The Colburn Orchestra Plays Berlioz - 'Le carnaval romain, Op. 9'

For the full performance, which includes Berlioz, Dvořák and Mussorgsky, click here.

Le carnaval romain, Op. 9 "Roman Carnival"
by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Hector BerliozFrench romantic composer Hector Berlioz is remembered best for his orchestral works and, in particular, for his passionate study of western instruments. He was also a key figure in the development of program music-- musical compositions that are intended to tell a story or depict something non-musical, such as bird-song, a painting, or a poem. Berlioz stands out in this regard with the popular Symphonie fantastique, his well-known program symphony, which is a testament to his adventurous, innovative use of instruments and sound. In Symphonie fantastique Berlioz wrote with especially exotic orchestration; in addition to a full wind and brass section, the piece also calls for two ophicleides, an unusual family of bugle-type instruments that are commonly replaced by tubas in most modern performances. Berlioz put his knowledge of instruments into writing in his Treatise on Orchestration. This work, in which he made a systematic study and analysis of Western musical instruments and their role and potential in the symphony orchestra, proved to be an indispensable reference utilized by composers as well-known as Mahler, Elgar, Debussy, Puccini, and Strauss. In the course of writing his Treatise, Berlioz improved and refined his own orchestration techniques and even revised his own orchestration of Symphonie fantastique as well as his popular Harold en Italie for final publication. The work being performed tonight, Le carnaval romain, was composed in 1844.

The overture is a stand-alone concert piece for symphony orchestra but is made up of material and themes from Berlioz's first opera, the technically challenging and rarely performed Benvenuto Cellini. The opera on which this overture is based was born of inspiration garnered from two years of study in Italy. This sojourn was a result of Berlioz's winning the prestigious Prix de Rome, a French scholarship for students of the arts, including categories in painting, sculpture, architecture, engraving, and musical composition. The prize included a five year stipend and required the winner to spend two years studying in Italy. It is our good fortune that Berlioz took the lovely melodies of the opera and made a condensed version of sorts in the Le carnival romain, else some very lovely melodies might be lost to obscurity.

Arguably Berlioz's most exuberant and striking orchestral work, Le carnival romain has become a popular concert favorite. The overture begins with a short, fanfare-like introduction played by the strings and brass, followed by the first theme which is presented by the solo English horn, accompanied by violas with delicate brush-like strokes. This theme, which is taken from a love duet from Benvenuto Cellini, is then presented again by the viola section, with a light accompaniment by the winds and pizzicato strings. Finally, the whole orchestra joins in playing this beautiful melody, with festive march-like flavor as the percussion section is added. The second section of the piece is more lively, the stately long melodic lines of the previous section replaced by streams of notes in rapid succession in quick, gigue-like runs. The musical material of this section comes from a later part of Benvenuto Cellini, a raucous carnival scene which provides the overture's name. The work draws to a close with loud, fast, and energetic passages particularly noticeable in the strings, brass, and percussion, bringing the piece to a triumphant and exuberant conclusion.

by Colburn Conservatory student Matthew Cohen, violist in the Artist Diploma program

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