Saturday, March 17, 2012

Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony & Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique

Throughout the course of history there have been many distinct musical periods. Evolving out of some of these timeframes came many musical geniuses such as Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Schubert, Handel, Berlioz, and Beethoven. Each artist carried with them their own sense of style when creating their music. These decisions were a reflection of the musical period in which they were categorized. The two works I chose to analyze in this paper are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5; first movement, and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique; fourth movement. Each falls under the category of either the Classical Period (Beethoven) or the Romantic Period (Berlioz.)

It is debated whether or not Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the most memorable musical phrase of all time. I chose the first movement because this is where the rhythmic idea of the three short notes followed by the long note is introduced. This particular part in the symphony is very important because it is the one and only element that dominates the entire symphony. There are two rhythmic themes in the first movement. Already mentioned is the “ short notes and a long note” followed by the second theme which contains all quarter notes. This theme contrasts the beginning theme in that it has a smooth contour compared to the expressive and accented rhythm of the first theme.

In this movement we hear a simple melody that will be heard and developed throughout the entire movement. In actuality the first theme rhythm is heard in almost every bar of music in the first movement. The second melody of this theme contrasts the first. The second theme has a smooth line with an overall shape. There are no sudden changes in key or tonality in this piece; although, this is not to say that Beethoven did not use dissonant chords, he just doesn’t resolve them like any other normal resolution we might hear of the time.

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A symphony is a long orchestral work that is organized into four movements. The first movement is almost always organized into sonata-allegro form. Sonata-allegro form consists of four main sections exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda. This is the form that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; first movement follows. Beethoven got his musical ideas across by using dynamics to create and shape the piece. The tempo of this movement is fast and spirited. The combination of the tempo and the dynamics were the elements that basically shaped the first movement in this symphony.

Beethoven uses a symphonic orchestra in this piece. Some of the instruments used include flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, french horns, timpanis, and probably one of the most important sections in this piece; the strings. Beethoven introduces, then reintroduces themes one and two throughout the movement. The strings introduce the first theme with their low plucking, then the horns pick up to lead into theme two. Beethoven mainly uses the horns to introduce new parts of the movement. For example, the horns introduce both the second theme and they are responsible for the introduction into the development of the movement. Beethoven alternates the woodwinds, brass, and strings to create a feeling of tugging between the three orchestral sections. There is also a time when the oboe is used as a countermelody to the “ short notes and a long note” motive. The closing theme at the end of the movement gives the audience a different feeling than the closing theme in the first part of the movement because it has switched to C major mode.

The next piece to be discussed is Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique; fourth movement. This particular piece falls into the Romantic Period and is categorized as a program symphony. The fourth movement portrays the story of the character’s “March to the Scaffold.” The form that Berlioz uses in this movement is loose ternary. In this movement Berlioz uses syncopation (upsetting a meter by accenting a weaker beat) throughout to create the steady march rhythm, hence the title “March to the Scaffold.” Berlioz also forms what is called an id�e fixe throughout this piece. The id�e fixe is a very important part of the symphony because it serves as the symphony’s recurrent theme. In each movement its appearances are varied in harmony, rhythm, meter, tempo, dynamics, register, and instrumental color.

Berlioz’s uses a large orchestra in this piece, unlike Beethoven who used the symphonic orchestra. Some of the instruments included in this movement are flutes, piccolos, clarinets, french horns, bassoons, trumpets, cornets, timpanis, bass drums, bells, and strings. The instrumentation itself is a novel- harps, cornets, ophicleides, and a battery of percussion. Berlioz also specified many innovative effects, an oboe to imply distance, violins played with the wood of their bows to invoke terror and a strikingly modern minimalist (twentieth century) passage of chords for solo timpani to suggest echoing thunder. Each of these plays an important role in the overall mood of the movement.

In the opening of this movement we hear syncopation of horns, timpani, and low strings which give the implication of a dark mood. The first theme is then introduced in a minor scale played by low stings which descend the scale. The second theme is then introduced and includes brass and woodwinds. The whole opening section is then repeated. The development arises and the first theme is reintroduced except this time it is ascending the scale, rather than descending. The movement closes with the id�e fixe with the melody played by the clarinet, followed by a loud chord that cuts off the melody.

This movement is played in G minor and follows a quadruple meter. There is a mix of textures in this movement, but one that I was able to pick out quite easily was the somber theme in basses and cellos which is polyphony. The dynamics in this movement range from p to fff, beginning with p in the opening of the movement to f in the end of the movement.

Structurally this movement forms a companion piece to the waltz with the marching theme. With the menacing introduction by the percussion and deep brass, the two themes alternate, the first possessing an eerie quality, the second one stridently pronounced on cornets and trumpets with trombones “growling” beneath. After the first theme builds to a tremendous climax, the id�e fixe theme, once more on the clarinet, makes a momentary appearance before being peremptorily cut off by massive and conclusive brass chords.

The classical and romantic period both have certain styles associated with them. Some composers, such as Beethoven, are considered late classical early romantic, so in many ways they are very similar. These two pieces are probably one of the most well known pieces of their time. Beethoven’s polyphonic/homophonic style and the ever so famous “ note and then a long note” motive will live forever in the subject of classical music. On the other hand, Berlioz’s piece Symphonie Fantastique donates the unique use of program symphony with the entire work unified by the id�e fixe. Both men are enormous contributors to the history of classical music.

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