Ten inspiring pieces of music 4: Berlioz Symphonie funèbre et triomphale

I was going through my CDs when I got to Berlioz and suddenly thought about this. It’s a piece that’s not widely known and I only encountered it as a filler on, I think, the Berlioz Te Deum (which is another contender for this slot). So if you read my first three posts and thought my choices lacked originality I’m hoping this one will stop you in your tracks.

The Symphonie is an odd beast – written for large wind and brass ensemble, some strings in some performances, and a lot of percussion, it’s a classic funeral march of the sort you might hear at a great state occasion. These tend to be repeated ad nauseum as the procession makes its way from the start of its route to its finish (British state funerals use a march by Beethoven for this).

Berlioz’s march is hypnotic and dramatic – this is a hero’s march.

This work was performed at the Proms a few years ago and they took advantage of the venue, placing different sections of the orchestra around the building. This is the recording in the video above.

The work is in three movements, a march, a slow interlude and finally a triumphant hymn

If you don’t want to sit through the funeral march you can skip to 24 minutes for the third section, or watch the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle (this is a coincidence, but he is popping up a lot in this series of posts) in a short extract.

Why do I find it inspiring? I just love the absolute drama of it. It’s batshit crazy in parts.

A really good performance should let rip, I think. If my neighbours are out, I’ve been known to play this as loud as I dare. Really gets the blood flowing.

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