Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Symphony Guide: Finally, Berlioz!

And, speaking of symphonies, if this is Tuesday, we must be in Belgium? No, wait, wrong meme. If this is Tuesday, there must be a new installment of Tom Service's symphony guide in the Guardian, something that has been providing us with a lot of entertainment and some information for quite a while now. The series began in September last year, so we are near the end. Time to cram in the big, significant pieces that we have neglected so far: Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique!

This is a great piece and a greatly innovative one, as Tom says. I have always had a special fondness for Berlioz, not just because he was a guitarist, but because he really was such an original composer, shaking composition in France out of the doldrums that it frequently falls into. But let's have a look at what Tom has to say. The problem with Berlioz, at least as we encounter writing about him in the mainstream media, is that Berlioz himself was a brilliant writer and wrote a lot about this piece. Therefore, what any journalist would do, to avoid having to do any work himself, is simply loot the writings of Berlioz for his commentary. And yes, that is exactly what Tom does. And then he tells us a bit about the piece itself, right? Nope, all he does is quote opinions about the piece from contemporary observers. Perfectly all right as reception history, but if you want to learn something about the music, then you need to look elsewhere. I talked a bit about what Berlioz was doing in this post.

Here is the final paragraph of Tom's almost-article on the piece:
There could be no higher praise for Berlioz; the wild alchemical mixture of Faustian diabolism, his extension and expansion of Beethovenian sonic possibility, the unflinching, opiate extremity of his musical imagination, and the essential catalyst of his incomparably intense emotional life, made – and still make – the Symphonie Fantastique an experience that turns all of us into its exalted, executed and eviscerated hero.
Too many adjectives, Tom, just too many adjectives.

Let's listen to the music:

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