Symphonie Fantastique

Created for Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes
World Première London, July 24, 1936
Music: Hector Berlioz
Decor: Christian B
Cast: L
éonide Massine and Tamara Toumanova

U.S. Première: October 29, 1936, New York

Copenhagen Première: 1948
Choreography by Léonide Massine
Performed by the Royal Danish Ballet

The Musician: Niels Bjørn Larsen
The Beloved: Mona Vangsaae
With Flemming Beck, Fredbjørn Bjørnson, Erik Bruhn, Kirsten Elsass,
Henning Kronstam, Toni Pihl (Lander), Kirsten Ralov, Inge Sand, Frank
Schaufuss, Stanley Williams and artists of the Royal Danish Ballet

Based on Berlioz’s original program notes for the symphony, the ballet
traces a “journey of the mind” taken by a young musician, despondent
in love, who tries to commit suicide by taking opium. The dose is too
weak to cause death, but it puts him into a delirium of dreams and visions.

Paris Opera Ballet Première: 1997
Revived by Lorca Massine

Pause: Massine
Posted on February 22, 2011

With Symphonie Fantastique (1936), Massine took a dramatic step
back from the abstraction he attained in Choreartium. Choosing
Berlioz’s romantic symphony by this name meant adopting the
composer’s pre-written program. In selecting program music for his
ballet, Massine aimed to capture both the psychological aspects of
the story with the abstract setting. Symphonie Fantastique tells the
hallucinatory story of The Young Musician whose unrequited love for
The Beloved results in his attempted suicide by opium overdose.
“The libretto’s extreme romantic symbolism presented the world as
a metaphor for the tormented human soul (BR).”

Massine succeeded in conveying the inten
se emotion of the story
through his choreography, which closely followed the musical cues
of Berlioz’s score. He employed the idee fixe (a recurring melody
that Berlioz used to represent The Young Musician’s obsession) to
accompany each appearance of The Beloved onstage, although he
did not create a choreographic equivalent to the repetitious phrase.
He also gave each dancer a unique set of steps for each musical

Despite the controversy over Massine’s continued use of existing
symphonies for his ballets, Symphonie Fantastique was deemed a
success by audiences and critics alike. Newman said, “One feels,
indeed, that had Berlioz had a choreographer like Massine ready at
his hand it would have been in some such form as this that he would
have planned to have his work presented.”

Not only did Massine contribute greatly to the repertory of ballets as
thepremier choreographer in 1920s and 1930s Europe, he made
lasting contributions to the advancement of ballet as an important art
form. His constant search for new methods of expression led to musical
vehicles and choreographic techniques that have endured throughout
the last century.