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Overture: Roman Carnival (H 95)

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    See also Texts and Documents; Berlioz and his music: self-borrowings

    Composed in 1843-1844 this overture was an instant success at its first performance early in 1844; Berlioz performed it frequently in his tours abroad (it was a particular success in Vienna in his visit of 1845-1846), and it has remained ever since one of his most popular works. The overture is dedicated to the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, and was conducted by Berlioz at the prince’s castle at Löwenberg in April 1863.

    The music is based on material from two scenes of his opera Benvenuto Cellini of 1834-8 (H 76), but is entirely different from the earlier overture he had written for the opera. The duet between Teresa and Cellini early in Act I provides the melody for the slow introduction, and the carnival scene from later in the same Act (in the numbering of the Paris version of the opera) provides most of the music for the main allegro. Characteristically Berlioz changes the original keys of the music (from A flat major to C, then E, then A for the duet; from F major to A major for the carnival music). The work is a brilliant example of Berlioz’s ability to translate vocal music into orchestral terms and recreate it in fresh colours. As in the overtures to Les Francs JugesBenvenuto Cellini and Le Corsaire the music of the slow introduction reappears later in the allegro (bars 304-39, 372-87).

    In Berlioz’s score the metronome mark for the main Allegro is dotted crotchet = 156. Hugh Macdonald has however suggested that this is a mistake for 152, the tempo given in the score of Benvenuto Cellini for the carnival music. Besides, 156 does not exist on the metronome scale (see Berlioz Studies, ed. Peter Bloom [Cambridge University Press, 1992], p.22). This suggestion has been followed here.

    Overture: Roman Carnival (duration 8'38")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 11.06.2000; revised 18.09.2001)

© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page

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