Romanticism in Music
Romantic: of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealised, sentimental, or fantastic view of reality… concerned more with feeling and emotion than with form and aesthetic qualities.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Eighth edition, 1991.
The term romantic first appeared at sometime during the latter half of the 18th Century, meaning in quite literal English, "romance-like", usually referring to the character of mythical medieval romances. The first significant jump was in literature, where writing became far more reliant on imagination and the freedom of thought and expression, in around 1750. Subsequent movements then began to follow in Music and Art, where the same kind of imagination and expression began to appear. In this essay I shall be discussing the effect that this movement had on music, the way it developed, and the impact that it had on the future development of western music.
Origins of Romanticism -- a Revolt Against Classicism
In many respects, and with hindsight, it seems natural that the Romantic composers and writers would take a new direction in their approach to expression, reacting against the classical and neo-classical ideas of reason and order from the previous age. It was a revolt against classicism, and against the pre-prescribed rules that defined it. The main catalyst for this change was the French Revolution in 1789, where the French monarchy and aristocracy was overthrown by a rebellion of the people and France became a republic. This, in a musical sense, had an immediate impact on French opera, with the emphasis of the stories now beginning to be drawn into the present as opposed to the ancient world, and the old hierarchy of the Gods and feudal systems. The many social and political revolutions of the late 18th Century established new social orders and new ways of life and thought, and this materialised in the arts also, in music in particular by the addition of a new emotional depth to the classical forms of previous years.
The Classical Period had lasted from around 1750 -- 1820, and was itself a revolt against the previous Baroque era. The arts moved away from the heavily ornamented styles of the Baroque to a cleaner, uncluttered style, thought to be reminiscent of Ancient Greece, and many people interested in music were now the aristocracy rather than the church or monarchy. The social upheavals of the latter part of this period challenged these ideas, and the Age of Reason became the age of the individual, and the beginnings of Romanticism, with its non-rational and disordered reasoning, became predominant.
Early Romanticism and the Influence of Beethoven
The Romantic age, although having been in the background in literature in particular since 1750, really began to evolve into mainstream music with the shockwaves caused by the French Revolution. Opera was immediately modernised in France -- in particular a style later known as 'Rescue Opera', which...