Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was so novel and so shocking—for its program and its music—that it immediately caused an uproar, in the press, from other composers, even from Berlioz’s friends. Many, finding the story distasteful, were aghast that a composer would put into music something so explicitly autobiographical.
IN THREE DIFFERENT VERSIONS of the program, we see that Berlioz changed his story in subtle ways. Some of these changes refer to Harriet. Do they reflect Berlioz’s own changing feelings for his heroine?
The instruments of the orchestra fall into four major families: strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion. See a picture of the instruments used in Berlioz’s orchestra; hear the sound of that instrument and see the members of the orchestra talking about their own experiences in music.
More nightmare than dream, as Berlioz describes: “[The artist] sees himself at the sabbath, in the midst of a frightful troop of ghosts, sorcerers, monsters of every kind, come together for his funeral. Strange noises, groans, bursts of laughter, distant cries which other cries seem to answer.” The idée fixe has turned grotesque and the movement finishes with violence and frenzy.
The drama unfolds: “Convinced that his love is unappreciated, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of the narcotic, too weak to kill him, plunges him into a sleep accompanied by the most horrible visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned and led to the scaffold, and that he is witnessing his own execution.”
Here Berlioz wrote of his artist protagonist: “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.”
In this movement the story continues: “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 peace of mind.”