Symfonie Phantastique, op. 14

The name of LOUIS-HECTOR BERLIOZ is associated primarily with his  „Symphonie fantastique” – the most accurate reflection of the disposition and life of the author himself. He embodied the complex fate  typical  for  any  artist  from the romanticism century, in which successes were interwoven with misfortunes, brief moments of happiness with long tragic periods, yearning and  disillusionment, activity and resignation – all this is adeptly described by the young artist both in his fascinating „ftemoirs“ and his music. The creator of the romantic program symphony had to experience both the recognition of his contemporaries and the complete neglect of his works, many of which even later day remained little known.

SYMPHONIE  FANTASTIQUE

was written by the composer when he was only twenty-three. It was inspired by his  great,  initially  unrequited love for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, whom he saw as Ophelia in a production of Shakespeare‘s Hamlet on  11  September  1827. His numerous fervent letters to her, however,   remained   unanswered.  It was only in 1832 that she heard the symphony and appreciated the composer‘s genius. „Symphonie fantastique” was performed for the first time on 5 December 1830  in the hall of the Paris Conservatoire and forthwith became a very popular work with Paris audiences. With this symphony, Berlioz won the Roman prize of the Paris conservatoire and it was in Rome that he met again Harriet. The two married in 1833 but parted after nine years of unhappy marriage.

Since Berlioz envisioned a stage performance of the Symphony, a detailed program was appended to the score – an author‘s script entitled

„An Episode of the Life of the Artist – in five parts”:

„A young musician of morbid sensitivity and ardent imagination poisons himself with opium in a momentofdespaircausedbyfrustrated love. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied  by the strangest of visions, in which his experiences, feelings and memories are translated in his feverish brain into musical thoughts and images. His beloved becomes for him a melody and like an idée fixe which he meets and hears everywhere.

І. Reveries, passions: He remembers first the uneasiness of spirit, the indefinable passion, the melancholy, the aimless joys he felt even before seeing his beloved; then the explosive love she suddenly inspired in him, his delirious anguish, his fits of jealous fury, his returns of tenderness, his religious consolations.

ІІ. A Ball: He meets again his beloved in a ball during a glittering fête.

ІІІ. A Scene in the Fields: One evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds in the distance dialoguing with their ‘ranz des vaches’; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle

rustling of the trees in the light wind, some causes for hope that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier colouring; but she reappears, he feels a pang of anguish, and painful thoughts disturb him: what if she betrayed him… At the end one of the shepherds resumes his simple melody; the other one no longer answers. Distant sound of thunder… solitude… silence…

March to the Scaffold: He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned to  death  and  led to The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes sombre and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end, the idée fixe reappears for a moment like a final thought of love interrupted  by  the fatal blow.

Dream of the Night of Sabath: He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering  of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come  together for his Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts… The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance-tune, trivial and grotesque:    it is she who is coming to the sabbath…Roars 

She joins the diabolical orgy… The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies Irae. The dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies Irae.”

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