the oboe and horn. The charm of the spot, its a peaceful repose, the gentle approach of evening, and the rustic chants call up the vision of the loved one and inspire him with hope, which soon clouds over again as darkness comes on. One of the sheperds repeats his song, but the other does not answer. The low rumble of a storm is heard in the distance, and the despairing lover gives way to melancholy.

In the fourth movement, "Marche de Supplice," persuaded that his affection is not reciprocated, the frenzied lover takes poison with the intention of suicide, but the drug instead of killing him only produces a stupor filled with hallucinations. He imagines that he has killed his mistress and is the witness of his own execution. The march to the scaffold begins amid the chanting of the "Dies Irae," the tolling of bells, and the mournful roll of muffled drums. Even the rush of the multitude and the tramp of their feet are heard in this realistic music. The fatal melody, however, does not leave him even here. It is constantly heard in the gloom until it is cleft in twain by the sharp stroke of the headman's axe.

The last movement, which is really a continuation of the fourth, pictures the lover in the midst of the witches and demons who have gathered to witness his burial, which takes place accompanied by a wild orgy reminding one of the chorus of demons in the composer's "Damnation of Faust."

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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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