BERLIOZ - Harold en Italie Op44:31

BERLIOZ - Harold en Italie Op. 16 (Sir Colin DAVIS Philarmonia Orchestra) - COMPLETE


Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was a French Romantic composer and most well known for his publications on orchestration and the orchestra. One of his most famous works, Harold en Italie, was commissioned by Niccolo Paginini himself. It was a symphony with many elements of a concerto, specifically the solo viola that represented the character of "Harold." The character of Harold was represented throughout the symphony in all four movements, and even harkened back to Beethoven with the final movement reminiscening to the first three movements.


A link to the full score can be found at: Berlioz: Harold en Italie.

While this piece was technically written in the early part of the Romantic era, Berlioz firmly established this work for orchestra and solo viola in the Romantic style. There were some cases when the orchestral accompaniment was lighter texture and more simplistic, but overall the characters, themes, motives, sudden dynamic contrasts, key relations, and the redefinition of the symphony strongly placed this piece within the Romantic perameters. Berlioz even made use of Beethoven's idea of the reminiscent theme or motive which appeared in the last movement of this symphony in the viola solo. One final characteristic of this piece that placed it firmly in the Romantic style, was the fact that it was commissioned by Paginini himself. He asked Berlioz for a virtuosic piece for viola, as there were none at the time. The rise of virtuosity came about in the Romantic period (and more so with Liszt in the middle Romantic).


I decided to compare Harold en Italie to Mikhail Glinka's Viola Sonata in D Minor which was composed betweeen 1825 and 1828. This sonata provided an excellent contrast to that of Berlioz's Symphony. In the viola sonata, the accompaniment was noticably light in style and thin in texture. The piece as a whole was not as virtuosic as the character of "Harold." The sonata was more predictable with haromies and tended to not have sudden contrasting sounds or styles. This sonata sounded more like a piece in the early Romantic period than Harold en Italie, but apparently Paginini was enticed by this sonata.


I chose Harold en Italie, because as a violist I thought this would be very appropriate to discuss this massive work for solo viola and orchestra. I firmly believe that Berlioz was ahead of his time in terms of orchestration and the treatment of music. This piece was completed in 1834, but it was such a huge character piece, and somewhat redefined the purpose of the symphony. In terms of being in the early Romantic period, I think that this piece was ahead of its time.


Berlioz, Hector. "BERLIOZ - Harold en Italie Op. 16 (Sir Colin DAVIS/Philharmonia Orchestra) - Complete" (video). Accessed April, 7, 2014.

Berlioz, Hector. "Harold en Italie."

Glinka, Mikhail. "Yuri Bashmet - Glinka Viola Sonata in D Minor Mvt. 1" (video). Accessed April 8, 2014.

Macdonald, Hugh. "Berlioz, Hector." Grove Music Onlinee. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 8, 2014.

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