The Romantic Period (1825-1900)
The impact of the French Revolution (1789-1794) set the stage for free thinkers and encouraged men of action to independent endeavours. The Romantic period was ushered in by artists who expressed themselves freely and personally. The desire to release emotion and achieve freedom is succinctly expressed in the watchword term “Sturm und Drang” (“storm and stress”) which comes from a play (1776) by the German author Friedrich von Klinger. Literary works such as Goethe’s Faust (1808), about a man who defies convention, and novels by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) and others, inspired musicians to new emotional heights.
Romantic music developed over the course of a hundred years. During this time, many new forms emerged: the art song, (lied) which combined Romantic poetry with voice and piano; stylised piano music such as the waltz, mazurka, polonaise, and etude (study piece); piano music in free form such as the fantasy, arabesque, rhapsody, romanza, ballade and nocturne; and symphonic works such as the tone poem (descriptive piece). Programmatic content was expressed in tone poems by Liszt and others, and in symphonic works such as Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, and in piano music such as Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (later orchestrated by Ravel in 1923). Nationalism is prevalent in works like Chopin’s polonaises and mazurkas. Other examples are Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and The Moldau, Borodin’s Prince Igor and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade.
The music of the Romantic period mostly contained warm, personal melodies; expressive indications (espressivo, dolce, con amore, con fuoco,) implied interpretive freedom (rubato) and harmonic colour (new chords such as the ninth) Colour was intensified by improvements in instruments, particularly the piano. Performers carried the new music to great heights with the new improved versions of their instruments. During this period exaggerated emotional response was displayed.
Beethoven (1770-1827) bridged the Classical and Romantic periods in both his life and works reflecting the Classical influence in his early work and the Romantic in his later years. Significant Composers of this time were Schubert, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov and Puccini.
Some general characteristics of Romantic Music are:
MELODY: Long, lyrical melodies with irregular phrases; Wide, somewhat angular skips; extensive use of chromaticism; vivid contrasts; a variety of melodic ideas within one movement.
RHYTHM: Frequent changes in both tempo and time signatures.
TEXTURE: Almost entirely homophonic.
TIMBRE: A great variety of tone colour; woodwind and brass sections of the orchestra increased; many special orchestral effects introduced; rich and colourful orchestration.
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