Brief Observations on Berlioz's "Herminie"

Research output: Contribution to non-peer-reviewed publicationInternet publication


This essay centres on several areas of interest in Berlioz's second Prix de Rome cantata, 'Herminie' (1828), where the first version of the 'idée fixe' from the later 'Symphonie fantastique' was used. 'Herminie' is a dramatic monologue deriving from Torquato Tasso's epic, 'Gerusalemme liberata' (c. 1575). Erminia, princess of Antioch, is protected by Tancred, to whom she is secretly attracted. In Canto 6, during a pause in Tancred's first duels with Argantes, Erminia undertakes a dangerous night-time excursion to try and help Tancred. The dramatic monologue that the Paris students were to set to music expresses Erminia's tortured emotions and eventual resolve to set out on horseback. An intensive enquiry into the role of the later-famous 'idée fixe' theme within the cantata (including the interpretations of David Cairns, Julian Rushton, Hugh Macdonald, Oliver Vogel and Rémy Stricker) concludes that it is a 'Tancrède theme'; and a final section extends the enquiry into the way that Berlioz (writing 'Herminie' in a way that uses this theme flexibly in different dramatic situations) was also digesting the experience of hearing Beethoven's Third and Fifth Symphonies for the first time in the spring of 1828. The cantata shows that Berlioz was discovering how a musical theme carrying fixed emotional associations vested in a love-object could be combined in a changing musical scenario. These ideas became carried into his own later symphony.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Hector Berlioz Website
PublisherMichael Austin, Monir Tayeb
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Berlioz, Prix de Rome cantatas, Beethoven, Tasso, Gerusalemme liberata, analysis, idée fixe

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