picture of Frideric Handel
lab51 clef icon Hector Berlioz
Symphonie Fantastique
(Paris, December 5, 1830)
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Playthrough of the Idées Fixes

The idées fixes are presented on this page with a brief discussion and playthrough of the 17 occurrences throughout the five movements. On another page you will find a detailed analysis of its first appearance.

Page numbers refer to the original pagination at the top of your sourcebook. The term "rehearsal" is short for "rehearsal number," which is the number in a box at various places in the score. Finally, "m" or "mm" is short for "measure" or "measures" (respectively).

I. Rêveries--Passions.

1. You can find this place on p. 10 at the top of the page.

Played by flutes and first violins, this first presentation of the idée fixe begins without accompaniment but is soon punctuated with repeated chords in the low strings (a "heartbeat"?). The second section creates a feeling of rising tension through an ascending sequence, a rise in dynamic level, and a speeding of the tempo. The tempo then relaxes. The third section descends in short waves, generating a sense of abatement, followed by a full cadence. Read and hear more here.


2. You can find this place on p. 13 at rehearsal 8.

The winds play a rising motive based on the first five notes of the idée fixe. In response, the orchestra plays a single chord fortissimo followed by a descending motive in the violins (this happens twice). The mood is bright and optimistic, perhaps representing the artist's "few fits of groundless joy."


There is a repeat of pp. 10-13 (although some conductors/recordings may not do it).


3. You can find this place on p. 14 at the top of the page.

We hear the first six notes of the melody in a chromatic sequence played four times by the lower strings, each time rising higher. The upper strings respond with a short, conjunct motive.


4. You can find this place on p. 17, 6 measures after rehearsal 11.

The entire melody returns, this time played tenderly by the winds. An accompaniment in the strings, recalling the "heartbeat" motive (from the first appearance of the idée fixe) is based on the rising interval (a perfect 4th) that begins the idée fixe.


5. You can find this place on pp. 23-24 at rehearsal 16.

While it seemed the movement had reached a kind of recapitulation in example 4, here the movement digresses -- like the chaotic mind of the hero -- into further development. Underneath the lyrical melody in the oboe (thus as a counter melody) the lower strings play a sequence based on the first six notes of the idée fixe. Barely audible at first, the idée fixe has become a dark undercurrent in the musical texture.


6. You can find this place on p. 26.

In a climactic passage, the entire orchestra plays the idée fixe. It's quite triumphant -- Is this a recapitulation? It is in the tonic key, but is it too late?


7. You can find this place on p. 31, 2 measures after rehearsal 19.

Overlapping, imitative entries of the melody are played by the flute, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.


8. You can find this place on p. 33.

Is it just figuration? The strings play material related to the first four notes of the idée fixe.


9. You can find this place on p. 34 in the fourth measure.

Out of the figuration of example 8 emerges the hero's "religious consolation." The first violins play the idée fixe, first over a sustained chord in the lower strings, then without any accompaniment (monophonically).


II. Un bal.

10. You can find this place on p. 580, 5 mm. after rehearsal 26.

In the middle of the second movement, after a sudden change in key, a flute emerges, joined by an oboe then by a clarinet to play the idée fixe as a graceful waltz. We hear the "heartbeat" accompaniment in the lower strings.


11. You can find this place on p. 594 at rehearsal 35.

A final glimpse of the beloved played by the clarinet with the barest of horn and harp accompaniments.

III. Scène aux champs.

12. You can find this place on p. 606, 3 mm. after rehearsal 41.

The pastoral calm is broken by dark, recitative-like material (bassoon, cellos, and basses) that alternates with phrases of the idée fixe (flute and oboe). At first restrained, the recitative eventually overpowers and silences the idée fixe.

13. You can find this place on p. 609, 3 mm. after rehearsal 43.

The violins and violas play a pizzicato variation of the idée fixe, while the melody in the clarinet evokes the idée fixe by playing the first three notes of the tune.

14. You can find this place on p. 612 at rehearsal 47.

A fragment of the idée fixe is passed from flute to clarinet to oboe.

15. You can find this place on p. 613 in the fifth measure.

The violins/clarinet trade another statement of the idée fixe with violas/horns.

IV. Marche du supplice.

16. You can find this place on pp. 635-6, 1 m. after rehearsal 59.

At the end of the fourth movement, the hero's thoughts of his beloved (clarinet) are interrupted by the blade of the guillotine (full orchestra). One could even say that the "head" of the idée fixe is cut off (the beginning few notes of a melody are often referred to as the head or "head motive").

V. Songe d'une nuit de sabbat.

17. You can find this place on p. 642 at the top of the page, then continuing on p. 644 at rehearsal 63.

"There the beloved melody appears..., but it is no more than a dance tune, mean, trivial, and grotesque; it is she coming to join the [witches'] Sabbath." As if from a distance, we hear a clarinet playing the beginning of the idée fixe. The meter has been transformed into a lilting 6/8.

"She takes part in a devilish orgy." Accompanied by the oboe, clarinet, and rippling bassoon, the raucous E-flat clarinet screeches out the entire idée fixe, now in triple meter.