From Music Director Daniel Meyer
Berlioz’s music has always held a particular fascination for me, none more so than the music that makes up his Symphonie fantastique. At only 26 years old, Berlioz was already a supreme master of the orchestra. On the surface, the sheer variety of colors he draws from the instruments is a wonder. Each solo wind and brass instrument is valued for its potential to stand out as much as it is a color to be mixed with others. The luxurious treatment of the strings in moment of bliss is just as remarkable as the jarring, stabbing motives that convulse in the throws of an opium-induced nightmare.
But as I dig deeper into this wondrous symphony in preparation for our performances, one of the elements of Berlioz’s genius that strikes me most is the capacity for this music to stretch and pull – to tug on each specific moment in service to Berlioz’s wild flights of imagination. To illustrate this whimsy, Berlioz had to develop a sensibility in his music that is truly capable of turning on each phrase. The music surges, heaves, sighs, trembles, stabs, shakes, twirls, and crawls. In some instances, these disparate moments follow each other so suddenly and with such shocking intensity, that it is a wonder how this symphony’s first audiences were even able to stand up after the final diabolical dance!
Today, with jump-cut edits and shaky, real-time camerawork with uncomfortably close angles and juxtapositions, we are somehow used to dramatic flow presented without carefully-manipulated transitions. Before Berlioz, composers certainly were capable of introducing elements of shock, moments of unbridled passion, and thundering special effects. But as music is an art form that must unfold in time, real or imagined, establishing a norm from which a shocking moment can emerge was critical to the element of surprise. Somehow, Berlioz is able to represent the breathlessness and heightened awareness of a dream state, incorporating this unpredictable pacing into the very fabric of how the music flows. Racing ahead, pulling back, twirling in one place, jumping into the abyss is all brilliantly incorporated into Berlioz’s language, so much so that it seems jarring when we hear eight measures of a consistent pulse!
I encourage you at some points during our performance to close your eyes and let the sweep of the music work its special effect on you. You will most certainly expect some anchors to satisfy a desire for pulse predictability and rhythmic stability. Berlioz was savvy enough to provide those moments. But I think you just might be excited to hear how brilliantly he creates a disturbance in the flow of musical time. His artful management of the pacing in this symphony is, for me, one of the most crucial aspects to creating a sonic world just enchanting enough to desire and just horrific enough to revile…
Music Director, Erie Philharmonic