Romantic – 1820 to 1890

ROMANTIC PERIOD (19th Century)

This era of music saw a tremendous growth in piano music and programme music; the music of the Romantic era encapsulates the effects of the French Revolution, the spread of Nationalism and the outpouring of emotions in Music, Art and Literature.

The French Revolution

Berlioz 1803 – 1869) French. His best-known works are “Symphonique Fantastique”, “Harold in Italy”, “Carnival Romain”.

Mendelssohn – (1809 – 1847) German. He was a German who came from a very wealthy Jewish family. He was the composer who rediscovered the music of J.S. Bach and brought it to a wider public. He wrote symphonies, chamber music, a famous overture called “Fingal’s Cave”, Violin Concerto in E minor, piano pieces called “Songs without words”, an oratorio called “Elijah”.

Chopin – (1810 – 1849) Polish. He was known as “the poet of the piano”. Apart from composition, he toured many countries, giving recitals and concerts. He lived as an adult in Paris and became wealthy giving piano lessons to the wives of rich businessmen and playing in saloons.

He wrote:- Mazurkas, Polonaises, Waltzes, Preludes, Nocturnes, Studies. Ballade in G minor – Chopin

Schumann – (1810 – 1856) German. He wrote much piano solo music but orchestral pieces also. He was also a music critic and his wife, Clara, was a virtuoso pianist who deserves to be better known historically.

Works include: Piano Concerto in A minor, Chamber music, four symphonies, Leider (German Songs), Song Cycle – “The Poets Love”.

Liszt – (1811 – 1886) Hungarian. He was, and still is, regarded as the greatest pianist in the world. He used to belittle other composers music by using their themes in his own music – he was basically a “show-off”. Much of his music is for solo piano e.g. “Hungarian Fantasy”. However, he was the first composer to use Symphonic Poems.


Wagner – (1813 – 1883) German. He was the greatest German operatic composer. He called his operas “music dramas”. Everything in his operas (costumes, scenery, music, singing, acting) was of equal importance. He used Leitmotif – each character had their own tune.

His famous operas are:- Tannhauser, The Flying Dutchman, Lohengrin, The Mastersingers, The Ring (4 operas joined together lasting a total of 16 hours).

Verdi – (1813 – 1901) Italian. Great opera composer. He wrote:- Aida, La Traviata, Il Trovatore (all operas)

Brahms – (1833 – 1897) German. Although he lived in the Romantic era, he has a Classical style. He was an absolute perfectionist in terms of his compositions.

He wrote:- Four Symphonies (No. 1 is known as the Beethoven Tenth), Chamber Music, Piano Music, Leider (German Songs), Academic Festival Overture, Variations on a Theme by Haydn and a Requiem, “German Requiem”.

Tchaikovsky – (1840 – 1893) Russian. He was a Nationalistic composer but his contemporaries often criticised him for being too “Western”.

He wrote:- Ballet Music. (Nutcracker, Swan Lake). He later made these in orchestral suites), 4 Piano Concertos (no. 1 is best known), 1812 Overture, Slavonic March, Serenade for Strings, 6 Symphonies (No. 6 “Pathetique”), Violin Concertos.

Glinka – (1804 – 1857) Russian. He was the first real NATIONALIST. His only famous work is the opera “Russian and Ludmilla”.


A group of five composers, all Russian, who tried to capture the spirit and sound of Russia in their music. They rejected Tchaikovsky, also Russian, and his music as being too “Western”.

Balakirev – (1837 – 1910). Main works include: Islamey (Oriental Fantasy)

Cui (1835 – 1918) Cello concerto

Borodin – (1833 – 1887). In the Stepps of Central Asia (Tone Poem), Prince Igor (Opera), “Polovstain Dances” from Prince Igor

Mussorgsky – (1839 – 1881). Pictures at an Exhibition – (Piano Duet, later orchestrated by Ravel), A Night on a Bare Mountain

Rimsky Korsakov – (1844 – 1908). The Flight of the Bumble Bee, The Dance of the Tumblers, Trombone Concerto with Military Band

Greig – (1843 – 1907) Norway. A Nationalistic Composer, Piano concerto in A Minor, Peer Gynt Suite (Incidental Music to a play)

Smetana – (1824 – 1884) Czechoslovakia. A Nationalistic Composer who wrote Vltava from “My Fatherland” (Tone Poem), Bartered Bride (Opera)

Mahler – (1860 – 1911) Austrian. A symphonic writer who developed Beethoven’s idea of a choir in a symphony. His 8th symphony, his last one, is nicknamed “Symphony of a Thousand” since there are 1000 performers:- a huge orchestra of 130, with extra brass seated apart, 8 solo voices 2 large mixed choirs and a choir of 400 children. He also wrote Leider.

Richard Strauss – (1864 – 1949) German. No relation of Johann Strauss who wrote all the Viennese Waltzes. He wrote:- Symphonic Poems (Till Eulenspeigel, Don Juan, Thus Spake Zarathustra), Leider, 15 operas (e.g. “Der Rosenkavalier), 2 French Horn Concertos.

Dvorak – (1841 – 1904) Czechoslovakia. A pupil of Smetana.

Main works include: 9 Symphonies (No. 5 being “The New World” Symphony), Slavonic Dances, Chamber Music, “Stabat Mater” (Requiem), Cello Concerto

Sibelius (1865 – 1957) Finland. A Nationalistic Composer

He wrote:- Finlandia (Tone Poem), Karelia Suite, Symphonies, Violin Concerto, Chamber Music, Song-cycles.

Elgar (1857 – 1934) English. All his music sounds “Victorian”, very grand, regal music. He was the first important English composer since Purcell in the early Baroque Period.

He wrote:- Enigma Variations (“Nimrod”), Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Dream of Gerontious (Oratorio), Cockaigne Overture, Falstaff (Tone Poem), Violin Concerto, Cello Concerto, 2 Symphonies

Vaughn-Williams (1872 – 1958) English. He was very interested in English Folk Music and on furthering music to children.

He wrote:- The Wasps, The March Past of the Kitchen Utensils, arrangement of  “Greensleeves”, Folk Song Suite, many songs including “Linden Lea”, Symphonies including No. 1 “London Symphony”, Choral Music, Some Concerto Grosso, Sinfonia Antartica Music for the film “Scott of the Antarctic”


Late Romantic, Leitmotiv, Lied, Nationalist, Programme Music, Romantic, Rubato, Song Cycle, Symphonic Poem, Tone Poem.

Late Romantic – Music of the late 19th-century and early 20th century which retains the dramatic intensity of earlier 19th century music. The music is characterised by the use of vast instrumental forces, increased chromaticism and large-scale compositions. Composers included Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss. See Romantic, Chromatic scale.
Leitmotiv – A theme occurring throughout a work, which represents a person, an event or an idea, etc. The first composer to use leitmotiv extensively was Wagner, in his operas.
Lied – This term (the German word for song) refers specifically in the Romantic era to works for solo voice and piano. The text is in German, the structure of the verses is strophic and through composed. An important feature is that voice and piano are equally important. See Strophic, Through composed, Romantic.
Nationalist – A term used to describe music that incorporates elements of folk music of the composer’s country. It emerged about the second half of the 19th century and was a type of Romanticism. Composers include Glinka, Smetana and Grieg.
Programme music – Music that tells a story or paints a picture in sound.
Romantic – Music written between 1810–1900 approximately. (For an extended definition, see Nationalism, Lied, Song cycle, Tone poem, Idée fixe.)
Rubato – A rhythmic give and take in a phrase allowing more expression.
Song cycle – A group of songs linked by a common theme or with a text written by the same author, usually accompanied by piano but sometimes by small ensembles or full orchestra.
Symphonic poem – See Tone poem.
Tone poem – A one-movement piece for orchestra that tells a story or maybe relates an experience from the composer’s life. Tone poems were found in the Romantic era and were also known as symphonic poems.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s