A5 Fantastic Symphony
Ludwig van Beethoven
Concerto for piano and orchestra No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
The Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14
Sergei Babayan – piano
Lukasz Borowicz – conductor
Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Fourth piano concert in years 1805-1806. He played the piano himself at the public premiere on December 22, 1808, in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. An enormous concert, in which Beethoven performed as a soloist for the last time, was over 4 hours long. Besides the piano concert, there were also his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Choral Fantasy for chorus and orchestra in C minor, and other compositions. Not only was the concert hall cold, but also there were several incidents – Beethoven supposedly knocked off the piano lamps twice with his broad gestures, which made him angry so he started from the beginning. All this likely contributed to the lukewarm welcome of the composition, which was practically ignored until Beethoven’s death. It returned to concert stages as a result of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s performance in Leipzig in 1836. Robert Schumann was among the audience, and he was so thrilled he “could not move a muscle nor breathe”.
The correct and real name of the Berlioz symphony is the Episode in the Life of an Artist in five movements, while the Symphonie Fantastique is just a subheading. The anglicized alternative is “Fantastic Symphony”. Berlioz, 27 years old at that time, imprinted his mental state into the composition, stemming from his unrequited love to an Irish actress Harriet Smithson. The story depicts the life of a desperate artist whose hopeless love leads him to poison himself with opium. Symphonie Fantastique is labeled as “the wordless opera”; the author commented on each sentence so the audience could “understand” the plot. Leonard Bernstein described it as the first music expedition into psychedelia due to the described hallucinations and dreams suggesting that Berlioz had written at least half of the composition under the influence of opium, which he used for his toothache. The symphony was first performed on December 5, 1830, in the Parisian’s conservatory hall.