Josef Danhauser's 1840 painting of Franz Liszt at the piano surrounded by (from left to right) Alexandre Dumas, Hector Berlioz, George Sand, Niccolò Paganini, Gioachino Rossini and Marie d'Agoult, with a bust of Ludwig van Beethoven on the piano

Romantic music is a stylistic movement in Western Classical music associated with the period of the 19th century commonly referred to as the Romantic era (or Romantic period). It is closely related to the broader concept of Romanticism—the intellectual, artistic and literary movement that became prominent in Western culture from approximately 1798 until 1837.[1]

Romantic composers sought to create music that was individualistic, emotional, dramatic and often programmatic; reflecting broader trends within the movements of Romantic literature, poetry, art, and philosophy. Romantic music was often ostensibly inspired by (or else sought to evoke) non-musical stimuli, such as nature, literature, poetry, super-natural elements or the fine arts. It included features such as increased chromaticism and moved away from traditional forms.[2]


Main article: Romanticism

Further information: Transition from Classical to Romantic music

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich, is an example of Romantic painting.

The Romantic movement was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe and strengthened in reaction to the Industrial Revolution.[3] In part, it was a revolt against social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature (Casey 2008). It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, literature,[4] and education,[5] and was in turn influenced by developments in natural history.[6]

One of the first significant applications of the term to music was in 1789, in the Mémoires by the Frenchman André Grétry, but it was E. T. A. Hoffmann who established the principles of musical romanticism, in a lengthy review of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony published in 1810, and an 1813 article on Beethoven's instrumental music. In the first of these essays Hoffmann traced the beginnings of musical Romanticism to the later works of Haydn and Mozart. It was Hoffmann's fusion of ideas already associated with the term "Romantic", used in opposition to the restraint and formality of Classical models, that elevated music, and especially instrumental music, to a position of pre-eminence in Romanticism as the art most suited to the expression of emotions. It was also through the writings of Hoffmann and other German authors that German music was brought to the center of musical Romanticism.[7]


The classical period often used short, even fragmentary, thematic material while the Romantic period tended to make greater use of longer, more fully defined and more emotionally evocative themes.[8]

Characteristics often attributed to Romanticism:

In music, there is a relatively clear dividing line in musical structure and form following the death of Beethoven. Whether one counts Beethoven as a "romantic" composer or not, the breadth and power of his work gave rise to a feeling that the classical sonata form and, indeed, the structure of the symphony, sonata and string quartet had been exhausted.[13]

Trends of the 19th century

Non-musical influences

Events and changes in society such as ideas, attitudes, discoveries, inventions, and historical events often affect music. For example, the Industrial Revolution was in full effect by the late 18th century and early 19th century. This event profoundly affected music: there were major improvements in the mechanical valves and keys that most woodwinds and brass instruments depend on. The new and innovative instruments could be played with greater ease and they were more reliable.[14]

Another development that affected music was the rise of the middle class. Composers before this period lived under the patronage of the aristocracy. Many times their audience was small, composed mostly of the upper class and individuals who were knowledgeable about music.[14] The Romantic composers, on the other hand, often wrote for public concerts and festivals, with large audiences of paying customers, who had not necessarily had any music lessons.[14] Composers of the Romantic Era, like Elgar, showed the world that there should be "no segregation of musical tastes"[15] and that the "purpose was to write music that was to be heard".[16]


Main article: Musical nationalism

During the Romantic period, music often took on a much more nationalistic purpose. Composers composed with a distinct sound that represented their home country and traditions. For example, Jean Sibelius' Finlandia has been interpreted to represent the rising nation of Finland, which would someday gain independence from Russian control.[17]

Frédéric Chopin was one of the first composers to incorporate nationalistic elements into his compositions. Joseph Machlis states, "Poland's struggle for freedom from tsarist rule aroused the national poet in Poland. ... Examples of musical nationalism abound in the output of the romantic era. The folk idiom is prominent in the Mazurkas of Chopin".[18] His mazurkas and polonaises are particularly notable for their use of nationalistic rhythms. Moreover, "During World War II the Nazis forbade the playing of ... Chopin's Polonaises in Warsaw because of the powerful symbolism residing in these works".[18]

Other composers, such as Bedřich Smetana, wrote pieces that musically described their homelands. In particular, Smetana's Vltava is a symphonic poem about the Moldau River in the modern-day Czech Republic, the second in a cycle of six nationalistic symphonic poems collectively titled Má vlast (My Homeland).[19] Smetana also composed eight nationalist operas, all of which remain in the repertory. They established him as the first Czech nationalist composer as well as the most important Czech opera composer of the generation who came to prominence in the 1860s.[20]

See also


  1. ^ "The Romantic Period". Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  2. ^ Truscott, Harold (1961). "Form in Romantic Music". Studies in Romanticism. 1 (1): 29–39. doi:10.2307/25599538. JSTOR 25599538.
  3. ^ "Romanticism - Music". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  4. ^ Kravitt, Edward F. (1972). "The Impact of Naturalism on Music and the Other Arts during the Romantic Era". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 30 (4): 537–543. doi:10.2307/429469. JSTOR 429469.
  5. ^ Gutek, Gerald Lee (1995). A history of the Western educational experience (2nd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL. ISBN 0-88133-818-4. OCLC 32464830.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Nichols, Ashton. ""Roaring Alligators and Burning Tygers: Poetry and Science from William Bartram to Charles Darwin"". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 149 (3): 304–315.
  7. ^ Rothstein, William; Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (2001). "Articles on Schenker and Schenkerian Theory in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition". Journal of Music Theory. 45 (1): 204. doi:10.2307/3090656. ISSN 0022-2909. JSTOR 3090656.
  8. ^ Wildridge, Dr Justin (18 April 2019). "Classical vs Romantic Music (Differences Between Classical And Romantic Music)". CMUSE. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wildridge, Dr Justin (15 July 2018). "Characteristics of Romantic Era Music - CMUSE". Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  10. ^ "Composers on Nature". All Classical Portland. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  11. ^ Boyd, Delane (1 May 2016). "Uncanny Conversations: Depictions of the Supernatural in Dialogue Lieder of the Nineteenth Century". Student Research, Creative Activity, and Performance - School of Music: 9–13.
  12. ^ a b c "The Romantic Period of Music". Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  13. ^ Hammond, Kathryn (1965). The Sonata Form and its Use in Beethoven's First Seventeen Piano Sonatas (MA thesis). Utah State University. pp. 26–28. doi:10.26076/6295-2596.
  14. ^ a b c Schmidt-Jones, Catherine (2006). Introduction to music theory. Russell Jones. [United States]: Connexions. ISBN 1-4116-5030-1. OCLC 71229581.
  15. ^ Marshall., Young, Percy (1967). A history of British music. p. 525. OCLC 164772776.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Marshall., Young, Percy (1967). A history of British music. p. 527. OCLC 164772776.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "Salonen on Sibelius: Finlandia". NPR. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  18. ^ a b Machlis, Joseph (1990), Recordings for the Enjoyment of Music and the Norton Scores, Norton, ISBN 0-393-99165-2, OCLC 1151514105, retrieved 9 November 2021
  19. ^ Grunfeld, Frederic V. (1974). Music. New York: Newsweek Books. pp. 112–113. ISBN 0-88225-101-5. OCLC 908483.
  20. ^ Ottlová, Marta; Pospíšil, Milan; Tyrrell, John (2001). Smetana, Bedřich. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.52076.

Further reading