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Symphonie Fantastique relates a druginduced series of morbid fantasies concerning
the unrequited love of a sensitive poet
involving murder, execution, and the
torments of Hell.
Features of Romanticism
 Emotionalism
 Self-Expression
 Individuality
 Nationalism
 Programme Music
 Large orchestra
 Expanded forms, dynamic ranges etc
Berlioz the composer
 A French romantic composer
 Compositions reflect his deeply emotional
nature and his passion for life and love
 Innovative.
 Flexible approach to form and structure.
 Aware of possibilities of drama and
 A leading authority in orchestration, tonecolours and timbre.
The Symphony
Grew out of fast-slow-fast Italian overture.
Established as a 4-movement form in Classical period by
composers such as Haydn & Mozart.
Expanded further by Beethoven, becoming dramatic &
Developed in the Romantic period into the programme
symphony, often with 5 movements.
Symphonie Fantastique
 Innovative
 5 movements
 Program Music
 Each movement has a title and tells the story of
Berlioz’ dreams with regard to his infatuation with
Harriet Smithson.
 Movements are threaded together by the idee fixe
- a recurring theme representing Harriet.
The Programme
 The
story is a window which invites the listener into
the work.
 Be familiar with the images Berlioz is portraying in
each movement.
Be able to visualise the images in the music
This leads to easier examination and analysis of the
required movements.
• Candidates may well hear some resonances of
Beethoven, whose music Berlioz admired
• Berlioz’s originality, however, lay very much in
the field of orchestration, in which he was
extremely innovative.
• He often used an extraordinarily large
orchestra and scored very precisely to achieve
exactly the effects he wanted.
AN INNOVATIVE ORCHESTRATOR, Berlioz assigned each instrument its own emotional
Woodwind – 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes plus off-stage oboe,
English horn, 2 clarinets, piccolo clarinet, 4 bassoons
Brass - 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas,
Percussion - timpani, cymbals, snare drums, bass drums and
Strings - 2 harps and strings – Berlioz specified at least 15 1st
violins, 15 2nd violins, 10 violas, 11 celli and 9 basses
*** 60 players in the string section as opposed to an average of 42 in the
Classical Period
In the Romantic Period string sections were significantly enlarged to produce a
louder, fuller string sound that could match the loudness of the large brass
instrument sections used in orchestral music from this period
English horn or Cor Anglais – double reed instrument in the oboe
family - Video
Piccolo Clarinet – smaller and higher pitched
Cornet – similar to a trumpet but has a mellower sound
Timpani – Also known as kettle drums
Film music composers often use leitmotifs to
help build a sense of continuity. A leitmotif is a
recurring musical idea (a melody, chord
sequence, rhythm or a combination of these)
which is associated with a particular idea,
character or place.
Famous Movie Leitmotifs
Idée fixe
• Berlioz had a unique idea. He wrote a special
theme, which he called his idée fixe to represent
• Unlike most symphonies of the time, whose
movements were built from distinct themes, the
Symphonie Fatastique was marked by a persistent
theme – the Idée fixe, which surfaces in various
forms in all five movements of the work
• Watch videos
Seeing how Berlioz treats his theme throughout the
symphony can help us unravel just what he thought of her.
Listen to the theme as it first appears. How does it first
characterize Harriet?
How does the music describe the anticipation that ‘Berlioz’ feels
upon seeing her?
Symphonie Fantastique
The ‘artist’ in the symphony’s subtitle, ‘Episode in the life of an artist’, is a
musician, and it is not over-fanciful to interpret this figure as Berlioz himself.
Since this instrumental drama lacks the assistance of words,
an explanation of its plan is necessary. The following
program, therefore, should be thought of as it were the
spoken text of an opera, serving to introduce the musical
movements and to explain their character and expression.
The music of the three movements
represents a composer’s imagination –
memories, longings, dreams (and
Symphonie Fantastique
• In contrast to the strong narratives of the two
operas, the music of these three movements
represents a composer’s imagination –
memories, longings, dreams (and nightmares).
Movement II: Un bal
The composer’s programme describes a
ball at which he catches sight of his
‘The artist finds himself in the most
varied situations – in the midst of the
tumult of a party, in the peaceful
contemplation of the beauties of
nature; but everywhere, in town, in the
country, the beloved image appears
before him and disturbs his mind’
Movement II: Un bal
Introduction 0:00-0:43
Before the ball gets under way, an anticipatory
mood is suggested. What sort of ‘anticipation’?
How do we hear it? Something ‘grows’ – is it
only the excitement and bustle of people
arriving for a party? Or perhaps the composer’s
own emotions? Both? How does it grow?
Movement II: Un bal
Principal waltz theme
• Dynamics: there is a sustained crescendo from the beginning pp to
• Key: it begins in the tonic minor mode shifting harmonies
constantly until the ff tonic major chord ‘lights up’ the scene at bar
• Rising pitch: the ascending arpeggio figure played by cellos and
basses moves steadily upwards in a sequence (two harps echo this
in shorter note values)
• Texture: trembling upper strings (tremolo) throughout until bar 32,
- tutti (i.e. including full woodwind and brass – there is no
percussion in this movement) at bar 30 to emphasize the end
• The punctuating perfect cadence that announces the start of the
dance (the curtain goes up on a glittering scene?)
Movement II: Un bal
• The movement is a brisk waltz (valse) of the
sort that was fashionable in nineteenthcentury Paris
• In triple time, its principal theme has, when
first heard, a conventional ‘oom-pah-pah’
• Based on a single extended theme which
sub-divides into 3 distinct parts.
• Includes two appearances of the Idée Fixe
Structure of Un Bal
Task - Identify the main markers of this movement
• Listen out for the different sections and write down
their timings
• Locate the entrances of the idee fix and the waltz theme
• Describe what is happening in each section in terms of
orchestration (melody and accompaniment), texture,
dynamics, tempo
Musical Features
Crescendo pp to ff, Rising pitch: the ascending arpeggio figure played by cellos
and basses moves steadily upwards in a sequence , key change from minor to
major at the climax Texture: trembling upper strings (tremolo) and then Tutti to
emphasize the ending with a perfect cadence. Shimmering strings
Harps play glissando becoming more frequent and louder
Principal waltz
Part 1, 0:43 Part 2, 1:05 Part 3 1:18. Each theme is immediately preceded by
it’s own 2-bar introduction – these intro’s are a feature of this movement.. In
3/8 time. Starts with strings only with a slight slow down at 0:56. Oom pah pah
accompaniment. Theme is followed by ascending figures in flutes and clarinets
then followed by descending passages in the strings
Principal waltz
theme repeated
As the theme repeats, and continues into new figures the texture builds up: ,
woodwind join in and the string texture becomes more complex. The momentum
increases (no slowing down this time) A sudden moment of shock, dynamic
change and descending strings leads us into…
Idée fixe
Combined with the waltz theme. Melody played by solo flute and oboe In 3/8
time. The yearning figure is played higher and higher until it dies away. A ‘fleeting
vision’ of her in the tumult of the ball
Waltz Theme
It becomes more richly orchestrated and more dynamic and animated as the
tempo increases. Triplet in the clarinet and flute pattern modified and joined by
the cornet. The music builds as if it was going to end but then…
Idée fixe
This time on it’s own played by solo clarinet without the waltz accompaniment.
Much shorter version. Perhaps the beloved is in full view of the artist and so the
theme is played in a purer version?
A whirling rush ends the music. The dancers spin faster and faster. Might this wild
excitement also reflect the faster beating of the composer’s own heart as his
passion increases? The artist is left alone amongst the swirling of the festivities
Movement II: Un bal
Principal waltz theme
• An understated beginning: strings only, quietly; a
swirling theme, almost classically balanced in its
phrasing; a slight (lingering?) slowing down at bars
• As the theme repeats, and continues into new
figures the texture builds up: harps return at bar 54,
woodwind join in at bar 62.
• The momentum increases (no slowing down the
second time at bars 105–6), the string texture
becomes more complex (cellos imitating 1st violins at
two beats’ distance from bar 78 onwards).
Movement II: Un bal
Principal waltz theme
• The ‘oom-pah-pah’ is shared between harps and woodwind
from bar 94, giving an off-beat or slightly less stable feel (as
though the dancers are becoming less restrained, more
animated, up on their toes, perhaps?).
• Candidates might be encouraged to listen carefully to
subsequent appearances of this theme, noting other
similarities and differences in the scoring,
• e.g. at bar 175 it is doubled an octave lower by violas,
enriching the tone colour of the strings; it is taken up by the
woodwind at bar 233 and, by bar 253, woodwind and 1st
violins are playing it an octave higher.
Movement II: Un bal
• Coda
• The second sighting of the beloved interrupts a long tutti passage
that had, from bar 256 onwards, where Berlioz instructs ‘animez’,
sounded increasingly like a grand closing section for the dance.
After the second appearance of the idée fixe the pace resumes
more steadily at the original tempo, but con fuoco; after eighteen
bars, Berlioz again says ‘animez’, then, after the next sixteen,
‘serrez’ (meaning ‘push on even more’). The scoring is also very full
and busy. Can candidates hear the horns’ descending scale in bars
338–345? Spurred on by the frantic opening figure of the waltz
theme, now in perpetual motion and rising in pitch from bar 338,
the dancers spin faster and faster. Might this wild excitement also
reflect the faster beating of the composer’s own heart as his
passion increases?
Movement III: Scène aux champs –
Scene in the fields
• Musical heart of the symphony (5 movements)
• The pivotal point in the whole drama
• Set in reality like the other movements – this
time in the countryside. The artist is relaxed
and calm
• He hears two piping shepherds across a vast
alpine valley
Scene in the fields
The use of English horn and oboe give the
movement a pastoral feel. The lover is in a field
(represents Berlioz when he use to visit his
grandparents). He hears shepards in the
background piping a beautiful melody. He dreams
of his beloved. The idee fixe is heard several times
however, the pastoral feel is lost when the timpani
beings signifying a thunder storm. It starts of softly
demonstrating that the storm is far away but the
music gets louder representing the storm moving
closer and closer.
Movement III: Scène aux champs –
Scene in the fields
Watch the first 7 minutes of the YouTube clip of
the analysis of Movement III
What musical devices does Berlioz use to
• give the feeling that the story is now set in the
countryside and the sense of space and
perspective that exists?
• depict the two shepherds piping?
Movement III: Scène aux champs –
Scene in the fields
• Call and response between cor anglais and off-stage oboe
represents two piping shepherds communicating across an alpine
• What might the strange viola tremolos suggest?
• Peaceful mood and feeling of space created (especially by the use
of the off-stage oboe) which creates a sense of distance
• Use of F major (a key which reflects calm and tranquility
• Slow tempo - Adagio
• The quiet, reflective mood lends itself to the suggestion that the
composer is relaxed and daydreaming.
• ‘Yearning’ quality of the pastoral theme repeated higher at 3.003.20 and 4.12-4:38 before eventually falling away
• Birdsong at 6:22-7.00 evokes the country setting
Program Notes – Movement 3
Finding himself one evening in the country, he hears in the distance two
shepherds piping a ranz des vaches in dialogue. This pastoral duet, the
scenery, the quiet rustling of the trees gently brushed by the wind, the hopes
he has recently found some reason to entertain—all concur in affording his
heart an unaccustomed calm, and in giving a more cheerful color to his ideas.
He reflects upon his isolation: he hopes that his loneliness will soon be over.
— But what if she were deceiving him!—This mingling of hope and fear, these
ideas of happiness disturbed by black presentiments, form the subject of the
Adagio. At the end one of the shepherds again takes up the ranz des vaches:
the other no longer replies.—Distant sound of thunder—loneliness—silence.
A Ranz des Vaches or Kuhreihen is a simple
melody traditionally played on the horn by the
Swiss Alpine herdsmen as they drove their
cattle to or from the pasture. The Kuhreihen
was linked to the Swiss nostalgia and
Movement III: Scène aux champs –
Scene in the fields
• From 7:15 the mood begins to change and grows darker
• Abrupt change of mood disturbs the tranquillity as thoughts of the
beloved enter the composer’s mind (idée fixe) at 8:06 played on the
flute and oboe
• idée fix combined with the sigh and agitated basses and falling
• At 9.11 considerable change of mood (Listen how Berlioz has
• “But what if she were deceiving him?”
• From 7:53-9.40 – Listen to this section and highlight the key
changes of mood in the music? What is the state of mind of the
artist now?
• Jealous rages when the artist sees his beloved with someone else?
• Berlioz uses the whole orchestra
• Angry tremolo from the bassoons and lower strings
‘Scene in the fields’ – movie trailer
• Listen to the section of music from Movement III
• Draw a timeline from 0.00-1.44
• Imagine this was a movie trailer, identify the key ‘action’ or ‘cue’
points where you think something happens or changes
• You know the background to the story so now be creative and think
what could be happening at these action points or cues
• Describe musically what is happening that led you to think about
the action you described above
Present your work to the other group
Psycho versus Berlioz
Scene in the fields – Scene from a film
Basses play very agitated
Long sustained note in Flute almost like a cry
Falling scale from Idee fixe now resentful and angry
Tremolo – expresses unrest, excitement and terror
Use of diminished 7th chords
Contrasting high pitched melody against rapid notes in
the bass line
Growling bass line in low strings
Use of diminished chords
Short staccato ff chords
Off beat chords
Scene in the fields – Scene from a film
• What if the artist were to see his beloved in
the arms of another man? What if she
betrayed him?
• All his strength is gone. He is left alone,
sobbing and exhausted
Scene in the fields – Final Scene
• Listen from 14:37 Outro
• Spot the differences from the ‘Intro’
Scene in the fields – Final Scene
• The cor anglais calls out but there is no response from
the off stage oboe instead just the sound of thunder
from the timpani
• The thunderous answer is created by four timpani
playing chords, another example of Berlioz’s innovative
use of orchestration
• Calling Shepherd may be referred to the artist himself
calling out to his beloved the question ‘ Is my love
• The thunderous timpani seem to answer no
• The sound of doom seems to ring out
• Multiple attempts at a dialogue
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
The fourth movement takes on a nightmarish
character: having taken opium, the young artist
dreams that he has killed his true love and is
about to be executed for his crime.
This movement thus depicts the artist’s forced
march to the scaffold.
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
• Based on two very distinct and distinctive
• Idée fixe appears, as it does in every
movement, but this time only once
• Listen to the introduction. How does Berlioz
foreshadow what is to come?
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Introduction 0:00-0:31
• G minor
• insistent, very controlled beating of the drums;
we are waiting for something
• Evokes impending doom – low double bass
• There is an excited buzz as the distant sounds of
an approaching military band are heard.
• The horns repeat the first two bars of what will
eventually be the full march tune.
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Introduction 0:00-0:31
• At the opening of this movement Berlioz tells
the horns to pitch their notes by the use of
their lips, and with hands in the bell, ‘without
using valves’ – because he wants the notes to
be very quiet and slightly muffled – distant
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Listen to theme 1.
Describe the musical elements
How many times does it repeat
Identify how the instrumentation and texture
change with repetition of Theme 1
Theme 1
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Theme 1 – Descending theme
• 2-octave span
• G minor
• Fierce theme spirals relentlessly downward pulling our
hero with it
• It is heard 5 times here - consider the changes in
instrumentation and treatment of the theme in each
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Theme 1 – Descending theme
• 2-octave span
• G minor
• Fierce theme spirals relentlessly downward pulling our
hero with it
• It is heard 5 times here - consider the changes in
instrumentation and treatment of the theme in each
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Theme 1 – Descending theme repeats x 5
1. Cellos and double basses play theme – 2 octaves
2. Counter melody in bassoons. Higher cellos
3. Octave theme now in 1st and 2nd violins, stactatto
counter melody in the lower strings, dramatic chord
at the end
4. Stacatto counter melody continues in the strings, 2
octave theme again in the violins, timpani rolls and
chords at the end
5. Quaver idea moves to the bassons, Violins have
theme in pizzicato
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
• Listen to Theme 2 – How is it it’s character
different and orchestration different?
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Theme 2 – March Theme
• Triumphant march which takes our hero to the scaffold
• This is typical of military band music often heard outdoors in France
in the nineteenth century
• 4/4
• Bb Major
• Syncopated and strong, forward-moving rhythms - The dotted
rhythm of its second and third bars will supply one of the many wild
figures used later in the movement
• very full brass, woodwind and percussion sections (no strings at this
• Transformation of the pastoral theme from Movement 3
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Listen to section 5:04
Development and Coda section
How does the new texture and the treatment of
the themes contribute to the suggestion that
the mood of the crowd - and the man about to
be executed- is close to being ‘out of control’?
Movement IV - Marche au Supplice –
March to the Scaffold
Swirling violins
Fortissimo to pianissimo
Dramatic chords
Descending theme inverted
Descending scale
Juxtaposed chords a tritone (6 semitones)
apart – the Devil’s interval!
Movement IV – March to the Scaffold
• The tumultuous treatment of the scalic theme stops abruptly (the
crowd is hushed?). In the brief silence, the first phrase only of the
idée fixe is played (‘dolce assai e appassionato – as sweetly and
passionately as possible’) by solo, unaccompanied clarinet – distant
and removed
• The idee fixe appears only once, as a sudden reminiscence just
before the guillotine strikes the young man’s head right off and the
movement comes to a perversely joyous conclusion
• The only personal note is the fleeting image of the beloved that
passes before the composer’s eyes at the last moment before the
guillotine falls – a truncated version of the idée fixe - followed by
the macabre dull thud of falling pizzicatos.
• final (major) chords triumphant rejoicing (the cheers of the crowd?)
at the conclusion of the ritual?
Movement V
• Listen to the distorted version of the idee fixe
in Movement V
Answering the question
PRACTICE EXAM QUESTION - for submission on Monday 2
With reference to movements II, III and IV of Berlioz’s
Symphonie Fantastique discuss a range of examples to show
how instrumental music can tell a story, or suggest visual
images, or express mood or character. [35 marks]
What are the key moments in
the piece?
• The build up to the ball
• The ball itself
• Shepherds scene
• Scene in the fields movie trailer section
• Themes 1 and 2 in Movement 4
• The ending of Movement 4 - Compare the sense of
glory in the march theme with the despair and
loneliness of the Idee fixe in movement 4
Think about Orchestration, texture, key,
• Ipad app - The orchestra
• The context is extensively explored in the Norton Critical Score of
the work (ed. Cone, Edward T., 1971), which also contains very clear
translations of the programme and useful discussions of each