The Greatest Composers of the Romantic Era of Music (Part 1)
by, May-02-2011 at 13:16 (276855 Views)
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from about 1800 to 1910.
Romantic music as a movement evolved from the formats, genres and musical ideas established in earlier periods, such as the classical period, and went further in the name of expression and syncretism of different art-forms with music. Romanticism does not necessarily refer to romantic love, though that theme was prevalent in many works composed during this time period, both in literature, painting or music. Romanticism followed a path that led to the expansion of formal structures for a composition set down or at least created in their general outlines in earlier periods, and the end-result is that the pieces are 'understood' to be more passionate and expressive, both by 19th century and today's audiences. Because of the expansion of form (those elements pertaining to form, key, instrumentation and the like) within a typical composition, and the growing idiosyncrasies and expressivity of the new composers from the new century, it thus became easier to identify an artist based on his work or style.
Romantic music attempted to increase emotional expression and power to describe deeper truths or human feelings, while preserving but in many cases extending the formal structures from the classical period, in others, creating new forms that were deemed better suited to the new subject matter. The subject matter in the new music was now not only purely abstract, but also frequently drawn from other art-form sources such as literature, or history (historical figures) or nature itself.
1. Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770–26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. The crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.
Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in present-day Germany, Beethoven moved to Vienna in his early 20s, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. His hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf.
In the wake of the Romantic revolution in literature came a similar revolution in music. About 1820, Beethoven began to write passionate compositions which often threatened to burst asunder the classical forms in which he worked. His 1824 Symphony No. 9 is notable not only for its length and complexity, but for the fact that he introduced vocal soloists and a chorus into the final movement, as if the purely instrumental form of the classical symphony could not express all that he felt. After this radical departure from tradition, many composers felt free to experiment.
Beethoven is also significant in the history of music for being the first composer to earn his living directly from his own work without being subsidized by a church or aristocrat. He benefited from the emergence of the new bourgeois audience which could not afford to retain a composer on salary as Haydn was retained by Prince Esterhazy, but who eagerly bought tickets for Beethoven's concerts. With the money he received from lessons, from the sale of his compositions, and from his public performances, Beethoven was able to survive if not to prosper. This was a crucial factor in allowing him to express his extreme individualism, rejecting the role of artistic servant within which even giants like Haydn and Mozart had been confined. He could write as he pleased and challenge the public to follow him.
2. Franz Schubert
Schubert's music neatly bridges the Classical and Romantic periods through its use of lovely melodies, inventive scoring, and nature imagery, wedded to the traditional classical forms while at the same time expanding them. In his tragically short life, Schubert composed operas, symphonies, sonatas, masses, chamber music, piano music, and over 600 songs. But regardless of the genre, his gift for creating beautiful melodies remains almost unsurpassed in music history.
Schubert's music is also passionate, sometimes even dark, with an emphasis on major/minor key shifts and adventurous harmonic writing. Outstanding examples of his gift for melody can be found in the popular Piano Quintet in A major , which includes a set of variations on the tune of one of his popular songs, and from which it gets its nickname, "The Trout". Although left unfinished for unknown reasons, Schubert's stirring and beautiful Symphony no. 8 in B minor remains one of his most often heard and best-loved works.
But it is his songs, or German Lieder, for which Schubert is best known. Through his choice of beautiful poetry by some of the best writers of the day, his inspired melodies, and his sometimes elaborate treatment of the piano part, many of Schubert's songs are miniature masterpieces of poetic and dramatic beauty. His two song cycles (groups of poems by a single or various authors selected because of thematic content, and usually published together), yield some of the finest examples of Schubert's Lieder. "Wohin?" from the song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill) is an outstanding example of the almost limitless artistry of this composer. Schubert's Lieder would come to influence the song-writing of many later composers, including Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Hugo Wolf (1860-1903).
3. Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (play /ˈvɑːɡnər/; German pronunciation: [ˈʁiçaʁt ˈvaːɡnɐ]; 22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas", as they were later called). Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works.
Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"). This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. However, his thoughts on the relative importance of music and drama were to change again and he reintroduced some traditional operatic forms into his last few stage works including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Wagner pioneered advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, which greatly influenced the development of European classical music. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. Wagner's influence spread beyond music into philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants. Wagner's views on conducting were also highly influential. His extensive writings on music, drama and politics have all attracted extensive comment; in recent decades, especially where they have antisemitic content.