This symphony, which Berlioz subtitled “Episodes in the Life of a Young Artist,” tells a dramatic love story. Its five movements revolve around an “idée fixe”, a theme describing the beloved. That theme is the very breath of yearning. Berlioz’ gift for orchestration gives this symphony an operatic intensity. Its sensuous melodies and harmonies record the heart of a young man who falls in love, dedicates himself to the intoxication of that passion, and experiences his beloved’s rejection as a nightmare of demonic torments.
Lélio is effectively a continuation of Symphonie Fantastique. Its other name is “Le Retour à la Vie” and in it our protagonist, Lélio, returns to life. After a spoken introduction, the music opens simply with a tenor accompanied by piano, as the composer wakes from the nightmare that ended Symphonie Fantastique. Sad about his loveless life, he ponders the words of Shakespeare and decides to dedicate himself to music. The orchestra enters with the dream-like “idée fixe” of the Symphonie, and then becomes more fully involved as Lélio works through a series of musical scenes to create a performance. The narrator links together Lélio’s musings on life and art, and the music that springs from his thoughts, finishing with a fantasia on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.