Sunday, December 11, 2005

 

Berlioz: Harold in Italy

Harold in Italy is the title of Berlioz' Second Symphonic-Poem, Op.16, in G, written in 1834, and based upon scenes from Byron's Childe Harold. Similarly to the Fantastic Symphony, it has a Leading Theme which runs through all four Movements of the work, and it is here everywhere assigned to the solo-viola. The origin of this peculiar feature is explained by Berlioz as the result of a visit from Paganini, who begged Berlioz to write a viola Concerto for him. Paganini was dissatisfied with the product, since it did not gratify his ambition as a virtuoso; and Berlioz decided to remodel it into a symphonic scheme, to which he gave the above name. The pervading viola-voice represents, in the poetic plan, the hero, Harold, and the Leading Theme which signals this idea runs first at the at the opening of the Symphony. The first Movement is called "Harold in the Mountains; Scenes of Melancholy, Happiness and Joy." It is molded into the sonata-allegro form, with a long and impressive Introduction, during which the "Harold-Motive" is announced---first by the full wood-wind choir, and in minor: then by the solo-viola, in major. The succeeding Allegro is a broad Pastorale, of thoroughly cheerful character.

The second Movement, "March of the Pilgrims, chanting their Evening Prayer," is realistic, frankly and charmingly descriptive, and extremely beautiful in conception and formulation.

The third Movement bears the title "Serenade of a Mountaineer in the Abruzzo," an amiable Scherzo, into the fabric of which the Harold-Motive is delightfully woven.

The Finale: "Harold's End---Orgy of the Brigands," is a masterpiece of realistic structure. Its Introduction is a retrospect of the preceding scenes, similar to the plan of the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, though totally different from this in its poetic relations. The Allegro which follows is an Orgy, but a genuinely musical one, set forth in perfectly clear form---a most salutary model for many a modern composer, whose prodigious travail brings forth a---mouse!

Cheers,

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