MUSIC 255 - The Romantic Century

Laura Gray

Estimated reading time: 1 minutes

Table of contents


The Romantic Period follows a particularly turbulent time in European history of revolution & change

The French Revolution, 1789-99. (First) Industrial Revolution (ca.1760-1840)

The Romantic Period in Music:

  • Roughly 1820-1900
  • It is difficult to define any era, including the Romantic Era.
  • Music eras overlap, and changes in styles and artistic ideas are fluid.
  • The 19th century is not a unified monolith: defined by different styles, issues and trends, and even some quite vehemently competing ideas.
  • The Romantic era begins roughly with the mid to late period in Beethoven’s output to late Wagner, Liszt, Brahms, Musorgsky and Tchaikovsky, as well as early works of Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Elgar.
  • The age of Musical Romanticism is closely bound to Romantic features in other arts.

Romantic languages: derived from Latin – e.g., French, Italian

Romanticism can be defined as:

  • A movement in art and literature in the late 18th and 19th centuries in revolt against Neoclassicism, and the premise of rationality and reason of the previous centuries.

  • Friedrich Schlegel (German poet) first used the term romantic to describe “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” (late 1790s)

Some features of Romanticism

Idealistic Love: passionate, romantic narratives e.g., Romeo & Juliet, Tristan & Isolde

Fascination with Shakespeare in art & music:

  • vs Classical drama
  • a rebel, champion of the individual

Obsession with Nature:

  • Wild, untamed, all-powerful
  • But also human in harmony in nature: Balm for urban-weary: cities were dirty, polluted, disease-infested
  • Sometimes contemplating wonder of nature
  • Dreaming also part of Romantic aesthetic.

Dreaming could turn into nightmares! The Romantics were obsessed horror, with the supernatural, the terrifying, the grotesque! For example, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818


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