Symphonie Fantastique: The Background

Symphonie Fantastique: The Background and the Story

In the early 19th century, the composers Beethoven and Mendelssohn dominated orchestral music. Hector Berlioz, who was a great admirer of Beethoven, sought to create something entirely new and original with his Symphonie Fantastique. Berlioz combined his love of literature and theater, in particular his fascination with the plays of Shakespeare, his admiration for the epic multi-movement symphonies of Beethoven, and his desire to compose a symphony that had a deliberately constructed story.

Symphonie Fantastique marked several, extremely important firsts: it was the first time a symphony had a story structure that actually shaped the musical events, rather than the musical events dictating the story; the traditional four-movement structure of a symphony was expanded to five movements; and many instruments were added to the traditional orchestra, with specific notes on how to use the additional instruments in unique ways (such as different sizes of mallets for each drum, to produce a more dramatic effect).

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