Violinist" by Hendrick ter Brugghen]
The 19th century writer Walter Pater once defined Romanticism as "the addition of strangeness to beauty." While a bit simplified, this statement pretty much sums up the ideals of the Romantic Period. These ideals included freedom, movement, and passion--a seemingly direct break from the old Classical ideals of order, balance, and control.
The Romantic movement, however, was not a complete departure
from Classicism. Composers still wrote in several traditional
Classical forms, and the concept of tonality remained basically unchanged. Also,
many composers still held on to various aspects of the Classical
Romanticism had its early roots set in 18th-century English literature, but its wide spread was catalysed by the French Revolution. In fact, the driving ideas behind both musical Romanticism and the Revolution are nearly identical: freedom, emotional liberty, and the importance of the individual.
This importance of the individual is seen everywhere in Romanticism. Composers no longer worked to please their generous patrons, but were rather left to create music that would please the rapidly growing middle class. As a result, many composers began to view themselves as lone artists, struggling to be understood by the public. The "true artist" strove not to please the audience, but to reveal some profound truth through his work.
Most scholars view Beethoven as the major
transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic periods. In
his later works, one can clearly see the beginnings of the Romantic
movement. From there, Romanticism flourished through the entire
19th century and up to around the time of the first World War.
Chamber Music in the Romantic Period
For the more "progressive" composers of the day, chamber music was an awkward form; on one hand, it lacked the personal expressiveness of the then-popular solo piano piece, but on the other hand it did not offer the glowing colors and overpowering sound of the full orchestra. For these reasons, "ultra-Romantics" such as Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Mahler, and Wagner wrote very little chamber music, or ignored the form completely.
Fortunately, most composers did not abandon chamber music. Many composers, especially those who still held to various Classical ideals, continued to produce music in this genre. Brahms, Schubert, and many others all contributed numerous works of emotion and beauty. This new period of freedom and unhindered creativity allowed composers to devise new instrumental arrangements and to explore new harmonic colorings.
A trend that began with Beethoven's late quartets and continued
through the Romantic period was that chamber music became
increasingly difficult. Many of the chamber pieces written during
the time were intended for professional chamber groups. Because of
this, amateur chamber players were generally unable to play the
music of the day, and chamber music moved out of the homes of
enthusiasts and into the concert halls.
The Romantic Period produced some of the most loved composers of today. Atop the crowded list of composers there are Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Felix Mendelssohn from the early Romantic Period; from the later part of the period we have Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Antonin Dvorak. There is also a group of composers who are on the borderline of post-Romantic and pre-Modern style: Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Richard Wagner seem to fit this description.
Click here to see
the full listing of Romantic composers.