Essay, Research Paper: Hector Berlioz


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Hector Berlioz wrote the Symphonie fantastique at the age of 27. He based the
program on his own impassioned life and transferred his memoirs into his best-
known program symphony. The story is about a love sick, depressed young artist,
while in his despair poisons himself with opium. His beloved is represented
throughout the symphony by the symbolic idee fixe. There are five movements
throughout symphony. The program begins with the 1st movement: Reveries,
Passions symbolizing the artist’s life prior to meeting his beloved. This is
represented as a mundaness and indefinable searching or yearning, until
suddenly, he meets her and his longing abruptly ceases and is replaced by
volcanic love. The soaring melody becomes the Idee fixe and is introduced in
this section. The 2nd movement: A Ball. This movement is representative of the
gala ball where he once again sees his beloved. This section is a dance movement
in three-part form. The Idee fixe reappears in waltz time. The 3rd movement:
Scene in the Fields. This section represents a tranquil interval. It is a summer
evening in the country and he hears two shepherds piping. The tranquil moment of
the quiet summer evening alone with the pastoral duet fills his heart with an
unfamiliar calm. Suddenly she appears and her appearance causes an emotional
response of sorrowful loneliness. The 4th movement: March To the Scaffold. He
dreams that he has killed his beloved, he is condemned to die and is being lead
to the scaffold. At the end of this movement the Idee fixe reappears for a short
instance and the reappearance becomes symbolic of the last thought of love that
is interrupted by the axe. The 5th movement: Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath. He
imagines himself at a witch’s Sabbath surround by ghastly spirits who have
gathered for his funeral. The frightful sounds of groans, shrieks, and shrill
laughter echo in his ears. Then, suddenly again the Idee fixe appears. It is his
beloved. But the familiar Idee fixe is no longer the reserved and noble melody
of the prior movements. The Idee fixe has now taken on new form and has become
vulgar and grotesque. She has come to this diabolical orgy. The witches greet
her with howling joy and she joins them in the demonic dance; Bells toll for the
Dead. Listening Guide 25 is the 4th movement, March To the Scaffold: The
diabolical march is in minor and the Idee fixe is heard in the last part of this
movement. The clarinet is the instrument that represents the Idee fixe and at
the very end it is cut off by a grievous fortissimo chord and then ends in a
hadean quintessence. Structure The medium is a large orchestra, (flute, piccolo,
2 clarinets, 4 french horns, 4 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, 2
ophideiodes, 2 timpani, bass drum, bells, strings). The form is loose tenary
(A-B-A). The movement is in 6 sections. It begins with the introduction of
ominous drumbeats and muted brass. The introduction ends with an exploding
crescendo of a base drum which immediately introduces the 2nd section of theme A
of low strings in a slow cautious tempo, and is picked up by violins. Theme B
brass and woodwinds enter and picks up the tempo of diabolical march tune. The
opening section is then repeated. The 3rd or mid section is the development
section. The tenary (B-A-B-A) Begins with theme B in brass, then theme A
pizzicato strings, alternating again to B in Brass then Theme A. The 5th section
is Theme A in full orchestra in original form, then inverted, (ascending scale).
The 6th section, the melody Idee fixe in clarinet, (“a last thought of
love”), in “dolce assai e passionato”, followed by loud chord that cuts
off melody, significant of (“the fall of the axe”). The introduction begins
with the distant sound of a steady beating drum that seems to become louder .
The steady beat is a march It has a serious tone with a non changing beat. The
melody of the march is flat and gives a sense of impending dume. The brass
bursts in on the monotone drum beat and suddenly takes over the melody and soars
in an ascending sound, reaching an apex and creschendos and then subsides with
low strings carrying the melody in a decending scale . There is a recapulation
of this ascending and descending sound and then the viola and bassoon
unassumingly enter and slowly begin to form there own quick little melody ,
totally unrelated to the grander melody of the brass that maintains the deeper,
grander, slower background. At the mid-section of this movement , it begins to
take on an abstract quality. The theme becomes more developed here and Belois
employs the use of oppisite extremes to relay the moods of a manic-depressive
state. He picks up the tempo in full ochrestra in what seems to be allegro in a
grand triumphant march and then adds a disjunct touch by sudden ly slowing the
tempo down in low strings to a delilerate depressive crawl. A dissonance of the
melody is heard when he adds a sczophrantic touch by adding the bizaar violin
plucks. In the last section at the closing, the strings pick up at a frantic
pace giving the feeling that a new moment of anxiety has arisen and then
suddenly, all is quiet and the Idee fixe, the sweet melody of the clarinet is
heard . Without warning the axe has fallen, the sweet clarinet melody is cut off
by the crash of a symbol and then the coda. My Impression Harriet Smithson
should be proud to have this symphonie written about her. The symphonie
fantastique fourth movement relates a quality of energy that is consistant with
inapropriate mood changes that can sometimes be captured when in a dream-like
state. The march to the scafold begins to become disoriented when rather then a
death march, it starts to develop a pompous overtone, and become more or a grand
prominade, but this is part of the composer’s genous. He composed the music to
what would be the disjunct qualities of a dream-like state. This music relates
an abstractness that is symbolic of the mind in a semi- conscious state.
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