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Musical Eras...Romantic


The increasing role of science in defining a worldview The skepticism resulting from by a clearer understanding of the world and humanity's place in it changed the way people thought of themselves and society. Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) The Origin of the Species is one example of the new attitude.

The rise of European nationalism Many areas of Europe (especially Italy and Central Europe) struggled to free themselves from foreign control. The years around 1850 saw many revolutions and attempts at revolutions. At the same time, Germany -- never a fully unified country -- struggled to create a separate national identity.

A growing autonomy for the arts More and more, art was removed from functional roles and came to be appreciated for its aesthetic worth. The art of the past became increasingly revered, and our modern notions of the "artist" and of the "fine arts" were born.


Increased Interest in Nature and the Supernatural

* Romantic artists saw nature in a less idealized way than the artists of the Classical period had. * The natural world was considered less a model of perfection and more a source of mysterious powers. * Romantic composers gravitated toward supernatural texts and stories. Schubert's Erlking and Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique are two good examples.

The Rise of Program Music

* Music began to be used to tell stories, or to imply meaning beyond the purely musical. * Composers found ways to make their musical ideas represent people, things, and dramatic situations as well as emotional states and even philosophical ideas.

Nationalism and Exoticism

* Composers used music as a tool for highlighting national identity. * Instrumental composers such as Bedrich Smetana made reference to folk music and national images (as in The Moldau), while operatic composers such as Giuseppe Verdi set stories with strong patriotic undercurrents. * Composers took an interest in the music of various ethnic groups and incorporated it into their own music. * Composers also wrote works based on stories of exotic lands and people.

Changing Status of Musicians

* A composer was no longer dependent for income on the steady employment by nobility but relied instead on the support of the public and the patronage of individuals. * Music was seen less as an occupation and more as a calling. * Specialized training institutions (conservatories) replaced the apprentice system of the church and the court. * Women found more opportunities for musical expression, especially as performers, but social and cultural barriers still limited their participation as composers.


The nineteenth century saw the development of many different musical styles, so it is difficult to describe the Romantic style. But as in all the periods you are studying, certain elements stand out:

* Dynamic range is wider, and there is a larger range of sound. * There is a greater variety of instruments, including improved or newly-invented wind instruments. * Melodies are longer, more dramatic and emotional. * Tempos are more extreme, and tempo rubato is often called for. * Harmonies are fuller, often more dissonant. * Formal structures are expanded. These are often determined by the programmatic content of the piece.


Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904)

Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857-1919)

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

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