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Episode in the Life of an Artist

Episode in the Life of an Artist

The second concert of the 2016-2017 season features works composed during a time of great upheaval. In 1830 revolution was sweeping across Europe, and artists of the time were no less revolutionary in their creative output. Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was unique both for its autobiographical narrative and for its brilliant expression of the story’s many shifting moods. This musical drama truly embodied the Romantic era belief that music had the power to express pure emotion. Berlioz also took advantage of the expanded size of the 19th-century orchestra to create new sounds and surprising harmonies in his daring first symphony.

Despite this whirlwind of emotion, the symphony preserves a sense of unity through Berlioz’s creative use of a recurring theme, or idée fixe, to represent the object of his affection, Irish actress Harriet Smithson. The composer’s thoughts and fantasies about this woman are played out over five movements, during which his obsession leads him to poison himself with opium, and in a drug-induced dream, he witnesses his own sentencing and execution. Demonstrating his conviction that music and ideas share a strong bond, Berlioz not only subtitled his work (“Episode in the Life of an Artist”), but gave each individual movement a title as well. He also created detailed program notes describing the story behind each movement, and insisted that they be distributed to audiences at every performance.

Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz


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Musical Insights

Free Pre-Concert Preview Series!

Enhance your concert experience with a sneak preview — Composers come alive and their passions take center stage when ESO General Manager David Ellis and ESO Maestro Lawrence Eckerling take you on an insider’s tour of the history and highlights behind the music.

Maestro Lawrence Eckerling and David Ellis will explore the March concert program in depth.

The Merion
Friday, March 15 at 1:30 pm,
The Merion Crystal Ballroom at
1611 Chicago Avenue at Davis Street, Evanston.
FREE and open to the public.

Light refreshments will be served and casual tours of newly renovated apartments will be available after the program.