Music, Styles, Instruments and Composers of the Romantic Period

Romanticism or the Romantic movement was a concept that encompassed different art mediums; from music to painting to literature. The Romantics believed in allowing their imagination and passion to soar spontaneously and interpret it through their works. This was different from the Classical belief of logical order and clarity. During the 19th century, Vienna and Paris were the centers of musical activity.

Music Forms/Styles

  • Program music - An instrumental music which relays ideas or narrates a story. Berlioz' Fantastic Symphony is an example of this.
  • Character pieces - A short piece for the piano that depicts a single emotion, often in ABA form.

Musical Instrument

The piano was still the main instrument during the Early Romantic period. The piano underwent many changes and composers brought the piano to new heights of creative expression.

Notable Composers and Musicians of the Early Romantic Period

  • Franz Schubert - Wrote about 600 lieders (German songs). One of his most famous pieces is titled Unfinished named so because it only has 2 movements.
  • Hector Berlioz - His Fantastic Symphony was written for a stage actress he fell in love with. Included the harp and English horn in his symphonies.
  • Franz Liszt - His Fantastic Symphony was inspired by one of Berlioz' works. Developed the symphonic poem; making use of chromatic devices.
    • Frederic Chopin - Wrote character pieces for solo piano.
    • Giuseppe Verdi - Wrote many operas with patriotic themes. Two of his most famous works are Otello and Falstaff.

    Beethoven and Romanticism

    Romanticism contributed to the composer's shift in status from merely a servant of the wealthy to an artist.

    Beethoven wrote choralchamber music and opera, briefly studied under Haydn, and was also influenced by the works of Mozart. He used dissonance in his music which intrigued his listeners. Beethoven began to lose his hearing at age 28, losing it completely by age 50. One of his most popular works is the Ninth Symphony. He influenced a new crop of young composers guided by the ideals of Romanticism.

    Nationalism and the Late Romantic Period

    During the 19th century, Germany was also a center of musical activity. By the mid-19th century however, music themes shifted to folklore and folk music became a style that influenced composers. This nationalist theme can be felt in the music of Russia, eastern Europe and Scandinavian countries.

    The Mighty Handful

    This term, also known as "the mighty five," is used to distinguish the 5 Russian nationalist composers of the 19th century. They include Balakirev, Borodin, CuiMussogrsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

    Other Music Forms and Styles

    • Verismo - A style of Italian opera wherein the story reflects daily life but with emphasis on intense, sometimes violent, actions and emotions. This style is particularly evident in the works of Giacomo Puccini.
    • Symbolism - A concept introduced by Sigmund Freud that influenced various art mediums. This attempt to convey a composer's personal struggles in a symbolic manner can be felt in the works of Gustav Mahler

      Notable Composers

      • Johannes Brahms - He was also influenced by the works of Beethoven. He wrote what is called as "abstract music." Brahms wrote character pieces for the piano, lieders, quartetssonatas and symphonies. He was a friend of Robert and Clara Schumann.
      • Antonin Dvorak - His Symphony No. 9, from The New World was influenced by his stay in America during the 1890s.
      • Edvard Grieg - Norwegian composer who drew upon the national folklore of his beloved country as basis for his music.
      • Richard Strauss - He was influenced by the works of Wagner. Wrote symphonic poems and operas; known for the lavish, sometimes shocking scenes in his operas.
      • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - He wrote concertos, symphonic poems and symphonies. Known for his expressive music.
      • Richard Wagner - He was influenced by the works of Beethoven and Liszt. Started composing operas at age 20; he coined the term "music dramas." Wagner took the opera to a different level by making use of larger orchestras and applying musical themes to his work. He called these musical themes leitmotiv or leading motive. One of his famous work is The Ring of the Nibelung.