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March to the Scaffold from "Symphonie Fantastique" (tr Patterson)

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Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz (trans. Merlin Patterson)


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General Info

Year: 1830 / 2005
Duration: c. 7:15
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Merlin Patterson
Cost: Score and Parts - $175.00


Instrumentation

(Needed, please join the WRP if you can help.)


Errata

None discovered thus far.


Program Notes

Berlioz has provided his own notes about Symphonie Fantastique. He writes, “The composer’s intention has been to develop various episodes in the life of an artist, insofar as they lend themselves to musical treatment. As the work cannot rely on the assistance of speech, the plan of the instrumental drama needs to be set out in advance. The following program must therefore be considered as the spoken text of an opera, which serves to introduce musical movements and to motivate their character and expression.”

In the first three movements, the artist, a young vibrant musician, in his mind falls desperately in love with a woman who possesses all the charms of the ideal person, and is afflicted by a desperate lovesickness of spirit. In the artist’s mind, the image of his beloved is always presented with the idée fixe, which presents itself many times, including in the clarinet at the end of the March to the Scaffold. His passion presents itself early in the first movement, and in the second movement, the artist imagines himself in diverse aspects of life: at a ball, in peaceful contemplation of nature, all while the image of his beloved haunts him. The third movement is a pastoral scene in the fields, with English horn and oboe providing a haunting dialogue, and finally distant thunder in the timpani.

Berlioz writes about the March to the Scaffold, “Convinced that his love is unappreciated, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned, led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution. As he cries for forgiveness, the effects of the narcotic set in. He wants to hide but he cannot, so he watches as an onlooker as he dies. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes somber and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe reappear like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow when his head bounced down the steps.”

The final chapter is the Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath, featuring “a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for the artist’s funeral.” Berlioz depicts “strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter” with diabolical orchestral effects, and introduces a terrifying quotation of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) plainchant melody.

This transcription was commissioned by the University of Houston Symphonic Winds, David Bertman, conductor, and was premiered at the Southwest Regional Convention of the College Band Directors National Association in March 2005.

- Program note by The Woodlands High School Wind Ensemble concert program, 21 December 2012


Commercial Discography


Audio Links


State Ratings

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Performances

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Works for Winds by this Composer


References