Music in the romantic era is not like the modern romantic music we hear today from Taylor Swift or John Legend. The romantic period spans from 18200 to 1900 and musicians from this era include Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Franz Lizst and Niccolo Paganini. Romantic music came after the Classical era.
What defines Romantic music?
Music from the Romantic Era favours drama, spirituality, and a connection with nature. It prioritises the emotional or narrative content of the music above its form. During this period, music broke many classical composers’ rules.
Beethoven was a pioneer in this approach. He composed auto-biographical works and naming movements, such as the third movement of his “String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132”.
The origin of Romantic Era music
The emphasis on individual self-expression grew out of the political ideas of individualism born in the Age of Enlightenment. The Romantics did not accept the period’s emphasis on logic and rationality. They rebelled against industralised revolution - mechanism, urbanisation, and mass production which went against their ideal of a natural way of being.
The following themes continually appear in music composition throughout the period:
Convey individual emotional states whether it is autobiographical, based on a literary character, or on an event.
Exploring the laws of nature, such as limiting the sounds of storms or evoking the atmosphere of a dense and mysterious forest.
Fascination with the supernatural as a reaction to scientific advances.
Incorporating folk music and/or stories to proclaim or reclaim national pride.
These themes are not specific to each composition. In fact, all of the themes may be found in one single composition. Romantic composers are influenced by literary works that help them set the stage or emotional framework for their work.
Maturation in Romantic Era Music
While Beethoven was a pioneer composer of Romantic era music, Hector Berlioz, Frederic Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, and Robert Schumann drew inspiration from Beethoven and pushed beyond. They created new styles like the tone poem, which explored the theme of longing, love, and connection with nature.
Due to its focus on emotional and dramatic tone, music from the period became a perfect match for the opera. Early Romantic opera composers like Gioachino Rossini followed the tradition of Mozart, who revolutionised opera in the Classical era. As the Romantic era progressed, opera composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner bridged the formal structure of Beethoven with the stormy edition of Edvard Grieg to create works that are still popular today.
The evolution of the piano in the Romantic era
The piano was a preferred instrument during the romantic era and saw many modifications. The number of physical keys expanded from five to eight octaves and the materials used to construct piano frames changed from wood to metal.
The durability of the metal used to construct piano strings also improved. All these changes enhanced the piano’s pitch range and overall tonal quality.
Music from the Romantic period, with its expressiveness and penchant for telling dramatic stories, remains one of the most popular eras of the music era today.