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Observations placeholder

Berlioz - Harold en Italie



Type of Spiritual Experience


Harold en Italie

On 30 December 1831, Berlioz left France for Rome, prompted by a clause in the Prix de Rome which required winners to spend two years studying there. Although none of his major works were actually written in Italy, his travels and experiences there would later influence and inspire much of his music. This is most evident in the thematic aspects of his music, particularly Harold en Italie (1834), a work inspired by Lord Byron's Childe Harold.

Berlioz visited Pompeii, Naples, Milan, Tivoli, Florence, Turin and Genoa. Italy was important in providing Berlioz with experiences that would be impossible in France. At times, it was as if he himself was actually experiencing the Romantic tales of Byron in person; consorting with brigands, corsairs, and peasants. He returned to Paris in November 1832.

In 1834, virtuoso violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini commissioned Berlioz to compose a viola concerto, intending to premiere it as soloist. This became the symphony for viola and orchestra, Harold en Italie.

Berlioz later recalled that his "intention was to write a series of orchestral scenes, in which the solo viola would be involved as a more or less active participant [with the orchestra] while retaining its own character. By placing it among the poetic memories formed from my wanderings in Abruzzi, I wanted to make the viola a kind of melancholy dreamer in the manner of Byron's Childe-Harold."

The premiere of the piece was held later that year. After initially rejecting the piece, Paganini, as Berlioz's Mémoires recount, knelt before Berlioz in front of the orchestra after hearing it for the first time and proclaimed him a genius and heir to Beethoven. The next day he sent Berlioz a gift of 20,000 francs, the generosity of which left Berlioz uncharacteristically lost for words.

A description of the experience

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

Harold en Italie, Symphonie en quatre parties avec un alto principal Op. 16 (1834)

I. "Harold aux montagnes"
II. "Marche des pèlerins"
III. "Sérénade"
IV. "Orgie de brigands"



Sir COLIN DAVIS, conductor

Recording: 1962

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps