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(#16) Style Features of Romantic Music

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Lori Roy

on 7 April 2015

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Transcript of (#16) Style Features of Romantic Music

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann, nee Wieck, was the daughter of a famous piano teacher, and by the time she was 15, Clara was already a famous pianist. Like most virtuosos of the time, she also composed her own music.
Style Features of Romantic Music
The general Romantic tendency to blur all sharp edges found in musical tempo, or a general "push and pull" feeling. For example, the conductor may vary the pulse slightly, or if a singer is singing, they may sing slightly out of time with the conductor.
Im Wunderschoenen Monat Mai
This lied by Robert Schumann eschews form. It begins as if its in a transition and ends without a cadence (on a dissonance).
This piece is from Robert Schumann's song cycle "Dichterliebe" (A Poet's Love) from 1840. A song cycle is a Romantic genre: it is a group of songs connected by a common poetic theme. 16 songs in this cycle, based on a series of love poems by Heine, which progress from cautious optimism to despair.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the son of a bookseller, was known as a virtuoso pianist as well as a composer, but had to cut his career short after attempting to strengthen his fingers with a mechanical device. He was inspired by Schubert' Lieds and piano works.

At the age of 23, he founded a magazine to campaign for a higher level of music, "Die Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik," (The New Music Journal). It is still published today.

Robert Schumann is known for composing lieder, many piano works, symphonies, chamber works, an opera, and for marrying Clara Schumann.
The interesting thing about rubato is that no one has really found a way to notate it in music. It is something that the singer or musician incorporates into their song out of instinct or tradition. A song may say "rubato" somewhere in the music, but it is up to the performer to decide what is appropriate.
Let's put into words all the stylistic features of the Romantic era that we have been discussing.
The main artistic value in the Romantic era was the integrity of personal feeling, therefore every genuine artist was expected to have a personal style. This resulted in...
highly personal, even eccentric styles
a breaking down of barriers as people strove for new innovations
and ultimately, a lack of a definable style for the Romantic era.
For example, if we listen to Johann Strauss II's music compared to Brahms' music, we hear very different styles, but they were, in fact, contemporaries.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
The third of the "Three B's" (Bach, Beethoven,
and Brahms) Brahms is known for rich compositions that are often rhythmically ambiguous. He is of German nationality.
Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
Brahms' Symphony No. 1
Known as the "Waltz King," Strauss was
a composer of light music, and was
referred to by Richard Strauss as the
"laughing genius of Vienna."
"Tritsch Tratsch Polka"

Hungarian Dance No. 5
"Nessun dorma" from Turandot
Rubato was considered in bad taste in Baroque or
Classical music, but is essential in Romantic music.
Romantic Melody
The most instantly recognizable feature
of Romantic music is its melodic style. Melody in the Romantic era is more emotional, effusive, and demonstrative. The melodic lines have a wider note range than the orderly lines of the Classical era.
They often build up to climaxes.
"Love Theme" from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
Romantic Harmony
Romantics also used harmony to bring out emotionality. Romantic melody and harmony are very much based on each other and the composer will use new chords to push the melody even further. For example, in the love theme from
Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet," the sweeping upward scoop is accompanied by a new chord.
Also, there was a further expansion of chromaticism.
Expansion of Tone Color and the Orchestra
The rich, lush sound of the Romantic orchestra could only be achieved by the expansion of the orchestra. It was during this period that most instruments reached their present day forms.
Composers learned to mix sound colors the way that painters mix paint colors. One chord played with a different instrumentation will create a different effect.
Wagner in particular specialized in this. He even created his own instrument, the Wagner tuba, that mixed the sounds of the tuba and French horn.
Wagner tuba
(and bass trumpet,
contrabass trombone)
Romantic Form
Romantic composers broke with Classical
forms. They wanted each work of art to express
individuality, so they flouted the organization and
predictability of forms. When they followed standard forms such as sonata form, or rondo form, they tended to follow them very loosely.

"In the wonderfully lovely month of May,
When all the buds were bursting,
Then it was that in my heart
Love broke through.

In the wonderfully lovely month of May,
When all the birds were singing,
Then it was I confessed to her
My longing and desire."
She fell in love with Robert Schumann, but her father made her wait until she was 21 to get married. Although they are often considered to be music's greatest love story, there was some friction between them. Robert may have resented Clara's piano talents a little, and she may have resented his fame as a composer. Robert's mood swings and depression also made life difficult for Clara.
Robert was eventually committed to an asylum, and after he died, she found herself, at 37 years old, in love with his 22 year-old prodigy, Johannes Brahms. They never married, but their friendship persisted through the rest of their lives.
Let's get into some more Late Romantic composers...
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Tchaikovsky was born in the Russian countryside, the son of a mining inspector, but the family moved to St. Petersburg when he was 8.

He began as a government clerk, but at the age of 26, got a job as a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Once he got this job, he began composing prolifically: six symphonies, eleven operas, symphonic poems (what?) chamber music, songs, and some of the most famous ballet music ever written: Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, etc.
Of all of the 19th century Russian composers, Tchaikovsky had the most success, but he had a depressive personality and tried to commit suicide on more than one occasion. He also lived in fear of his homosexuality being exposed, and even married an unstable young musician to complete the facade.
Symphonic Poem: a programmatic piece of orchestral music in one long movement. Tchaikovsky refers to his own Symphonic Poems as Symphonic Fantasy or Overture-Fantasy, but those are different names of the same thing. For example, Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" and "1812 Overture."
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture
Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture

Other great Romantic composers that we must apologize to, for not having the time to cover:

Frederic Chopin
Franz Liszt
Felix Mendelssohn
and more...
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