Romantic music

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The predominant style of the music of the 19th century is called the music of romanticism (romanticism from old French romance 'poetry', 'novel') . A distinction is usually made between three sections: Early Romanticism , High Romanticism and Late Romanticism . The most important properties of romantic music are the emphasis on soulful expression, the dissolution of classical forms, the expansion and finally transgression of traditional harmony and the connection of music with extra-musical, often literary ideas ( program music ).

The orchestra was constantly expanded in the course of the 19th century, on the one hand to achieve more and more unusual coloristic subtleties, on the other hand to enable more and more overwhelming impressions by using all available means. In addition, elements of folk music were increasingly included, partly in the course of realism , partly due to the national schools of the smaller countries.


Difficulties in the deliberate use of the terms “ romanticism ” and “romantic” for a certain direction or epoch in music arise in particular from the fact that terms are adopted that have been used since the beginning of the 19th century with German literary romanticism ( Novalis , Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder , Ludwig Tieck , the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel , E. T. A. Hoffmann , Clemens Brentano etc.). The longer prehistory of the terms "romantic" (in the 17th / 18th century in the negative sense for "as in the novel") and the substantiated form ("the romantic") only plays a role in music as it does in the later Use of the word received. It was not until German Romanticism, whose representatives were soon referred to as “Romantics”, that the prerequisite was given to speak of a musical Romanticism based on this. Their physiognomy , however, only emerged more clearly from the 1830s and ended as an epoch in the strict sense of the word as early as 1850. The impulses from this early and actual phase of musical romanticism continued to have an effect.

The application of the concept of romanticism to music refers on the one hand to an inner, albeit temporally phase-shifted connection between the romantic movement in poetry , art theory and philosophy and musical romanticism, on the other hand to an intended counterposition to music, especially the Viennese classics ( Joseph Haydn , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven ).

The classical-romantic antithesis was already common in England in the 18th century and, in contrast to the German Romanticism and Weimar Classics ( Friedrich von Schiller , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ), had acquired a new, current dimension. But for the Romantics themselves, and especially for Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (Aesthetics, 1818-29), who, however, was far removed from them in his thinking, the older word usage conveyed by Johann Gottfried Herder and Christoph Martin Wieland was still valid, with that of the ancient "Classical" was opposed to Christian-European "romantic" art.

Another factor contributing to the terminological confusion was that a concept of music was developed in Romanticism that aimed at the essence of music as such. E. T. A. Hoffmann - the only one of the romantic poets who had a deeper insight into the music of his time and was himself a composer - appeared the instrumental music of Haydn, Mozart and above all that of Beethoven as the embodiment of "romantic music" because he was in she found the highest concept of music ever fulfilled. (“It [sc. Instrumental music] is the most romantic of all arts - one might almost say, purely romantic.”) The reasoning was as follows: “Music opens up an unknown realm to man; a world that has nothing in common with the external world of the senses [...] and in which he leaves behind all emotions that can be defined by concepts in order to indulge in the unspeakable. "Since music par excellence for the romantics (for example Wackenroder, Hoffmann) is often the epitome A comprehensive, transcendent, synthetic art that was entirely at home in the emotional sphere, the romantic concept of art, from which the 19th century never got rid, shaped the understanding of all music. The romantic ideas of music culminated in Arthur Schopenhauer's definition of music as the manifestation of the pure will, thus the " thing in itself " beyond appearances and concepts. Even Richard Wagner's idealistic conception of musical drama as all the arts-wide art ( " Gesamtkunstwerk ") goes ideas of the German Romantics back (for example, fusion of genres and arts, utopianism, sacralization of the artwork). A further embedding of the terms romanticism and romantic results from the inclusion of the literary epoch names “ Biedermeier ” and “ Vormärz ” (approx. 1815–48). Although not all phenomena in music since 1800 can be subsumed under Romanticism and the new Romantic music grows out of a soil that was prepared around 1800 alongside and partly in the shadow of Viennese classical music, Heinrich Heine's phrase about the “end of the Wolfgang Goetheschen Art Period ”around 1831 to the extent that music came to an end with the deaths of Carl Maria von Weber (1826), Beethoven (1827) and Franz Schubert (1828) and Romanticism all possibilities in German and French music were opened.

Music of the romantic era

The first phase of important bourgeois music, especially in Germany between approx. 1830 and 1850, can be described as Romanticism due to essential common criteria.

The first “romantic” approaches can be seen in the choice of material for the German Singspiel since the 1870s, which lead to Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz (1821). The contours of the German romantic opera were already announced in parts of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio (1782) and The Magic Flute (1791), furthermore in some works by Ludwig van Beethoven ( Fidelio , 1805), Ludwig (Louis) Spohr (to Example Faust , 1816; Jessonda , 1823) and E. T. A. Hoffmann ( Undine , 1816). The character of a national opera, which pulled out all the stops of the romanticism of nature, of spirits and, above all, of sagas, was already overlaid in Weber's later works ( Euryanthe , 1823; Oberon , 1826) by the musical idiom of the dominant French and Italian opera: it was still recognizable in the operas by Heinrich Marschner ( Der Vampyr , 1828; Hans Heiling , 1833) and, colored in a Biedermeier style, by Albert Lortzing and Friedrich von Flotow . Even Richard Wagner began with works in the style of German romantic opera ( The Flying Dutchman , 1843; Tannhäuser , 1845; Lohengrin , 1850).

Through the new mood and image-triggering function of harmony and timbres , the spheres and ideas that have since been inseparably linked with the concept of romanticism were conveyed in the Freischütz (especially in the Wolfsschluchtszene): the rule of unfathomable forces of nature and fate, the supernatural, the mythical legends and the fairytale past, which becomes a symbol of a utopian original state. In addition, there was a folk, national song-like tone and the gesture of knightly upswing. The music became permeable to moods and scenic images that emerged from romantic motifs and emotional states.

The poeticization of tonal language, which is lyrically turned inwards, reaches its perfection in the music of Robert Schumann . The focus is on piano music (including Papillons Op. 2, 1828–32; Carnaval Op. 9, 1834–35; Fantasiestücke Op. 12, 1832–37; Children's Scenes Op. 15, 1838; Kreisleriana Op. 16, 1838) and the Songs in which romantic poetry and music literally merge, for example in the Liederkreis Op. 24 (text by Heinrich Heine , 1849), in Myrthen Op. 25 (1840) and in the Liederkreis Op. 39 (text by Joseph von Eichendorff , 1840). Schumann's symphonies (1841–51), the piano concerto Op. 54 (1841/1845) and the sonatas are characterized by romantic-poetic content. With the opera Genoveva (1850) he also tried to open up the stage. Romantic in Schumann's music is the tendency towards delimitation and merging of genres, the turning away from complex, multi-parted architectures in favor of the " idea " that is unfolding at the moment , which is reluctant to deal with thematically . In doing so, the music is given new, music-transcending contents, "the unspeakable" can be expressed in the music.

Schumann and Frédéric Chopin discovered in piano music the lyrical intrinsic value of sound and figurative virtuosity for conveying the poetic. The romantic classicism of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy , to which some of the opera and instrumental music by Hoffmann, Spohr and others could still be attributed, is partly in advance. Especially in Mendelssohn's Songs without Words (1830–45) as well as in the music for Midsummer Night's Dream (1842, overture as early as 1826), a sublime mood poetry appears in the virtuoso handling of coined idioms. Reflections on images of nature and landscapes are just as essential elements in his main works as the idea of ​​weightless elves drifting. The discovery and transfiguration of the music of the past ( e.g. Palestrina Renaissance), which is closely linked to the efforts of literary romanticism , prepared by Carl Friedrich Zelter's work at the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin as well as by Hoffmann 's work on art theory (Old and New Church Music, 1814) and Compositions, was made fully usable for musical history only through Mendelssohn's performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berlin (1829). Many romantics studied with composers who had no direct contact with the Viennese classics.

The centers of musical romanticism were mainly in northern and central Germany ( Berlin , Dresden , Leipzig ). A romanticism in its own right developed in Chopin's piano music (Études Op. 10 1829–32; Études Op. 25, 1832–36, Préludes Op. 28 , 1836–39; Mazurkas, Nocturnes , Ballads; Concerts in E minor, Op. 11 , 1830 and F minor Op. 21 , 1829). Even during the virtuoso upswing, his music is almost always permeated with melancholy and fatalism . In the works of Chopin, which were enthusiastically welcomed by Schumann, the subjective gesture and the reflex on a suffering-sensitive self that is consumed in romantic longing can be felt even more than in Schumann's works .

A specifically French romanticism is represented by the instrumental music of Hector Berlioz . Key works such as the Symphonie fantastique (1830), Harold en Italie (1834), the Symphonie dramatique Roméo et Juliette (1839), the Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale (1840) and others aimed at the contamination of the genres through the inclusion of poetic or poetry from world literature ( William Shakespeare , Virgil , Goethe, George Gordon Byron ) derived and reinterpreted themes. They opened up regions of high-tension, unattainable longing, intoxication, wandering in dream worlds and visionary fantasy, the subject of which is the new (romantic) image of the artist's genius. The hybrid genre of program music and symphonic poetry - the latter shaped and propagated in particular by Franz Liszt , later taken up again by Richard Strauss - also arises from the ideas of Romanticism.

Even in Italian and French opera between 1830 and 1850, romantic influences are unmistakable. First of all, Vincenzo Bellini's soft, elegiac melos, which knows no less the firing passion, has always been understood as genuine romanticism. She also encounters Gaetano Donizetti in the operas , but then takes a back seat in Giuseppe Verdi's early work . The romantic features in the French grand opera ( Giacomo Meyerbeer , Daniel-François-Esprit Auber ) are also rather secondary . If the scenic, decorative effort stood in the way of romantic internalization, Verdi's dramatically inexorable nerve in his music only marginally allowed the romantic to emerge. Through the fateful drama and the historical-symbolic drama, seen as a whole, the opera of the 19th century is also linked with European romanticism, which in France with François-René de Chateaubriand (Génie du Christianisme, 1802), Alphonse de Lamartine , Victor Hugo , Alfred de Musset and Charles Baudelaire , in Italy with Ugo Foscolo , Alessandro Manzoni and Giacomo Leopardi and in England with Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats had brought about an intellectual change.

Temporal structure

Early Romanticism

The transition from the Viennese Classic to Romanticism can be found in the work of Ludwig van Beethoven . Many typically romantic elements are encountered for the first time in his works. The most important representative of the actual early romanticism, however, is Franz Schubert . In this area his work is complemented by the ballads of Carl Loewes . Carl Maria von Weber is important for the development of German opera , especially with his popular Freischütz . Then there are fantastic, gruesome material by Heinrich Marschner and finally the cheerful opera by Albert Lortzing , while Louis Spohr is mainly known for his instrumental music. The works of Johann Nepomuk Hummel , Ferdinand Ries and the French George Onslow are still largely related to classical music .

Italy experienced the heyday of bel canto operas in the early romantic period , associated with the names of Gioachino Rossini , Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini . While Rossini's comic operas are primarily known today, often only through their rousing overtures , Donizetti and Bellini's tragic content predominates. The most important Italian instrumental composer of this time was the legendary "devil violinist" Niccolò Paganini .

In France , on the one hand, the light Opéra comique developed , its representatives are François-Adrien Boieldieu , Daniel-François-Esprit Auber and Adolphe Adam , the latter also known for his ballets . One can also quote the famous eccentric composer and harpist Robert Nicolas-Charles Bochsa (seven operas). In addition, the grand opéra came up with pompous sets, ballets and large choirs. Its first representative was Gaspare Spontini , its most important Giacomo Meyerbeer .

In other European countries, too, the development of music took an upswing. The Irishman John Field composed the first nocturnes for piano , Friedrich Kuhlau worked in Denmark and the Swede Franz Berwald wrote four very idiosyncratic symphonies .

High romance

The high romance can be divided into two phases. In the first phase the actual romantic music reaches its climax. The Pole Frédéric Chopin explored previously unknown depths of feeling in his character pieces and dances for piano. Robert Schumann , mentally deranged at the end of his life, represents the prototype of the passionate romantic artist shadowed by tragedy in person and music. His idiosyncratic piano pieces, chamber music works and symphonies were to have a lasting impact on the following generation of musicians. Franz Liszt , who came from the German minority in Hungary, was on the one hand an enthusiastic piano virtuoso, but on the other hand laid the foundation for the progressive “ New German School ” with his harmoniously bold symphonic poems . The technique of the Idée fixe (leitmotif) of the French Hector Berlioz , who also significantly expanded the orchestra, was also committed to program music. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy orientated himself more towards the classical language of form and became a role model especially for Scandinavian composers like the Dane Niels Wilhelm Gade .

When Richard Wagner wrote his first romantic operas, the operas by Otto Nicolai and Friedrich von Flotow still dominated opera in Germany . Giuseppe Verdi's early works were also based on the bel canto ideal of the older generation. In France, Ambroise Thomas and Charles Gounod developed the Opéra lyrique . The Russian music was their own language in operas by Mikhail Glinka and Alexander Dargomyzhsky .

The second phase of High Romanticism, sometimes also called Neo-Romanticism, runs parallel to the realism style in literature and the visual arts. In the second half of his career, Wagner developed his leitmotif technique , with which he holds together the four-part Ring des Nibelungen , composed without arias ; the orchestra is treated like a symphony, the chromaticism reaches its extreme point in Tristan and Isolde . A whole crowd of disciples is under the influence of Wagner's progressive ideas, among them, for example, Peter Cornelius . On the other hand, an opposition arose from numerous more conservative composers, for whom Johannes Brahms , who was striving for a logical continuation of the classical in symphonic music , chamber music and lied, became the benchmark model due to the depth of feeling and a masterful composition technique . This party includes Robert Volkmann , Friedrich Kiel , Carl Reinecke , Max Bruch , Josef Gabriel Rheinberger and Hermann Goetz , among others .

In addition, several important loners appeared, among whom Anton Bruckner particularly stands out. Although a fan of Wagner, his clearly defined style differs significantly from that of the composer. For example, the block-like instrumentation of Bruckner's symphonies is derived from the registers of the organ. In the ideological struggle against Wagner's adversaries, his supporters portrayed him as an adversary of Brahms. Even Felix Draeseke , originally created by Liszt starting "pie in classic form," wrote is compositionally between the parties.

Verdi too, albeit in a different way than Wagner, achieved the path to well-composed musical drama . His immense charisma made all other composers pale in Italy, including Amilcare Ponchielli and Arrigo Boito , who was also the librettist of his late operas Otello and Falstaff .

In France, on the other hand, the light muse initially triumphed in the form of the socially critical operettas by Jacques Offenbach . The lyrical opera culminated in the works of Jules Massenet , while in Carmen by Georges Bizet moved for the first time of realism. Louis Théodore Gouvy built a stylistic bridge to German music . The operas, symphonies and chamber music works by the extremely versatile Camille Saint-Saëns , like the ballets by Léo Delibes, were more traditional. New orchestral colors were found in the compositions of Édouard Lalo and Emmanuel Chabrier . Born in Belgium, César Franck was accompanied by a revival of organ music, which Charles-Marie Widor , later Louis Vierne and Charles Tournemire, continued.

In almost all European countries a specific national romanticism developed. The national Russian movement started by Glinka was continued in Russia by the “ Group of Five ”, such as Mili Balakirew , Alexander Borodin , Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimski-Korsakow and César Cui . Anton Rubinstein and Pjotr ​​Tchaikovsky , whose ballets and symphonies became very popular, were more western oriented .

The Czech National music established Smetana with its operas and the oriented to Liszt symphonic seals. The symphonies, concerts and chamber music works by Antonín Dvořák , on the other hand, are based on Brahms. In Poland Stanisław Moniuszko was the leading opera composer, in Hungary Ferenc Erkel . Norway produced its most famous composer, Edvard Grieg , creator of lyrical piano works, songs and orchestral works such as the Peer Gynt Suite ; England's voice resounded with the Brahms-oriented Hubert Parry , who was mainly active as a choir composer and symphonist, and Arthur Sullivan's bizarre operettas .

Late Romanticism

In the late romantic era, also called post-romanticism, the traditional forms and elements of music are further dissolved. An increasingly colorful orchestral palette, an ever larger array of musical means, the exhaustion of tonality to its limits, exaggerated emotions and an increasingly individual tonal language of the individual composer are typical characteristics; the music is led to the threshold of modernity .

Gustav Mahler's symphonies reached unprecedented proportions, some of them abandon the traditional four-movement structure and often contain vowel components. But behind the monumental facade there is the modern expressiveness of the fin de siècle . This psychological expressive power is also contained in small pieces in the songs by Hugo Wolf , miniature dramas for voice and piano. The symphonies by Franz Schmidt and Richard Wetz are more indebted to tradition, particularly oriented towards Bruckner , while Max Reger has drawn on the polyphony of Bach in his numerous instrumental works , but developed them harmoniously in an extremely bold way. Julius Weismann and Joseph Haas stand out among the numerous composers who succeeded Reger . The idiosyncratic Hans Pfitzner is still one of the outstanding late romantic clay makers . Although a traditionalist and resolute opponent of modern trends, not a few of his works are close to the musical progress of the time. Among his successors are Walter Braunfels , who has mainly emerged as an opera composer, and the symphonic composer Wilhelm Furtwängler .

The opera stage was particularly suitable for heightened emotions. The folk and fairy tale operas by Engelbert Humperdinck , Wilhelm Kienzl and Siegfried Wagner , Richard's son, were quite good . But even Eugen d'Albert and Max von Schillings irritated the nerves with a German variant of Verism . Erotic symbolism can be found in the stage works of Alexander von Zemlinsky and Franz Schreker . Richard Strauss went even further to the limits of tonality with Salome and Elektra , before going back to more traditional paths with the Rosenkavalier . The compositions by Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek and Paul Graener are related in style to the works of Strauss .

Opera still dominated Italy during this period. It was here that verism developed, an exaggerated realism that could easily turn into bold and melodramatic on the opera stage. Thus, Ruggero Leoncavallo , Pietro Mascagni , Francesco Cilea and Umberto Giordano became known, despite their extensive output only by each one opera. Only the work of Giacomo Puccini has been completely preserved in the repertoire of the opera houses, although he was often accused of being sentimental. In spite of some veristic works, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was mainly considered to be the revival of the opera buffa . Ferruccio Busoni , at times living in Germany as an advocate of modern classicism, left behind a rather conventional, little-played work. Instrumental music only found its place in Italian music again with the impressionism-influenced Ottorino Respighi .

The term Impressionism comes from painting, and like there, it also developed in music in France. In the works of Claude Debussy , the structures dissolved into the finest nuances of rhythm, dynamics and timbre. This development was prepared in the work of Vincent d'Indy , Ernest Chausson and above all in the songs and chamber music of Gabriel Fauré . All subsequent French composers were more or less influenced by Impressionism. The most important of them was Maurice Ravel , a brilliant orchestral virtuoso. Albert Roussel first dealt with exotic topics before, like Ravel, anticipating neoclassical tendencies. Even Gabriel Pierné , Paul Dukas , Charles Koechlin and Florent Schmitt treated symbolist and exotic and oriental fabrics. The loner Erik Satie was the creator of weird piano pieces and an idol of the following generation.

Hubert Parry and the Irishman Charles Villiers Stanford introduced late Romanticism in England, which had its first important representative in Edward Elgar . While he was reviving the oratorio and writing symphonies and concerts, Frederick Delius devoted himself to particularly small orchestral pictures with his own variant of Impressionism. Ethel Smyth wrote mainly operas and chamber music in a style reminiscent of Brahms. Ralph Vaughan Williams , whose works were inspired by English folk songs and Renaissance music, became the most important symphonist in his country . Gustav Holst allowed Greek mythology and Indian wisdom to flow into his work . Havergal Brian and Frank Bridge were also very idiosyncratic composers at the transition to modernism .

In Russia, Alexander Glasunov adorned his traditional compositional technique with a colorful orchestral palette. The mystic Alexander Scriabin dreamed of a synthesis of colors, sounds and scents. Sergei Rachmaninov wrote melancholy-pathetic piano pieces and concerts full of intoxicating virtuosity, while the piano works of Nikolai Medtner are more lyrical.

In the Czech Republic, Leoš Janáček , deeply rooted in the music of his Moravian homeland, found new areas of expression with the development of speech melody in his operas. In the music of Zdeněk Fibich , Josef Bohuslav Foerster , Vítězslav Novák and Josef Suk , the local sounds are unmistakable. On the other hand, in the work of the Pole Karol Szymanowski, in addition to folklore influences, there is also a slightly morbid exoticism and later a classicistic dimension.

The most important Danish composer is Carl Nielsen , known for his symphonies and concerts. Even more dominant in his country is the position of the Finn Jean Sibelius , also a symphonic composer of melancholy expressiveness and clear lines. In Sweden, the works of Wilhelm Peterson-Berger , Wilhelm Stenhammar and Hugo Alfvén show a typically Nordic conservatism, and the Norwegian Christian Sinding also composed traditionally.

The voice of Spain also resounded after a long time, first in the piano works of Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados , then in the operas, ballets and orchestral works of Manuel de Falla, who was influenced by Impressionism . Finally, Edward MacDowell and Amy Beach were the first important representatives of the United States to appear. But even the work of Charles Ives only partially belonged to the late Romantic period - much of it was already radically modern and pointed well into the 20th century.

Romantic music as a world experience

Despite divergent directions and manifestations, the romantic impulses were so interlinked until the middle of the 19th century that one can speak of a romantic epoch with due caution, but in which counter-movements also came into play. Although up to the beginning of the 20th century and beyond, romantic contents and attitudes made a breakthrough time and again and in some works exemplarily (from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde , 1857-59, to Johannes Brahms , Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler to Arnold Schönberg For example, Transfigured Night, 1899, expressly above all in the works of Hans Pfitzner ), the network of relationships is too loosely woven for it to be adequately justified to speak of an era of late Romanticism or Neo-Romanticism, but rather of an attitude.

The romantic experience of the world and being broke away from its attachment to an epoch. The fact that romantic music ultimately resists fixation on a temporally limited and geographically localized epoch is probably due to its innermost motives: the abolition of real temporality (for example in the music of the Viennese classics), laying down the boundaries between the arts, evoking the past as distant Ideal image (transfigured distance), tendency towards dematerialization (rapture) of the sound (in general, of art), resulting in sublimation, spiritualization, rejection of the Enlightenment (night symbolism), the onset of the irrational. The following criteria should also be mentioned: Emphasis and brokenness, tendency to “open” form, the subjectification of every experience, so that every artistic statement appears as a reflection of an experience on the subject.

This results in the disintegration and self-dissolution of the subject (“longing for death”, Thomas Mann ). With the establishment of I and the world (“Even then I am the world!”, Tristan, Act 2) and with the redemption through self-dissolution, Wagner took up the basic theme of romanticism in Tristan, but gave it unexpected new dimensions. From the romantic creation of “artificial paradises” (Baudelaire) arose the idea of L'art pour l'art , the overcoming of which is one of the main tendencies in contemporary artistic activities. The opposing forces against the romantic, which rose everywhere in the second half of the 19th century (Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler) and can be traced back to the constructivist directions in 20th century art, were always characterized by a regaining of Objectivity, reality and disempowerment of the arbitrarily subjective.


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