IV. March au supplice
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Tracks 1-6
What we have here is a peacock more interested in his feathers than his mate. When Hector saw Hamlet and fell in love with Harriet, playing Ophelia
, he, I suspect, was more in rapture with the theater
than he was interested in learning about Harriet's needs as woman. Spurned by the woman with whom he would later share an unhappy marriage, Hector applied his talents to this cathartic breakthrough of Western symphonic literature. The orchestra has never been the same since.
In spite of the detailed events
produced by Berlioz, I do not feel that the story of our young hero is important to the listener. In fact, the famous idée fixe
is, particularly in this movement, not vital to the work's effectiveness. What is vital is the orchestration. Why would Berlioz feel it important to have so many people participating in this event? The ambition Berlioz had, the fire in his belly, was the idea to assemble a mass of people coordinated in refined musical events big and small. And his music, then, becomes a large-scale ritual.
Speaking of recordings, listen for the low B-flat in the trombones at track 3. I have always heard this note as a loud honk while the march gets moving. Listening to a fantastic recording
by Boulez, I was impressed with the restraint shown by the trombones of the Cleveland Orchestra. The low B-flat is, in fact, marked mf
while the rest of the band is marked f
. Apparently Berlioz knew better than to encourage the trombones.