Berlioz – c’est fantastique!
Verdi Overture – The Force of Destiny
Holst St Paul’s Suite
Wagner Overture – The Mastersingers
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
Which of the two powers, Love or Music, can elevate man to the sublimest heights? It is a great problem, and yet it seems to me that this is the answer: “Love can give no idea of music; music can give an idea of love.” Why separate them? They are the two wings of the soul. (Hector Berlioz – Memoires, January 1, 1865.)
Symphonie Fantastique, An Episode in the life of an artist, is an example of program music and unusually for a symphony comes in five movements, of which perhaps the most famous is the fourth, March to the Scaffold. The symphony tells the story of Berlioz’s love for an actress, Harriet Smithson, who he saw play the role of Ophelia. It took six years for the couple to become man and wife but the marriage failed, unlike the symphony. Its five movements are titled Reveries – Passions, A ball, Scene in the fields, March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.
There is a similar theme of love leading to tragic outcomes in Verdi’s opera, The Force of Destiny, but a far more positive ending, involving the triumph of both love and music, can be found in Wagner’s opera. On this occasion, music that appears to break all the rules triumphs in the competition when championed by a respected and influential musician. Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, composed for the orchestra of St Paul’s Girls School, Hammersmith, where the composer taught for many years, features one of the best-known songs of love, Greensleeves.