Romanticism as a Reaction to the Enlightenment
The epoch known as the Age of Reason, or the Enlightenment, was a secular intellectual movement that looked to reason as an explanation of the world. The Enlightenment began in 1687 with the publishing of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia and ended in 1789 with the French Revolution (Fiero 134). The epoch of Romanticism was a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The movement of Romanticism began in 1760 and ended in 1871. Romanticism as a movement was a reaction to the Enlightenment as a cultural movement, an aesthetic style, and an attitude of mind (210).
As a cultural movement, Romanticism “revolted against academic convention, and authority,” and the “limitations to freedom” that Romantics saw in the Enlightenment period (210). “Among European intellectuals, the belief in the reforming powers of reason became the basis for a progressive view of human history” (144). Enlightenment figures Antione Nicolas de Condorcet and Mary Wollstonecraft advocated for one such progressive cause, the rights of women. Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman put the idea of women’s rights into the minds of people during the Enlightenment period. As a merely progressive view, women did not obtain rights such as voting until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Enlightenment writers like Jonathan Swift and Voltaire, used satire to “[draw] attention to the vast contradictions between morals and manners, intentions and actions, and, more generally Enlightenment aspirations and contemporary degradation” (158).
The Enlightenment was a period of increased literacy and public interest in literature and arts that promoted learning through reason and logic (134). Romantic writers, specifically the transcendentalists, believed “that knowledge gained by way of intuition transcended knowledge based on reason and logic” (225). Romanticism embraced nature as a connection to God, while the Enlightenment, as a secular movement, thought of nature as universal order (213). Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, for example, utilized free verse poetry to express his desire for unity with nature (227).
The music of the Enlightenment was of the Rococo and classical styles. The Rococo style of music was characterized by “light and graceful melodies organized into short, distinct phrases” and was “delicate in effect, thin in texture, and natural in feeling” as in the works of François Couperin (181). Classical music revolved around “symmetry, order, and formal restraint” that reflected the “Enlightenment quest for reasoned clarity” found in the works of Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (198). The music of the Romantic era was “capable of freeing the intellect and speaking directly to the heart.” The size of orchestras grew and instruments were improved (267). Composers of the Romantic era such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, and Frédéric Chopin, “found inspiration in heroic subjects,...