Romantic music

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This article is about the genre of music. For the traditional term in music, see Romance (music). For other uses, see Romance.
Periods and eras of
Western classical music
Medieval c. 500–1400
Renaissance c. 1400–1600
Common practice
Baroque c. 1600–1760
Classical c. 1730–1820
Romantic c. 1780–1910
Impressionist c. 1875–1925
Modern and contemporary
c. 1890–1975
20th-century (1900–2000)
c. 1975–present
21st-century (2000–present)

Romantic music is a term denoting an era of Western classical music that began in the late 18th or early 19th century. It was related to Romanticism, the European artistic and literary movement that arose in the second half of the 18th century, and Romantic music in particular dominated the Romantic movement in Germany.


Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich is an example of Romantic painting.
Main article: Romanticism

The Romantic movement was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe and strengthened in reaction to the Industrial Revolution (Encyclopædia Britannica n.d.). In part, it was a revolt against social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature (Casey 2008). It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography (Levin 1959,[page needed]) and education (Gutek 1995, 220–54), and was in turn influenced by developments in natural history (Nichols 2005, 308–309).

One of the first significant applications of the term to music was in 1789, in the Mémoires by the Frenchman André Grétry, but it was E.T.A. Hoffmann who really established the principles of musical romanticism, in a lengthy review of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony published in 1810, and in an 1813 article on Beethoven's instrumental music. In the first of these essays Hoffmann traced the beginnings of musical Romanticism to the later works of Haydn and Mozart. It was Hoffmann's fusion of ideas already associated with the term "Romantic", used in opposition to the restraint and formality of Classical models, that elevated music, and especially instrumental music, to a position of pre-eminence in Romanticism as the art most suited to the expression of emotions. It was also through the writings of Hoffmann and other German authors that German music was brought to the centre of musical Romanticism (Samson 2001).


Characteristics often attributed to Romanticism, including musical Romanticism, are (Kravitt 1992, 93–94, 107):

  • a new preoccupation with and surrender to Nature
  • a fascination with the past, particularly the Middle Ages and legends of medieval chivalry
  • a turn towards the mystic and supernatural, both religious and merely spooky
  • a longing for the infinite
  • mysterious connotations of remoteness, the unusual and fabulous, the strange and surprising
  • a focus on the nocturnal, the ghostly, the frightful, and terrifying
  • fantastic seeing and spiritual experiences
  • a new attention given to national identity
  • emphasis on extreme subjectivism
  • interest in the autobiographical
  • discontent with musical formulas and conventions

Such lists, however, proliferated over time, resulting in a "chaos of antithetical phenomena", criticized for their superficiality and for signifying so many different things that there came to be no central meaning. The attributes have also been criticized for being too vague. For example, features of the "ghostly and supernatural" could apply equally to Mozart's Don Giovanni from 1787 and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress from 1951 (Kravitt 1992, 93–95).

Trends of the 19th century[edit]

Non-musical influences[edit]

Events and changes that happen in society such as ideas, attitudes, discoveries, inventions, and historical events always affect music. For example, the Industrial Revolution was in full effect by the late 18th century and early 19th century. This event had a very profound effect on music: there were major improvements in the mechanical valves, and keys that most woodwinds and brass instruments depend on. The new and innovative instruments could be played with more ease and they were more reliable (Schmidt-Jones and Jones 2004, 3).

Another development that had an effect on music was the rise of the middle class. Composers before this period lived on the patronage of the aristocracy. Many times their audience was small, composed mostly of the upper class and individuals who were knowledgeable about music (Schmidt-Jones and Jones 2004, 3). The Romantic composers, on the other hand, often wrote for public concerts and festivals, with large audiences of paying customers, who had not necessarily had any music lessons (Schmidt-Jones and Jones 2004, 3). Composers of the Romantic Era, like Elgar, showed the world that there should be "no segregation of musical tastes" (Young 1967, 525) and that the "purpose was to write music that was to be heard" (Young 1967, 527).


Main article: Musical nationalism

During the Romantic period, music often took on a much more nationalistic purpose. For example, Jean Sibelius' Finlandia has been interpreted to represent the rising nation of Finland, which would someday gain independence from Russian control (Child 2006). Frédéric Chopin was one of the first composers to incorporate nationalistic elements into his compositions. Joseph Machlis states, "Poland's struggle for freedom from tsarist rule aroused the national poet in Poland. … Examples of musical nationalism abound in the output of the romantic era. The folk idiom is prominent in the Mazurkas of Chopin" (Machlis 1963, 149–50). His mazurkas and polonaises are particularly notable for their use of nationalistic rhythms. Moreover, "During World War II the Nazis forbade the playing of … Chopin's Polonaises in Warsaw because of the powerful symbolism residing in these works" (Machlis 1963, 150). Other composers, such as Bedřich Smetana, wrote pieces which musically described their homelands; in particular, Smetana's Vltava is a symphonic poem about the Moldau River in the modern-day Czech Republic and the second in a cycle of six nationalistic symphonic poems collectively titled Má vlast (My Homeland) (Grunfeld 1974, 112–13). Smetana also composed eight nationalist operas, all of which remain in the repertory. They established him as the first Czech nationalist composer as well as the most important Czech opera composer of the generation who came to prominence in the 1860s (Ottlová, Tyrrell, and Pospíšil 2001).

Women composers[edit]

Almost all of the composers who are described in music textbooks on the Romantic period and whose works are widely performed as part of the standard concert repertoire from the Romantic period are male composers, even though there has been a large number of women composers throughout the period. Scholar Marcia Citron (1993, dust jacket) has asked, "Why is music composed by women so marginal to the standard 'classical' repertoire?" Citron "examines the practices and attitudes that have led to the exclusion of women composers from the received 'canon' of performed musical works." She argues that in the 1800s, women composers typically wrote art songs for performance in small recitals rather than symphonies, operas, or other large-scale works regarded as the most important genre for composers; since women composers did not write many large-scale works, they were deemed to be not as notable as composers (Citron 1993, 130–31).

See also[edit]


  • Beard, David, and Kenneth Gloag. 2005. Musicology: The Key Concepts. Cornwall: Routledge.
  • Casey, Christopher. 2008. "'Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time': Britain, the Elgin Marbles, and Post-Revolutionary Hellenism". Foundations 3, no. 1:31–64 (Accessed 24 September 2012).
  • Child, Fred. 2006. "Salonen on Sibelius". Performance Today. National Public Radio.
  • Citron, Marcia J. 1993. Gender and the Musical Canon. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-39292-1 ISBN 978-0-521-44974-8
  • Encyclopædia Britannica (n.d.). "Romanticism". Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  • Grétry, André-Ernest-Modeste. 1789. Mémoires, ou Essai sur la musique. 3 vols. Paris: Chez l’auteur, de L'Imprimerie de la république, 1789. Second, enlarged edition, Paris: Imprimerie de la république, pluviôse, 1797. Republished, 3 vols., Paris: Verdiere, 1812; Brussels: Whalen, 1829. Facsimile of the 1797 edition, Da Capo Press Music Reprint Series. New York: Da Capo Press, 1971. Facsimile reprint in 1 volume of the 1829 Brussels edition, Bibliotheca musica Bononiensis, Sezione III no. 43. Bologna: Forni Editore, 1978.
  • Grunfeld, Frederic V. 1974. Music. New York: Newsweek Books. ISBN 0-88225-101-5 (cloth); ISBN 0882251023 (de luxe).
  • Gutek, Gerald Lee. 1995. A History of the Western Educational Experience, second edition. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press. ISBN 0881338184.
  • Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus. 1810. "Recension: Sinfonie pour 2 Violons, 2 Violes, Violoncelle e Contre-Violon, 2 Flûtes, petite Flûte, 2 Hautbois, 2 Clarinettes, 2 Bassons, Contrabasson, 2 Cors, 2 Trompettes, Timbales et 3 Trompes, composée et dediée etc. par Louis van Beethoven. à Leipsic, chez Breitkopf et Härtel, Oeuvre 67. No. 5. des Sinfonies. (Pr. 4 Rthlr. 12 Gr.)". Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 12, no. 40 (4 July), cols. 630–42 [Der Beschluss folgt.]; 12, no. 41 (11 July), cols. 652–59.
  • Kravitt, Edward F. 1992. "Romanticism Today". The Musical Quarterly 76, no. 1 (Spring): 93–109. (subscription required)
  • Levin, David. 1959. History as Romantic Art: Bancroft, Prescott, and Parkman. Stanford Studies in Language and Literature 20, Stanford: Stanford University Press. Reprinted as a Harbinger Book, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1963. Reprinted, New York: AMS Press, 1967.
  • Machlis, Joseph. 1963.[full citation needed]
  • Nichols, Ashton. 2005. "Roaring Alligators and Burning Tygers: Poetry and Science from William Bartram to Charles Darwin". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 149, no. 3:304–15.
  • Ottlová, Marta, John Tyrrell, and Milan Pospíšil. 2001. "Smetana, Bedřich [Friedrich]". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Philips, Abbey. 2011. "Spacebomb: Truth Lies Somewhere in Between". RVA News: Joaquin in Memphis. (accessed 5 October 2015)
  • Samson, Jim. 2001. "Romanticism". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Schmidt-Jones, Catherine, and Russell Jones. 2004. Introduction to Music Theory. [Houston, TX]: Connexions Project. ISBN 1-4116-5030-1.
  • Young, Percy Marshall. 1967. A History of British Music. London: Benn.

Further reading[edit]

  • Adler, Guido. 1911. Der Stil in der Musik. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.
  • Adler, Guido. 1919. Methode der Musikgeschichte. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.
  • Adler, Guido. 1930. Handbuch der Musikgeschichte, second, thoroughly revised and greatly expanded edition. 2 vols. Berlin-Wilmersdorf: H. Keller. Reprinted, Tutzing: Schneider, 1961.
  • Blume, Friedrich. 1970. Classic and Romantic Music, translated by M. D. Herter Norton from two essays first published in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Boyer, Jean-Paul. 1961. "Romantisme". Encyclopédie de la musique, edited by François Michel, with François Lesure and Vladimir Fédorov, 3:585–87. Paris: Fasquelle.
  • Cavalletti, Carlo. 2000. Chopin and Romantic Music, translated by Anna Maria Salmeri Pherson. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series. (Hardcover) ISBN 0-7641-5136-3; ISBN 978-0-7641-5136-1.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl. 1979. "Neo-Romanticism". 19th-Century Music 3, no. 2 (November): 97–105.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl. 1980. Between Romanticism and Modernism: Four Studies in the Music of the Later Nineteenth Century, translated by Mary Whittall in collaboration with Arnold Whittall; also with Friedrich Nietsche, "On Music and Words", translated by Walter Arnold Kaufmann. California Studies in 19th Century Music 1. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03679-4 (cloth); 0520067487 (pbk). Original German edition, as Zwischen Romantik und Moderne: vier Studien zur Musikgeschichte des späteren 19. Jahrhunderts. Munich: Musikverlag Katzbichler, 1974.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl. 1985. Realism in Nineteenth-Century Music, translated by Mary Whittall. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26115-5 (cloth); ISBN 0-521-27841-4 (pbk). Original German edition, as Musikalischer Realismus: zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Munich: R. Piper, 1982. ISBN 3-492-00539-X.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl. 1987. Untitled review of Leon Plantinga, Romantic Music: A History of Musical Styles in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Anthology of Romantic Music, translated by Ernest Sanders. 19th Century Music 11, no. 2:194–96.
  • Einstein, Alfred. 1947. Music in the Romantic Era. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Geck, Martin. 1998. "Realismus". Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik begründe von Friedrich Blume, second, revised edition, edited by Ludwig Finscher. Sachteil 8: Quer–Swi, cols. 91–99. Kassel, Basel, London, New York, Prague: Bärenreiter; Suttgart and Weimar: Metzler. ISBN 3-7618-1109-8 (Bärenreiter); ISBN 3-476-41008-0 (Metzler).
  • Grout, Donald Jay. 1960. A History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Lang, Paul Henry. 1941. Music in Western Civilization. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Mason, Daniel Gregory. 1936. The Romantic Composers. New York: Macmillan.
  • Plantinga, Leon. 1984. Romantic Music: A History of Musical Style in Nineteenth-Century Europe. A Norton Introduction to Music History. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-95196-0; ISBN 978-0-393-95196-7.
  • Rosen, Charles. 1995. The Romantic Generation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-77933-9.
  • Rummenhöller, Peter. 1989. Romantik in der Musik: Analysen, Portraits, Reflexionen. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag; Kassel and New York: Bärenreiter. ISBN 9783761812365 (Bärenreiter); ISBN 9783761844939 (Taschenbuch Verlag); ISBN 9783423044936 (Taschenbuch Verlag).
  • Spencer, Stewart. 2008. "The 'Romantic Operas' and the Turn to Myth". In The Cambridge Companion to Wagner, edited by Thomas S. Grey, 67–73. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64299-X (cloth); ISBN 0-521-64439-9 (pbk).
  • Wagner, Richard. 1995. Opera and Drama, translated by William Ashton Ellis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Originally published as volume 2 of Richard Wagner's Prose Works (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1900), a translation from Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen (Leipzig, 1871–73, 1883).
  • Warrack, John. 2002. "Romanticism". The Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Alison Latham. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866212-2.
  • Wehnert, Martin. 1998. "Romantik und romantisch". Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik, begründet von Friedrich Blume, second revised edition. Sachteil 8: Quer–Swi, cols. 464–507. Basel, Kassel, London, Munich, and Prague: Bärenreiter; Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler.

External links[edit]