Discuss Berlioz’s Contribution to the Symphony

Discuss Berlioz’s contribution to the symphony Berlioz is often overlooked as an influential composer; however the reality is that he was one of the most important due to his developing ideas of how orchestration could be expanded, how symphonic form could be developed and how music would be written in a programmatic style. Above all this, Berlioz was one of the pioneers of the Romantic period, inspiring through his innovation of ideas such as the ‘idee fix’ and as some saw it, his disregard for the ‘Viennese Architectural Legacy’ and ‘rules of composition’.
The ‘idee fix’ was Berlioz’s most famous creation as it enabled him to take a more narrative approach to his composing. This was important as it contrasted from the strongly structured music that had come before him. The idee fixe is used to unify the disparate elements of the symphony in ‘Symphonie Fantastique’. Another talent Berlioz was gifted with was the art of orchestration. Although, it was not an advance that was received well at the time, it had an overarching effect of great significance.
Berlioz demonstrated his talent in his first symphony, ‘Symphonie Fantastique’. This work was the first of four symphonies that Berlioz composed. ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ was composed in a programmatic format. Berlioz may well have been the first great composer to not be able to play a musical instrument, nor to have shown any musical talent at an early age. But he persevered, and became interested in different ways to use the orchestra and the different combinations of instrumental sounds.

In 1844, he wrote a book on orchestration which he named, “Traite de l’Instrumentation” which is still widely appreciated and used today. Berlioz’ advances in this area contributed greatly to the growth and development of the modern symphony orchestra. Berlioz was the first composer to closely associate his symphonies with extra musical ‘programmes’. He described his ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ as an ‘opera without words’; with each movement vividly describing a different scene of his feelings, often with extreme changes in mood and feeling.
The advance of composing program music is the reason why most people regard Berlioz as a romantic. Having said that, Berlioz’s life featured unsuccessful love, dramatic triumphs, and dismal failures, many of the traits most romantics would be associated with. The emotional turmoil of his life is reflected in his music and this is why he was the most innovative symphonist of the early Romantic era, Wagner described his music as ‘devilishly confused musical idiom’. Symphonie Fantastique’ was the first that Berlioz wrote in a programmatic style; however ‘Harold en Italie’ is also another clear example of Berlioz’s symphonic program music. To conclude, Berlioz’s main contributions to the symphony was his creative innovations in both the introduction of the ‘idee fix’ and his advances which contributed greatly to the growth and development of the modern symphony orchestra. It could be argued that a more overarching and significant contribution was the romanticism which he clearly displays in all of his symphonies which paved the way for the later Romantic composers.

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