Love is in the air! So what better time to begin thinking about one of the most interesting periods in musical history, the Romantic period. Often being dated from around the 1800 to as late as the early 1910s, Romantic music is characterised by a growing exceptionalism in originality and self-expression.
Today we want to explore some of the composers who made the Romantic period such an iconic time for music, what Romantic music means and how you can perhaps begin to introduce it further into your playing.
What Was The Romantic Era?
As almost a revolution to the age of enlightenment, Romantic music was a stylistic concept that placed a far heavier emphatic on emotion, poetry and humanistic stimuli. The pieces that Romantic composers became later known for were so ground breaking due to their emphasis on individuality, personal struggle and yet emotional and dramatic movements.
It was this period where composers became a little less afraid of breaking the traditional forms of music and self expression came to the forefront of their music. This is why it’s not uncommon for Romantics to both swell in beautiful delicate pieces but then have sudden sharp conflicting movements that truly stab at the heartstrings
Some see Beethoven as a key component in pioneering the Romantic movement as he was most certainly one of those who transcended both the Classical era and the early stages of the Romantic era. His revolutionising of the symphony gave life to a new era in music history and introduced the ideas of make greater use of longer, more fully defined and more satisfying themes within pieces.
As we progress through the Romantic era, the late Romantics took this level of expression, colour and personality to new heights and perhaps this is best seen through the works of the likes of Rachmaninoff who were constantly expanding their orchestras to become almost working machines of story telling, to introduce a full spectrum of human emotion.
With the framework set, let us now dive into some of those key other composers who brought the Romantics to life!
Much like Beethoven, this list cannot progress forwards without mentioning the likes of Chopin, perhaps one of the best and most prolific composers and pianists of all time.
Chopin’s works were almost exclusively written for the piano and as the technology of the instrument developed throughout the 19th century, so too did Chopin’s ability to express and introduce a vast range of dynamics and colour within his performances. This then later became a core characteristic of Romanticism that without Chopin, we would almost certainly not see nearly as much.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
A personal favourite here at Millers due to his affiliation with C.Bechstein pianos, Liszt’s works for the piano were truly revolutionary and helped take piano playing to new heights. Some even refer to him as being the true first rock star, with fans queuing around the streets to catch his performances, a phenomenon the German poet Heinrich Heine styled ‘Lisztomania’.
Liszt’s works are intricate in every sense of the word, full of passion, power and precision, he is a true Romantic through and through.
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
Being a female composer in the 1800s was no easy feat, but this is why we believe Mendelssohn’s works are truly revolutionary and should not go unnoticed within the Romantics.
Even within her own family Mendelssohn faced hardships, with her own brother, Felix (also a famed composer) actively preventing her from publishing (and then later plagiarising) her music. He decided that many of her works, including her rather wonderful song ‘Italien’, should be published under his name.
Fanny’s works are almost completely unsung, but shaped the genre without question. Over 460 pieces were written during her lifetime, with many musicologists now claiming that her talent outshone that of her brother.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Another name that is synonymous with the Romantics is that of Tchaikovsky, not only for the likes of beautiful ballets such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but Tchaikovsy’s unique approach to dynamism and storytelling is what helped make him one of the most successful composers Russia has ever produced.
Today his works still ring true and despite living a deeply troubled life, and his works were shaped by the emotional dilemmas he faced, which lend themselves beautifully towards the Romantic era.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Another favourite of ours purely for his exceptional works within piano performance, Rachmaninoff is perhaps one of the greatest pianists to ever have lived. Often described as being a late Romantics (and some argue the era died with him), Rachmaninoff’s control of both the keys, dynamics and exceptional colour allowed him to express like few others could before him.
His works are troubling yet beautiful, delicate yet powerful and flow with a silky smoothness that can only be described as…Romantic music in its purest form.
View our top picks of Rachmaninoff’s essential works here.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list and that it has inspired you to take up the call to let Romanticism into your life! No matter your plans this valentines, whether you intend on serenading your significant other or are spending it with just your instrument, music always has a place in the heart!
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