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Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale (H 80)

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I: Marche Funèbre
II: Oraison Funèbre
III: Apothéose
(first and second versions)

    Composed in 1840 in response to a commission from the Ministry of the Interior, the Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale was first performed on 28 July of that year for the inauguration of the column at the Place de la Bastille that commemorated the victims of the July revolution of 1830. The work represents the partial fulfillment of a project that had been haunting Berlioz for several years, that of a great funeral celebration in music for France’s great men. The work also betrays the influence of Beethoven, notably the Eroica symphony for the opening funeral march, and the finale of the Ninth symphony for the concluding movement. It was written originally for a large wind and brass band. In 1842 Berlioz revised the work and added optional parts for lower strings (first movement), string orchestra and chorus to words by his friend Antoni Deschamps (last movement). Berlioz gives an account of the circumstances of the composition of this work in his Memoirs (chapter 50; full text in Texts and Documents).

    The first movement, one of Berlioz’s grandest symphonic conceptions, is a vast funeral march in sonata form, remarkable in particular for the sustained breadth of its melodic invention.
    The optional parts for double-bassoon and bass trombone have been included in this version, but not those for cellos and double basses.
    Surprisingly there is only one metronome mark in the whole of the score, and none for this movement. Modern performances vary considerably in the speed adopted. In this version the tempo has been set at crotchet = 80. The deciding considerations are (1) that the movement as a whole must have one single underlying tempo (2) that the tempo, while slow, must have sufficient forward momentum to carry through the whole of this long movement.

    The second movement takes the form of a wordless recitative and aria in which a solo trombone dialogues with the rest of the orchestra. It incorporates music originally composed for Berlioz’s youthful opera Les Francs Juges (H 23). The only metronome mark given in the score of this movement is for the last section (Andantino poco lento e sostenuto, crotchet = 72). In this version the first two sections, Adagio non tanto and Andantino, have been set respectively at crotchet = 58 and crotchet = 63.

    The triumphant third movement follows without a break, though for the convenience of listeners the second and third movements are presented here in two forms (1) as one continuous piece in a single file and (2) as two separate movements in two files. In the latter case the listener should therefore bear in mind that the last chord of the second movement (in G major) is also the first chord of the last movement, which is therefore one bar shorter in this version. The last movement was a favourite in Berlioz’s concerts in the 1840s, when it was frequently played on its own.
    Additionally this movement is presented here in two separate versions.
    1. In the first  version the optional parts for strings and chorus have been omitted: this gives an opportunity to present the movement in something close to the original version of 1840, before the addition in 1842 of strings and a chorus.
    2. In the second version, the parts for strings and chorus have been added. This latter version is presented with all due reservations: Midi cannot reproduce voices with words, and the chorus is in any case barely audible above the mass of instruments, which greatly reduces the impact of its entry in a real performance. Besides, the large number of staves involved causes the layout to appear rather congested, and the necessary use of a small font makes the score difficult to read on any but a large monitor. For this reason the full text of the words is transcribed below.
    Berlioz again gives no metronome mark for the movement; in these two versions the tempo has been set at crotchet = 112, significantly slower than the Trojan March which might be thought to be comparable in character but which in practice is a much more urgent piece (for which the metronome mark is crotchet = 138).
    The "pavillon chinois" used by Berlioz in this movement was a percussion instrument with numerous small bells attached; it was widely used in French military bands at the time, and was popularly known in English as the "Jingling Johnny". Berlioz mentions it briefly in his Treatise on Orchestration. There is no exact Midi equivalent for it; a triangle sound has been substituted.

    Words by Antoni Deschamps:

Gloire! Gloire et triomphe à ces Héros!
Gloire et triomphe!
Venez, élus de l’autre vie!
Changez, nobles guerriers,
Tous vos lauriers
Pour des palmes immortelles!
Suivez les Séraphins,
Soldats divins
Dans les plaines éternelles!
A leurs chœurs infinis
Soyez unis!
Anges radieux,
Brûlants comme eux,
Entrez, sublimes
Gloire et triomphe à ces Héros!
Ils sont tombés aux champs de la Patrie!
Gloire et respect à leurs tombeaux!   

   I: Marche Funèbre (duration 14'7")
    — Score in large format
   (file created on 27.06.2000; revised 3.11.2001)

    II & III: Oraison Funèbre followed by Apothéose (duration 15'45")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 11.11.2001)

    II: Oraison Funèbre (duration 6'49")
    — Score in large format
   (file created on 30.03.2000; revised 11.11.2001)

    III: Apothéose
    First version, without strings or chorus (duration 8'56")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 8.10.2000; revised 11.11.2001)

    Second version, with strings and chorus (duration 8'56")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 12.10.2000; revised 23.12.2001)

© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page.

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