5. Fantastic!

In 1830, three years after the death of Beethoven, Hector Berlioz took the idea of a symphony that told an extra-musical story (that Beethoven had pioneered with his Pastoral Symphony (1808)) and produced a work that was to be major influence on symphonic thought for the remainder of that century and beyond, his Symphonie Fantastique.

Unlike Beethoven’s bucolic idyll, Berlioz’ work tells of a drug induced fantasy brought on by unrequited love, that eventually descends into nightmare.

It starts innocently enough with the composer falling in love; then comes a ballroom scene (Scherzo) where the beloved is glimpsed in the swirling crowds; we’re then back in Beethoven Pastoral mood for the Scène aux champs (slow movement) but ominous clouds have started to gather and there’s the distant rumbling of thunder. Most symphonies have four movements, but Berlioz adds a March to the Scaffold to his, and this extra movement darkens the mood even more – the composer has murdered his loved one and has been condemned to death. Finally we attend a witches sabbath complete with tolling bells and a parody of the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass – the beloved is there too, but she’s one of the witches!

Symphonie Fantastique

00:05Rêveries – Passions (Daydreams – Passions)
14:05Un bal (A ball)
20:47Scène aux champs (Scene in the Country)
36:32Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold)
41:48Songe d’une nuit de sabbat (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath)


Roméo et Juliette

… an even more extreme symphonic variant (this time with Beethoven’s Ninth in the background) is the composer’s Symphonie Dramatique based on Shakespeare, Roméo et Juliette:

Act I
01:45 Combats -Tumulte – Intervention of the Prince
06:50 Prologue
12:09 Strophes
19:27 Scherzetto
Act II
Romeo alone
23:13 Tristesse (Sadness) – Distant sounds from the concert and the ball 30:50 Great banquet at the Capulets
Serene Night – The Capulets’ garden silent and deserted –
37:30 Love Scene
Queen Mab, the queen of dreams –
59:33 the Queen Mab Scherzo
01:07:59 Funeral cortège for the young Juliet
01:18:43 Romeo at the tomb of the Capulets
01:26:59 The crowd rushes to the graveyard
01:31:19 Aria : Poor children that I weep for
01:40:20 Oath of reconciliation : « Swear by the revered symbol».


Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as “fair use”, for the purpose of study, and critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s).