From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Symphonie fantastique (Fantastic Symphony) subtitled "An Episode in the Life of an Artist" Opus 14, is a symphony written by French composer Hector Berlioz in 1830. It is widely regarded as one of the most important and representative pieces of the early Romantic period, and is still very popular with symphonic audiences worldwide. The play premiered on December 5, 1930 in Paris.
It tells the tale of a man who overdosed on opium thinking of the woman he loves unrequitedly. Each of the symphony's five movements takes place at a different setting and with increasingly audible effects from the drug. For example, in the fourth movement, Marche au Supplice, the artist dreams that he is walking to his own execution. In the fifth movement, Songe d’une Nuit du Sabbat, he dreams that he is at a witch's orgy, where he witnesses his beloved dancing wildly along to the demented Dies Irae.
Berlioz fell in love with an Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, after attending a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet with her in the role of Ophelia, on 11 September 1827. He sent her numerous love letters, all of which went unanswered. When she left Paris they had still not met. He then wrote the symphony as a way to express his unrequited love. It premiered in Paris on December 5 1830; Harriet was not present. She eventually heard the work in 1832 and realized that she was the genesis. The two finally met and were married on October 3 1833. While the marriage was happy for several years, they were divorced nine years later, partially due to the language barrier between them.