Symphony Saturday

I keep promising Gustav Mahler, and I keep postponing Gustav Mahler. Alas!

And no, no Mahler this week, either–but in a way, this week’s symphony does help pave the way a but. Instead we’ll revisit Hector Berlioz, because you can never have too much Berlioz. This is one of my handful of “desert island” works: if I were banished from society but I could have recordings of a few classical works to hear for the rest of my days while banished, this would make the cut. It’s Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette Symphony, which is one of several works he wrote that are really not easily classified. The work bears no formal resemblance to any symphony written around its time, and at times it seems like it might be straight-up opera. And yet it is not: its most intimate moments are purely orchestral, and its heart lies in the central portion where Romeo meets Juliet at the ball, and then the love scene between the two, and then the scherzo depicting Queen Mab as Mercutio describes her. So much depth of feeling and illustrative color in those movements, along with some frankly amazing melody. Berlioz never gets enough credit for his melodic invention. Berlioz’s formal scheme here does anticipate Mahler in a way, for Mahler too was never one to rigidly adhere to the four-movement symphonic model that dominates the form.

This work is on my thoughts anyway of late, because I have been reading Berlioz’s memoirs. I haven’t got to where he writes of this symphony yet, but I look forward to that. Here is Romeo et Juliette.

Next week, I really do hope to get to Mahler. Really.

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