The Romantic era is a period that spurs a lot of revolutions in a number of sectors ranging from art, literature, music and intellectual movements among many others. Most outstandingly hits were visual arts, music and literature as it was associated with liberalism and radicalism. The emergence of great role models especially William Shakespeare played a very significant role in molding inspiration in several young artists and composers. A keen look at the works of two of such composers; Frenchman Hector Berlioz's ‘Symphonie’ Fantastique and Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Overture" gives a classic representation of the intertwined similarities shared.
First is the story behind each piece. Whereas Tchaikovsky directly bases his piece on Shakespeare’s work of Romeo and Juliet, Berlioz’s work is inspired by his own desperate love for an English actress by the name Harriet Smithson, who struck his eyes with a role in Shakespeare’s work, Hamlet, playing as Ophelia in Paris. This clearly shows that both pieces are presentations of love stories brought out with fluctuation in tones and intensities coupled with key variation to suit the twists and turns in the storylines.
Romeo and Juliet Overture is based on three main strands beginning with an F-sharp minor and a chorale-like on, followed by a D natural bass with an introduction lone B minor chord. This then builds up to an agitation of plucking bringing out a fight situation which gets abruptly altered by a forceful irregular rhythms of street music and key shift to D flat. It is therefore possible for one to draw a mixture of longing and passion mixed with an aura of anxiety.
With a near-similar intent of feeding his audience with a real outline of tale depicting music in the work (quote), Berlioz employs the idee fixe in his piece and throws the audience into a fancy world of romance, a ball, a guillotine and a Witch’s Sabbath (quote). The dynamic nature of themes of idee fixe just as in Romeo and Juliet Overture above, bring out the different scenes perfectly well.
The sonata-allegro with which Romeo and Juliet overture is done contains two most important musical themes including; Montague and the Friar Laurence/Capulet theme demonstrating Juliet and Romeo’s love respectively. In this music, the initial part starts off as a solemn chorale that is similar to that chorale used by the Russian Orthodox Church. This particular musical representation by Tchaikovsky is that of Friar Lawrence.
In this section, it sets off with sequences of woodwind instruments that precedes the horns and strings then turns full circle around to the woodwinds’ sequences. The continuous repeat of this part of the theme raises tension as the opening wind chords becomes swift over the strings that are plucked, and the addition of timpani makes the theme more fantastic.
In conclusion, Hector Berlioz’s piece strikes a resolution in the mind as it involves the employment of the idee fixe which hadn’t been intensively used before. The programmatic symphony gives a real-time feeling of the fancy world more than Tchaikovsky’s work. This music is an epic for a big orchestra through its application of its movements including; ball, reveries, passions, scenes in the field, march to the scaffold, dream of a witches’ Sabbath, and the symphony’s description of dreams, obsessions, and instance of tenderness, murder and visions of suicide, despair and ecstasy.
Hickok, R. (1993). Exploring music. Dubuque, Iowa: Brown & Benchmark.