Is Berlioz’s Idée Fixe Overrated?
As I searched for information about Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” I found an interesting review in the New York Times of a New York Philharmonic public rehearsal. The rehearsal took place on March 17, 1899, which is nearly 70 years after the premiere of “Symphonie Fantastique.” I found this review particularly intriguing because the reviewer wrote that “The time seems to have come to put the ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ of Berlioz on the top shelf and to let it stay there.” This greatly contrasts my opinion of “Symphonie Fantastique,” however, it should be noted that the reviewer was very critical of the entire rehearsal.
The reviewer’s main criticism is of the idée fixe, which they claim is underdeveloped. Although the reviewer is correct in stating that the idée fixe is underdeveloped, I believe they miss the point of the “Symphonie Fantastique.” The idée fixe represents an obsession, so I think it’s fitting for the obsession to sound repetitive, especially because it is present in every movement. The reviewer also makes the comment that the idée fixe stops “the general proceedings of his symphony” to “make his one idea plainly heard.” Once again, I think it makes sense for an obsession to continually interrupt the rest of the music.
At the end of the review, the critic states that Berlioz pales in comparison to other great composers like Tchaikovsky and Strauss. This is a significant change from reviews of the premiere. After the premiere, one review claimed that Berlioz would “one day be worthy to take his place alongside Beethoven.”