Brief History of Romantic Music

The Romantic Period is from c.1820 – 1900, with Early Romantic Period (1820-1850) and Late Romantic Period (1850-1900.) Up until the early part of the 1800s, music was ordered and refined. After the 1820s, emotional expression was considered to be more important in music, and this attitude was described as 'romanticism.'   

Beethoven, Leader of the Romantic Pack

There are many composers in this period, but the one who led the charge from the Classical into the Romantic Period was Ludwig van Beethoven, who epitomized the intensity of passion and self-expression. A favourite recording to listen to is his Ninth Symphony, certainly his greatest. By the time he performed in 1824 he had to turn around to face the audience so that he could see the applause. His deafness has gotten worse. The enormous range of dynamics (or softs and louds, serenity and turbulence) and the large orchestra and choir, signify "romantic" music.

Musical Instruments

It should also be noted that the 19th century was an innovative period in history. This period saw the invention of the electric light, the telephone, the motor car and more. In the musical arena, the orchestra also increased in size owing to the invention of instruments such as the trombone and tuba. The improvements to the clarinet, flute oboe also took place, and pistons were developed for brass instruments. The saxophone ('sax') was invented by Adolphe Sax during the early 1840s and therefore can be called a "romantic" instrument, even if it rarely appeared with the symphony orchestra. However, it was included in military bands, later, more associated with jazz bands.

The Piano and Virtuoso Composers

By 1800, the piano was mechanically up and by the mid-1800s, the most widely-owned instrument. It also became a popular solo instrument. Frederic Chopin wrote exclusively for the piano. His physical frailty made it difficult for him to draw large sounds from the piano. Therefore, his works relied a great deal on the sustaining pedal, or right-hand pedal for effect.

The art song or German 'Lied' took on a further importance because of the popularity of the piano in which accompaniments to voice became important to singing, and due to the rise of German Romantic poetry. Composers paid great attention to providing an appropriate musical setting for the words. Song cycles, in which a number of songs are dealt with the same common theme, were also composed.

Franz Liszt was the great composer / virtuoso pianist of the time. His work is extremely difficult to master, often requiring constant changes in mood and tempo. Less well known composer but brilliant and virtuoso pianist was Sigismond Thalberg. He had a musical "duel" with Liszt and in the end, the verdict was a tie.  Both composers played with perfection and virtuosity.

Romantic Opera Composers

The Romantic Period also saw a great rise in opera. The French, Italians and Germans all had operatic traditions. German composer, Richard Wagner, is considered the most important figure in Romantic opera. His words had tremendous influence on other musicians, writers and artists. Other prominent opera composers were Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini during the later end of the period. 

Prominent Romantic Composers

Felix Mendelssohn and Piotr Tchaikovsky were also prominent composers of this period. Mendelssohn is known for his incidental music, concerto and oratorio Elijah. Tchaikovsky is famous for ballets, concertos and symphonies. His magnificent 1812 Overture was composed to represent the defeat of Napoleon's army in Moscow.  He even used a cannon fire in his music. Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov were prominent during the later part of the period.

Composers of Songs

Other composers wrote numerous songs - Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and  Franz Schubert, whose output of over 600 songs cannot be surpassed. After all, he is considered the greatest melodist of all time. Listen to Schubert's liebeslied, liebesfreud or Erlkonig; Brahms' Lullaby, and Schumann's Scenes from Childhood.   

More Romantic Music

The variety of music we can listen to is enormous that a suggestion becomes a struggle. Chopin's Nocturnes will be a good start, then, Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E, Tchaikovsky's ballet music - Swan Lake, Nutcracker Suite, or his Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture, and not to overlook Liszt's Liebestraume.   

Links to composers --- Classical Music Lounge.

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