Just as the French Revolution sent political and cultural repercussions throughout the Continent, composers and musicians everywhere were fomenting musical revolution. The later works of Ludwig van Beethoven were blowing minds (as they would continue to do), and a couple of... [more]
Just as the French Revolution sent political and cultural repercussions throughout the Continent, composers and musicians everywhere were fomenting musical revolution. The later works of Ludwig van Beethoven were blowing minds (as they would continue to do), and a couple of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's operas, "Don Giovanni" and "The Magic Flute," were proving to be more than what they seemed.
All the arts, but particularly literature and music, were undergoing a dramatic reworking. Art was beginning to be seen as a mode of self-expression, a means for artists to pour forth their emotions in beautiful and communicative forms. Beauty and strangeness were the obsessions of the Romantics, as was nature. Symbol, allusion, and the fantastic were in heavy employ. These qualities manifested in music in several ways. Most important was music's sudden love affair with narrative; a piece not only expressed emotions, but also an evocative, story-like progression of mood and mode.
Romantic music de-emphasizes rhythm, highlighting instead tuneful melodies and instrumental "color." Complex harmonies allow for nuanced expression, and unusual chords, modulations, and chromatic harmonies subvert tonality. The loose structures of Romantic compositions are reflected in titles such as "Symphonic Poem," "Symphonie Fantastique," and the like.
Lyricism was the defining characteristic of many Romantic composers: it moaned and sighed from the pianos of Frederic Chopin and Franz Schubert; Robert Schumann wrote aching "lieder" or ballads, and Felix Mendelssohn created his fairytale "program music." The Romantic passion for individualism was embodied in two (of many) famous virtuoso performers: the Italian Niccolo Paganini, who was such an astoundingly brilliant violinist that he was rumored to be in league with Satan; and the Hungarian Franz Lizst, a handsome, arrogant, genius pianist, whose fans regularly worked themselves into hysterical frenzies at his concerts.
Solo music, then, was extremely popular; but Romantic music went to both extremes. Orchestras grew to hundreds of players, and grand opera was made still grander. The great composers of symphonies and operas were Hector Berlioz, Richard Strauss, and Johannes Brahms. All, however, were eclipsed by the titanic Richard Wagner: his operas are longer, more dramatic, and more musically complicated than any opera before or since.
Gustav Mahler, who ushered in a new century and an undeniable trend toward breaking all the rules, heralded the end of Romanticism. The experiments in atonality and free structure had only just begun. [show less]
Sound artist Leif Inge created this piece, which stretches a recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony from its usual running time of 1 hour to a running time of 24 hours. This is an excerpt from the beginning - it takes awhile to start (skip forward about half-way).