Symphonie Fantastique – dig deep

This coming Friday and Saturday (April 29 & 30) at 8pm in Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center, the LU Philharmonic will perform Berlioz’ masterwork, Symphonie Fantastique along with Verdi’s Overture to La Forza del Destino and Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.

If you’re a particularly passionate orchestra masterworks enthusiast, here’s a few other goodies worth investigating on Berlioz’ piece:

Philharmonia Orchestra Viola player Sam Burstin explores the story surrounding the creation of Symphonie Fantastique in this listening guide. He also walks through some of the compositional techniques that pull the story through the movements (idée fixes, other symbolism and references) It’s only 5:14 – and worth a look if only for the production ideas. IMHO, some of them are a bit over the top; at least worth an “lol.”

Call Me Maybe

Related to that, Esa-Pekka Salonen from the Philharmonic Orchestra introduces Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, narrative programme music for the modern orchestra. If you listen to this 4:15 clip to the end, you’ll hear a bit about their app which offers interactive scores to follow along as you listen to the pieces, plus other insights into the art form that is orchestral music.

The London Symphony orchestra also produced a listening guide for Symphonie Fantastique.

If you don’t view these videos, there’s one compositional technique worth knowing about before you listen to the concert. It’s rather like understanding some of the finer rules of baseball; or at least having some idea of what you might listen for. The technique is called the idée fixes. In Wagner’s work, it’s called the leitmotif. You have heard this technique if you know the music that associates with Darth Vader in Star Wars, or the shark in Jaws, or the shower scene in Psycho. Music in film does this frequently. And the dies irae tune in the 4th movement? In Berlioz’ time, that tune was a familiar as “Happy Birthday” is to our culture. When we hear “Happy Birthday” we know what it means. The “dies irae” – it means you’re at a funeral.

If you need something with a little less production and more insight into Berlioz’ motivations, Linda Ganus Albulescu shared her program notes that will also be available at the concert. Just click here -> Berlioz program note