Romantic (1780 – 1910)

The Romantic Period originated towards the end of the 18th century with its peak around 1850 and extending into the early twentieth century. Romanticism arose as a reaction to the industrial revolution, the Age of Enlightenment and progress in science. This shift in thinking and expression had a significant influence on politics, leading to liberalism, radicalism and more significantly, nationalism. A huge development was the rise of the middle classes, as artists were no longer living on the patronage of the aristocracy nor creating music for the taste of small upper class audience. Music began to be composed for the average person to enjoy, increasing audience numbers and making music publishing more widespread.

Romantic Music was dominated in particular by the romantic movement in Germany, where expressionism became a fundamental element in all artistic forms. Fascination with nature, myths and legends, the sublime and nationalistic sentiment were to be found in literature and the visual arts and soon became characteristics of a new era in Western music.

Fascination with nature, myths and legends, the sublime and nationalistic sentiment

It was the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann who first noted down and published elements that established the principles of Romanticism in a review of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in 1810. His terms were in contrast to the formality and restraint in classical forms.

The main characteristics attributed to Romantic music are a preoccupation with nature, such as in Beethoven’s later works, a fascination with the past, seen in Bruckner’s symphonies, mysticism, such as in the programmatic music of Hector Berlioz, a new interest in national pride, such as the tone poems of Smetana and Grieg, and a discontent with conventional musical formulas, which can be seen across the era. The romantic era saw the creation of new genres, such as the Nocturne, invented by Field and made famous by Chopin.

…In all its manifestations Romanticism emphasized the apparent domination of emotion over form and order.

Claude Debussy

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