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Romantic Music


Romantic Music

Romantics believe man's creative powers work best when the
imagination is unrestrained. They emphasize passion rather
than reason, and imagination and inspiration rather than
logic. Romanticism favors full expression of the emotions,
and free spontaneous action rather than restraint and
order. It stresses freedom for the individual and rejects
restricting social conventions and unjust political rule. 
Romantic composers modified the formalism of classical
music, and aimed at lyric expression and emotion. Many
composers gave their works a nationalistic character by
using folk songs as themes. Romantic composers include
Franz Schubert of Austria; Felix Mendelssohn, Robert
Schumann, Richard Wagner, and Frederic Chopin of Poland.
The attempt to combine words and music that tell a specific
story usually describing fairly obvious actions or moods,
became known as Program Music.
Program music aimed to absorb and transmit the imagined
subject matter in such a way that the resulting work,
although "programmed", does not sound forced, and
transcends the subject matter it seeks to represent.
Instrumental music thus became a vehicle for the utterance
of thoughts which, although first hinted in words, may
ultimately be beyond the power of words to fully express.
Practically every composer of the era was, to some degree,
writing program music, weather or not this was publicly
acknowledged. One reason it was so easy for listeners to
connect a scene or a story or a poem with a piece of
Romantic music is that often the composer himself, perhaps
unconsciously, was working from some such ideas. Writers on
music projected their own conceptions of the expressive
functions of music into the past, and read Romantic
programs into the instrumental works not only of Beethoven,
but also the likes of Mozart, Haydn, and Bach!
The diffused scenic effects in the music of such composers
as Mendelssohn and Schumann seem pale when compared to the
feverish, and detailed drama that constitutes the story of
Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (1830). Because his
imagination always seemed to run in parallel literary and
musical channels, Berlioz once subtitled his work "Episode
in the Life of an Artist", and provided a program for it
which was in effect a piece of Romantic autobiography. In
later years, he conceded that if necessary, when the
symphony was performed by itself in concert, the program
would need not be given out for the music would "of itself,
and irrespective of any dramatic aim, offer an interest in
the musical sense alone." The principle formal departure in
the symphony is the recurrence of the opening theme of the
first Allegro, the idee fixe. This, according to the
program, is the obsessive image of the hero's beloved, that
recurs in the other movements. To mention another example:
in the coda of the Adagio there is a passage for solo
English horn and four Tympani intended to suggest "distant
The foremost composer of program music after Berlioz was
Franz Liszt, twelve of whose symphonic poems were written
between 1848 and 1858. The name symphonic poem is
significant: these pieces are symphonic, but Liszt did not
call them symphonies, presumably because or their short
length, and the fact that they are not divided up into
movements. Instead, each is a continuous form with various
sections, more or less varied in tempo and character, and a
few themes that are varied, developed, or repeated within
the design of the work. Les Preludes, the only one that is
still played much today, is well designed, melodious, and
efficiently scored. However, its idiom causes it to be
rhetorical in a sense. It forces today's listeners to here
lavishly excessive emotion on ideas that do not seem
sufficiently important for such a display of feeling.
Liszt's two symphonies were as programmatic as his
symphonic poems. His masterpiece, the Faust Symphony, was
dedicated to Berlioz. It consists of three movements
entitled respectively Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles,
with a finale (added later) which is a setting for tenor
soloist and male chorus. The first three movements
correspond to the classic plan of an introduction in
Allegro, Andante, and Scherzo. Liszt attempted to sum up
the ideas of Romantic music in these words:
"Music embodies feeling without forcing it - as it is
forced in its other manifestations, in most arts and
especially in the art of words - to contend and combine
with thought....it is the embodied and intelligent essence
of feeling; capable of being apprehended by our senses, it
permeates them like a dart, like a ray, like a dew, like a
spirit, and fills our soul."



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