Summary of Romantic Music
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DESCRIPTIONSummary of romantic music
Assume someone who has not taken this course asked you to summarize the Romantic era in Western music from 1825 to 1900 in your own words.
1. In your summary (7501,000 words), include several of the important composers who were
the first to write in the Romantic style (lessons 3 and 4) and those who composed during the
middle and late Romantic years (lessons 5, 6, 7, and 8).
2. List the countries and include the primary musical genres that were represented.
3. Include a total of six characteristic Romantic works, two from the beginning, two from the
middle and two from the late years of the period. These can be pieces discussed in the
lessons or those included in the text Music in Western Civilization. Include at least one
composer who is a woman.
4. Include links to YouTube performances of each composition that you list.
5. Read and reply with some comments to at least 2 posts by others in the class. For
example, what did you find interesting about their summary?
The Romantic Era was one characterized by the exaltation of feelings and emotions. It constituted a natural reaction
against the principles of reason and thought that dominated the Classical Era. To the Romantics, the aesthetic
experience lived and felt through emotions was the driving force behind creativity. It was also a period of
individuality: composers would present their characters as symbols of heroism and models for the entire society,
even sacrificing themselves to put back events on their natural course. Nature was considered as a primary source of
inspiration and its presence weighed considerably in many romantic works. In this era, new genres were introduced,
particularly ones that are inspired by literary works or paintings (symphonic poems) or works describing a specific
mood (character pieces). Structure and form were approached differently: contrary to the organized, multi
movement pieces, Romantic structures were mostly single-shaped structures built from short motives - transformed
and retransformed - that keep appearing in different places in the music, thus ensuring unity and homogeneity. The
harmonic language evolved: the concept of dissonance has developed in a way in which dissonant chords were used
with greater liberty and, towards the end of the century, we witness an increasing dissolution of Riemann's
functional harmony. An important concept born in this century was Nationalism: here composers turned to the
music of their native land and drew from their folkloric tunes, coating their music with messages against social and
Although the origin of Romanticism can be felt through the Sturm und Drang movement of the eighteenth century,
music will have to wait for a rebellious Beethoven (1770-1827) to put it on the track of evolution. In its early phases,
romanticism found refuge in Vienna, a city that embraced the great classical composers and the great Beethoven as
well. Born in Bonn but having lived most of his life in Vienna, Beethovens hearing deficiency forged a man who is
determined to give himself entirely to his Art. His developments could be felt mainly in the domain of instrumental
music. He keeps the essence of the sonata as passed by his predecessors (Mozart and Haydn) but stretches the form
into unprecedented proportions: elongated structures characterized by slow introductions, and a
sophisticated/researched harmonic language, his sonatas will set the standards for future composers. Sonata
Pathtique (1798) is a loyal representative of the new genre. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FL0u9QXNvEg)
Beethovens approach to the orchestra was a fresh one too: he uncouples the basses from cellos and gives plaintive
melodies to the instrument that he considers close to the human voice - the oboe. Beethovens use of motives and
intervallic similarities in the different movements of his symphonies as seen in his third symphony in E flat Major
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbGV-MVfgec) will form the nucleus of later romantic genres such as the
Another early romantic composer, born and lived in Vienna was Franz Schubert (1797-1828) whose predilection
went towards vocal music. If his instrumental music falls in line of Haydn, Mozart and even Beethoven, (with the
exception of intimate and short character pieces) his vocal music on the other hand, showcased in his lied, would
take the genre a step forward. While earlier vocal melodies were built in simple strophic forms, Schuberts lieder
successfully reflected the drama in the poetry and followed closely the rise of the text to a climax. Erlkonig, based on
a text by Goethe, is a complex setting of four characters that Schubert successfully portrays musically.
In the early romantic period, attention shifted gradually from the aristocratic Vienna to the increasingly popular
Paris. Here, new genres were cultivated as the listeners tastes are directed towards the extraordinary and fantastic.
A new form of opera was being produced in Paris: the grand opera which has grandiose lengths, uses chorus and
dance with spectacular scenic effects. Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) absorbs these changes and reproduces them
instrumentally in the symphonic genre through his symphonie fantastique.
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBPb-PzAq80) Here, the genre is different from that developed by Beethoven.
To Berlioz, the symphony has a program; it tells the story of a hero who goes through different emotional states
because of the beloved one. These new ideas were accompanied by a significant increase in the orchestra members
and the introduction of new instruments, among them the English horn and ophicleides. Oppositely, Fryderyk
Chopin (1810-1849) focused on his instrument of privilege the piano to which he writes a set of character pieces.
Chopins piano music advances the importance of the melody that flows freely away from the restrictions of a
regular meter through the rubato technique and rich ornamentation. He explores the different sonorities of the
instrument and supports the whole with an expressively unique harmonic language.
In that same period, Leipzig, a city in Germany, was undergoing a musical development due to the newly established
Gewandhaus Orchestra. There, three composers will be at the centre of musical activity: Felix Mendelssohn (1809
1847), Robert Schumann (18101856) and Clara (18191896) his wife. With a preference and admiration to
traditions, Mendelssohns music falls in the direct line of Beethoven, where extra-musical elements are eliminated in
favour of absolute and pure music. Variety is simply achieved through the presentation of contrasting themes. The
Schumanns will also adopt these principles in their music with Roberts symphonies built as independent musical
works, free from extra-musical influences, with formal developments consisting of linking the different movements
together as a unified entity. Johann Brahms (1833-1897), in the late nineteenth century, will be a proponent of the
same school, with a music characterized by a developed harmonic language, expanded structure, and melodic
sobriety, using the cyclic technique as a unifying tool in his pieces.
Oppositely, other composers, namely Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883) formed the New
German School in the middle of the romantic era. The driving idea was that music is the result of lived experiences
and a reaction to emotions felt through external mediums such as literature, poetry and art. Liszt utilized the
symphonic poem, a one-movement programmatic orchestral work influenced by poetry, as a means of applying his
convictions. He also participated in underlining the concept of Nationalism developed in this century where he
inspired himself from his Hungarian native music. In his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 (Rakoczy March), he uses gypsy
scales and emulates the sound of the cimbalom, a folkloric instrument, with glissandi on the piano.
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GehjNVO2p5Q ). Wagner was more preoccupied with the forsaken importance
of drama in music. To him, the perfect work is an equilibrium between both. With him opera, a true music drama,
uses subjects inspired from myths because theyre understood by everyone, while continually reshaping the music,
riding on an expressive harmony. His operas, Das Rheingold among them
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJZDoaVHkhw ) were performed in Bayreuth and revolutionized the genre.
In the late Romantic period, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), a great admirer of Wagner was rethinking the symphony:
elongated forms that avoided all accepted plans, expansion and diversification of the orchestra completed by a richly
intense and developed harmonic language, as shows his symphony no 5
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URKGIa0b_jI). His wife and muse, Alma Mahler (1879-1964), also contributed in
shaping the music of the late nineteenth century. Her song Die Stille Stadt is characterized by a developed and
expressive harmonic content. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gemVbJuSoWY)
In the same period, Paris also contributed in preparing the music of the twentieth century: Debussys (1862-1918)
new language characterized by a suspended feeling of tonality, along with intuitive structures will pave the way to
Stravinsky and others. Faur (1845-1924), more conservative than Debussy on form and harmony, and the
immensely talented Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) will complete the scenery of the avant-garde composers of the next
Still three other countries were involved in shaping the romantic language the way we know it today: Italy with its
essential composers Rossini (1792-1868), Verdi (1813-1901) and Puccini (1858-1924) who, throughout the century,
developed the operatic genre, with the latter, using and implementing Wagnerian elements in his operas. England
renewed with the creation of pure English music with Elgar (1857-1934) and Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), each
however, having a different conception on the elements used to create the music. Finally, Russia, and its movement
led by Balakirev (1837-1910) emphasized the supremacy of Russian music over European one, while Tchaikovsky
(1840-1893) who took the art of music writing for Ballet to an unprecedented level, left also a serious and impressive