The Supernatural: An Exploration of the Romantic Medium Essay

The Supernatural: An Exploration of the Romantic Medium Essay

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Mankind has always fostered an unquenchable affinity with all things otherworldly and supernatural. We are equally terrified by it whilst simultaneously enthralled; dissuaded yet inspired. Many of histories literary masters and great composers derived profound inspiration from the ethereal.
Danse Macarbre by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz are two such compositions that revolve around the central concept of the supernatural. The pieces contrast in their musical representation and programmatic portrayal of death and the supernatural. Where as March to the Scaffold by Berlioz presents the matter as a serious, dark and sinister experience, Danse Macarbe, although still dark and fear-inspiring, is much more jovial and rambunctious in it’s portrayal of the supernatural.

Hector Berlioz (December 11, 1803 – March 8, 1869) was a French Romantic composer. Not a musical prodigy, nor professionally trained at any instrument, Berlioz was a self directed learner and studied the guitar and flute from books. He was sent to Paris to study medicine at age eighteen, but became repulsed by the medical profession after witnessing a human corpse being dissected. He strayed from that career path and took advantage of the many musical institutions he now had access to in the city. Berlioz went on to become a prolific composer, writing fifty pieces; the most widely appreciated of these being the Symphonie Fantastique. This piece is still recognised as one of the most important and representative pieces of the early Romantic period. Comprised of five movements, Sypmphonie Fantastique is a piece of programme music composed for 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clari...


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...aves once again and peace settles across the city of Paris… until next year that is!

While both pieces depict death as fretful and sinister, March to the Scaffold has an air of certain doom about it that makes it discerningly more somber than Danse Macarbe. March to the Scaffold instills a sense of ceremony and reserved respect for death in the listener, as the central character makes a solemn procession towards his imminent death. Danse Macarbe strikes the listener as more of a dark celebration of death; spooky but nothing malevolent of inherently evil. There is something innately humorous about the idea of skeletons engaging in a frantic jive, conducted by the berserk fiddling of the grim reaper. Both pieces depict death as dark and sinister but one is more solemn and somber in it’s delivery, whilst the other is more fantastical and humorous in it’s delivery.

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