Personal Experience, Intuition, Spontaneous Emotions that Romantic Music Helped to Develop
Romantic music emerged in the 18th century, emphasizing personal experience, intuition and spontaneous emotion. There are four principal ideals of Romanticism: individualism, love of nature, fascination with the supernatural and nationalism.
Individualism pertains to distinguishing oneself from the masses. In the context of Musical Romanticism, individualism places emphasis on originality and distinctiveness; in other words, personal emotional expression. Essentially, Romanticism in music was of two kinds – romantic idealists and romantic realists. The idealists maintained that music must exist for its own sake while the realists contended that every piece of music has a story to tell. Robert Schumann, born in Zwickau, Germany, is widely considered as a key Romantic composer. After an injury to his right hand crushed his aspirations of becoming a pianist, Schumann focused on composition. He married Clara Wieck, the daughter of his piano teacher. Schumann, who died at the age of forty-six, composed music replete with passionate melodies, pioneering harmonic shifts, and profound rhythms that affirm his Romantist ethos. He wrote a notable song cycle titled A Poet’s Love, wherein he adapted the words of the poems to fit the requirements of his songs, often repeating phrases and rewording lines to achieve the desired cadence. This enabled audiences to empathize with the poet’s psychological journey from the glow of fresh love, growing disappointment, to stark despair.
How it works
The love of nature advocates an awe-inspired attitude towards nature. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, a German pianist and composer, created a piano cycle work titled September: by the River, part of The Year cycle. This work vividly paints the image of a barefoot woman by a stream. This piece is one of twelve character pieces in The Year set that celebrates the love of nature. Despite her prodigious musical talent and close-knit bond with her younger brother Felix, Mendelssohn Hensel was encouraged to compose in privacy.
The enthrallment with the supernatural encapsulates one of Romanticism’s driving ideals. It explores themes of mysticism, dreams, spiritualism and the unknown. During the Romantic period, certain composers were intrigued by the unconscious and irrational facets of human psychology. An example is Franz Schubert, an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Born and educated in Vienna at the Imperial Chapel, Schubert was supported by his friends who organized a series of concerts known as Schubertiads. He composed over 600 secular vocal works, predominantly lyrical poems, along with various other genres. One such work, The Erlking, is a song based on the poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. According to legend, anyone who was touched by the Erlking was fated to die.
Nationalism refers to the love of a country, represented in various forms such as folk music. Some works focus on myths, legends, and national heroes. Frédéric Chopin was one of the first composers to incorporate nationalistic elements into his compositions. He was born just outside Warsaw, to a French father and Polish mother. In 1831, he moved to Paris. He composed almost exclusively for the piano. Much of his music reflects his Polish roots. From Chopin’s compositions, notably the Mazurkas and Polonaises, we can identify the nationalistic elements, as they both originate from traditional Polish peasant dances.