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Hector Berlioz - Symphonie fantastique (1830) - V. Songe d'une nuit du sabbat

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Published on Aug 21, 2010

P.S. As the descriptions of the presented symphony's individual movements tend to be rather long, all the information concerning the genesis of the work as a whole can be found in the notes of the first posting.

P.P.S. A complete score of the presented movement with a midi soundtrack can be found here:
http://www.hberlioz.com/Scores/798583...

Music: V. Berlioz's shades seem much less dangerous that the macabre images of Mussorgsky's tremendous "Night on Bald Mountain", but his is certainly a vivid fantasy. The piece opens with string tremolos over rising figures for the cellos/bass and a steady timpani beat, suddenly transforming into a brisk triplet figure for the remaining strings and a wind gust from the clarinet/oboe/bassoon, resolved by the strings' hurried descending line. The following passage is even more otherworldly: convoluted lines for the horns (0:29), an ominous horn solo (0:45), shrieks for the piccolo/flute/oboe (0:35) and a sudden rise going through the whole orchestra, from cello to piccolo (0:51), as "shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for our hero's funeral assemble". The effects are partially repeated before the horn heralds, in a macabre twist, the arrival of the artist's beloved (1:28). The idee fixe makes its final appearance in the symphony, however, it is mutilated into an allegro dance with common timpani beats and a clarinet line heavily reliant on trills (1:36), accented by the excited rises of the strings and a timpani crescendo, culminating in shouts of exaltation from the monsters as the Sabbath begins (1:44). The idee fixe is continued, this time with the oboe/second clarinet replacing the drums (1:54), with all the winds (and the first violins) progressively brought in to double the clarinet's lines, while the lower strings revel in a gaudy dance. A fortissimo flight for the strings/flute/piccolo (2:24) moves into an explosive tempo di mezzo which includes, among other things, a strong descent for the whole orchestra, overflowing into sustained lines of the lower instruments (2:48) and then, in a stroke of genius, backstage bells (3:07), provoking confusion in the midst of the witches (evident in the frightened recapitulation of the dance by the viola, cut short by the insistence of the rest of the strings (3:12), mirrored by a similar occurrence in the wind section with the oboe (3:21)), as all prepare for the Dark Mass, "a burlesque parody of the "Dies irae"", played on bassoon/tubas (3:34) with the continuing toll of the bells and a chorus of shades first in the horns and trombones (3:55) and then in the remaining higher instruments (4:06). The "pastors" continue their hymn, first over a cello/bass line (4:12) and then, on the repeat, with the bass drum added for complete effect (4:36), suggesting the stomping of Satan's hooves. After the final verse of the "prayer", the dance continues at the insistence of the string section, the crowning trumpet of the horns, the dramatic roll of the timpani and the crescendo lines of the winds (5:12). We move onto the grand Ronde of the Sabbath, a convoluted echo of the ball scene, which is gradually developed and passed over between the members of the strings with the horns, trombones, tubas and bassoon suggesting the stomping of the devils' feet (5:30). Strong chords open the higher winds' statement of the main melody, though in a more joint fashion that in the string section (5:49). Lines are echoed between different instruments of the entire orchestra, sometimes bordering on a fugue, while the melody angularly shifts between a formal dance and sudden "improtus" (such as the trills of the flute/oboe/clarinet (6:19)). Forte chords from the brasses separate a charming drop for the flute/oboe, later accompanied by the clarinets/piccolo, contrasted with rising triplets and, later, pizzicatos in the violins (6:30, 6:37, 6:42 & 6:46). A slightly overstretched recap of this section extends into a subdued restatement of the main theme in the cellos/bass/bassoon, as the horns prepare us for the return of the Dies irae (6:52). A gradually strengthening drum roll, under the continuing, frantic dance, slowly growing in intensity as all the instruments of the orchestra are progressively added in, leads into a tutti sequence of dissonant chords (7:27) that serves as a brief transition for the amazing finale of the symphony. The entire string section continues the theme of the Ronde, while the winds begin to play the "prayer" (8:05). This moment of grandeur is, however, kept brief, as the main themes are resolved and give way to the explosive coda (8:35) which connects together all the ideas of the movement into one torrent of music.

Recording: The classic 1974 Philips recording under Colin Davis, leading the enchanting Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, is, probably, one of the most ardent and warm renditions of Berlioz's masterpiece.

Hope you'll enjoy =).

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