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HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

He was born in a small town near Grenoble

One of the first French romantic composers and a daring creator of new orchestral
His father, a physician, sent him to Paris to study medicine but he was filled with
horror by the dissecting room and shocked his parents by abandoning medicine to
pursue career in music
He studied at the Paris Conservatory, haunted the opera house, and composed.
At 23, he was overwhelmed with the works of Shakespeare and fell madly in love
with a Shakespearean actress, Harriet Smithson he wrote such wild, impassioned
letters that she considered him lunatic and refused to see him.
Berlioz wrote Symphonie fantastique (Fantastic Symphony)in 1830 to depict his
endless and unquenchable passion
Startled Parisians by its:
1. sensationally autobiographical program,
2. its amazingly novel orchestration, and
3. its vivid depiction of the weird and diabolical
In 1830, too, he won the Prix de Rome (the Rome Prize), subsidizing two years
study in Rome
When he returned to Paris, he finally met and married Harriet Smithson after she
had attended a performance of Symphonie fantastique and realized that it depicted
her. However, after only few years they separated.
Berliozs unconventional music irritated the opera and concert establishment.
To get hearing from his works:
He had to arrange concerts at his own expense which drained him
financially, physically, and emotionally.
Berlioz turned to musical journalism, becoming brilliant and witty music
critic who tried to convince the Parisians that music was not merely
entertainment but a dramatic emotional expression.
Outside France, Berliozs stock was higher.
After 1840, he was in demand throughout Europe, conducting his own and
others music.
As one of the first great conductors, he influenced a whole generation of
His last years were bitter; he was passed over for important positions and honors
and composed very little during the six years before his death at 65.


The prevailing qualities of my music are passionate expressiveness, inner fire, rhythmic
drive, and unexpectedness Berlioz
It includes (1) abrupt contrasts, (2) fluctuating dynamics, and (3) many changes in tempo.
Berlioz was extraordinarily imaginative and innovative.
He often assembled hundreds of musicians to achieve new power, tone colors, and timbers.
His melodies are often:
1. Long,
3. Asymmetrical, and
2. Irregular,
4. Taking unexpected turns
Most of his works are orchestra or orchestra with chorus and vocal soloists; all are dramatic and
He invented new forms:
His dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet (1839) is for orchestra, chorus and vocal
His dramatic legend The Damnation of Faust combines opera and oratorio.
He also wrote three operas and a grandiose, monumental Requiem.


A five-movement program symphony

A romantic manifesto
Reflect the twenty-six-year-old composers unrequited passion for the actress Harriet Smithson
ide fixe or fixed idea
a single melody
used to represent the beloved
He described as passionate but at the same time noble and shy
The theme changes in character during the work, sounding, in turn, exult, waltzlike, and vulgar
Another innovation in the symphony is its: requirement of a very large and colorful orchestra:
4 French horns
Bass drum
2 flutes
2 cornets
Snare drum
2 oboes
2 trumpets
English horn
3 trombones
2 clarinets
2 tubas
2 harps
4 bassoons
4 timpani

Berlioz saves the heaviest orchestration for the last two movements, where he depicts
fantastic and diabolical.

Fourth Movement: March to the Scaffold

Allegretto non troppo

The March to the Scaffold is fifty times more frightening than I expected
He dreams that he has murdered his beloved that he has been condemned to death and is
being led to execution.
A march that is alternately somber and wild, brilliant and solemn, accompanies the
All brass and percussion instruments enter the action.
Berlioz creates a menacing atmosphere with the opening orchestral sound, a unique
combination of muted French horns, timpani tuned a third apart, and basses playing
pizzicato chords.
The first theme, stated by the cellos and basses, moves steadily downward for two
At the end, a solo clarinet begins to play the ide fixe or fixed idea but is savagely
interrupted by a very loud chord representing the fall of the guillotines blade.

Fifth Movement: Dream of a Witches Sabbath

Larghetto; Allegro

He sees himself at a witches Sabbath in the midst of a hideous crowd of ghouls,

sorcerers, and monsters of every description, united for his funeral.
The most fantastic movement of the symphony
Depicts series of grotesque events
Its slow, hushed introduction (larghetto) immediately draws the listener into the realm of
the macabre and supernatural, evoking strange noises, groans, shrieks of laughter and
distant cries
In the exploratory spirit of his romantic age, Berlioz dared to create sounds that are weird
rather than conventionally pleasing.
In the allegro section, the beloved is revealed to be a witch.
Her theme, the once noble and timid ide fixe, is transformed into a dance tune
that is trivial and grotesque
Played shrilly by a high pitched clarinet, the tune moves quick notes decorated by
A funeral knell of sonorous bells lends an awesome atmosphere to the next part
of the movement.
Tubas and bassoons intone a solemn low melody in long, even notes.

Berlioz conveys the frenzy of a witches dance in a fuguelike section. The fugue subject
is introduced by the lower strings and the imitated by other instruments.
A crescendo builds to a powerful climax in which the rapid witches dance, played in the
strings, is set against the slower-moving Dies irae, proclaimed by the brasses and
This musical nightmare ends in an orgy of orchestral power.