Hector Berlioz: Roméo & Juliette
Le retour à la vie - this extraordinary work, half-literary, half-musical reflected much of the thoughts and ideas also found in his letters of the time, using music that was largely written earlier in Paris. The genesis of the work was yet another love-affair gone wrong. The six musical numbers of Lélio are wholly diverse in subject and treatment, yet a sense of order is imposed by the literary format. It is a unique assemblage, there is nothing else quite like it in all musical history.
Roméo et Juliette is counted third among Berlioz’s 4 symphonies. Another uniquely constructed work, it moves away from the purely symphonic towards the realm of opera. But Berlioz keeps the formal structure of a symphony firmly in his mind: the three principal instrumental sections – Fete chez Capulet, Scene d’amour, and La reine Mab – making a first movement, slow movement and scherzo encircled by elaborate vocal sections to begin and end.
This is a double bill of vintage recordings to excite the interest of any devoted Berliozian, especially as it features two under-recorded conductors and a work which remains neglected, although perhaps not without reason. Lélio is a highly original but strange and diffuse piece, encompassing six musical numbers all of which are very different from each other, linked by an overblown, hyper-Romantic narrative and the literary theme of the artist healing himself following unhappy love affairs by immersing himself in his music; it was intended as sequel to the Symphonie fantastique and in his subsequent revision Berlioz specifically made his future wife, Harriet Smithson, its object.