When you listen to the dramatic Symphonie Fantastique ("Fantastical Symphony"), it's hard to believe that it was written in 1830. It almost sounds like a scary movie film score! This famous Romantic piece is an example of programmatic music, music that uses the unique sounds of instruments to tell a story. One of the first examples of programmatic music is Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which you can learn about in our Baroque magazine!
What is the Symphonie Fantastique about?
In a dramatic attempt to win a woman's attention, the French composer Hector Berlioz wrote this almost hour-long piece of music. It tells a story not unlike the Gothic tales the authors of his time were writing.
The Symphonie Fantastique has five movements (or sections) that tell the story of a young musician suffering from lovesickness. After taking some opium, he has a wild dream!
In the final movement – called Dream of a Witches' Sabbath – the musician comes across a scary gathering of witches, monsters, and sorcerers. They're gathering at midnight in a graveyard to celebrate the musician's funeral! Berlioz used instruments in creative ways to mimic evil laughter, rattling skeleton bones, and other creepy sounds.
Inspiration from a Gregorian Chant
Throughout Dream of a Witches' Sabbath, you'll hear an ominous tune called the Dies Irae melody. This melody comes from a Gregorian Chant used in funeral masses. Berlioz is one of the first composers to use this chant's melody without the words as a way to represent death. Now, it's used all the time in film scores (including in movies like The Lion King, Home Alone, and Star Wars) to create an unsettling feeling.
Read the guide while you listen to this spooky piece!