Hector Berlioz

Symphonie funebre et triomphale


Written in 1840, this work was commissioned by the state to celebrate the anniversary of the July Revolution of 1830, like Requiem was commissioned. The government of the day, wanting to revive patriotic sentiments of the people to the state, wished to plan a march in which the ashes of the heros from the July Revolution would be carried ceremoniously through Parisian streets and be placed at the foot of a commemorative column at Bastille. As it was with Requiem, Berlioz was approached by the Minister of the Interior for the commission of the work. After he received the commission, Berlioz intention for this ceremonious occasion was to use a large body of woodwinds to carry the symphony. String accompaniment was added only towards the end of the work.

The Music

Like most of his other large works, this symphony was written for a large orchestra (and in this case, a large woodwinds military band) and hundreds of singers. It's Berlioz's fourth and last symphony. As suggested by its name, this work has both a serious funeral march and ceremonious music to commemorate the fallen heros.

This work is set in 3 movements, all of which are instrumental, except for a portion of the last movement, which involves vocal parts. Here are brief descriptions of each portion:

Click HERE to hear a sample of the Apotheosis movement.

In this last segment of the movement, the voices come in for the first time, singing the words of Antony Deschamps.

Comparison with Requiem

Both Requiem and Symphonie funebre are ceremonious works, commemorating the dead in July Revolution. Like many of Berlioz's other works, they involve large body of singers and instruments. Both are at times serious and quiet and at times flaring and rousing. Both uses human voices and are based on original texts.

There are, however, important difference between these two works. First of all, unlike Requiem, Symphonie funebre is not a religious work. Furthermore, the symphony utilizes the voices only towards the end of the last movement, whereas Requiem uses the chorus as a critical component of the work. Berlioz's ussual styel with most of his works, including Requiem, has irregularity in musical phrasing and intensity. There is constantly large degree of variation both in music and instrumentation. Symphonie funebre, however, has a rather regular rhythm. It has catchy tunes and much less variations, when compared to other works, to achieve its broad, serious effects.

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Jason C. Lee