Today we began studying the Romantic period of music history in our Music Studies for Dance class at Juilliard. It had been on my syllabus since September, and I knew I wanted to introduce the students to the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. So far, so normal.
But this week I'd also been watching Lazarus, the music video that David Bowie created just before he died. It occurred to me that there were some interesting connections.
In addition to the purely musical properties of romanticism, there are several musico-historical characteristics, too -- obsessive love and drug-induced visions, among them. Another equally important development was the role of the artist in his and her own creations. In E.T.A. Hoffman's The Sandman (you can check out selections from my opera here), it is the poet who is drive insane by haunting childhood memories, and in the Berlioz, it is the artist who dopes up on podium and has a bad trip. Prior to the early 19th century, it was not the role of the artist to write about personal struggles or experiences. But the Romantics, freed from the need to serve a king or patron, could write about what they wanted. David Bowie is in that long line of romantics, and it shows in both his music and in his theatrical visions. Bowie was our entrypoint and inspiration for Berlioz - or was it the other way around?