notes are condensed and adapted from Donald Grout's A History of
Western Music, W.W.Norton, New York 1980; Stolba's The
Development of Western Music, Wm. C. Brown, 1990, and Homer
Ulrich's Symphonic Music, Columbia Press , 1952.
terms 'classic' and 'romantic' as descriptions of style periods are not
very satisfactory for at least two reasons: in the first place, both words
have been used in literature, the fine arts, and history in general with
much more variety of meaning than those we usually attach to them in music
history - and in the second, the traditional assumption that the terms are
mutually exclusive or contradictory is not even nearly accurate. It
is not simply that traits of classicism can be found in the 19th century
or that romantic characteristics can be traced back into the 18th, but it
is rather that the great bulk of the music written from about 1770 to
about 1900 constitutes a single style period, with a common limited
stock of usable musical sounds, a common basic vocabulary of harmonies,
common basic principles of harmonic progression, rhythm , and form, and a
common musical intention with regards composer, performer, and listener.
Mozart might not have liked Mahler, but he would not have found the music
altogether strange or, certainly, unintelligible in relation to his own.
The essence of musical Classicism revolved around a conservative approach to creativity with emphasis on balance, control, proportion, symmetry and restraint. Romanticism's response to Classicism was a more radical kind of expression, seeking out the new, the curious, and the adventurous. Romanticism is characterized by restless seeking and impulsive reaction. Romantic art differs from classic art by its greater emphasis on the qualities of remoteness and strangeness. A fundamental trait of Romanticism is boundlessness. Throughout the Romantic period, the human mind was peculiarly attracted by disproportionate and excessive features. The tiny piano piece and the brief lyrical song, forms which had been of no consequence during the Classical period, now assumed the highest significance. On the other hand, the moderate length of the classical symphony and opera was hugely extended (Mahler's symphonies, Wagner's operas). As against the classic ideals of order, equilibrium, control, and perfection within acknowledged limits, Romanticism cherishes freedom of expression, movement, passion, and endless pursuit of the unattainable (fantasy and imagination); a search for new subject matters. Because its goal can never be attained, romantic art is haunted by a spirit of longing. The creations of the romantic artist were emotional in character rather than guided by structural rules.
The Romantic movement in music coincides with a general Romantic movement in all arts. At this period, the arts of literature and painting began to influence music. In the Romantic era, music acquired poetic or philosophical meaning. Antiquity, folklore, history and exotic cultures were examined as possible sources of inspiration. Romanticism in literature appears to precede the first signs of Romantic music (for example Goethe [1749-1832] and Wordsworth [1770-1850]). The romantic movement was fostered especially by a number of German writers and poets. Their influence on musicians was pervasive and enduring. Weber and Wagner were attracted by the legends of Northern Europe; Robert Schumann by the pseudo-philosophic romantic literature of his day; Frederic Chopin by his Polish national poet Mickiewicz; Hector Berlioz by the earlier romantic poet Shakespeare; Franz Liszt by the contemporary French romantic poet Lamartine and by various French romantic painters, and so on. Thus, a fertilization of music by poetry, fiction, philosophy and painting took place, and with it was associated a further fertilization by the spirit of nationalism. Weber, Schumann, Wagner expressing the German spirit; Chopin, Poland; Liszt, Hungary; Antonin Dvorak, Bohemia; Edvard Grieg, Norway, and so on.
Precendents of Pre-Romantic traits in music can be identified in the operatic music of Monteverdi (Poppea), the programmatic music and chromatic organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the expressive arias of George Frederic Handel. It is possible to sense the ground for the predominant Romanticism of the nineteenth century being prepared from the time in 1740s when 'feeling' came to be consciously valued when the galant style and its German counterpart Empfindsamkeit were at its height (especially in the works of CPE Bach). Another precedent for Romanticism is found in the musical connections with the literary movement known as Sturm und Drang (dramatic works of Gluck in 1760s and some of Haydn's symphonies from the early 1770s such as Trauersinfonie and the Farewell). These temporary movements, however, did not progress to Romanticism. Classicism and Romanticism represent qualities which co-existed throughout the periods of musical history (1750-1900) [concurrent tendencies] normally assigned to one or the other. The change from Classic to Romantic is, in essence, a change of emphasis, not a sudden, total transformation. Musical Romanticism is more style than language characterized by Nationalism, Realism, Impressionism, and Expressionism. It remained faithful to tonality and to metrical periodicity. Emotion became more urgent and intense as form became freer and tone color richer. Remaining mainly tonal, Romantic music became more chromatic, the melodic structure remained periodic but phrase structure became less regular. Music became more poetic than abstract, more melodic than harmonic and more organic than mosaic.
A few general observations may be made about the technical differences between Romantic and Classic music. In Romantic music, long sections -even an entire movement- may continue as one unbroken rhythmic pattern, with the monotony and the cumulative effect of an incantation. A movement of a sonata in the hands of a Romantic composer is a series of picturesque episodes without any strong bond of formal unity [expressiveness and lyricism above formal structure and key relationships = in Classical music form and order come first, in Romantic music expressive content]. A new kind of unity, however, is achieved by using the same theme in different movements. Romantic music is more lyrical/programmatic than the dramatic/absolute music of the Classical era.
The massive use of orchestral tone colors is a Romantic trait, i.e., a wide range of instruments were given solo or combined passages within an orchestral context. The Romantic era was the golden age of the virtuoso. The emotional range of music was considerably widened, as was its harmonic vocabulary and the range and number of instruments. The most characteristic orchestral form is the symphonic poem in which the music tells a story or parallels its emotions. The most characteristic new genre is the solo song with piano accompaniment (i.e Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf).
In the Romantic period, the triadic system was exploited to the farthest consequences, chromatic alterations were used extensively (see below), unprepared and -towards the end of the century- unresolved appoggiatura chords were used. Free modulation into distant keys without pivot chords became a common practice. The increasing boldness of composers in modulating to ever more distant keys, and in coloring, or altering the notes of their chords more and more together with the less frequent use of perfect cadences, the strength of a single tonal center became diluted and tonality started to disintegrate.
Earlier pre-Romantic tendencies:
J Kuhnau: In 1700, the Kantor of the Leipzig Thomaskirsche (predecessor of JS Bach till 1723), published multi-movement programmatic keyboard sonatas based on biblical stories. Besides being programmatic, the use of unresolved harmonies, a jagged fugue subject and sequential diminished sevenths (when the program required) were early Romantic tendencies.
JS Bach: In 1703/4 in Arnstadt, JS Bach wrote a harpsichord piece (capriccio) in Bb (BWV992) on his brother's joining a military band in Sweden. It is programmatic in content and each of the four movements are labeled with their meaning. There are chromatic passages depicting the sorrow of friends as the brother Jacob takes his leave. The influence of Kuhnau pieces which were known to JS Bach is obvious.
F.J. Haydn: His Sturm und Drang style symphonies in the early 1770s (Trauersinfonie/44, Farewell/45, La Passion/49).
Louis Spohr: A grand Romantic opera 'Alruna die Eulenkonigin' in 1808, and 'Faust' in 1813 placed Spohr in the forefront of progressive Romanticism. He used leitmotifs representing love and hell in Faust.
John Field: It was Field's nocturnes (the first composed in 1812) which initiated this most Romantic of genres.
Romantic harmony and Chromaticism:
Romantic harmony uses diminished seventh frequently. Its ambiguity (lack of a tonal center) is exploited by Liszt and other composers and it is used extensively for modulation.
The German sixth (the augmented sixth chord on the flattened submediant) is another chord used frequently. Its resolution is usually onto a 6/4 chord on the dominant (ie, Ic). It can be used for modulation too. In C major, the German sixth would be on Ab; this can be used as V7 in Db resolving to I in Db as a cadence.
The use of higher dissonances, a more innovative treatment of chromatic harmony, and a greater interest in modal techniques are the other characteristics of Romantic harmony. The use of chromatic chords without a resolution or cadence may result in 'chromatic frustration' for the listener.
The Romantics used chromaticism more frequently than the Classicists. They followed the same principles of chromaticism established by the Classic composers but intensified its use. As opposed to the Classical composers, however, they did not use strong cadential progressions to compensate for this in keeping the sense of tonality. Together with their tendency to avoid or delay cadential progressions and replacing perfect cadences with interrupted ones, the tonality started to dissolve. These two factors were the main reasons for the development of atonality (increased use of chromaticism, decreased use of cadential progressions).
Summary of Musical Characteristics of Romantic period:
|Melody receives the greatest emphasis and its style is chiefly "melody with accompaniment". Melodies are more disjunct and have wider ranges, particularly in R. Strauss's music.|
|New forms: symphonic poem, song cycle, music drama. New genres emerged, including piano character pieces (nocturne; ballade; etude; impromptu; intermezzo; mazurka, polonaise), lieder, song cycles, programmatic overtures, and symphonic poems.|
|Rhythms are more complex than in Classic period and include use of compound meters, changing meters, cross rhythms (especially in Chopin and Schumann), greater syncopation, and use of rubato in Chopin and Liszt. Some composers (e.g. Chopin, Schumann, Wagner) fixate on one rhythmic pattern extensively|
|Many forms (e.g. sonata, rondo, variations) were taken from the Classic period, but were greatly expanded. Sonata form became much longer with emphasis given to an expanded development section and coda (particularly in Beethoven and Brahms). Unity on a large scale: merging of separate movements into a single span (Liszt's Sonata in B minor),|
|Composers include greater complexity in use of dissonant chords - particularly diminished sevenths, half-diminished sevenths, augmented triads, augmented sixth chords, and Neapolitan chords The style is highly chromatic, and milder dissonances are elevated to consonances (particularly diminished sevenths)|
|Tonality began to break down because of extreme chromaticism (especially in Liszt and Wagner). Minor keys became more frequent, and modulations occur frequently by third-relations and to remote keys.|
|Thematicism plays a more important role in a sonata movement than tonality. Thematic metamorphosis: A programmatic approach to composition often associated thematic material with a character or idea. Changing circumstances or emotional states were represented by the transformation of the thematic material (as in Faust Symphony or Symphony Fantastique),|
|Berlioz and Wagner greatly expanded the orchestra and incorporated new instruments into it. Program music became common in the music of Berlioz, Liszt, and R. Strauss.|
|Assimilation of older elements, especially the revival of polyphony and Baroque forms under the influence of JS Bach [Mendelssohn, Brahms]. Greater interest in modal techniques (flat seventh [common to many modes], flat second [Phrygian], augmented fourth [Lydian]),|
|Manipulation of sonata form, including mosaic and additive structures. More organic treatment of the form. Almost all genres expanded greatly in length, and traditional formal unity was broken down (especially by Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt)|
|Study of the folk-heritage in music and imitation of folk-like melodic simplicity. Predilection for exotic effects through employment of foreign national coloring or the folkloristic heritage (Chopin, Tchaikovsky, the Russians) [Chopin's more than 50 mazurkas represent one of the earliest examples of overt nationalistic sentiments in music],|
|Use of a cyclic device: Material from one movement recurs in another (a technique related to thematic metamorphosis, idee fixe and leitmotiv) (Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky; Mendelssohn's Eb string quartet; Beethoven's Symphony No.9),|
become increasingly more numerous and detailed, and extremes of dynamic
contrasts and levels occur from pppp to ffff
10/07/2002 C Shotwell