The Romantic Era

• Musical period defined by historical events
• 1820: Napoleon’s subjugation of Europe ends
(French Revolution)
• Art is shaped by move towards democracy, away from aristocratic privilege
• 1914: World War I begins
• Society felt a need to “end artistic expression that originated a hundred years ago”
• Other important historical events:
• 1878: Joseph Swan, England, invents first working light bulb
• (1879: Thomas Edison, America, improves the model)
• 1848-1849: Widespread European Revolutions
• Political unrest; reactionary forces victorious and revolution collapsed, little influence
(aside from abolishing serfdom in Austria and Hungary.)
• Over 50 countries affected; Tens of thousands of people were killed
• Term originally from literature, meaning “shrouded in mystery” and
relying more on character’s emotions than rational thought
•  EMOTION is key
• “Vivid expression, passionate state of mind”
• People wanted to express THEIR OWN experiences!
• “The era of the individual”
• Program Music
• Music that tells a specific, concrete story
• Example: Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor– “Fate” (mvt 1)
Romantic Musical Characteristics
• Melodies/Themes are asymmetrical
• Temperamental > Balance
• Harmonies suggest emotional ideas
• Dissonant chords, unexpected modulations
• Increase in the use of MINOR tonality for entire pieces of music
• Example: Beethoven Piano Sonata No 8 in C minor , “Pathetique”
• C minor was a difficult and avoided key in Classical music.
• Beethoven used it to express extreme intensity, and “sublime” musicality
• Creative musical ideas to bring unity to incredibly long works
• “Music wore its heart on its sleeve”
Ludwig von Beethoven
• Usually considered transitional
from Classical to Romantic eras.
• Studied under F. Joseph Haydn
• Virtuosic pianist, incredibly
influential composer, dramatic
conductor and performer
• Lost hearing, continued work with
• “Curse of the Ninth”
(Symphony No. 9 in D minor,
“Chorale”) from “Ode to Joy”
6:36 – 10:55
(listen for modulation and style change!)
Beethoven’s Life Story
• Both father and grandfather were well-known musicians (singers, pianists, violinist)
• One of three children to survive infancy (out of seven total)
• Ludwig had obvious musical talent at a young age – Father attempted to copy Leopold Mozart’s
success at family performance with child prodigy.
• Only performed from 1778-1779, then began studying composition
• Had volunteered and thusly been hired to compose and play organ (for an important court in
Germany)before he was a teenager! Introduced to Enlightenment Ideals.
• Went to Vienna (in the hopes of studying with Mozart), but returned home when mother became ill
and passed away.
• Played viola to supplement family income
• Traveled back to Vienna and London to continue musical studies
• Continued to mature musically, wrote opera, piano sonatas, string quartets, symphonies… also
taught music as an adult.
• Suffered “tinnitus” at age 26, avoided conversation, angry and reclusive.
• Fell in love with various women, never married because of “class”
• Lived alone in Vienna to overcome depression, wrote “Heiligenstadt Testament”, now studied as a
great example of Romanticism and emotional expression. (Overcome ailment to “complete artistic
• Struggled with illness later in life, while writing symphonies 7-9
• When brother died (1815), Ludwig took custody of his nephew.
Beethoven Listening Comparison
• String Quartet No 16, op 135 in F, mvt II and III
• Six movements (longer)
• Does seem comic at points, but with more intensity
• Larger variety in emotional expression between movements
• The Romantic Symphony – Narrorated!
• Symphony No. 5 – “Fate” (mvt 1)
• Listen for vocabulary words you know!