When was the Romantic period?
The period is generally defined as running from 1815 to 1910, and refers to a compositional style and musical movement, incorporating composers such as Wagner, Schumann, and Beethoven (although Beethoven is generally considered to bridge the Classical and Romantic movements).
Features of Romantic music
Following the Classical era, Romantic music developed a style in which rhythm, harmony, texture and structure were not bounded by formal constraints. Particularly the use of more discordant harmonies and chromatisms added a new element to the melodic qualities of the music, as composers strived to achieve a greater personal expression and imbue the music with an emotive quality. As the capabilities of instruments developed further, greater ranges of pitch and dynamics were experimented with, and the brass section of the orchestra swelled to take a more dominant role in symphonic pieces.
With the explosion of new ideas in harmony, melody, rhythm, texture and structure, composers looked to structure to unite their works for the listener. Repeated themes, or mottos (such as Berlioz’ idée fixe) became a more prominent feature in the music.
The movement also featured a provision for virtuoso performance, particularly for flautists, violinists and pianists.
Relationship between Romantic movements across art forms
The musical Romantic movement fell after the literary Romantic movement, which began in the 1770s or 1780s, in Germany. This new mode of thinking was referred to as ‘Sturm und Drang”, or “Storm and Stress”. Writers such as Goethe, Schiller and Burns look to traditional stories and folk tales to identify their work as part of, or product of a country’s history. Although much later than the literary movement, the musical Romantic movement incorporated some similar Nationalist ideas. Many Romantic composers drew on elements of folk music to lend a patriotic aspect to their work; Dvorak’s music centred heavily on Russian folk tunes, Chopin wrote in the mazurka and polonaise, both Polish traditional dances, and Glinka’s operas depicted Russian affairs.
The development of the Romantic movement
By 1810, conflict between desires for classical structure but increasing emotional expression through chromaticisms and daring harmonies were balanced in the form of opera, where text and lyrics could add some structure to greater melodic explorations. Hoffman’s Undive was a highly radical work and an excellent example of this conflict. Also from this conflict arose the nocturne; in this context, a single-movement piece for solo piano, evocative of the night and normally played for evening events.
By the 1820s, composers such as Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber, Schubert, Spohr and Hoffman began to truly develop the new Romantic movement. Beethoven was a pioneer in being one of the first composers to work free from attachment or engagement with a court or church patron. This was made possible due to the rise of the middle class; as demand from paying audiences grew, there was less need for composers to rely on the patronage of the aristocracy. Later, as composers such as Berlioz and Wagner began to explore the connection between their Romantic music and poetry or drama. Berlioz’ programatic symphony Symphonie Fantastique was highly controversial, receiving much criticism for its extensive program notes; François-Joseph Fétis, head of the Brussels Conservatory at the time, commented that the work was “not music”.
As the Romantic period progressed, the music of Romantic composers began to become more accepted, and virtuoso concerts (such as those given by the violinist Paganini), became extremely popular. In the late 19th century, the Industrial Revolution allowed for rapid developments in instruments; valve action for brass instruments, double escarpment action in piano, and chin rests for the violin and viola.
Following the Romantic period, musical developments began to diverge, with the emergence of Neoclassiscism and Expressionism.
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