Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks - BRSO

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique


To mark the 75th anniversary of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (BRSO) in 2024, a previously unreleased live recording of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique under the baton of Sir Colin Davis from 1987 will be released.

Hector Berlioz’s passionate Symphonie fantastique, the great French composer’s almost revolutionary symphonic masterpiece, was performed by Colin Davis with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks at Munich’s Philharmonie im Gasteig on January 15 and 16, 1987. Davis was acknowledged during his lifetime as a leading expert on Berlioz’s music, and his recordings are legendary. This live recording documents a performance that sets a new standard for the work.

In his Symphonie fantastique, subtitled Episodes from the Life of an Artist, the French composer and writer Hector Berlioz combines the structures of the musical symphony with the form of a classical five-part drama. He uses a leitmotif (an “idée fixe”) to tell the listener about the beloved woman of his dreams. The Symphonie fantastique thus paved the way for the Romantic symphonic poem, and the leitmotif method in Wagner’s music dramas.

“I am still unknown,” wrote Berlioz in June 1829 at the age of 25 – but he was certain that he could achieve resounding success with the idea of a major instrumental work. With his Symphonie fantastique, he created a new kind of programme music. Berlioz was inspired by the works of Goethe and the symphonic music of Beethoven – and also by his fascination with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, whom he saw playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Odéon theatre in Paris on September 11, 1827. The “idée fixe”, the main theme, refers to the artist going through his life story in various inner states of mind.

The starting point of the first movement is an unhappy love affair. The music presses ahead passionately and captivatingly towards its finale.

The young composer was so fascinated by Harriet Smithson that, for months, he endured the agonies of a passion that seemed completely hopeless. He wrote countless love letters that were never answered, and Harriet left Paris without any reaction at all. The premiere of the Symphonie fantastique took place in Paris on December 5, 1830. Harriet heard the work two years later and finally recognised the composer’s genius. The two met and married on October 3, 1833, but the marriage soon became increasingly problematic and they finally separated after several unhappy years.

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Sir Colin Davis conductor

Total Time: 58:52

Marking the 75th anniversary of the Symphonie-orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

  • Berlioz’s passionate Symphonie fantastique in a performance that sets a new standard for the work
  • A recording of the performances of January 15 and 16, 1987 from Munich’s Philharmonie im Gasteig
  • The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of Colin Davis, an acknowledged expert on Berlioz’s music