Romantic music? Is this music all about love?

Well it could be. But it could also be about hate. For romantic music is all about feelings. It is about trying to express strong feelings in music.

Haven’t people always tried to express feelings in music? Well, yes. What is different about romantic music is how strong the feeling are. The whole reason for writing the music is also different. Earlier music (such as baroque, or music from the classical period) was often written for the church or simply for entertainment. If this music happened to express feelings as well, then all the better! On the other hand, many romantic composers were not too worried about entertaining (or the church for that matter). They simply wrote their music to express their feelings, and that was it. The audience was left to take it or leave it!

Romantic music is the type of music that comes after the music of the classical period. It is music from about the years 1820 to 1910. This time is known as the romantic period. Like other the earlier types of music, not all romantic music belongs to the romantic period. Some composers lived outside the romantic period but still wrote romantic music. One example is Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943). On the other hand, composers who lived near the beginning of the romantic period were very confused indeed! Or rather, we are very confused about them today because we don’t know where they belong. One example is Franz Schubert (1797–1828).

And it’s all Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770–1827) fault! He started it off. Beethoven wrote the first romantic music. Beethoven wrote the first music where he didn’t really care what the audience thought. And the audience was shocked! It’s hard to imagine now, but they really were. Beethoven’s first piece like this was his Symphony No. 3, commonly called the Eroica Symphony (heroic in Italian). You can a video of part of this on the Beethoven page.

Apart from Beethoven, it’s hard to choose the greatest romantic composer. My preference is Richard Wagner (1813–1883), but a lot of people would say Johannes Brahms (1833–1897).

Other famous romantic composers include

I have listed a lot because romantic composers are probably the most famous composers of all (after Mozart and Bach).

So what is romantic music like?

What are the common features? Well, there is a short answer to this question. Romantic music has all features of music from the classical period, but with much more of it! This means:

  • The tunes get longer and stronger.
  • The louds get louder and the quiets get quieter.
  • The mood changes are much bigger and happen more often.
  • The orchestras get bigger.
  • The music goes on for a longer time.
  • There is more music with the same names as music from the classical period. So there are a lots of symphonies, sonatas, and concertos. There is also music with some new names, such as symphonic poems.

Try listening to some romantic music and see if you can begin to recognise the style! This is the only way to understand any style of music properly. Here’s an example to get you started. It’s Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1

Picture credits:
  1. An example of romantic art. This painting is called ‘The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ and was painted in 1818 by Caspar David Friedrich. The image is in the public doman. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Yuja Wang_Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 (Op. 23)
    Yuja Wang (piano)
    Hannu Lintu (conductor)
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall (7 September 2012)