Music Fueled By Desire Hector Berlioz Symphony Fantastique

Impressions

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. What can these reactions tell us about what Berlioz was trying to do? Was he a typical Romantic artist wearing his heart on his sleeve? Or was he an obsessed, crazy man using music for some diabolical purpose?

 

 


“Monsieur Berlioz’s talent is eminently somber and fantastic; it seems that he aims at ferocity; his thought is in some sense always full of anger, and he excels only at painting violent scenes, the torturing of the soul and of nature.”
—from Le Temps, Sunday, December 26, 1830

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. What can these reactions tell us about what Berlioz was trying to do? Was he a typical Romantic artist wearing his heart on his sleeve? Or was he an obsessed, crazy man using music for some diabolical purpose?

Schumann, recognizing the “intimacy, remorse and ardor” of the third movement, wonders at the madness of this one.

“Now, this is where one who wanted to earn the name of ‘Artist’ would have stopped and celebrated the victory of Art over Life. But she, but she! Tasso was thus driven into the madhouse. But in Berlioz the old destructive fury awakens redoubled, and he lays about him with real Titan’s fists. And just as he, dazzled by the artistic illusion of possessing his beloved, warmly embraces the artificial figure, so too the music, loathsome and vulgar, wraps itself around his dreams and around his attempt at suicide.”


What's Your Impression?

What does this violent turn of events tell you about Berlioz’s feelings for Harriet?
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