by Hector Berlioz
, a groundbreaking work in Romantic
music. It was first performed in Paris on 5 December 1830. Beethoven
had already created the programmatic
symphony in his Pastoral
, but Berlioz told an entire story in his.
The young Berlioz witnessed Hamlet on 11 September 1827, and four days later Romeo and Juliet. The company was an English touring company starring the beautiful Irish actor Harriet Smithson as Ophelia and Juliet. He was thunderstruck and lovestruck by both Shakespeare and Smithson. He tried over the next few years to get her attention and proclaim his love.
The Symphonie fantastique or "Episode in the Life of an Artist" tells of an artist (a musician) who falls in love with a beautiful young woman and tries to attract her attention. She is represented by the idée fixe, fixed idea or leitmotiv, another Berlioz invention, which recurs in different forms throughout the movements. Having five rather than four movements was also new.
- Rêveries, Passions. The reveries and passions the artist experiences include love, joy, torment, jealousy.
- Un bal. At a ball, he tries to forget himself in the gaiety, but her presence overcomes him.
- Scène aux champs. Seeking solitude in the country, thoughts of his beloved continue to haunt him.
- Marche au supplice. March to the scaffold. The artist takes opium and dreams he has murdered his beloved.
- Songe d'une nuit de sabbat. Dream of a sabbath night. Weird echoing horrible sounds surround the spirit of the executed artist, including a distorted Dies irae and the grotesque ghost of the idée fixe.
The Symphonie fantastique
was technically innovative in a multitude of ways, picking up where Berlioz's revered Beethoven (whose work he had only just heard before composing it) left the Romantic symphony. The augmented orchestra
Berlioz required for it included two harps, a cor anglais
, an E flat clarinet, two ophicleide
s, four timpani
, and lots more percussion. The modern orchestra was effectively created by Berlioz.
He did woo and marry Harriet in 1833, but the marriage did not live up to its romantic beginnings. A sequel to the piece, called Lélio or "Return to Life", has never achieved the popularity or memorability of the Fantastic Symphony, one of the most appealing of all works of that age.