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1834 – Berlioz, Harold in Italy


1834 Berlioz Harold in Italy
Instrumentation Viola solo, strings, 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, harp, timpani and percussion
Movements I: Harold in the Mountains (Adagio – Allegro) II: March of the Pilgrims (Allegretto) III: Serenade (Allegro – Allegretto) IV: Orgy of the Brigands (Allegro frenetico)
Overview In 1834 Berlioz was asked by the virtuoso violinist Paganini to write a viola concerto.  Berlioz duly composed Harold in Italy, but Paganini never played it, considering that it did not display his technical skills sufficiently.  In fact the work is usually referred to as a symphony with viola obbligato (rather than concerto). Harold in Italy takes as its stimulus a long poem called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by the English poet Lord Byron, written in 1818.  Berlioz, in common with many other Romantic composers, often wrote music based on literary subjects. The poem describes the wanderings of a young man, disillusioned with his empty pleasure-seeking life, who looks for distraction in foreign scenes.  In the music Harold is represented by the solo viola, and his Romantic nature is represented by an idée fixe – a theme which recurs in every movement, but which appears in various guises according to the prevailing mood.

See score / Listen on Youtube

K) Rhythm This work is a good example of the influence of dance styles on rhythm. The dotted compound-time rhythms of the third movement is typical of the Italian Saltarello:

Berlioz has a neat trick up his sleeve in the third movement. His first section is double the speed of his section section which allows him to combine the two in a codetta at the end, in which two bars of the first section material fit with one bar of the second section material. (see score)
L) Dance, Folk and national styles. The third movement is entitled Serenade – traditionally a love song sung by a young man to his intended, often accompanied on the guitar (listen to the string accompaniment to the main melody in the central section).  The ‘mountaineer’ referred to in the subtitle refers to someone who lives in a mountainous region, rather than a conqueror of high peaks.

In the opening section Berlioz evokes a folk dance the Saltarello with dotted rhythms and irregular accents on the second beat that represent the jumps and arm movements characteristic of this dance. The accompaniment imitates a hurdy gurdy with double drone with accents representing the periodic turning of the handle. Also important is the use of the Mixolydian mode – the flattened seventh used by many Romantic composers to evoke folk music. Look at the score of the opening of this movement and listen to the example:

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