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Classical 101

A Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz

Hector Berlioz

  When the Symphonie fantastique of French composer Hector Berlioz appeared in 1830, no one had ever heard anything quite like it.  

Beethoven's symphonies (particularly Nos. 3, 5, and 9) announced the transition from the "Classical Era" of Haydn and Mozart, to the "Romantic Era," with its elevation of the struggle of the individual against oppressive (and sometimes collective) forces.  

Berlioz and his "Fantastic Symphony" shows what can happen when the artist revels in his inner emotions just a bit too much, especially if it involves drug-induced states and his own psychological demons.

The complete title of Berlioz's masterpiece (in English translation), "Fantastical Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts, Op. 14," suggests a pretty detailed narrative.  Indeed there is, and you can read a complete description from the composer of the five movements of this nearly hour-long musical tale of infatuation leading to intoxication, madness, and in the artist's opium-induced visions, the murder of his beloved and his own execution.

It's all pretty dramatic and "fantastic" stuff and provides for wonderful and sometimes strange music that breaks the rules and creates new ones for the great composers of symphonic music to come.  Particularly, think of the tone-poems of Franz Liszt (Les Preludes) or even more perhaps, Richard Strauss, in whose music the individual is sometimes elevated to almost God-like status--think Ein Heldenleben, (A Hero's Life), which critics thought was Strauss glorifying himself.

You can revel in the creative sounds of the great French composer Hector Berlioz this evening on Symphony @ 7 on Classical 101 when I'll have a new recording of the Symphonie fantasique with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons.

Also, this week begins a series on Symphony @ 7 featuring the "World's Best Conductors" according to Bachtrack, an organization based in London.  They've compiled a list of the top ten conductors for this year, and Mariss Jansons is rated at no. 3.  Stay tuned for more on Symphony @ 7.