We might take Berlioz's own double title literally, as a
sign of his musical form. "Rêveries" figures as a kind of introduction, beginning
in C minor (pp. 3-9). You will learn (in lecture) that this
gentle, opening melody has a sentimental history associated
with Berlioz's first love. "Passions," in C major, forms the
main body of the movement, set in motion by the vision of the (new) beloved.
The passage on the bottom half of p. 9, with its sudden agitation
(Allegro agitato) and passion (e appassionato assai
) would seem to mark the moment when the hero, jolted
out of his vague dreams, first catches sight of her. Are you
surprised by the constant fluctuations of tempo? Think back to the program and what Berlioz was trying
to convey. The idée fixe, the first important event in "Passions," appears
for the first time on the next page (p. 10). As you listen
to the remainder of the movement, consider how the changes
Berlioz operates on the idée fixe correspond to shifts
in emotional significance. Attend to differences in orchestration,
dynamics, tempo, and figuration.
The chief recurrences of the idée fixe are illustrated
with music in the Playthrough
("Passions" is sometimes considered a sonata form, but the markers of that form are by no means obvious,
e.g. determining the point of recapitulation raises significant questions.)
This movement begins with a special effect. Gradually, out of a
kind of symphonic mist, a waltz comes into being; we seem to descend on the scene just
as one falls into a dream. Perhaps this effect, in less cinematic
terms, might be compared to the nebulous start of Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony. Consider, too, how Berlioz gives his introduction
visceral excitement by means of both dynamics (a gradual crescendo) and pitch (a rising sequence by semitones). This sequence is simply a rising musical figure
repeated at successively higher levels. Because the successive
semitones are equidistant, they foster a sense of instability:
we don't know where the ascent will end (in the event, we
end on E, the dominant degree in the key of this movement). The rustling effect in the strings is
called tremolo and is created by bowing or fingering rapidly. The overall
form of this piece is ternary, with an introduction and a coda. Thus:
INTRO. | A0 | B | A1
This form corresponds to that of an ordinary scherzo, or any number of dance-like movements found in nineteenth-century
The idée fixe, like a vision amid the tumult of the dance,
appears, transformed into triple meter, in the middle of the
movement (p. 40), then vanishes. Berlioz later whips the waltz
into a frenzy, and just when we think we have reached the
end, a soloclarinet unexpectedly offers us another glimpse of the beloved
(at fig. 35, p. 54). (How does Berlioz treat the orchestral
texture here?) But the dance, indifferent to this dreamy parenthesis,
races off to a flourish whose uninhibited verve seems to merge
the whirling dancers with the radiance of the chandeliers.
How does Berlioz achieve this final burst of orchestral light?
The meter (6/8), the key of F major, and the prominent use
of woodwind instruments all contribute to the pastoral atmosphere
of this movement. Berlioz pairs an English horn with an off-stage oboe for a duet between two shepherds (
). Note that the first call and echo are in major mode, the second in minor. Also note that this call reappears at the end of the
movement, but there the first shepherd's call is answered
only--ominously--by distant thunder. Inside this frame, Berlioz
fashions a set of variations on another idea.
). It first appears in the flute and violins at fig. 37 of your score (p. 61). The character of
this melody is at first aloof but then expands into the high register with more longing.
Var. I. (
) Four measures before the end of p. 61. . . . This is followed by
a kind of development or extension, which modulates to the dominant (C major).
Var. II. (
) Introduced by a new figure in the violin, the theme now
appears in the bass (bottom system, p. 64). . . . Modulation to B-flat (subdominant); in the midst of growing inner turmoil and doubt,
the idée fixeappears in the flute and oboe (p. 66). Listen
to the counter-melody that immediately precedes the idée
fixe in the bassoons and low strings: not unlike a recitative at first, the counter-melody soon takes on a life
of its own, and the idée fixe is ploughed under.
Loud climax (p. 68), then a fall back to the tonickey (F). Near silence. A short transition, led by flutes and
oboes, to . . .
Var. IV. C major. (
) Theme in the second violins against very lively background
figuration (p. 70, at fig. 44). . . . In the second bar on p. 72, we reach a point of transition which takes us
back to the home key.
[Var. V.] (
) At fig. 47 (p. 72) the winds pass a fragment of the idée
fixe back and forth while the strings present another
variation of the main theme. After a few bars, Berlioz abandons
the main theme, and the idée fixe prevails. Listen
for the first few notes of the idée fixe again in the violins, echoed
by the horns.
The music seems to fade away. We reach the shepherd's call
again. How does Berlioz "orchestrate" the sound of thunder coming across a valley? Do
you think he succeeded in the paradoxical project of representing
a sense of loneliness and silence through sound? In what sense
is the movement open-ended and in what sense is it rounded
This procession to the scaffold exemplifies Berlioz's orchestration at its most strident. Whether he created a rustle
or an explosion, however, Berlioz cared about every detail.
Note his explicit instructions, here (p. 76) as in the previous
movement (p. 73), about the way the timpani players are to handle their sticks. Listen also to the
outrageously low, rasping sound of the pedal tones (B-flat and A) on the third trombone once the march gets underway (p. 81ff) (
). These notes are impossible to play quietly and are very rarely called
for. This is probably their first use in the history of symphonic
The idée fixe, a gentle clarinetsolo, does not appear until just before fall of the blade
of the guillotine (pp. 95-96). This is the last time we will
hear the idée fix e in its original guise (though here
obviously abbreviated). Berlioz offers us a macabre example
of musical mimicry: the thud of the protagonist's head falling
into the executioner's basket. The succeeding fanfare of brass and drums evokes a military band in the public square.
Berlioz strives to evoke the "strange noises, cackling, [and]
distant cries" that set the scene for the witches' sabbath.
The opening is extremely unstable, and the key is unclear. When theidée fixe appears (foreshadowed in C major on p. 102,
definitively in E-flat major on p. 104), it is utterly transformed.
Assigned to a clarinet in E-flat, couched in a dance-like meter, and accompanied
tartly by other woodwinds, the idée fixe has lost all its "shyness"
and "nobility" to become a wanton parody of itself. The protagonist,
in effect, avenges his own failure to win his ideal woman
by transforming her into an idolatress in the Black Mass.
This act of imagination, combined with a scene described
as the protagonist's own funeral, explains the subsequent
appearance of the "Dies Irae" (p. 109) (glossary entry on Dies iræ and webpage
on Dies iræ). This chant ("Day of wrath"), which
Berlioz quotes from the ancient repertory of Christian plainsong,
is here wordless but normally carries the gravest of the texts
associated with the mass for the dead; it solemnly reminds
all believers of the definitive Judgement that awaits them
at the end of the world. The chimes (
) represent a funeral knell. The disruptive burst of energy
) from the woodwinds and high strings presents the "burlesque
parody" of the chant which Berlioz indicates in his program.
Now we come to the "Witches' Round-Dance" (p. 118), which
Berlioz had already foreshadowed in some interruptions earlier
on (pp. 108-9, 116-17). The round-dance is set up as a short
fugal exposition. (Technical detail: because the tune, the fugal subject, is immediately set against invertible counterpoint, Schumann called this passage a double fugue). Here, the outstanding textural process to observe
is the transfer of the dance-tune from instrument to instrument
until the whole orchestra, like the gathering circle of witches,
seems to be infected with its frenzy. After a lull, a sinister,
chromatic version (
) of the round-dance emerges in the bass (p. 131) and is treated in imitative polyphony (p. 132). Then comes one of the most characteristic
moments in the score: two things that should never go together
are forced into synchrony. Berlioz combines the "Dies iræ"
and the round-dance in (non-imitative) polyphony. Notice that
the round-dance is soon dissolved in a wash of sixteenth notes. Berlioz referred to his technique of heterogeneous
polyphony as "la réunion des thèmes" (
); he used the device in many other works. The effect is above
all dramatic and climactic. Can you remember a moment in the
finale of the Ninth Symphony where Beethoven employs a similar
Berlioz saves a final grotesquerie for p. 142 (fig. 83),
where the violins and violas are instructed to play col legno(
) -- with the back of the bow (with the wood rather than the
hair). This is yet another example of "turning things upside-down"
in a movement evoking diabolical rites. Under this eerie,
brittle sound, a fantastically trilled version of the round dance appears in the woodwinds