Symphonie Fantastique - OCR B

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Symphonie Fantastique
Background
Composer: Hector Berlioz
Born: 1803
Died: 1869
Created: during personal and artistic experiences, implicating composing:
discovered Shakespeare performed in Paris by an English touring company
Fell in love / married actress Harriet Smithson
Heard Beethoven symphonies for first time when conducted by Habeneck at Paris
Conservatoire
Read Goethe's "Faust"
The Symphony
5 movements ­
1. Reveries ­ passions
2. A ball
3. Scene in the country
4. March to the scaffold
5. Dream of a witch's Sabbath
First Performed: Paris Conservatoire December 1830
Based on imagination
Idée fixe: the woman that the composer has fallen in love with
Story: throughout each movement, woman is always on his mind. Under influence of drugs, imagines
his own execution for killing the woman he loves, at his own funeral witches and the woman dance
around him.
Berlioz gave audience preface score so that they can understand the meaning behind the performance
­ more comprehensive than Beethoven's symphonies
Instruments: expressive power of tonality, harmony ­ so precise words not needed
Romantic era: main theme of unfulfilled love ­ Berlioz infatuated with Harriet's indifference to him at
time of composing
Similarities: idée fixe related to cantata "Herminie" and "March to the Scaffold" from unfinished
symphony "Les Francs Juges"
Idée Fixe
Used throughout, from opening of the introduction in the violins bar 34
Melody: main means of expression
Semitone motif: diatonic content, E and F in C major ­ expressive, emotional chromatic content
Climbing short melodies are repeated and mirrored in similar structure and phrasing in the melody of
the "Scene in the Country"
Idée fixe complete in second, third and fifth movements ­ assumes completely different rhythmic
identity each time
Ball: form of graceful dance in triple time ­ repeated short motifs in cellos and basses suggest image
of woman is troubled, clarinet at end of movement is frantic, faster ­ banishing thought of unrequited
love
Scene in the country: appears before climax of movement, alternating with passionate phrases first for
cellos and basses then for full strings. Builds up to fortissimo diminished 7th chord. Passion subsides
with expressive syncopated chords, dying away

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Orchestra
One of few composers not to play piano, free of influence of piano music in constructing sonorities
Influenced by virtuoso achievements of Paganini on violin and Liszt on piano ­ discovered new
possibilities for instruments
Orchestration ­ carefully selected each instrument and sound to achieve precise expressive effect
Large bands of woodwind and brass standard feature of public music in postrevolutionary France ­
Berlioz adapted instruments into symphonic music for first time
As conductor, balanced bass and woodwind by an appropriately large section
4…read more

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Subtle rhythmic effect of having bass note of chord on fourth quaver of each group, avoiding obvious
placing of bass in stressed beat
Woodwind have full G major idée fixe in octaves ­ doubled by first and second violins on first quaver
of each group of quavers
Back to tonic of C ­ no rest ­ chromatic notes continue, disturbs harmonies, low sound of cellos
basses and bassoons
Modulates to Amaj, perfect cadence
Oboe begins passage of searching
Score delicate, low sounds of clarinet and…read more

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Bar 127, "dies irae" melody ­ intertextual ­ well known to Roman Catholic audience
Ophiecleide ­ much rougher sound than tuba, usually heard in modern performances
Bells different to modern tubular bells
Berlioz specified much deeper sound, but had to compromise by allowing grand pianos to be used if
real bells not available…read more

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