Tag Archives: Hector Berlioz

[91] Hector Berlioz – Les Troyens

2 Jan

Color me arbitrary.

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the  Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

Despite long moments of soul-searching and of intellectual reflection, I am unable to explain to myself – let alone anyone else – why one recording instantly captivates where another by the same composer provokes an instant and opposite reaction.

From the opening notes of this huge and sweeping Opera, I am caught up in the vigor and excitement of the piece which quickly coalesces into an enormous choral refrain.

I enjoy the first two minutes of this more than any moment of the Symphonie Fantastique, and it only seems to get better from there.

At once intimate and powerful, the chorus gives way to soloists who each give their all for the performance.

In a coming together of desire and instruction, Moon has selected an audio-visual rather than strictly audio version on this occasion so I do not have the feeling that I have articulated on previous Operatic selections that I am somehow missing out.

But although watching this BBC production clearly helps me to follow the plot, I feel certain that this time I would be enjoying these tunes and performances just as much without the moving pictures.

Of course, I’ll never know.

Experiencing the heightened emotion and the melodrama played perfectly straight, I am reminded how much I have loved my every moment on those few occasions when I have visited the opera.  Both the music and the spectacle are big and beautiful and impossible to tear your attention from.

I may default to Musical Theater, but I am regularly reminded – every time I attend anything else, in fact – that the Theater is my love,  not just one facet of her, be it straight plays, opera or even good improv.

But back to Troy.

The music throughout is clear and crisp and gorgeous, easily accessible, effortlessly enjoyable.  There is always a flourish from the orchestra, lightening the dense intensity of the vocals, particularly heavy through the first two acts.  These embellishments buoy the whole, highlight and magnify the massive emotions being displayed.

No theme outstays its welcome, yet each is carefully established, introducing itself into the listener’s awareness until it becomes a certainty that a phrase or beat must return at some point over the following hours.

And again, I am at an utter loss as to why Les Troyens effortlessly appeals whereas Symphonie Fantastique was incapable of doing so.

Despite my High School French and helpful subtitles, it is not the plot which holds my attention – indeed I find myself allowing the somewhat familiar Greek myths pass me by without fully engaging.  The spectacle and grandeur are breathtaking, but it could as easily be a story-free Classical piece and I would enjoy it as much.

Perhaps this is the result of the extra step of remove, the bedroom setting in which I am watching my TV rather than the majesty of the Metropolitan Opera House.  Or perhaps I tune out plot in person, too.

I do not recall, and in all honesty do not care . . .

Next Week:  Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim – West Side Story

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 91 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 91 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (73 of 91 = 80%)

[90] Hector Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique

26 Dec

I love melody.  I’m not sure how fully I realized this fact until I dug down into the reasons that I found myself unmoved by this Romantic classic.

John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique

John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique

I was fascinated by the backstory – a composer smitten with an actress in her role as Shakespeare’s Ophelia wooing with extravagant song – and the fact that the moral of the story is, “be careful what you wish for.”  I was intrigued to hear the period instrumentation, to explore the “program notes” provided at the premier.

I was excited to hear this piece until the very moment the music began.

I have found myself completely unable to engage, and once again I was not immediately clear why.  The orchestration is familiar, the performances crisp and energetic, and still I find nothing to cling to.  It takes me very many listens to realize at least part of the problem.

There is nothing I can hum along with.

While I am certain others (starting with my very own guest blogger) will disagree, I fail to discover a memorable moment.  This would make for a difficult hour of listening if I only played through one time.

By the sixth or seventh hour I’m just sick of it.

There are notes being played, and they seem to be in pleasing enough combinations.  There are solo sections and wall of sound harmonies.  And after weeks of listening, if I heard a section on the radio or in a store tomorrow, I would not recognize it as Berlioz, let alone as the Symphonie Fantastique . . .

It is an odd thing to admit, and may reflect more of failing on my part than on that of Berlioz, but it is true nonetheless.

Perhaps he can win me over next week.

Next Week:  Hector Berlioz – Les Troyens

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 90 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 90 = 13%)
Recommend? No. (72 of 90 = 80%)


Guest Blogger Rebecca Safeer: Hector Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique

22 Dec

I love having guest bloggers to provide a different style, a different view on the recordings we are exploring.  This week I am pleased to introduce Rebecca Safeer, who stopped by my office every day during the summer to hear what I was listening to that day . . .


My first reaction to this piece was, “Wow, this is long.”  And it is.  The piece is a little under 50 minutes long.  And that is how many times I probably listened to it.  

Over the past two months the count on my iTunes is at 45.  And after listening to a piece that much I can tell you that it is an amazing piece of music.  At first I didn’t like how long the piece was but I continued to listen to it in its entirety until I appreciated every part of it.   

Symphonie Fantastique is a piece of music from the Romantic period.  During the Romantic period (from about 1800 to about 1910) music was written with an emphasis on color.  The color that a piece of music shows is based on its instrumentation and the range at which those instruments are used.  During this time there was also the discovery of writing what is called program music.  This means that instead of writing a piece of music to show off all you can do with an orchestra or an ensemble, you wrote music based on a story or a theme.   

Berlioz does both of those things perfectly with his Symphonie Fantastique.  You can tell right from the beginning that the score is supposed to be accompanied by some type of story.  Berlioz envisioned a tale of an artist.  And each of the five movements are meant to be the development of this theme and to show various episodes in the life of the artist. 

There are many different sounds in this piece.  There are parts in which it feels like you are at a ballet and you could be floating on a cloud whilst listening to this peaceful music.  Then there are sections with a call and response between the higher instruments and the lower instruments.  However the best part about this piece is how the emotions of the artist that Berlioz is trying to convey come through by listening to the arrangement of the score.  You can feel the pain and suffering through the excitement build up by the horns and the timpani.  You can hear the love and freedom of the waltz theme when you hear the harmonies between the violins.  You can hear the triumph with the beautiful sound of the french horn. 

I absolutely love this piece.  Thanks to Avri for letting me be a guest blogger.  I really enjoyed listening to and learning about this recording.


Rebecca studied Spanish Language and Literature at Stony Brook University.  She has studied music since 4th grade and graduated with a music minor.   

While studying in Barcelona, Spain she kept a blog which can be read here

Rebecca teaches middle school science and is proud to see many of her students’ experiments integrate science and music.


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