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First Nights – Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Program Music in the 19th Century


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Learn about Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, an iconic Romantic symphony that ushered in an era of narrative “program music.”

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Six years after the premiere of Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony, composer Hector Berlioz sought to make use of the symphonic genre, but on his own terms. Indeed, he wrote not only a five-movement symphony, but also a narrative program to accompany and explain the symphony.

This music course introduces students to the music and programmatic elements of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, illuminating a new direction for nineteenth-century music. The course’s grand finale is a live performance of the entire symphony by the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra.

Harvard’s Thomas Forrest Kelly (Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music) guides learners through Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, highlighting Berlioz’s compostional process, his innovative orchestration, and the reception of his controversial piece of narrative instrumental music.

You will learn the basics of Romantic musical style, Berlioz’s creative expansion of the standard orchestra, and the debates surrounding the idea of purely musical narrative in the 19th century.

Additional First Nights Modules:
Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera
Handel’s Messiah and Baroque Oratorio
Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Program Music in the 19th Century
Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots

  • Stylistic features of Romantic music, including program music
  • Technical details of composition and orchestration in the 19th century
  • Appreciate the cultural context and performance circumstances of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique
First Nights - Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Program Music in the 19th Century


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