Hector Berlioz (11.12.1803 – 08.03.1869) was a French Romantic composer whose original and inventive works shocked audiences of the time. His best known works include the Grande messe des morts (Requiem), the massive opera Les Troyens, and La damnation de Faust. However the culmination of his art must surely be the dramatic Symphonie fantastique. Berlioz was also a fine conductor, who loved to use large forces, and he wrote an influential treatise on orchestration.
Berlioz saw the Symphonie fantastique in autobiographical terms writing that it stood for ‘all I have suffered, all I have attempted … the loves, the labours, the bereavements of my youth’. The work is written in five dream-like movements:
- Rêveries – Passions
- A Ball
- Scene in the Country
- March to the Scaffold – where the dreams intensify into a nightmare
- Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath – ending in a tour de force of rhythmical and orchestral virtuosity
Colin Davis is arguably the greatest of all conductors of the works of Hector Berlioz and his live recording of this symphony with the splendid London Symphony Orchestra eclipses all other performances. This is Davis’ fourth recording of the symphony is full of excitement and the extra tension of a live performance backed by many years experience of the work. This would have to be one of my desert island discs.