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Music Traits of the Romantic Period

21/06/2013 10:40

MUSI 4350 - Music Traits of the Romantic Period
The following 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. The 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. In a very general sense, all art may be said to be romantic; for though it may take its materials from actual life, it transforms them and thus creates a new world which is necessarily to a greater or lesser degree remote from the everyday world requiring a subjective, and individual interpretation by the public. That this remoteness, strangeness, and subjectivity is heightened in the Romantic Era is perhaps its most clarifying difference from the earlier period. In this general sense, Romanticism is not a phenomenon of any one period, but has occurred at various times in various forms. Another important characteristic of romanticism is its aspiration to transcend immediate times or occasions, to reach back into the past and forward into the future. Romanticism cherishes freedom, movement, passion, and endless pursuit of the unattainable. It is this aspect which, perhaps, gives music of the Romantic Era its sense of longing, and heightened emotions. This impatience of limits leads to a breaking down of distinctions. The personality of the artists tends to become merged with the work of art; classical clarity is replaced by a certain intentional obscurity, definite statement by suggestion, allusion, or symbol. The arts themselves tend to merge; poetry, for example, aims to acquire the qualities of music, wherein the actual sounds of the works begin to take on special, even musical, significance. In much of the music of the 19th century there is a literary connection, even in strictly instrumental music. Program music becomes a staple of the concert fare and incidents of history, or abstractions of poetry are often the starting point for a musical composition. Grout says that only instrumental music - "pure music free form the burden of words" - can perfectly attain the romantic goal of communicating emotions. And further "Its incomparable power of suggestion which works on the mind directly, without the mediation of words, made it the dominant art, the one most representative of the 19th century". Concretely we may say that music of the 19th century is: more concerned with color, whether of chord or instrumentation, than ever before, that highly distant key relationships become the expectation rather than the unusual, that the tonic/dominant axis is weakened by a subdominant direction, that melody becomes exalted into what might be called 'themes', that counterpoint, in the main, is of less importance, and that the orchestral instrumentation is expanded greatly to include piccolo, English horn, contrabassoon, bass and, occasionally, soprano (Eb) clarinets, trombone, tuba, harp, and a steadily growing list of percussion. Forms often take one of two paths, either that of great expansion (symphony) or that of the miniature (Nocturnes). A new form which runs between these extremes is the Tone Poem or Symphonic Tone Poem which, springing from some literary or poetic inspiration, is, in general, a large single-movement work for orchestra with many contrasting sections of tempi and texture. Nineteenth Century Romanticism was an international movement which affected all the arts which was born to some extent in the spirit of the great revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Page 1 of 4

These temporary movements. Because its goal can never be attained. more melodic than harmonic and more organic than mosaic. Norway. Romanticism cherishes freedom of expression. A new kind of unity. On the other hand. The romantic movement was fostered especially by a number of German writers and poets. Musical Romanticism is more style than language characterized by Nationalism. Music became more poetic than abstract.e.e Schubert. and endless pursuit of the unattainable (fantasy and imagination). Wagner expressing the German spirit. is achieved by using the same theme in different movements. In the Romantic era. The Romantic era was the golden age of the virtuoso. Antonin Dvorak. fiction. and perfection within acknowledged limits. i. folklore. A few general observations may be made about the technical differences between Romantic and Classic music. 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). however. a fertilization of music by poetry. Hector Berlioz by the earlier romantic poet Shakespeare. romantic art is haunted by a spirit of longing. movement. the melodic structure remained periodic but phrase structure became less regular. the curious. In Romantic music. Their influence on musicians was pervasive and enduring. and so on. Edvard Grieg.aug. and the expressive arias of George Frederic Handel. Realism. history and exotic cultures were examined as possible sources of inspiration. a search for new subject matters. the human mind was peculiarly attracted by disproportionate and excessive features.may continue as one unbroken rhythmic pattern. proportion. Liszt. Robert Schumann by the pseudo-philosophic romantic literature of his day. a wide range of instruments were given solo or combined passages within an orchestral context. The creations of the romantic artist were emotional in character rather than guided by structural rules. total transformation. forms which had been of no consequence during the Classical period. Frederic Chopin by his Polish national poet Mickiewicz. Weber and Wagner were attracted by the legends of Northern Europe. a change of emphasis. with the monotony and the cumulative effect of an incantation. long sections -even an entire movement. http://www. Hungary. and the adventurous. Antiquity. not a sudden. the programmatic music and chromatic organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach. and with it was associated a further fertilization by the spirit of nationalism. passion. Romantic music is more lyrical/programmatic than the dramatic/absolute music of the Classical era. now assumed the highest significance. The change from Classic to Romantic is. music acquired poetic or philosophical meaning. control. Throughout the Romantic period. Remaining mainly tonal. Impressionism. Chopin. The tiny piano piece and the brief lyrical song. the arts of literature and painting began to influence music. Romanticism is characterized by restless seeking and impulsive reaction. seeking out the new. Brahms.Romantictraits. 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. Poland. Wolf). Wagner's operas). It remained faithful to tonality and to metrical periodicity.. At this period. The Romantic movement in music coincides with a general Romantic movement in all arts. Schumann. however. and Expressionism. The massive use of orchestral tone colors is a Romantic trait. in Romantic music expressive content]. The most characteristic orchestral form is the symphonic poem in which the music tells a story or parallels its emotions. Schumann. and so on. in essence. A fundamental trait of Romanticism is boundlessness.Music Traits of the Romantic Period 21/06/2013 10:40 The essence of musical Classicism revolved around a conservative approach to creativity with emphasis on balance. Bohemia. Franz Liszt by the contemporary French romantic poet Lamartine and by various French romantic painters. 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. As against the classic ideals of order. equilibrium. 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). Emotion became more urgent and intense as form became freer and tone color richer. as was its harmonic vocabulary and the range and number of instruments. Romanticism in literature appears to precede the first signs of Romantic music (for example Goethe [1749-1832] and Wordsworth [1770-1850]). the moderate length of the classical symphony and opera was hugely extended (Mahler's symphonies. Romantic music became more chromatic. philosophy and painting took place. Romantic art differs from classic art by its greater emphasis on the qualities of remoteness and strangeness. control.html Page 2 of 4 . Romanticism's response to Classicism was a more radical kind of expression. symmetry and restraint. Thus. The most characteristic new genre is the solo song with piano accompaniment (i. did not progress to Romanticism. Precendents of Pre-Romantic traits in music can be identified in the operatic music of Monteverdi (Poppea). The emotional range of music was considerably widened.

These two factors were the main reasons for the development of atonality (increased use of chromaticism. the Kantor of the Leipzig Thomaskirsche (predecessor of JS Bach till 1723). published multimovement programmatic keyboard sonatas based on biblical stories. music drama. Romantic harmony and Chromaticism: Romantic harmony uses diminished seventh frequently. Rhythms are more complex than in Classic period and include use of compound meters. they did not use strong cadential progressions to compensate for this in keeping the sense of tonality.html Page 3 of 4 .aug. 10/02/02 CMS Summary of Musical Characteristics of Romantic period: Melody receives the greatest emphasis and its style is chiefly "melody with accompaniment". Together with their tendency to avoid or delay cadential progressions and replacing perfect cadences with interrupted ones. La Passion/49). and a greater interest in modal techniques are the other characteristics of Romantic harmony. The Romantics used chromaticism more frequently than the Classicists. particularly in R. and in coloring. a more innovative treatment of chromatic harmony. Strauss's music.Romantictraits. Its resolution is usually onto a 6/4 chord on the dominant (ie.unresolved appoggiatura chords were used. a jagged fugue subject and sequential diminished sevenths (when the program required) were early Romantic tendencies. including piano character pieces (nocturne. or altering the notes of their chords more and more together with the less frequent use of perfect cadences. He used leitmotifs representing love and hell in Faust. Louis Spohr: A grand Romantic opera 'Alruna die Eulenkonigin' in 1808.J. the triadic system was exploited to the farthest consequences. The German sixth (the augmented sixth chord on the flattened submediant) is another chord used frequently. The use of chromatic chords without a resolution or cadence may result in 'chromatic frustration' for the listener. Free modulation into distant keys without pivot chords became a common practice. programmatic overtures. and symphonic poems. the use of unresolved harmonies. the German sixth would be on Ab. The use of higher dissonances. impromptu. ballade. JS Bach: In 1703/4 in Arnstadt. song cycles. chromatic alterations were used extensively (see below). There are chromatic passages depicting the sorrow of friends as the brother Jacob takes his leave. They followed the same principles of chromaticism established by the Classic composers but intensified its use. Melodies are more disjunct and have wider ranges. cross rhythms http://www. As opposed to the Classical composers. F. In C major. Besides being programmatic. Its ambiguity (lack of a tonal center) is exploited by Liszt and other composers and it is used extensively for modulation. and 'Faust' in 1813 placed Spohr in the forefront of progressive Romanticism. It can be used for modulation too. It is programmatic in content and each of the four movements are labeled with their meaning. Farewell/45. The increasing boldness of composers in modulating to ever more distant keys. etude. John Field: It was Field's nocturnes (the first composed in 1812) which initiated this most Romantic of genres. the tonality started to dissolve. polonaise). Haydn: His Sturm und Drang style symphonies in the early 1770s (Trauersinfonie/44. unprepared and -towards the end of the century. lieder. changing meters.Music Traits of the Romantic Period 21/06/2013 10:40 In the Romantic period. song cycle. Earlier pre-Romantic tendencies: J Kuhnau: In 1700. intermezzo. New forms: symphonic poem. The influence of Kuhnau pieces which were known to JS Bach is obvious. New genres emerged. however. the strength of a single tonal center became diluted and tonality started to disintegrate. Ic). decreased use of cadential progressions). this can be used as V7 in Db resolving to I in Db as a cadence. JS Bach wrote a harpsichord piece (capriccio) in Bb (BWV992) on his brother's joining a military band in Sweden.

More organic treatment of the form.html Page 4 of 4 . but were greatly expanded. rondo.aug. and use of rubato in Chopin and Liszt. augmented sixth chords. Thematic metamorphosis: A programmatic approach to composition often associated thematic material with a character or idea. Mendelssohn's Eb string quartet. Assimilation of older elements. and Liszt) Study of the folk-heritage in music and imitation of folk-like melodic simplicity. Manipulation of sonata form. Schumann. changing meters.g. the Russians) [Chopin's more than 50 mazurkas represent one of the earliest examples of overt nationalistic sentiments in music]. Chopin. including mosaic and additive structures. Program music became common in the music of Berlioz. flat second [Phrygian]. Unity on a large scale: merging of separate movements into a single span (Liszt's Sonata in B minor). Liszt. Berlioz and Wagner greatly expanded the orchestra and incorporated new instruments into it. Minor keys became more frequent. and Neapolitan chords The style is highly chromatic.particularly diminished sevenths. variations) were taken from the Classic period. Almost all genres expanded greatly in length. Use of a cyclic device: Material from one movement recurs in another (a technique related to thematic metamorphosis. Composers include greater complexity in use of dissonant chords .Romantictraits. Beethoven's Symphony No. Changing circumstances or emotional states were represented by the transformation of the thematic material (as in Faust Symphony or Symphony Fantastique). Brahms]. greater syncopation. and R. Thematicism plays a more important role in a sonata movement than tonality. and milder dissonances are elevated to consonances (particularly diminished sevenths) Tonality began to break down because of extreme chromaticism (especially in Liszt and Wagner). cross rhythms (especially in Chopin and Schumann).9). Expression markings become increasingly more numerous and detailed. Wagner) fixate on one rhythmic pattern extensively Many forms (e. Chopin. and traditional formal unity was broken down (especially by Schumann. and extremes of dynamic contrasts and levels occur from pppp to ffff 10/07/2002 C Shotwell http://www.Music Traits of the Romantic Period 21/06/2013 10:40 Rhythms are more complex than in Classic period and include use of compound meters. half-diminished sevenths. sonata. and modulations occur frequently by third-relations and to remote keys. Predilection for exotic effects through employment of foreign national coloring or the folkloristic heritage (Chopin. especially the revival of polyphony and Baroque forms under the influence of JS Bach [Mendelssohn. augmented triads. Tchaikovsky. idee fixe and leitmotiv) (Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky. Greater interest in modal techniques (flat seventh [common to many modes]. Some composers (e. augmented fourth [Lydian]). Sonata form became much longer with emphasis given to an expanded development section and coda (particularly in Beethoven and Brahms).g.