Use of Instrumentation, Rhythm and Dynamics in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique
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Music is a very powerful tool. It has the power to bring happiness or sorrow. It can stir up old memories that someone has forgotten. In Berlioz’s case he uses one of his most famous pieces, Symphonie Fantastique to tell a story. Berlioz combines the use of instrumentation, rhythm and dynamics in a stunningly effective way that conveys to the listener a tragic tale of an artist, whose true love didn’t reciprocate his feelings leading him down a path of self destruction.
The first tool Berlioz employs to tell his story is instrumentation. The type of instrument that is used can drastically change the feelings a musical piece expresses and therefore the story that it tells. Different instruments have their own characteristics and own unique sound. For example, trumpets tend to have a loud, bright sound which usually results in majestic and grand melodies while flutes tend to be much quieter and able to play calmer and more somber melodies. The particular movement in question here is the fourth movement, March to the Scaffold. In this movement an artist has taken opium, and envisions himself killing his beloved, and then he is led to the scaffold and executed. Right at the beginning of this movement, Berlioz uses the low sounds of the French horns to create the impression that something grave has occurred. The string section then plays a similar solemn melody creating a scene in which it seems the artist has been apprehended and there is no escape. Later on he uses the loud majestic sounds of the horns to paint a picture of a huge crowd, rejoicing as this criminal has been caught. Right before the execution, a lone clarinet plays a light melody representing the last conscious thought of the artist in which he seems to see his love ...
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...shattered with the fortissimo g minor chord that the whole band plays bringing the listener back into the real world that Berlioz is expressing. Likewise the quiet violin notes represent this insignificant head bouncing and it is nothing compared to the massive world all around. Then at the end of the piece Berlioz once again has the whole orchestra play fortissimo to provide the listener with a picture of an absolutely colossal crowd cheering together. The use of dynamics helped Berlioz establish what perspective he was telling the story from.
These three devices used in juxtaposition gave Berlioz the power to tell a story. The type of instrument he would use, along with the rhythm and dynamic that accompanied it would help paint pictures ranging from a massive crowd cheering, to a single man experiencing one last moment of pleasure in his mind before his death.