Romantic Program Music
Hector Berlioz and the Program
Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869)
• b. 1803,
France; d. 1869,
• Father was a physician who wanted Hector
to follow in his footsteps and sent him to
medical school to do so; however, Hector
was more interested in music than medicine
and opted to pursue the former, much to the
dismay of his family; they cut him off.
• Berlioz was forced to give private lessons,
sing in a theater chorus and various other
chores in order to make his living.
• Early on Berlioz fell under the influence of
• Berlioz fell madly in love with an actress,
Harriet Smithson, who was part of a visiting
English acting troupe.
• In 1830 Berlioz was awarded the coveted
Prix de Rome, which carried with it a year's
study in Rome. During that year, Berlioz
composed one of his most famous and
enduring works, the Symphonie fantastique.
• Returning to Paris, Berlioz resumed a
stormy courtship with Harriet Smithson,
over the objection of both his parents and of
hers. After much heartache, including an
attempted suicide by Berlioz, they were
married. After a few years of relative
happiness and tremendous productivity,
both his marriage and his compositional
• While Berlioz really never attained
complete acceptance in Paris, he spent his
time as one of the premier music critics of
the nineteenth century. He was embittered,
however, that he should spend his time
earning money critiquing the music of
lesser musicians while his own work went
– Les Troyens - monumental work with
libretto after Vergil
– Beatrice et Benedict - Berlioz' last work
(at age 49)
• Great Choral Works
– Requiem (Mass for the Dead, 1837)
– Te Deum (Hymn of Praise, 1849)
– L'enfance du Christ (oratorio, 1854)
Perhaps Berlioz' greatest contribution was his
genius of orchestration. It was Berlioz
who became most successful in dealing
with the mixing of new instrumental
combinations to create new sonorities. That
is why conductor Felix Weingartner called
Berlioz "the creator of the modern
fantastique, fourth movement
• Written at the height of Berlioz' infatuation
with Harriet Smithson. He was 27.
• Written as a "novel in tones." Contains a
somewhat autobiographical program.
A young musician of morbid sensibility and
ardent imagination in a paroxysm of
lovesick despair has poisoned himself with
opium. The drug, too weak to kill, plunges
him into a heavy sleep accompanied by
strange visions. His sensations, feelings,
and memories are translated in his sick
brain into musical images and ideas. The
beloved one herself becomes for him a
melody, a recurrent theme (idée fixe) that
haunts him everywhere."
• The "fixed idea" that symbolizes the beloved is subjected to
variation in harmony, rhythm, meter, tempo, dynamics register,
and instrumental color.
• "Reveries, Passions"
– The fixed idea is introduced in a soaring
melody (see p. 291 for fixed idea) and is
recapitulated by full orchestra at the
climax of the movement.
– This movement depicts the yearning and
depth of the lover towards his beloved.
• "A Ball"
– Dance movement in ternary form.
– The fixed idea occurs in the middle
section in waltz time as the lover catches
a glimpse of his love.
• "Scene in the Fields"
– The lover is listening to the piping of two
shepherds when his beloved appears and
pain fills his soul in this slow,
• "March to the Scaffold"
– He dreams he has killed his beloved and
is marching to the scaffold, a condemned
– At the very end the fixed idea reappears
for an instant, like a last thought of love
interrupted by the fall of the axe. This is
an excellent example of the nineteenth
century love for depiction of the fantastic.
– See Listening Guide 30, pp. 269-270, (CD
• "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath"
– Includes the mixture of the elements of
diabolical with a statement of the chant
from the Dies irae of the Requiem Mass.
– This movement depicts the dance of the
specters (including his murdered beloved)
who come to dance at the lover's funeral.