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Program Notes

March to the Scaffold


Hector Berlioz, composer

On September 11, 1827, Hector Berlioz attended a performance of Hamlet in which the actress Harriet Smithson played the role of Ophelia. Overwhelmed by her beauty, he fell desperately in love. Artist that he was, he found a way to channel his emotional upheaval into something he could control: a "fantastic symphony" that took as its subject the experiences of a young musician in love. The program leaves no doubt that he conceived of the Symphonie Fantastique as a romantically heightened self-portrait. In the March to the Scaffold the artist, in an opium dream, witnesses his own excecution.

—Ted Libbey

March to the Scaffold is the fourth movement from Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. Berlioz wrote this work during an emotionally charged period of his life, a time when he was deeply in love with Irish Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson (whom he married in 1833). This programmatic symphony was first performed in 1830 and is considered one of the most significant pieces of the early Romantic period.



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