Hector Berlioz

Symphonie fantastique for orchestra ("Episode de la vie d'un Artiste...en cinq parties"), H.48 (Op. 14)

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Berlioz composed this work in 1830 and conducted the first performance in Paris on December 5 of that same year. He revised it in 1832 and added two cornets to the instrumentation in 1845.

    Berlioz the composer was a full-blown Romantic, whose infatuation-at-first-sight with a pretty British ingénue named Harriet Smithson influenced his Fantastic Symphony. Miss Smithson came to Paris to play Shakespeare, Berlioz's hero (along with Virgil, Goethe, Gluck, Beethoven, Lord Byron, and Victor Hugo). Harriet was "The Beloved" of his programme fantastique. "A young musician of morbid sensibility...in a paroxysm of lovesick despair" attempts suicide, but takes only enough laudanum to induce hallucinations, in which his Beloved appears as a recurring melody with several personalities, finally as a bacchante at a satanic ritual. Despite the lurid scenario, Berlioz's five-movement structure owes more to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony than anyone seems to have noticed at the time, or, for that matter, since. Where Beethoven whipped up a storm, Berlioz created a mob scene that concludes with the protagonist's death: his decapitated head bounces into a waiting basket pizzicato. In the finale, Berlioz went far beyond Beethoven's merrymaking peasants; he created a witches' sabbath, without precedent in music before 1830. Along with liberating orchestral color, he overthrew the tyranny of bar-lines, downbeat accents, and academic dogma.

    "Dreams, Passions" begins with the hero's despair, a Largo introduction in C minor that leads to the main body of the movement in C (and later G) major, marked Agitato ed appassionato assai. The Beloved's signature melody is the main theme of a sonata structure with exposition repeat; she returns in the development, in the recap, and in a grand coda of notable length and contrapuntal éclat.

    "A Ball" (Allegro non troppo, A major) is the waltz without a trio, although a contrasting section in F major has unison flute and oboe playing the Beloved's theme.

    "Scene in the Fields" is an Adagio that begins and concludes with an antiphonal shepherds' duet on oboe and English horn. Near the end of a free-form central section, the Beloved appears. Four timpanists playing very softly -- a Berlioz signature -- imitate a distant storm before the two shepherds lead their flocks homeward.

    The G minor "March to the Scaffold" recreates a scene from the Revolution, Allegretto non troppo, with a repeat usually ignored in twentieth century performances. The protagonist dreams he's been condemned to die for killing his Beloved, who appears briefly as a clarinet, and he is guillotined as the crowd shouts approval.

    "Dream of the Witches' Sabbath" features a four-part structure after an eerie introduction in E flat. The Beloved's melody is the main theme of Part I, now, however, distorted and vulgarized by clarinets. Distant bells introduce Part II, in which bassoons and tuba play the Gregorian Dies irae. Part III is the Witches' Dance, a fugue that Berlioz called a ronde. Part IV combines the Dies irae and Witches' Dance until the latter triumphs, electrifyingly.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Rêveries - Passions. Largo - Allegro agitato e appassionato assai - Religiosamente
    2. Un bal: Valse. Allegro non troppo
    3. Scène aux champs. Adagio
    4. Marche au supplice. Allegro non troppo
    5. Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat. Larghetto - Allegro - Ronde du sabbat. Poco meno mosso

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Warner Classics 585041
    2018 Linn CKR 400
    2018 Sony Classical 88985495052
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 hd-klassik 3D 801801
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886691
    2017 Decca
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797477
    2017 Berlin Classics 0300840BC
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19028 CD
    2017 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16026
    2016 Alpha ALPHA 539
    2016 Gall (formerly Gallo) CD 1448
    2016 Decca / London
    2016 RCO RCO 16006
    2016 Decca
    2016 Sony Classical 88875192882
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2016 Berliner Philharmoniker BPHR 160081
    2016 CuGate Classics CGC 004
    2016 Erato 557140
    2016 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902244
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 225
    2015 Urania WS 121195
    2015 Accentus PHR 0101
    2015 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186211
    2015 CSO Resound CSOR 9011501
    2015 K-Tel 136431
    2015 Arbiter ARBITER 162
    2015 Coviello Classics COV 91508
    2015 Erato 0825646154975
    2015 RCO RCO 15002
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894795229
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Lodia Music LOCD 777
    2014 Helicon Classics / Helicon Records HEL 029673
    2014 Opus KURA OPK 2108
    2014 BR Klassik 900121
    2014 Oehms Classics OC 692
    2014 LSO Live / LSO Live (UK) LSO 0757
    2014 Gall (formerly Gallo) CD 1416
    2014 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic 93313
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Decca
    2013 Bella Musica BM 312450
    2013 Bella Musica
    2013 Hi. Q HIQRCD 14
    2013 Decca
    2013 Decca 4785350
    2013 ICA Classics ICAC 5105
    2013 Oehms Classics OC 869
    2013 Decca
    2013 Decca 4785601
    2013 Oehms Classics OC 090
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791044
    2012 Linn Records CKD 400
    2012 Naxos 8572886
    2012 Naxos NBD 0029
    2012 Analekta AN 29998
    2012 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic HAEN 94614
    2012 Entertainment Group 4030
    2012 Naxos 8501057
    2012 Praga PRD 350071
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 ABC Classics 344862
    2012 Concerto / Zebralution
    2011 Red Bus Classical RCLAS 036
    2011 BIS 1800
    2011 Apex 256467870
    2011 Decca
    2011 Warner Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099909795723
    2011 Decca
    2011 EMI Classics 18709
    2011 Warner Classics
    2010 Classics & Jazz / Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4779111
    2010 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010 Decca 4782358
    2010 AAO Music
    2010 Alto / Musical Concepts 1064
    2010 Actes Sud / Musicales Actes Sud 02
    2010 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099962857
    2010 Classic Records / Classic Records 2022
    2010 Signum Classics / Signum UK 193
    2010 Erato
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT100101
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Cascavelle 3112
    2010 Decca / Eloquence 4800053
    2010 AAO Music
    2010 Decca
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    2010 PentaTone Classics 5186338
    2010 San Francisco Symphony 33
    2010 Orfeo 821102
    2010 Sony Classical 8869768365
    2010 Cascavelle 3143
    2010 Capriccio Records 7065
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999906820
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778167
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Berlin Classics 0149572
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 EMI Classics 64299
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Urania / Urania Historical 22398
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921622
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
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    2009 Delta / Zebralution
    2009 Delta / Zebralution
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Berlin Classics 184522
    2009 Decca 4781746
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 474165
    2008 Berlin Classics 0014252BC
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 469478
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 Urania 342
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5679712
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon
    2008 Archipel 0403
    2008 Landscape Classics
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4630802
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2007 ABC Classics 4765957
    2007 Decca
    2007 Decca 0743212
    2007 PentaTone Classics 5186184
    2007 Opus Arte OA 0977 D
    2007 Apex
    2007 Decca 4758204
    2007 Amado Classics 4000
    2007 Berlin Classics 0186002
    2006 Universal
    2006 Koss 1005
    2006 Berlin Classics 0185362
    2006 Philips 000701202
    2006 Erato
    2006 Virgin 363286
    2006 Capriccio Records 71094
    2006 Decca
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    2006 Archipel 290
    2006 Artone 222357
    2006 Urania 304
    2006 Edel Classics 0002332
    2006 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 41428
    2006 Andante AN2150
    2005 Madacy 50503
    2005 Mercury 4756622
    2005 Virgin Classics 62486
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    2005 Resonance 3045
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    2005 BBC Legends / BBC Music 41632
    2005 Preiser Records 90661
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 68929
    2004 Telarc Distribution 60650
    2004 Rca Red Seal 60859
    2004 United Audio Entertai / United Multi Consign 65032
    2004 Philips 000334719
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 474987
    2004 Urania 257
    2004 Universal Classics 000173402
    2004 Centurion Classics 2103
    2004 Haenssler 93103
    2004 Urania 266
    2004 RCA 60393
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 474 980-2GM10
    2003 Philips 000157302
    2003 LSO Live 46
    2003 Telarc Distribution 80076
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    2003 RCA 34168
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 575570
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474 209-2GH
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    2003 Decca 000017402
    2003 Philips 000150902
    2003 Brilliant 99999
    2003 Past Perfect 205633
    2003 History 45515
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474 440-2
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75106
    2002 Naïve V 4935
    2002 Urania 202
    2002 Testament 1272
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 575562
    2002 Arbiter ARBITER133
    2002 Sony Classical 89833
    2002 Cascavelle 3037
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 195072
    2001 Naxos 553597
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    2001 St. Clair 7361
    2001 JVC Compact Discs 1
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    2001 LSO 7
    2001 Telarc Distribution 80578
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    2001 Classica d'Oro 1039
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 471242
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    2001 History 205241
    2000 Teldec 82121
    2000 Orfeo D'Or 499991
    2000 Eloquence / Philips 4681272
    2000 Unesco 70641
    2000 Dutton Laboratories CDK1208
    2000 Direct Source 66172
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 66598
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469 118-2GP2
    2000 Disky 70674
    2000 BBC Music 4402
    2000 Music & Arts 1054
    2000 Music & Arts CD1054
    1999 Decca 460635
    1999 Angel Records 73338
    1999 Warner Classics
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    1999 Iron Needle 1305
    1999 Sony Classical 60968
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 67034
    1999 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 506
    1999 Music & Arts 4822
    1999 Chandos 9052
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 447398
    1999 BBC Legends / BBC Music 40182
    1999 Platinum Entertainment 3855
    1998 Concert Classics 5504
    1998 Delos 3229
    1998 Carlton Classics 6900052
    1998 Arte Nova 7432146492
    1998 Valois 4826
    1998 RCA 902668979
    1998 Intersound 2831
    1998 RCA 902668930
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459015
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459 067-2GCC10
    1998 Virgin 61513
    1998 Intersound 3842
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78850
    1998 Auvidis 4822
    1997 Philips 456143
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 695122A
    1997 Carlton Classics 02162
    1997 Virgin Veritas 61379
    1997 Discover 920421
    1997 Denon Records 18023
    1997 Point Classics 267015
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453432
    1997 Decca 448955
    1997 Tahra 175/8
    1997 EG Records 701582
    1996 Teldec 98800
    1996 Gemini 609
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447406
    1996 RCA 68444
    1996 Intersound 2513
    1995 RCD 13002
    1995 Vanguard 9017
    1995 Seraphim UK / Warner Classics 7243569020
    1995 Seraphim UK
    1995 Seraphim UK 568525
    1995 Curb 78007
    1995 Vox 8516
    1995 Intersound 3816
    1994 Philips 442 290-2PM2
    1994 Philips 438939
    1994 Teldec 90855
    1994 Koss 1012
    1994 Music & Arts 822
    1994 Vai 1081
    1994 Berlin Classics 0021482
    1993 Harmonia Mundi 390072
    1993 Intersound 2050
    1993 Reference Recordings 11
    1993 Denon Records 73208
    1993 Mercury 434328
    1993 Decca 4368392
    1993 Chesky Records 88
    1993 Philips 434402
    1993 ASV 6090
    1993 RCA 61721
    1993 Pearl 9012
    1993 Music & Arts 762
    1992 Sony Music Distribution SMK-47525
    1992 Philips 432151
    1992 RCA 61203
    1991 Teldec 74791
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 46329
    1990 CBS Records 39859
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 429511
    1989 EMI Music Distribution 549541
    1984 Deutsche Grammophon 410895
    1984 Philips 411425
    1983 Telarc Distribution 80076
    History 204554
    Polygram 000
    Decca 4757747/5
    RFCM Symphony Orchestra
    Intersound 848
    RPO 7016
    LaserLight 14283
    Naxos 8 550093
    Erato 45925
    Stradivari Classics 6021
    Hicone 9421
    Classic / Classic Records HDAD 2022
    London 400046
    Brilliant 99999/1
    Denon Records 73218
    EMI Music Distribution 62605
    Denon Records 78902
    IMP BBC Radio Classics 9117
    Deutsche Grammophon 431624
    Amado Classics 04004
    BBC Music Magazine 113
    Eclipse Records 1309
    Vox Allegretto 8012
    Lodia Compact Discs 777
    EMI Music Distribution 47278
    Pickwick 1129
    Collins Records 3047
    Leningrad Masters 1309
    RCA 7735
    Musique d'Or 1026
    Nuova Era 6302
    Excelsior Recordings 005
    London 414203
    Enterprise 965
    Supraphonet 111103
    Vanguard 0104
    Pickwick 1606
    Virgin 61100
    Denon Records 8097
    Arkadia 4371
    Russian Revelation 10062
    Grammofono 2000 78832
    Brilliant Classics 93808
    Erato 89533
    Decca 458011
    RCA Victor 61894
    Bescol 520
    Testament 1234
    Theorema 121153
    London 430201
    Masters of the Millennium 2019
    London 452305
    Compose Records 9148
    Centurion Classics 10005
    SiRiO 5300
    Grammofono 2000 78580
    Palladio 4202
    Deutsche Grammophon
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    Denon Records 17009
    CBS Records 38475
    London 430441
    London 417705
    RCA Silver Seal 60478
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    Lys 368
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    ABC Classics 4765960
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