Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Music Criticism


P. Rapoport




Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique contains a musical representation of evil that is rooted in a long history of the concept of evil in Western culture. This concept has varied with time and ideological change, giving rise to a rich and complex symbolism of evil which would have influenced Berlioz in his compositional choices and can still inform our own interpretations of the symphony. It is the perpetuation of past symbolisms of evil that makes this possible.

This thesis contextualises the Symphonie fantastique in relation to the Western cultural symbolism of evil, exploring a number of areas of this symbolism, tracing the history in which they are founded, and identifying how they manifest themselves in the symphony and might influence an interpretation of the work.

The symbolisms of deviation and disorder are reflected in the deviation from musical rules, the use of chaotic music, and the musical intimation of bodily disorder. The body itself, in its correlation with sex and juxtaposition with "civilised reason," provides a symbolism of evil which can be read in the corporeal nature of the music, particularly its reliance on dance rhythms. The body is also implicated in the symbolism of malconformation in which the ugliness associated with evil and the grotesque can be identified in many aspects of the music. The symbolism of triviality in this symphony is problematic in relation to the otherness associated with evil, particularly the feminine other.

Not only does the symphony reflect these symbolisms of evil, it also contributes to their perpetuation, assisting in their establishment as a seemingly natural corollary of evil. That the symbolism might not correlate with our current concept of evil makes it important that we recognise the context of the symbols, the morality that they reflect and the vilifications they naturalize.

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