A Brief History of Music

The History of Music - Romantic

Introduction       The Renaissance      The Baroque Era      The Classical Era      The Romantic Era     The 20th Century       Further References and Links

The Romantic Era

Just as the word "Classic" brings to mind certain concepts, the word "romantic" is even more evocative. Such examples as Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" and the paintings of Delacroix - Romaticism implies fantasy, spontaneity and sensitivity.

The Classical period was oriented towards structural clarity and emotional restraint. Classical music was expressive, but not so passionate that it became unbalanced. Beethoven, who was actually responsible for "lighting the flame of Romanticism" and is considered a bridge between the eras, always fought (not always successfully) for maintaining the equilibrium of a piece. Most composers of the Romantic period followed this model of Beethoven's and looked for their own balance between emotional intensity and classical form. "Musical story-telling" also started to play a not negligible role, with pieces having to express some factual content, not only in opera but in purely instrumental compositions. The genre of the symphonic poem was brought to the fore during the Romantic era. In its performance, a conposition had to set a scene, and then tell a story from that scene.

Antonin Dvorak The color of sound is a characteristic, expressive device of Romantic music. New instruments, never before featured there, found their way into orchestras and composers experimented with new ways of wresting new sounds out of old instruments. A large pallet of the colors of sound, necessary for expressing exotic scenes, was an element no composer's technique could be without. Exoticness was an obsession of the 19th century. Russian composers wrote music describing the Spanish countryside (ie. Capriccio Espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff) and German composers about Scotland (ie. Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony). The stories in opera were also mostly set in exotic localities, such as Verdi's "Aida" in Ancient Egypt.

Another new element brought to music by the Romantic period was the appropriation of folk music for Classical music. Nationalism became a driving force in the later Romantic period, with composers trying to express their cultural identity through their music. These trends were mostly apparent in Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe, where elements of folk songs even became parts of symphonies, symphonic poems and other forms.

The Romantic era was a paradise of virtuosos. Exceptional talents of interpretation were extremely popular. Franz Liszt, a Hungarian pianist and composer, played the piano with such vigour and passion that women fainted. Because so many of the authors of this period were such virtuosos, the music that they wrote is also very demanding in its technical execution.

Important Composers

Franz Schubert 1797 - 1828
Hector Berlioz 1803 - 1869
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy 1809 - 1847
Fryderyk Chopin 1810 - 1849
Robert Schumann 1810 - 1856
Franz Liszt 1811 - 1886
Giuseppe Verdi 1813 - 1901
Richard Wagner 1813 - 1883
Anton Bruckner 1824 - 1896
Johannes Brahms 1833 - 1897
Modest Mussorgsky 1839 - 1881
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky 1840 - 1893
Antonin Dvorak 1841 - 1904
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff 1844 - 1908
Gabriel Fauré 1845 - 1924
Edward Elgar 1857 - 1934
Giacommo Puccini 1858 - 1924
Gustav Mahler 1860 - 1911

Czech Music of the Romantic Era

Frantisek Skroup, author of the Czech National Hymn This period saw the advance of the National Revival in the Czech Lands. The greatest display of these revivalist tendencies in the spirit of Romanticism appeared primarily in Czech opera. The resounding success of Weigl's singspiel Swiss Family in 1823 inspired Chmelensky and Frantisek Skroup (1801 - 1862) to original Czech singspiel. Skroup was born at Osice u Pardubic and began attempts at composing while still in school there, and continuing to do so during his studies of philosophy and law in Prague. After the performance of his eclectic singspiel Dratenik (1826), he became the conductor of the Theater of the Estates. With Chmelensky he composed other the Czech operas Oldrich a Bozena (1826) and Libusin snatek (1835) (the Marriage of Libuse). The music for Tylo's play Fidlovacka (Spring Festival) is the memorable song Kde domov muj(Where is My Home).

One of the most important authors of this period, and in fact of all Czech composers, alongside Antonin Dvorak and Zdenek Fibich, is Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)

Bedrich Smetana was born in Litomysl to the third marriage of Master Brewer Frant. Smetana to Barbora Linkova. The family was constantly on the move, and young Bedrich went to high school in Jindrichuv Hradec, Jihlava, Havlickuv Brod, Prague and Plzen, where he graduated under the supervision of his cousin. He appeared as a pianist for the first time in 1830 at the Litomysl Academy of Philosophy. A deciding factor in Smetana's artistic development was his study under Josef Proksch in Prague, where he went in 1843. After completing his studies, he founded his own private piano school in Prague, and a year later married his teenage love Katerina Kolarova.

Bedřich Smetana During this period, he devoted his compositional efforts almost exclusively to the piano. The peak of this period's production is his Klavirni trio g moll (1855) (Piano trio in g minor), into which he wrote his grief over the death of his daughter Bedriska. In an attempt to escape a place where evrything reminded him of his lost fortune, Smetana decided to change his locale, and in 1856 he moved to Goteborg, Sweden. When the northern climate accelerated Katerina's illness (she died in 1859), he brought a new bride to Sweden a year later, 20-year-old Bettina Ferdinandiova.

Smetana was a great admirer of Franz Liszt, and they were in frequent contact through correspondence and personal meetings. He was engrossed with Liszt's greatest idea - the symphonic poem. This gave rise to such works as his Richard III., Valdstynuv tabor (Waldstein's Camp) and Hakon Jarl. After the easing of the situation in the Czech lands, he hurried home, where things didn't go too well for him. In 1863 he finished the singspiel Branibory v Cechach (Brandenburgers in Bohemia,with a libretto by Karel Sabina), which was a great success - and brought its author some much-needed finances. He completed Prodanou nevestu (The Bartered Bride) in 1866 and directed it himself.

In 1873, Smetana also became the chief director of opera and drama of the Provisional Theater, where he concentrated his energies primarily on operas. The fruit of these efforts are such works as Dalibor, Rolnicka, Libusin soud and others. During this period, after three years of work, came his masterpiece Libuse. The opera came out of his awareness of his ultimate responsibility, his love of the nation, and his firm belief in its future.

On the nights of October 19 and 20, 1874, as a result of a long illness, Smetana was inflicted with worst misfortune that can befall a composer: absolute deafness. In this state, he undertook the realization of his long-held creative project: to celebrate his homeland and nation with a cycle of symphonic poems. The result was the cycle Ma vlast (My Homeland), consisting of the parts Vysehrad, Vltava, Sarka, Z ceskych luhu a haju (From Czech Fields and Groves), Tabor and Blanik. Towards the end of his life, he composed another great string of operas, Hubicka (1876) (The Kiss), Tajemstvi (1877) (The Secret) a Certova stena (1879 - 82) (The Devil's Wall). Bedrich Smetana died on May 12, 1884 in the Prague Institute for the Mentally Ill.

Another monument of Czech Romanticism is Antonin Dvorak. He was born on September 8, 1841 in Nelahozevse, where he grew up in an atmosphere of village Zdenek Fibich musicianship. At sixteen, he came to Prague to attend organ school, and he later became the violist in Komzak's ensemble, with which he came to the Provisional Theater. His first work was Hymnus from Halek's Dedicu Bile hory (Inheritors of White Mountain). He won a state scholarship and Johannes Brahms, the most influential member of the panel, recommended him to the Berlin publisher Simrock, for whom he wrote his first piece in 1878 Slovanskych tancu (Slavonic Dance), which immediately became famous all over the world. His symphonic works were promoted by Bulow, Richter and others, and his oratorios and cantatas became representative pieces for domestic singing companies as well as for famous English festivals. In 1890 and 1891, Dvorak was named a Doctor honoris causa at Cambridge and Prague universities. He was a professor after 1891, and after the period from 1892 to 1895, when he was the artistic director for the National Conservatory in New York City, he was the artistic director for the Prague Conservatory. Honored as one of the greatest composers of his time, Dvorak died in Prague on May 1, 1904.

Beside Smetana and Dvorak, the most distinctive figure of this period was Zdenek Fibich (1850 - 1900). His work was dedicated to the widest diversity of subjects. His songs [Sestero pisni (Six of Songs), Jarni paprsky (Spring Rays) a duets have an intimate charcter. His compositions for piano are represented by such pieces as the lyrical cycle Z hor (From the Mountains) and the four-handed Sonata in B Major. His orchestral production encompassed all the genres of the era; his Third Symphony in E minor belongs besides Dvorak's symphonies among the best Czech symphonies of the 19th century. The most important of Fibich's operas Nevesta mesinska (The Bride of Messina) and Sarka. A significant part of Fibich's pieces were melodramas - Stedry den, Pomsta kvetin, (Christmas Eve, Revenge of the Flowers) and so on.

Important Composers

Bedrich Smetana 1824 - 1884
Antonin Dvorak 1841 - 1904
Zdenek Fibich 1850 - 1900
Vilem Blodek 1834 - 1874
Karel Bendl 1838 - 1897

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