Reviewing Immerseel’s Recording of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’

Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ tells the tale of an artist’s opium fuelled hallucinations through the use of a rich and varied musical canvas unified by a returning idée fixe. This recording works because it invokes a world of fantasy, and is not just pleasant background music. Care is taken to conjure the hallucination which Berlioz’s imaginative scoring insinuates; from the fragile oboe and cor anglais duet opening Scène aux Champs to the vociferous tutti passages ending the Marche au Supplice, the orchestra demonstrates exactly why the composer has orchestrated in the way that he has.

Period instruments are chosen for an authentic sound, a decision that echoes Jos Van Immerseel’s assessment of the forces required; the recording uses a relatively small string section favouring Berlioz’s ideal of accuracy over spectacle alone. The strings are at their most expressive in the second movement, with sympathetic phrasing and delicacy over their articulation. The dynamic contrast, which is particularly evident in the crescendo near the opening of Marche au Supplice supplied fitting intensity, and helped carry the fantasy without becoming vulgar and excessive.  The only real problem with the recording is the sloppiness of the col legno squeaks in Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat, which sounds neither musical, nor evocative of a bubbling cauldron. However, other than that this is an excellent recording of Berlioz’s magnum opus.

Star Review: 4 Stars

This CD is available on Amazon via the following link:

Anton Bruckner and the Development of the Symphony

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) significantly developed the Symphony, and it is in this genre that Bruckner’s work is generally most acknowledged. His symphonies are accessible on their fist listening, but provide further depth for those who seek it. It is important when analyzing Bruckner’s contribution to the genre to take note of his extremely well rounded academic studies, of which he pursued all of his life. It is his dedication to conservative practices of counterpoint and structure paired with his contemporary Richard Wagner  (1813-1883) influenced harmony and orchestral forces that made Bruckner’s music unique, but perhaps most importantly Bruckner’s symphonies more than any others brought a new sense of breadth to the symphony.

At the time Bruckner began to compose his symphonies the more adventurous composers (such as the Wagnerians) had virtually abandoned the genre, instead more interested in creating music combined with other art forms like theatre, dance and prose; the symphony was the domain of the more conservative composers like Johannes Brahms (1833-1879). Bruckner was unique in borrowing distinct elements from both groups. This fusion was applied with a deep understanding and appreciation of the genre; Bruckner was a well-read scholar and had studied comprehensively many aspects of music before contemplating writing a symphony. As a result of this Bruckner was 39 before he finished his first symphony, symphony No.00 – the Study Symphony in F Minor (1863) and still was an active scholar into his 40’s. Furthermore Bruckner was not generally well known after he was 60.

Bruckner’s inventive orchestration was influenced not only by Wagner, but also by the organ; Bruckner was an organ virtuoso who held the position of cathedral organist at Linz. Bruckner obtained this position by accident, characteristically unable to decide whether to apply, Bruckner procrastinated and eventually decided to not apply, luckily he went to watch the auditions and improvised a strict fugue on a theme the other applicants found too difficult. As an organ virtuoso Bruckner enjoyed triumph in St. Epvre at Nancy (1869), which led to well as successful tour in London (1871), later in life Bruckner would reminisce about his tour of London, and regretted not accepting invitations to tour again. It was as the organist in Linz that Bruckner befriended the opera conductor Otto Kitzler (1832-1915) who as Bruckner’s last composition tutor introduced Bruckner to the scores of both Beethoven and Wagner, and would later play a significant role in getting Bruckner’s work performed.

It is of some significance that Bruckner was generally accepted as a disciple of Wagner, whom Bruckner thought of as a master; an attribute which both attained Bruckner an increased criticism from the press, particularly from leading Vienna music critic Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904), and effectively giving a number of well wishing Wagnerians permission to adjust Bruckner’s music to better fulfill Wagnerite intentions. Also produced was a collection of performing editions, made by sympathetic conductors and even Bruckner himself to better allow his ambitious music to be performed, normally inducing significant cuts which effect symphonies overall structure. Disregarding these external editions the original autograph manuscripts Bruckner produced were subject to an ongoing purification process that already resulted in multiple original scores, with Bruckner showing no signs of preference towards any particular version. As a result many Bruckner approved versions of the same music exist. While Bruckner his usually associated with Wagner and Beethoven, it is important to compare Bruckner with Franz Schubert (1797-1928), both composers use Austrian folk music undisguised through meter, often enough for them both to be described as national composers, and while nothing in either composers scores hints any common ground towards other, some of Schubert’s music sounds like Bruckner’s and vice versa. However Bruckner’s music contains many newer innovations in harmony and scoring.

Bruckner’s influence changed the way later composers consider the length, structural development and general grandeur the symphony has to offer. All the symphonies are in four movements, for the opening movements Bruckner incorporates a personalized sonata form. The middle movements are a slow movement followed by a ¾ scherzo, though with symphonies eight and nine the middle movements are reversed. The modification of sonata form is derived from the requirements of the increasingly chromatic 20th Centaury, he studied sonata form with the renowned tutor Simon Sechter (1788-1867) by postal tuition, although extended the sonata form to allow for enharmonic changes, a feature which Sechter strongly disapproved of. An example of extending sonata form can be seen as early as symphony no.1 in C Minor (1866 revised; 1877, 1891). Here Bruckner introduces a third theme in the exposition, as a consequence the codetta is removed. Bruckner usually adapts sonata form through the use of key relationships; Bruckner often begins symphonies in an alien key before working the music through to the tonic (see example 1). At the time Bruckner was composing the development section of sonatas had gone completely. The structure of Bruckner’s symphonies was very important as most of his symphonies last for around an hour, an uncommonly long duration at the time. The symphony no.2 in C minor (1873 revised; 1876, 1877, 1892) incorporates interconnected ideas appearing throughout movements, particularly the first movement and the finale.

Example 1: Bruckner, Symphony No.6, “Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell” movement IV bb. 1-4. The music opens in A minor and E Phrygian before arriving at the Symphonies key of A Major.

Bruckner’s model for the symphonic form was derived directly from Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), in particular his symphony no.9 in D minor Op. 125 chorale (1824). Bruckner was one of the earliest composers to acknowledge this work fully. Bruckner drew a sense of grandeur from this symphony, which he incorporated into his own works. This can be seen in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor (WAB 103) Wagner symphony (1873 revised; 1877, 1891):

the texture and gestural character of the opening passage, bars 1 to 46, resembles that of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its trajectory from pianissimo tremolando string texture to fortissimo unison tutti theme (Horton, J. page 176).

However, unlike Beethoven’s symphonies Bruckner did not try to set a new atmosphere with each symphony. As a general trend, after Beethoven the number of composers writing symphonies gradually declined, consequently by the time Bruckner was composing the number of composers writing orchestral music in traditional symphonic forms has declined, and as a result the importance of sonata form had also deteriorated, with composers preferring improvisation and fantasia as forms for their works. The sonata form became increasingly undisciplined which helped Bruckner modify the form to suit his harmonic needs. Similarly to Schubert, Bruckner would use unusual and unconventional modulations. From the 4 years Bruckner studies with Sechter, Bruckner learned about root progressions, which Bruckner then applied to form his modulations. From Bruckner’s organ background we see various pedal points appear in Bruckners work.

Throughout his symphonies, Bruckner takes thematic development to greater levels of depth, and in ways that appeared alien to numerous contemporaries. Bruckner often developed material through the use and combination of inversion, retrograde, augmentation, diminution and fragmentation. It is because of the highly manipulated themes that Bruckner’s developments often showed little resemblance to the main theme, and as a result his music was misunderstood to be a stream of unrelated ideas within a single work. Here Bruckner can again be likened to Schubert, as both composers would continue to develop a motif until they could fully exploit its potential. These tools are used to enhance the music and to add to the listener’s enjoyment of the music, not solely to demonstrate his theoretical knowledge, however Bruckners music was written intellectually which contrasts other romantic composers.  As a consequence of his lifelong academic studies, Bruckner often struggled to follow basic music theory rules in a time when the rules were being threatened more readily than ever before. Bruckner would refine his works thoroughly, checking for parallel octaves and unison (in melodic lines, not scoring). When Friedrich Klose (1862-1942) asked Bruckner why he searched for parallel octaves in his work, while Richard Wagner ignores their importance, Bruckner replied “Wagner, the Master, was permitted such things, but not Bruckner, the schoolmaster” (Doernberg, E. page 14).  Bruckner also a very romantic composer; examples of romanticism are present throughout many of his works. Unprepared dissonances, wide intervals in the melody and complex tonal relationships over a basic root progression are all features of Bruckners work. At the time Bruckner was writing composers tended to use the melodic shape of the main theme and add elaborations, which listeners of the time would recognize as the main theme more easily than Bruckners distorted fragmented quotations. Bruckner’s music can be said to use motivic ideas, an influence from Wagner. The idea of thematic music was not limited to pitch. Bruckner’s symphonies benefit from rhythms providing coherence. It is from Bruckner’s symphonies that the Bruckner rhythm arrives; the duplet-triplet combination (see example 2&3). The rhythm originates from the third symphony. Another rhythmic feature found throughout Bruckner’s symphonies is the double dotted rhythm (see example 4).

Example 2: ‘the Bruckner rhythm’

Example 3: Bruckner, Symphony No.3, “Maessig Bewegt” movement I bb. 101-102. First use of the Bruckner rhythm in a theme.

Example 4: Bruckner, Symphony No.7, “Trio” movement IIIb bb. 1-4. Use of double dotting.

Bruckner also contributed to the orchestration used in symphonies. It was only upon seeing the score to Wagner’s opera Tannhaeuser und der Sängerkrieg auf der Watburg (1845), introduced to him by his teacher Otto Kitzier that Bruckner began to write truly great music. The score inspired Bruckner demonstrated large scale forces that would give new options to the composer. It is important to note that it was Wagner’s orchestra, not Wagner’s orchestration that Bruckner would use most heavily in his work. Wagner used many instruments such as anvils purely for the creation of certain sound effects within his operas; Bruckner omits these instruments from his scores, however in his last three symphonies Bruckner even uses Wagner horns. Typically Bruckner symphonies use paired woodwind, four horns, two or three trumpets, three trombones, one tuba, timpani and strings although some of the later symphonies slightly extend this.

It is characteristic in Bruckner’s symphonies to see frequent unison passages (see example 5) as well as large-scale orchestral tutti. Bruckner adopted this style of writing in part because of his history with the organ. These help contribute to the originality of Bruckner’s work. Within some Bruckner score unusual terms appear, such as “’Misterioso, breit und feierlich’ (noble and solemn), ‘sehr ruhigund feierlich’ (very calm and solemn)” (Doernberg, E. page 4). Bruckner’s music appropriately “has been labelled with the word ‘mysticism’” (Doernberg, E. page 4). Bruckner’s symphonies all start softly, however they all have subtle differences.

While Bruckner clearly brought his own individuality to his work; only Bruckner could have written his latter symphonies, and Bruckner did introduce structural, stylistic and majesty to the genre, which would later influence composers like Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), one does feel that disregarding form and the aesthetic value of his music his music is mostly strengthened by his assimilation of other composer’s ideas (particularly Wagner’s) into the symphony. However one sympathizes with Bruckner who’s music was often presented to listeners of his time in an abridged form, altering Bruckners structure and thematic developments, in that his original manuscripts written for the future contain mixtures of ideas diverse enough to make his music some of the most distinctive around; and he, one of the most contemporary symphony composers of his time.

Example 5: Bruckner, Symphony No.7, “Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht schnell” movement IV bb. 93-96. Use of unison and orchestral tutti.


Bruckner, A (1869) Symphony No. 0. London: Eulenburg

Bruckner, A (1954) Symphony No. 7. London: Eulenburg

Cohrs, B-G. (2006) ‘Anton Bruckner Symphony No. IX D-Minor, Finale’ available from [Accessed 13/12/07]

Doernberg, E. (1960) the life and symphonies of Anton Bruckner. London: Barrie and Rockliff

Engel, G. (1940) ‘The Life of Anton Bruckner’ in Chord and discord a journal of modern musical progress, 2/1. Available from [Accessed 8/12/07]

Horton, J. (2004) Bruckner’s Symphonies analysis, reception and cultural politics. Cambridge: University Press

Worb, H. (2001) ‘Bruckner, Anton’ in S. Sadie (ed.) The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: Second Edition. London: Macmillan, Vol. 4, 458-487.

—– (n.d.) ‘Anton Bruckner’. Available from [Accessed 13/12/07]


Bruckner, A (1881) Symphony No. 6. Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frakfurt, conducted by Eliahu Inbal. Teldec,

Bruckner, A (1896) Symphony No. 9 in D minor. BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Bernhard Klee. BBC,

An Analysis of Beethoven, Symphony No.1, movement 4.

Because of the similarities between this movement and the standard formal model for sonata form, I believe the movement to be in sonata form.

Before attaching a structure to the work, it is important to first understand the standard formal model. In sonata form the broadest structure can be defined as:

(Introduction) → Exposition → Development → Recapitulation →  (Coda)

In later pieces, sonata form movements may begin with an introduction. This is not a part of strict sonata form, but used only to add weight to a movement. Usually the introduction will not be included in the repeat of the exposition.

The exposition begins by introducing the first subject group. This statement is made in the home (tonic) key, which for this piece will be C Major. Generally, this will be more dramatic and energetic. This will usually be followed by a bridge (or transitional) section, which will help modulate from the tonic key of the first subject to the second subject; this section is sometimes disregarded completely. Because the tonic of this movement is major, the second subject group will appear in the dominant key, (if the tonic was minor we would expect this to be in a minor key); therefore, we would expect the key for this section to be G Major. Contrasting the first subject, this theme will be of a different mood, typically more lyrical. This is followed by a codetta (or terminary) section, which will both conclude the exposition and help lead into the development section. The last bars may be different between the repeats; this is to lead back to the tonic if repeating the exposition, or to lead into the development section.

The development is used to expand material introduced in the exposition. It will normally begin in the key the exposition ended in and end in the dominant, preparing the music or the recapitulation. Due in part to the chromatic movement often used in this section, the development section is the least stable section. The music is typically derived from ideas heard in the exposition, but may include some new ideas. Development is usually derived through a number of techniques including modulation through a variety of keys, thematic fragmentation, sequential movement, imitation, the juxtaposition of contrasting motifs and themes, rhythmic alteration, as well as motivic changes such as augmentation and diminution. The development section will end with a retransition, which will help lead back to the tonic key through heavy use of the dominant seventh chord of the piece.

The recapitulation is an altered repeat of the exposition. We would expect to begin with an exact repeat of the first subject in the tonic key. This will be followed by a Transition section, which will be altered to prevent key change, to remain in the piece’s home key. This is sometimes achieved by the introduction of new material, or by creating a brief additional development, sometimes called a secondary development. This will be followed by the second subject, which will now be in the tonic key, further adding to a general sense of closure. This will be followed by a codetta in the tonic key.

In some cases, music will continue after the final cadence of the recapitulation with a coda, which will contain material from the movement (excluding the introduction, as this is not a part of the strict sonata form). Codas, when present, vary considerably in length, but, like introductions, while used for various reasons, including the need to provide a more substantial end to a long piece of music, are not a part of the sonata form itself. The coda will end with a perfect cadence in the home key.

This model can be related to Beethoven. The introduction begins in bar 1 and ends in at the end of bar 7. This music does not appear in the music that follows, which means it cannot be a part of sonata form in its strictest form. The music in sections builds into what I shall refer to as Motif 1. This motif first occurs in bars 6-7 and is used heavily throughout the work.

Motif 1:

The exposition can be interpreted to begin at bar 6 or 8 and continues until the end of bar 97 first time ending. This is because motif one (beginning in bar 6) could be seen to be part of the first subject. This is reinforced further by the tempo change, separating bar 6 from the introduction. We could also interpret the exposition to begin in bar 8 because this is where the material begins when repeated. My personal interpretation is that the exposition begins in bar 6 and the repeated material includes this through the repetition of motif 1 in the exposition first time ending. Theme 1 is the first thing we hear in the exposition, arguably beginning a bar and a half before the exposition with Motif 1 in the middle of bar 6. This theme is arguably the more dramatic theme of the piece. Theme 1 is shown below.

Theme 1:

This begins in C Major but in bar 13 F#’s emerge which indicate a modulation into G Major, the C# is used as a chromatic colour, it is not a modulation.

The upbeat to bar 15 sees the introduction of motif 2. This is used in a descending sequence in the violins. Behind this the viola, cellos and later double basses play a 6 note fragment, which could be derived from the fragmentation and augmentation of the ascending scale of motif 1. This material ends with a cadence in C major in bar 22. The cadence while strong does not indicate a section change because motif 2 is then introduced in the woodwinds, first in the bassoon, then the oboes and flutes. This material (bar 22-30) is reorchestrated repetition of bar 14-22.

Motif 2:

Bar 30-38 remains in the tonic and uses an ascending figure which I have labeled motif 3. This is used in the oboes, trumpets and trombones and represents the end of the first subject group and remains in the tonic throughout.

Motif 3:

We begin the transition (or bridge) section in bar 38 with a sequenced inversion of semi-motif 1. We begin to modulate at this point, beginning in A minor in bar 38-41, passing through D Major in bar 42, G Major in bar 43 cadencing on C Major in the end of bar 43-44. Then through G Major for the rest of bar 44 and into D Major in bar 45 ending in G Major in bar 47 through to the end of the bridge in bar 55, ending with an imperfect cadence.

We then begin the second subject group in bar 56 with the introduction of theme 2. As we would expect theme 2 is more lyrical than theme 1. As we would expect, we are clearly in G Major, which is the overall dominant. Towards the end of this section, we begin to head towards C Major with F naturals in bar 68.

Theme 2:

In bar 70 we get a stark contrast in texture and intensity. We modulate chromatically from D Major to G Major. The homophonic texture builds tension, which is released with perfect cadence in bar 77-78. This texture and harmony is reminiscent of a similar section from the first movement of the symphony, alluding to the larger structure of the work. In bar 78 we jump again into a new texture. A series of perfect cadences begin which adds both security of the G Major key and a sense of closure to the second subject group. The characteristic perfect cadences are new material that shall be called motif 4.

Motif 4:

In bar 86 we begin the codetta, which lasts until the end of the first time ending. This is in G Major, which was used for the second subject, as we would expect. C#’s emerge in bar 93 moving into Major. In bar 96 (first time ending) the dominant seventh chord is used to modulate to the tonic C Major ready for the repeat of the exposition. The codetta is made up from an ascending sequence of motif 1. Beethoven has ended this section with motif 1 leading into theme 1. We can interpret the codetta to include either first and second time ending or just the first time ending, with the second time ending either using motif 1 to lead into the development section, or the second time ending starting the development section.

An important structural change takes place in bar 98 where the development section begins. Motif 1 is used in different transpositions between short chordal phrases. Because Beethoven uses diminished sevenths in the chordal phrases, the tonality is ambiguous. Bar 108 brings a new texture and a new key as well as sharp dynamic contrast. The Bb pedal roots the tonality in Bb Major. The homophonic texture is accompanied by an arpeggic melody.

In bar 116 we see familiar material; a fragment motif 2 can be seen in the violin I part. Motif 1 can also be seen supporting this in the cello part. We also modulate to the dominant of the current key, F Major.

Motif 1 then moves to the Violin I and later Violin II, Viola and Cello in bar 126. Descending scales are used antiphonally to balance motif I. This scalic passage can also be seen as a shortened inversion of Motif I. By Bar 130 we see the continuation of scales combined with the introduction of the rhythmic cell from motif 4in bassoons and the full motif 4 in the flute and oboe parts. We then move from F Major towards G Major through the cycle of fifths.

Antiphonal exchange in bar 130:

In bar 140 we see another change in texture. The upper winds show an augmented motif 3. This section is firmly rooted in the tonic minor C Minor. In bar 148 we see the restatement of motif 1 in the violins. The violas and cellos antiphonally balance this. This is halted in bar 156 with an elaborate cadential pattern in G Minor ending on bar 160.  To add further closure to this section in bar 160 the bass line from this cadential pattern is taken up by the winds and harmonised in thirds. The end of this section overlaps with the emergence of the recapitulation.

The appearance of motif 1 in the tonic in the violin I is significant because it leads again into theme 1 at bar 164. This is unchanged from the exposition. Bar 170 brings motif 2. This differs from the exposition however; this is shortened by the cadence that appears in bar 177 but motif 2 appears in the bassoons, which leads into an extension of the motif 2 sequence. We then add the descending scale (or possible shorten inversion of motif 1) in bar 188 in violin I, as well as a possible reference to motif 3 with the upper woodwind.  In bar 190 we get the familiar trill like phrase we see in bar 54; this arrives earlier than it previously did in the exposition as the transitional section is omitted from the recapitulation. At this point, we are heading again towards the tonic, C Major.

At bar 192 we see the reintroduction of theme 2, and the beginning of the repetition of the second subject group. Theme 2 is, as we would expect in the tonic key of C Major. Theme 2 has been extended to bar 209. Bar 210 brings a repeat of the homophonic texture heard in bar 70-78 in the tonic key.  This is again followed in Bar 218 with the perfect cadences of motif 4 to finish the second subject group firmly in the tonic in case of ambiguity caused by the chromatic movement in bars 210-216.

The codetta is repeated at bar 226 including motif 1 in the violins. Bar 232 adds double dotted rhythms to build into the cadences at bars 234-35 and 236-37. A big imperfect cadence in G minor (the tonic minor of the dominant) is heard first, followed by an imperfect cadence in the tonic. At bar 238 we see ascending scales implying a shortened motif 1, which is then shown in its entirety in 242-43, leading into a repeat of theme 1 beginning bar 244.

We are now repeating the section as we did with the exposition, due to the changes in the material Beethoven has chosen to notate the repeat of the section, contrasting the exposition where the material was repeated exactly (with the exception of the first and second time endings). This is because Beethoven repeats only the first subject group; omitting the transitional section, second subject group and codetta.

The descending sequence of motif 2 heard in the upbeat to bar 15 is repeated at bar 251. The bassoon uses the ascending scale more than when first heard, but is the same duration 7½ bars long. After a brief bar delay motif 2 is then moved to woodwinds as in the exposition. In bar 266 a new cadence is introduced ending the first subject group and introducing the coda.

Making an 8 bar phrase in bar 251-258:

This concludes the recapitulation, which is where we would expect to end the piece according to strict sonata form procedure, but to add more substantial closure to the significant duration of the symphony a coda is added beginning bar 266. The cadences initially heard establish key and begin to provide the closure we would expect from the piece. The cadences can be seen as either new material or possibly an implied extension of motif 4. The flutes in bar 270 are derived from motif 1. The violins I and II, clarinets, bassoons and oboes then take this up. In bar 283 crescendos are used to anticipate the intensity of the final section of the coda. Bar 289 sees the return of motif 1 in full, where it is used up a diatonic third in bar 291 to build into the bar 293, where homophonic tutti cadences in the tonic key of C major are used to firmly end the piece. The cadential movement also highlights the decline in harmonic tempo with the final chord repeated in bar 302 and 303.