“A huge symphonic composition in a new genre, by means of which I shall attempt to make a great impression on my audience,” was how Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) described the score of his Symphonie fantastique (1830), a clear manifesto of musical romanticism. The composer was not relying on the imagination of his audience, which had learned the classicist model of the symphony – from Haydn to Beethoven. And as well as the titles of the movements of the Symphonie fantastique he gave it a well-developed literary programme in which autobiographical motifs are reflected: the story of the young composer’s passionate love for the Irish Harriet Smithson, prima donna of an English theatre company on tour in Paris.
In following the programme, the attentive listener will not miss the details of the plot of this musical “novella”, brilliantly brought to life by means of the symphony orchestra. The central image of the symphony, its idé fixe, is the theme of love which cements together the entire cycle. It appears in various forms – ranging from the dreamlike contours of a beautiful and desirable woman in the first three movements to grotesque and caricature in the final two. The Symphonie fantastique was first performed in Paris on 5 December 1830 under the baton of the composer.