Poll

Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony is...

Symphonie fantastique
14 (51.9%)
Harold en Italie
8 (29.6%)
Roméo et Juliette
4 (14.8%)
Grande symphonie funébre et triomphale
1 (3.7%)

Total Members Voted: 27

Author Topic: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony  (Read 1091 times)

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Offline some guy

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #20 on: November 21, 2017, 10:53:44 AM »
Not sure where all this "doesn't work as a whole" is coming from.

Anyone want to elaborate?

I mean, be fair, I probably won't agree with you, but so what? I'm still curious as to where this notion comes from. And you could maybe satisfy my curiosity.

Romeo et Juliette seems perfectly coherent to me. No less a critic than Jacques Barzun called it an almost perfectly constructed work. Symphonie fantastique is arguably more episodic, Harold and the brass piece the least episodic of the four.

I would also not fault a piece for being episodic, but fair's fair: if it's not episodic and it's criticized as not hanging together, then what could possibly be going on?

Also, is it too much to ask that the only people who can respond to a poll are the ones who are familiar with all the items on the poll? Seems such a simple thing, and logical, too, but look at how many people, on multiple polls, aren't familiar with all the items but who vote, anyway. Of course, these polls are "just for fun," which, oddly enough, is the go-to defense whenever anyone reports as not having much fun. That seems very peculiar to me.

But I anticipate....
« Last Edit: November 22, 2017, 06:50:30 AM by some guy »

Offline André

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #21 on: November 21, 2017, 02:09:50 PM »
You seem prepared to be of a different opinion, and you answer arguments in advance, so what’s the point in answering your post ? Just asking...

Offline some guy

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #22 on: November 22, 2017, 06:57:41 AM »
You seem prepared to be of a different opinion, and you answer arguments in advance, so what’s the point in answering your post ? Just asking...
But André, there's also another thing I already did, and that was answering the question you just asked. Here's that answer: "...I'm still curious as to where this notion comes from. And you could maybe satisfy my curiosity."

I'm not interested in an argument about this, not yet, anyway. Right now I'm just curious as to the causes of a notion that doesn't line up with anything I can perceive in the symphony.

Maybe after that is done, I'll want to argue. Maybe. Maybe once that's done, I still won't feel like arguing because I'll understand.

My opinion is neither here nor there except as being the basis for my curiosity.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #23 on: November 22, 2017, 10:33:30 AM »
My vote goes for 'The March to the Scaffold'.
 >:D
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline amw

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #24 on: November 22, 2017, 08:27:31 PM »
Not sure where all this "doesn't work as a whole" is coming from.

Anyone want to elaborate?
I think Berlioz's stated goal of essentially creating a musical structure that is an exact parallel to Shakespeare's dramatic structure, whose instrumental movements convey to us the meaning of Shakespeare's play in the same way that the vocal-choral ones do, fails. I think it fails because for Berlioz musical meaning was always more important than dramatic meaning. So the Scène d'amour makes necessary La reine Mab to follow it immediately, and to be a movement of equal weight, when the actual Queen Mab speech is really not dramatically that important at all in the play, etc. And Berlioz obviously realised this because he made the decision to omit two or three acts of the play and jump straight from there to basically the final scene, but the idea that his instrumental movements could be a form of musical poetry that served the text better than a straight vocal setting remained an important part of his conception that he could not abandon. Which in general is fascinating to me. Romeo & Juliet has been successfully set as a ballet (Prokofiev) and an opera (Bernstein) so obviously one can use the contour of the entire text to produce a dramatically unified work, without distorting it, even if the text itself can't be successfully turned into an opera directly. (Or at least hasn't been, yet.) But Berlioz distorts the contour massively and the reason is obviously that musical concerns trumped dramatic ones every time for him.

I don't know if that makes sense.

Offline some guy

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #25 on: November 23, 2017, 12:09:48 PM »
It does. And I largely agree with you, too, what's more.

Though I would say that it succeeds in doing the musical things. It doesn't fail at being a coherent work--it only fails at being a musical analogue of Shakespeare's play.

The successes come at the expense of failing at something else.

[Edit: I thought of something else that almost never gets mentioned about this symphony, the quality of the recordings. This is apparently a difficult work to perform adequately, judging from the plethora of inadequate performances, including several of Davis's, widely known as a huge Berlioz nut. I don't think any recordings do it more justice than Monteux, and the big problem there is that there were two recordings of the same performance, one with really crappy sound and one with surprisingly good sound for its age. (The good one is coupled with Leibowitz's recording of Symphonie fantastique--a peculiar performance. Instructive but not very listenable.) Other than that, I think there may be a couple of decent Davis recordings. The only one I think that really gets it is the one with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Borodina, Moser, and Miles. Other than that, maybe the Muti, of all people. But I don't listen to that one much, so would not go to the mat for it. The Monteux is as close to perfect, musically, as is possible. Sonically? Well, the good one is pretty OK. Nothing like so good as either Davis or Muti, of course.

So there's that. I think you pretty much have to know it in the Monteux performance or you're getting something that doesn't quite come off.

Otherwise, there's the whole thing of doing extracts from it. So of course any of those botched jobs is going to sound incoherent, because it is.]
« Last Edit: November 23, 2017, 12:30:52 PM by some guy »

Offline Maestro267

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #26 on: November 26, 2017, 08:14:13 AM »
Went for Fantastique. Followed by Funebre, R&J and finally Harold.

Offline some guy

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #27 on: December 14, 2017, 08:49:31 AM »
Not sure where all this "doesn't work as a whole" is coming from.

Anyone want to elaborate?
OK, so no one was up for this task. But on FB, there was a thread on Monteux, which I joined with my standard hype of his recording of the symphony. And clicking around, I found the Gergiev recording. There's no complete version on youtube, so I can't say anything about it, but my favorite performance of Romeo et Juliette was Gergiev's concert with the L.A. Phil, which I liked best in spite of the serious weakness of the soloists and chorus. It still flabbergasts me how he pulled that off. What I have just reported is a flat impossibility, but I was there. I heard it.

Anyway, clicking around on youtube reminded me that this music has for long been mostly served up in dribs and drabs. Queen Mab, the love scene, the intro, the finale. So here, in the absence of anyone else's input, is my theory about my own query--for so long, the dribs and drabs have been played over and over again, that anyone first hearing the whole piece (in what is very likely a less than stellar performance, what's more) is going to have the experience of the already familiar bits being, in their familiarity, much more prominent than the other, less familiar bits. It's going to seem uneven and unbalanced and just generally ragged. It's happened to me many times, having had most of my formative experiences from radio stations that played excerpts--as well as from LPs the same. Over and over again, I had to do the same thing: listen to the complete piece over and over again until all of it, from start to finish, sounded equally familiar.

Only then can you really tell if the "doesn't work as a whole" is coming from the piece or from your perception of it.

So now I'm curious about two things: one, if any of the "doesn't work as a whole" people have only heard the whole piece from start to finish, and two, if anyone of the "doesn't work as a whole" people would be willing to try listening to Romeo et Juliette (for preference in either the Monteux or the Davis with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Borodina) until it all sounds equally familiar?

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #28 on: December 14, 2017, 10:35:21 AM »
OK, so no one was up for this task.

But, you were answered . . .

I think Berlioz's stated goal of essentially creating a musical structure that is an exact parallel to Shakespeare's dramatic structure, whose instrumental movements convey to us the meaning of Shakespeare's play in the same way that the vocal-choral ones do, fails. I think it fails because for Berlioz musical meaning was always more important than dramatic meaning. So the Scène d'amour makes necessary La reine Mab to follow it immediately, and to be a movement of equal weight, when the actual Queen Mab speech is really not dramatically that important at all in the play, etc. And Berlioz obviously realised this because he made the decision to omit two or three acts of the play and jump straight from there to basically the final scene, but the idea that his instrumental movements could be a form of musical poetry that served the text better than a straight vocal setting remained an important part of his conception that he could not abandon. Which in general is fascinating to me. Romeo & Juliet has been successfully set as a ballet (Prokofiev) and an opera (Bernstein) so obviously one can use the contour of the entire text to produce a dramatically unified work, without distorting it, even if the text itself can't be successfully turned into an opera directly. (Or at least hasn't been, yet.) But Berlioz distorts the contour massively and the reason is obviously that musical concerns trumped dramatic ones every time for him.

I don't know if that makes sense.

And you acknowledged . . .

It does. And I largely agree with you, too, what's more.

Though I would say that it succeeds in doing the musical things. It doesn't fail at being a coherent work--it only fails at being a musical analogue of Shakespeare's play.

The successes come at the expense of failing at something else.

[Edit: I thought of something else that almost never gets mentioned about this symphony, the quality of the recordings. This is apparently a difficult work to perform adequately, judging from the plethora of inadequate performances, including several of Davis's, widely known as a huge Berlioz nut. I don't think any recordings do it more justice than Monteux, and the big problem there is that there were two recordings of the same performance, one with really crappy sound and one with surprisingly good sound for its age. (The good one is coupled with Leibowitz's recording of Symphonie fantastique--a peculiar performance. Instructive but not very listenable.) Other than that, I think there may be a couple of decent Davis recordings. The only one I think that really gets it is the one with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Borodina, Moser, and Miles. Other than that, maybe the Muti, of all people. But I don't listen to that one much, so would not go to the mat for it. The Monteux is as close to perfect, musically, as is possible. Sonically? Well, the good one is pretty OK. Nothing like so good as either Davis or Muti, of course.

So there's that. I think you pretty much have to know it in the Monteux performance or you're getting something that doesn't quite come off.

Otherwise, there's the whole thing of doing extracts from it. So of course any of those botched jobs is going to sound incoherent, because it is.]

What am I missing?  8)
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His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline Jo498

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #29 on: December 14, 2017, 10:47:09 AM »
I for one did not have a long history of listening to the excerpts before I got to know the whole piece. I guess I had the love scene as a filler before I ever encountered the rest.
I listened to the whole piece again about three times in the last few weeks inspired by this thread and while I am tempted to put it before SF now because overall it is quite good and a lot of it is great, I still find it overall a strange hybrid and most stuff after the scherzo seems somewhat anticlimactic and drawn out too long when it is supposed to be the dramatic finale of the thing. I cannot give a more detailed or better reasoned explanation of such felt lack of coherence.
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Offline André

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #30 on: December 14, 2017, 10:58:55 AM »
A  ‘strange hybrid’ is a good description of the impression left by R&J. It does not detract from its intrinsic musical value, nor does it add to it either. The work’s structure is a challenge to both musicians and listeners, however beautiful the music may be. I may lack openness of mind in the matter, but I’m not going to hang myself at the nearest tree because of such a detestable foible. I just don’t understand why that should bother some here  :-X.

BTW I have always heard it in full (except in the Giulini EMI box) and own a few versions, including Monteux’ which is clearly the best I’ve heard.

Offline some guy

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #31 on: December 15, 2017, 08:37:08 AM »
Well, that is interesting.

And my theory seemed so plausible. To me.

And Karl is missing nothing. I should have acknowledged amw before proceeding, it's true.

Otherwise, I think the "strange hybrid" idea works pretty well to explain what was puzzling me. Even those who did not first hear it as a bunch of excerpts, can still react to the formal realities of the piece in that way. It's not my way, but I wasn't interested in my way but in André's way and Jo498's way. And you two have formally satisfied my curiosity. :)

Thanks!

[Next week: Lelio!!]

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Your Favorite Berlioz Symphony
« Reply #32 on: December 15, 2017, 10:15:24 AM »

[Next week: Lelio!!]


I'll cue it up!

(And I do miss things from time to time, but not a whole bally beat's rest, hot damn.)
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

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