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  • Chris Anderson

Harold In Italy

Our final stop with Hector Berlioz takes a look at “Harold In Italy”.  It is a symphony with viola obbligato composed by Hector Berlioz. It was written in 1834 and is designated as Op. 16 in Berlioz's catalogue of works. The symphony is notable for featuring a prominent solo viola part, which was inspired by Lord Byron's poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.”



  • Harold in the Mountains (Harold aux montagnes):

  • This movement opens with a solo viola passage, representing the character of Harold.

  • The music depicts Harold's solitary wanderings in the mountains. It captures the serenity and grandeur of the natural landscape.

  • The movement is characterized by a recurring theme associated with Harold, played by the solo viola.

  • March of the Pilgrims Singing the Evening Prayer (Marche des pèlerins chantant la prière du soir):

  • The second movement features a procession of pilgrims as they sing an evening prayer. This movement has a more hymn-like and religious character.

  • The solo viola takes on a more observational role, as Harold watches the religious ceremony from a distance.

  • The movement is marked by a solemn and meditative atmosphere, with the viola often weaving in and out of the orchestral texture.

  • Serenade (Sérénade):

  • In this movement, Harold observes a group of Neapolitan youth serenading a young girl.

  • The solo viola takes on a more lyrical and expressive role, portraying the romantic and tender scene.

  • Berlioz incorporates Italian folk elements, including dance-like rhythms, to evoke the lively and festive atmosphere of the serenade.

  • Orgy of the Brigands (Orgie de brigands):

  • The final movement is a dramatic portrayal of an orgy or gathering of brigands (bandits or outlaws).

  • The music is energetic, wild, and tumultuous, reflecting the lawlessness and chaos of the brigands' gathering.

  • The solo viola participates in the lively scenes, sometimes with virtuosic passages, as Harold becomes more engaged with the events unfolding.


Throughout the symphony, Berlioz masterfully uses orchestration to convey the vivid imagery associated with Lord Byron's poem. Despite being labeled a symphony, "Harold in Italy" is sometimes referred to as a symphony with viola solo rather than a true viola concerto because the viola part is integrated into the orchestral texture rather than standing out in a virtuosic manner. The work is admired for its innovative orchestration, vivid programmatic elements, and the incorporation of the solo viola as a narrative voice.

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