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4 SHOM – Romantic

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Dates 1810-1900

Sample tracks

Beethoven (1770-1827) String Quartet op. 95 (first movement, recap and coda)  
 Schubert (1797-1828), Die schone Mullerin (‘Mein’, opening)  
Berlioz (1803-69), Le Corsaire (lead into ending)  
Chopin (1810-49), Mazurka Op. 59 No. 3 (opening)  
Wagner (1813-83), Tristan und Isolde (final aria ‘Liebestod’, ending  
Brahms (1833-97), Symphony No. 4 (end of last movement)  
Dvorak (1841-1904), Cello Concerto in B minor (first movement, opening of cello exposition)  

Historical hooks      

  • 1804 – Napoleon declares himself Emperor
  • 1807 – William Wordsworth’s Daffodils published
  • 1825 – First regular steam railway opens in Britain
  • 1831 – Victor Hugo publishes Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • 1836 – First publication of Finnish national epic (the Kalevala)
  • 1837 – Queen  Victoria accedes to throne
  • 1848 – Revolution in France (and much of Europe) leads to founding of Second Republic
  • 1859 – Publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species
  • 1861 – Foundation of Kingdom of Italy
  • 1865 – End of American Civil War
  • 1871 – Foundation of German Empire (2nd Reich)
  • 1872 – Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy
  • 1895 – Marconi promotes one of the first transmissions


 Neuschwanstein Castle built in 1869 for Ludwig II of Bavaria

Music in the Romantic era

  • Musical life in the nineteenth century moved from the court to the city. By 1900 there were more than a dozen cities with in excess of a million inhabitants.
  • Composers were increasingly independent of traditional patrons. Instead they either fulfilled individual commissions or sold their music direct to publishers.
  • There was an increase in nationalism throughout the nineteenth century, with states (e.g. Italy) seeking unification and ethnic groups seeking a defined homeland (e.g. Czechs, Poles, Finns etc.). This was paralleled by an increased interest in folk music and the idea of forging national styles.
  • There was disagreement in the nineteenth century between those who thought music should build upon Classical genres such as the symphony (e.g. Brahms) and those who saw the future in or new forms better suited to the Romantic aesthetic (e.g. Wagner or Liszt)


Caspar David Friedrich Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1819)

  • Both the harmonic language and the basic forms of the Classical era were retained but composers tend to extend and blur their harmonies and structures rather than aiming for the clarity of Classical music
  • The tendency of Romantic music to delay arriving at a point of closure reflects an artistic aesthetic of yearning or striving for things that are out of reach (e.g. unrequited love).
  • One consequence of an increased emphasis on the individual was an interest in music’s ability to convey inner thoughts, which might be reflective or full of heroic conflict and turmoil
  • Another facet of the emphasis on the individual was the continued rise of the heroically virtuoso instrumentalist such as Liszt and Paganini. From Beethoven onwards, there was also a tendency to see composers too as involved in a heroic artistic struggle.

Stylistic features

Common forms
  • same as Classical period but expanded and treated more freely
  • more single-movement works based on ternary form with structural divisions much less clear than in Classical period
  • movements sometimes played continuously with one leading into the next
  • minuet movements often replaced by scherzo
Melody and rhythm
  • metre less clear and more likely to change within a movement
  • tempi are more extreme
  • use of national dance rhythms
  • phrases are extended and irregular compared to Classical era; use of motivic links and development
  • use of rubato expected
Harmony and tonality
  • harmony is increasingly chromatic – use of chromatic chords
  • tonality less clear
  • cadence points often extended or disguised
  • modulations to distant keys
Texture and resources
  • massive expansion of orchestra
  • use of unusual instruments (e.g. bass clarinet, contrabassoon, saxophone)
  • greater exploitation of instrumental sonorities and textures
  • increased emphasis on instrumental virtuosity
  • contrasts of texture and dynamics much more extreme

Typical pieces (all tracks available on Moodle)

Symphony Schubert (1797-1828), Symphony No. 9 in C Major
Berlioz (1803-69), Symphonie Fantastique
Brahms (1833-97), Symphony No. 4
Tchaikovsky (1840-93), Symphony No. 5
Concerto Tchaikovsky (1840-93), Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb minor
Bruch (1838-1920), Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor
Dvorak (1841-1904), Cello Concerto in B minor
Symphonic poem / tone poem Liszt (1811-1886), Hunnenschlacht
Concert overture Berlioz (1803-69), Le Corsaire
Mendelssohn (1809-47), Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
Dvorak (1841-1904), Husitska
Chamber music Mendelssohn (1809-47), String Quartet No. 6 in F minor
Brahms (1833-97), Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 34
Solo sonata (with piano) Brahms (1833-97), Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in F minor
Opera Verdi (1813-1901), Rigoletto
Puccini (1858-1924), Madama Butterfly
Music drama Wagner (1813-83), Tristan und Isolde
Oratorio Mendelssohn (1809-47), Elijah
Lieder Schubert (1797-1828), Die schone Mullerin
Schumann (1810-56), Dichterliebe
Wolf (1860-1903), Spanisches Liederbuch
Solo sonata Beethoven (1770-1827), Piano Sonata Op. 57
Liszt (1811-1886), Piano Sonata in B minor
Character pieces (nocturnes, etudes, dances, intermezzi) Field (1782-1837), Nocturne in A Major
Chopin (1810-49), Mazurka Op. 59 No. 3
Mendelssohn (1809-47), Song Without Words Op. 19 No. 1
Schumann (1810-56), Waldszenen Op. 82
Brahms (1833-97), Intermezzo in A minor Op. 76 No. 7

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