The Romantic period in music goes from about 1825 to 1900. During this time period, there was the age of industrialization. England was at the forefront of this with its economic prosperity, but with this prosperity came negative things as well. There were manufacturing plants that burned coal, causing pollution. Also, there were no labor laws at all, so there were women and children working all hours of the day and night for little or no wages in very unsafe working conditions.
However, there were also technological advances during this time, such as the telegraph and the invention of morse code. In America, the telephone was invented, as well as the light bulb.
One very important political movement that went on during this period was nationalism. Musical nationalism was expressed when romantic composers deliberately created music with a specific national identity, using folk songs, dances, legends, and history of their homelands. This national flavor of romantic music contrasts with the more universal character of classical music.
Composers would first select the text and then compose music to best project the emotion and meaning of the text. Art songs were written to be performed at home or in a small settting, although today they are sometimes performed in concert halls.
Yearning- inspired by a lost love, nature, legend, or other things- haunted the imagination of romantic poets. Thus, art songs are filled with despair of unrequited love, the beauty of the flowers, trees, and brooks; and the supernatural happenings of folktales. There are also songs of joy, wit, and humor, but those are not the norm.
Composers would interpret a poem, translating its mood, atmosphere, and imagery into music. They created a vocal melody that was molded to the text. Important words were emphasized by stressed tones or melodic climaxes.
The voice shares the interpretive task with the piano. Emotions and images from the text are also portrayed in the accompaniment. Arpeggios in the piano might suggest the splashing of oars or the motion of a mill wheel. Chords in the low register might depict darkness or a lover's torment. An art song usually begins with a brief piano introduction and ends with a postlude, which is a concluding section played by the piano.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was another important romantic composer. He was born in Hamburg, Germany to a wealthy and distinguished Jewish family (He was, however, raised as a Protestant). By the age of 9, he was a brilliant pianist; by 13, he had written symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and vocal works. He performed as a pianist, organist, and conductor in Germany and England, where his music was very popular.
In 1829, he conducted a performance of Bach's St. Matthews Passion, which helped to cultivate an interest and revival of Bach's music.
He was happily married with 4 children. He died at an early age from a stroke.
Mendelssohn had a sister named Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, who was an important woman composer of her time.
Mendelssohn's music is not near as drastic and emotional as other later romantic composers. His music was rooted in classical ideas.
Schumann was a German composer who was the son of a bookseller. He showed great talent for composition and piano at an early age. He also had an affinity for drinking and girls. He entered law school, but quit to pursue his dream of becoming a piano virtuoso. However, that dream was derailed when he suffered a permanent hand injury due to his failed attempt at trying to strengthen his fingers. So then, he turned his focus on composing music. Around 1835, he had fallen in love with the daughter of his piano teacher. She was 17 when they were engaged, but they could not get married because her father opposed it so much. They finally were able to get married when she was 21 after fighting against her father in court. His wife, Clara Wieck Schumann, was known as a great woman composer. They had a very happy marriage and ended up having 8 kids. Robert Schumann suffered mental illness in his later life. In 1854, he attempted suicide by jumping into the river. He was saved, but he spent the rest of his life in an asylum. He died in 1856.
Schumann composed a lot of piano music, as well as art songs and orchestral music.
Schumann's work Carnaval is a cycle of 21 brief piano pieces, each one with descriptive titles evoking a festive masked ball.
Carnaval was inspired by a brief engagement Schumann had to Ernestine von Fricken, an 18 year old pianist who studied with Clara's father. Schumann took the name of the place Ernestine was born, Asch, and made a musical riddle out of it. Each movement uses this group of notes to open up or end the piece. In German, B natural is known as H and E-flat is known as Es (which sounds like S). So A S C H would be the notes A, E-flat, C, B-natural. In the Reconnaissance movement, he uses a 3-note motive from that riddle (A-flat, which would be As in German, C, B-natural).
Ballet combines music, costumes, dancing, set, and many other visual and audio things into one production. Unlike opera, where the music and the vocalists are intertwined, music for ballets can often stand on its own. There is a choreographer who designs the dance moves to fit the story, and they work with the composer to fit music to the story. Sometimes the dance is designed first and then the music, and sometimes it is the other way around. Like early opera, early ballets were often based on mythical subjects. As the 19th century went on, ballet tended to focus more on fairy tale like subjects. the most famous Russian composer, started his career as a government clerk and began to study music theory at the relatively late age of 21. His progress in music was rapid. After graduating from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he became the professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory. His music is full of emotion, which reflected his inner torture. He was a homosexual and in those days that was a very taboo things and so he was always afraid about being found out. He was married very briefly, and also divorced in the same year. He ended up having a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide twice in the same year he married.
After his marriage, a wealthy widow named Nadezhda von Meck started sending him money to continue composing music. She had one condition-that they never met. So for 14 years, they wrote letters to each other, but never met.
In 1893, he took a trip to St. Petersburg to hear a performance of his 6th Symphony on October 28. He died nine days later, supposedly from cholera (at the age of 53). However, recent studies have suggested that he was worried that he would be outed and he really committed suicide.
Tchaikovsky composed symphonies, operas, program music, and ballets to name a few.
Richard Wagner is perhaps one of the most influential German composers; not only did he influence musicians, but he also influenced poets, painters, and playwrights. He had an opera house built in Bayreuth, Germany just for the performance of his operas.
Wagner was born in Leipzig into a theatrical family. His boyhood dream was to be a poet and playwright, but at 15 he became enthralled with Beethoven's music and decided to become a composer. He taught himself by studying scores and had almost 3 years of formal musical training in music theory, but never actually mastered playing an instrument. As a student at Leipzig, he dueled, drank, and gambled; and a similar pattern persisted later-he always lived shamelessly off of other people and ran up debts he could not pay.
While he was still married, he fell in love with a woman named Cosima, who was the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Hans von Bulow. She ended up giving birth to 2 of Wagner's children, while still married to the other man. Shortly after Wagner's wife died, he married Cosima.
Wagner was known for being very selfish, ruthless, and enthralled with German nationalism. Unlike most other composers, Wagner wrote his own libretto, usually based on medieval German legends and myths with characters who were gods and demigods. Instead of using typical arias, recitatives, and ensembles, like most other operas, there was a continuous flow of music with no breaks, so there would be no applause to interrupt the opera. He developed a device called the leitmotif, which is a brief, recurrent musical theme associated with a person, an object, or a thought in the drama. Wagner used many dissonances and chromatic tones in his music. This ultimately led to the break down of tonality in the 20th century.
The orchestra in Wagner's operas was just as important as the vocalists; it was not just accompaniment, but played an equal role
This opera comes from a set of four operas in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which took him a total of 25 years to compose. The total playing time of the cycle (all four operas) is 15 hours! In 1876, the ring was performed in its entirety for 5 nights in a row.
The story of the cycle of operas revolves around gold that has been fashioned into a ring and is guarded by the Rhine maidens in the Rhine River. The gold is stolen and a curse is put on it. The curse states that if the possessor will renounce love, he will rule the world. The result is a chain of misfortunes affecting all the characters in the drama.
The following link is the last scene from Gotterdammerung. In this scene Brünnhilde shows up amidst all the bickering over Siegfried's body and takes control. She muses over her love for Siegfried, over the passing of the Gods, over the meaning of the whole story. She orders that Siegfried's body be placed upon a funeral pyre, she takes the Ring from his finger and considers that she is about to give it back to the Rhine and the Rhine maidens and thus cleanse the earth of the curse.
Finally, she summons her horse Grane, mounts up, and leaps mounted onto the funeral pyre. The waters of the Rhine rise to flood the pyre, Hagen makes a last grab for the Ring, and the Rhine maidens pull him down to his death.
8th EditionByron Almen, Dorothy Payne, Stefan Kostka 6th EditionDorothy Payne, Stefan Kostka 8th EditionBruce Benward, Marilyn Saker 8th EditionByron Almen, Dorothy Payne, Stefan Kostka