Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Berlioz free!! This lunchtime

Cacophonous, disturbing, melodic, romantic, discordant (in patches), a friend said, ‘varied’ – and lots more adjectives could be used to describe Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Stephane Deneve.

Stephane did an impromptu few minutes – a welcome few minutes for my party of international students from the University of Strathclyde just around the corner from the magnificent Royal Concert Hall. Monsieur Deneve talked about his fellow countryman, Hector Berlioz, and what prompted him to write this wonderful piece of music.

Then we were into it, walking though meadows, dreaming of Harriet Smithson and the unrequited love Hector bore for her – the agonies of passion – putting himself through the tortures of imagining he had killed his love – marching to the scaffold, mocked by witches, in a loud and tumultuous finale. Then there was the equally tumultuous applause. It wasn't always so; early audiences were often outraged and disgusted by Berlioz' use of percussion and discord in this groundbreaking work. People would regularly stand up and shout at Berlioz as he flung himself about on the platform conducting his symphony. Later, it was to become the mountain from which composers like Mahler quarried to compose their own works. It wasn't always appreciated. It was today!

And then we were out and back along a slightly wetter looking Cathedral Street, down to the Livingstone Tower and into our classrooms.

Everybody enjoyed the experience, and for some it was their first time – the audience participation during the performance – the extended applause at the end – the walking on and off the platform by the conductor, and the repeated shows of appreciation for leader Edwin Palin, and the oboes, clarinets, brass and percussion of this great orchestra.

Robert L. Fielding


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