Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Herbert von Karajan – Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz

   In the set of numerous compositions by Hector Berlioz, some may be less or more meaningful, many are really important in romantic culture, but one can be considered as the most influential work in early romantic era – together with Schubert’s Unfinished or Weber’s Freieschütz. The one of crucial meaning is his Symphonie fantastique op. 14, premiered in Paris December, 1830. This fork is still in symphonic form but uses totally new way of organizing musical narration divided into five movements. And the narrative idea is what makes this work so meaningful. Subtitled as Episode de la vie d’un artiste, the symphony is different in the structural setting of a programmatic work portraying particular moments from the life of romantic artist.
   The Fantastic Symphony by Hector Berlioz is both narrative and formally consequent. The same one can say about many other works, but in this case it comes with special features. Unlike many other works, especially baroque and classical programmatic music, this symphony is not so much illustrative or unambiguous. The program points the content of every scene but its representation in music is not so clear. In effect the whole work can be interpreted as if it was absolute and abstractive music. And there comes the problem of the relations between music and narration. This is also the main question artists interpreting Symphonie fantastique have to answer.

Karajan – Hector Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique (1975)

   The problem of a gap between literal meaning of musical motives and universal psychology of understanding musical suggestions is mainly a question of personal inclinations and artistic responsibility. Herbert von Karajan has solved this taking the side of interpreting skills and musical hermeneutics. He found numerous emotional and idiomatic motifs and elements of semantic meaning. These small particles create context making possible interpretation of any narrative element. It’s the question of the greatest talent and the highest level of professional skills to make it universally readable and universal but giving listener the feeling it is unequivocal.
   In 1975 rendition of Symphonie fantastique Karajan gives the feeling of almost literal reading of musical motives. Powerful sound and perfect articulation of the Berliner Philharmoniker gave him the best possible working space. Even so, his interpretation is emotional and deeply human. Love, desperate desire and fear, death wish and will for living, all contrary emotions are in dynamic conflict heading to culmination in dramatic conclusion. In Karajan rendition these narratives are integral part of the work, they are clear but never dominate or delimit the music itself. In closing part of 5th movement Ronde du Sabbat illustrative elements are probably strongest and Karajan decodes them in very readable manner. Once again orchestra has possibility to show full spectrum of expression with rhythmic and sound perfection.

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