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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2020
    Hyperion
    CDA 68324
    2019
    Chandos
    CHSA 5239
    2019
    Wiener Symphoniker
    WS 020
    2019
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMM 902644
    2019
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMM 902503DI
    2019
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMM 902503
    2019
    Warner Classics
    9029561444
    2018
    Warner Classics
    585041
    2018
    Linn
    CKR 400
    2018
    Sony Classical
    88985495052
    2018
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2018
    IBA [Idil Biret Archives]
    8501207
    2018
    hd-klassik
    3D 801801
    2018
    Onyx / Onyx Classics
    ONYX 4188
    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
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4796018
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4795448
    2015
    Alpha
    ALPHA 225
    2015
    Urania
    WS 121195
    2015
    PentaTone Classics
    PTC 5186211
    2015
    Accentus
    PHR 0101
    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
    Helicon Classics / Helicon Records
    HEL 029673
    2014
    Lodia Music
    LOCD 777
    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
    Sony Classical
    88843013332
    2014
    Haenssler / Hänssler Classic
    93313
    2014
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2013
    Decca
    2013
    Bella Musica
    2013
    Bella Musica
    BM 312450
    2013
    Hi. Q
    HIQRCD 14
    2013
    Decca
    2013
    Decca
    4785350
    2013
    ICA Classics
    ICAC 5105
    2013
    Oehms Classics
    OC 869
    2013
    Decca
    4785601
    2013
    Decca
    2013
    Oehms Classics
    OC 090
    2013
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4791044
    2012
    Analekta
    AN 29998
    2012
    Naxos
    NBD 0029
    2012
    Linn Records
    CKD 400
    2012
    Naxos
    8572886
    2012
    Haenssler / Hänssler Classic
    HAEN 94614
    2012
    Entertainment Group
    4030
    2012
    Various Artists
    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
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099909795723
    2011
    Warner Classics
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Warner Classics
    2011
    EMI Classics
    18709
    2010
    Classics & Jazz / Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4779111
    2010
    Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010
    Decca
    4782358
    2010
    Actes Sud / Musicales Actes Sud
    02
    2010
    Alto / Musical Concepts
    1064
    2010
    Signum Classics / Signum UK
    193
    2010
    Erato
    2010
    Classic Records / Classic Records
    2022
    2010
    Erato / Virgin Classics
    5099962857
    2010
    AAO Music
    2010
    Denon Records
    2010
    Zig Zag Territoires
    ZZT100101
    2010
    Denon Records
    2010
    Cascavelle
    3112
    2010
    Decca / Eloquence
    4800053
    2010
    AAO Music
    2010
    Decca
    2010
    Decca
    2010
    PentaTone Classics
    5186338
    2010
    SFS Media
    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
    Various Artists
    Berlin Classics
    0149572
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    EMI Classics
    2009
    EMI Classics
    64299
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Urania / Urania Historical
    22398
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099921622
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Delta / Zebralution
    2009
    Delta / Zebralution
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Denon Records
    2009
    Berlin Classics
    184522
    2009
    Decca
    4781746
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    469478
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    474165
    2008
    Berlin Classics
    0014252BC
    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
    Various Artists
    Amado Classics
    4000
    2007
    Berlin Classics
    0186002
    2006
    Universal
    2006
    Berlin Classics
    0185362
    2006
    Erato
    2006
    Koss
    1005
    2006
    Philips
    000701202
    2006
    Virgin
    363286
    2006
    Capriccio Records
    71094
    2006
    Decca
    2006
    RCA Red Seal
    67899
    2006
    Universal
    2006
    EMI Classics
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution
    71467
    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
    Erato
    2005
    Virgin Classics
    62486
    2005
    EMI Digital
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Resonance
    3045
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    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
    2003
    EMI Classics
    2003
    Philips
    000109502
    2003
    Philips
    000180936
    2003
    RCA
    34168
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    575570
    2003
    Deutsche Grammophon
    474 209-2GH
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    85041
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    67972
    2003
    Decca
    000017402
    2003
    Philips
    000150902
    2003
    Brilliant
    99999
    2003
    Past Perfect
    205633
    2003
    Various Artists
    History
    45515
    2003
    Various Artists
    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
    Naxos
    553597
    2001
    Harmonia Mundi
    195072
    2001
    Philips
    464692
    2001
    St. Clair
    7361
    2001
    JVC Compact Discs
    1
    2001
    Rca Red Seal
    84587
    2001
    LSO
    7
    2001
    Telarc Distribution
    80578
    2001
    Telarc Distribution
    60578
    2001
    Classica d'Oro
    1039
    2001
    Deutsche Grammophon
    471242
    2001
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2001
    Tahra
    413-416
    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
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    469 118-2GP2
    2000
    Disky
    70674
    2000
    BBC Music
    4402
    2000
    Music & Arts
    CD1054
    2000
    Music & Arts
    1054
    1999
    Warner Classics
    1999
    Angel Records
    73338
    1999
    Angel Records / Warner Classics
    7243573554
    1999
    Decca
    460635
    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
    Arte Nova
    7432146492
    1998
    Carlton Classics
    6900052
    1998
    Valois
    4826
    1998
    RCA
    902668979
    1998
    Intersound
    2831
    1998
    RCA
    902668930
    1998
    Deutsche Grammophon
    459015
    1998
    Deutsche Grammophon
    459 067-2GCC10
    1998
    Various Artists
    Virgin
    61513
    1998
    Various Artists
    Intersound
    3842
    1998
    Grammofono 2000
    78850
    1998
    Auvidis
    4822
    1997
    Philips
    456143
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    695122A
    1997
    Carlton Classics
    02162
    1997
    Discover
    920421
    1997
    Virgin Veritas
    61379
    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
    Intersound
    2050
    1993
    Reference Recordings
    11
    1993
    Harmonia Mundi
    390072
    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
    Various Artists
    Intersound
    848
    RPO
    7016
    London
    400046
    Stradivari Classics
    6021
    LaserLight
    14283
    Hicone
    9421
    Naxos
    8 550093
    Classic / Classic Records
    HDAD 2022
    Erato
    45925
    Brilliant
    99999/1
    Denon Records
    73218
    EMI Music Distribution
    62605
    Denon Records
    78902
    IMP BBC Radio Classics
    9117
    Deutsche Grammophon
    431624
    BBC Music Magazine
    113
    Eclipse Records
    1309
    Amado Classics
    04004
    Vox Allegretto
    8012
    Leningrad Masters
    1309
    RCA
    7735
    Pickwick
    1129
    EMI Music Distribution
    47278
    Collins Records
    3047
    Musique d'Or
    1026
    Excelsior Recordings
    005
    Nuova Era
    6302
    Lodia Compact Discs
    777
    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
    Stradivari
    6126
    Denon Records
    17009
    CBS Records
    38475
    London
    417705
    London
    430441
    RCA Silver Seal
    60478
    Past Perfect
    205635
    Lys
    368
    Various Artists
    All Russia
    Sony Music Distribution
    52513
    RCA Victor
    61893
    ABC Classics
    4765960
    A Classical Record
    40
    Stradivari
    6101
    Intersound
    3091
    Various Artists
    Decca
    4782036
    Disques Montaigne
    8871
    Beulah
    1PD17
    History
    205243