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The era of Romantic music

The era of Romantic music is defined as the period of European classical music that runs roughly from 1820 to 1900, as well as music written according to the norms and styles of that period. It was the start of a new set of ideas. It started as a reaction against the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and the scientific rationalization of nature. This new era of music was jumpstarted by the famous Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -1827). He is known to be the predominant figure in the transitions period between the Classical and Romantic era.

The Romantic period was preceded by the classical period and the late classical period of which most music is by Beethoven. Music from the Romantic era used the structures from previous time periods and expanded on them. Romantic music is related to romanticism in literature, visual arts, and philosophy, though the conventional time periods used in musicology are now very different from their counterparts in the other arts, which define “romantic” as running from the 1780s to the 1840s. The Romanticism movement held that there were inescapable realities in the world which could only be reached through emotion, feeling and intuition. Romantic music struggled to increase emotional expression and power to describe these deeper truths, while preserving or even extending the formal structures from the classical period. The vernacular use of the term “romantic music” applies to music which is thought to evoke a soft mood or dreamy atmosphere. This usage is rooted in the connotations of the word “romantic” that were established during the period, but not all “Romantic” pieces fit this description, with some musical romanticism producing strong, harsh sounds for agitated emotion. Conversely, music that is “romantic” in the modern everyday usage of the word (that is, relating to the emotion of romantic love) is not necessarily linked to the Romantic period. Ludwig van Beethoven personified the attitude that music was “a direct outpouring” of a composer’s personality, his individual triumphs and tragedies. This became a prevalent Romantic notion.

Romanticism celebrates metaphor, ambiguity, suggestion, allusion and symbol and as a result, instrumental music, which was shunned by the early Church, is now favored over music with words due to its “incomparable power of suggestion” and mystery. Music theorists of the Romantic era established the concept of tonality to describe the harmonic vocabulary inherited from the Baroque and Classical periods. Romantic composers sought to fuse the large structural harmonic planning demonstrated by earlier masters such as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven with further chromatic innovations, in order to achieve greater fluidity and contrast, and to meet the needs of longer works. Chromaticism grew more varied, as did consonance and dissonance and their resolution. Composers modulated to increasingly remote keys, and their music often prepared the listener less for these modulations than the music of the classical era. Sometimes, instead of a pivot chord, a pivot note was used. The properties of the diminished seventh and related chords, which facilitate modulation to many keys, were also extensively used. Composers such as Beethoven expanded the harmonic language with previously-unused chords, or innovative chord progressions.

The greater harmonic elusiveness and fluidity, the longer melodies, and the use of literary inspirations were all present prior to the Romantic period. However, some composers of the Romantic period adopted them as the central pursuit of music itself. Romantic composers were also influenced by technological advances, including an increase in the range and power of the piano and the improved chromatic abilities and greater projection of the instruments of the symphony orchestra. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, the shift towards new sources of musical inspiration, along with an increasing chromaticism in melody and more expressive harmony, became a palpable stylistic shift. The forces underlying this shift were not only musical, but economic, political and social. A new generation of composers emerged in post-Napoleonic Europe, among whom were Beethoven, Ludwig Spohr, ETA Hoffman, and Carl Maria von Weber. These composers grew up amidst the dramatic expansion of public concert life during the late 18th and early nineteenth centuries, which partly shaped their subsequent styles and expectations. Beethoven was extremely influential as among the first composers to work freelance rather than being employed full-time by a royal or ecclesiastic patron. During the late Romantic period, some composers created styles and forms associated with their national folk cultures.

The notion that there were “German” and “Italian” styles had long been established in writing on music, but the late nineteenth century saw the rise of a nationalist Russian style, and also Czech, Finnish and French nationalist styles of composition. Some composers were expressly nationalistic in their objectives, seeking to rediscover their country’s national identity in the face of occupation or oppression. Beethoven was born during music’s Classical period, which lasted from the mid-18th century to the early 19th century. It was a time when accessible, entertaining, elegant music was in vogue. Composers throughout Europe wrote in strict, predictable musical forms, and they were more interested in presenting beautiful, orderly sounds than exploring intense human emotions. Many famous composers lived during this era and they were all strongly influenced by Beethoven and his individuality in his style of music. Each composer of the Romantic Era developed his own style, which made them easily identifiable through their music. Beethoven is one of the most widely recognized and admired composers. He was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 and grew up in a musical family. At the age of 21, he moved to Vienna where he began studying composition and gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. By his late 20s, his hearing began to deteriorate and by the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. Many of his most admired works came from the last 15 years of his life. The major elements of his music include: the use of folk songs and emphasis on expression and emotions. He made arrangements of over 150 folk songs.

He also influenced romantic composers with his use of melodies. Beethoven was a composer of the Classical Period but he was also a forerunner of the Romantic Period in terms of musical style.

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