Monday, February 27, 2012

Georges Prêtre – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique


   Hector Berlioz was prominent personality in Romantic music and probably most influential nineteenth-century French composer. Two hundred years after his birth, he is best known for great orchestral works in which he created new constructive principles of great musical work: program symphony Symphonie fantastique, concertante symphony Harold en Italie, Roméo et Juliette (symphonie dramatique), La damnation de Faust (légende dramatique). For this improvements he is known as a pillar of Romantic style in symphonic music. He was prolific composer also in a field of opera and religious music. Widely known operas are Benvenuto Cellini and Les Troyens. One of most popular works is Grande messe des morts, also known as Requiem, and  but he is also author of Messe solenelle, Te Deum and oratorio L’enfance du Christ. He is also remembered for many choral works and solo songs.
   Unlike many composers sticking to the traditional style of French music, Hector Berlioz was the artist who linked the composing achievements of the French school to the different accomplishments of German and Russian composers. His importance transcended national school of French music, becoming in his life span the core of the development of nineteenth-century music. This was sufficient reason for many artists to focus on Berlioz’s works, especially on his supreme work, Symphonie fantastique. Full title of this work is Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d'un Artiste...en cinq parties op. 14 and exactly as it is said in title this Fantastic Symphony is a narration in five movements revealing episode from the life of artist. Much evidence indicates that the hero of this symphony was the composer himself. His beloved was Harriet Smithson, actress and wife of Hector Berlioz.

Prêtre – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique (1969)

   Structure of Symphonie fantastique is fulfillment of romantic ideologies. The same as in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony five movements of the symphony are five episodes from artist’s life. He is daydreaming about romantic love (1. Rêveries – Passions), trying to lose obsessively recurrent thoughts of dreamy love in play at the ball (2. Un bal), and dream of living in the countryside (3. Scène aux champs). These visions occur to be only introduction to hallucinations after suicidal attempt of poisoning with opium. The hero seems to have killed his beloved, was tried and now is led to the scaffold (4. Marche au supplice). This movement ends with artist’s death and the vision of his head bounced down the steps. Final part of the symphony is a vision of witches’ sabbath with beloved one (5. Songe d'une nuit de sabbat). In last vision cited motive of mediaeval sequence Dies irae has been joint with the diabolic dance of the witches.
   Recording made in 1969 by Georges Prêtre conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra is perfect example of interpretation driving towards equilibrium of contradictory emotions and joining narrative turning points with distance of symphonic medium. In fact this is the idea of romanticism prevailing in twentieth century. Such assumption can lead to interpreting symphony with classical distance or with illustrative manner. In first case effect is tending to Brahms’ symphonic, in second to Liszt’s tone poems. Prêtre aims structural idea and illustrative meanings, and on both levels he constructs dramatic idea of the symphony. Boston Symphony sounds in this recording unbelievably clear and so is the overall idea of the composition. It was fourth recording of Symphonie fantastique in the history of the orchestra – earlier recordings were done with Serge Koussevitzky in 1943 as pirate recording, and twice official with Charles Munch in 1954 and 1962. Four years later the same composition Boston Symphony Orchestra recorded with Seiji Ozawa, but this is quite a different story.

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