The Romantic movement was an artistic and intellectual movement that originated from the early 18th century and carried on to the 19th century. It’s arguable that some Romantic music made greater demands upon its listeners than did music of previous historical periods. Composers of the romantic period continued to use the musical forms of the preceding classical era but nonetheless there are many differences between romantic and classical music.
They key musical characteristics of Romantic music are :
Romantic works tend to have greater ranges of tone color, dynamics and pitch.
Using music to tell a story or express an idea.
Greater technical virtuosity.
Song-like melodies (lyrical).
Freedom of Form and design (personal and emotional).
Use of various instruments, including wind instruments, made compositions fuller in melody and more dramatic.
Big orchestras and use of brass (due to the invention of the valve ).
Chromaticism and extreme use of unrelated keys and development in musical form allowed compositions whose range of expressive colors is astonishing.
A closer examination to the characteristics of the Romantic Era almost is compelled to begin with the work of Ludwig van Beethoven ( 1770-1827), he lays the foundations for the Romantic composers that were his contemporaries and those that came after him. Beethoven’s music has its roots in the rich soil of classicism but he always had his eyes on the potential that the future would bring. His development of the symphonic form alone made an enormously important stride forward the Romantic era, particularly in his 3d symphony the Eroica. The notion of heroic struggle and the eventual triumph of the spirit of man increasingly become central wells of inspiration for successive generations of Romantic composers. Mahler ( 1860-1911) could never have conceived of his second symphony (The Resurrection) without Beethoven’s symphonic output. We find composers blending the movements from three or four into what eventually becomes almost a single unified composition. The same becomes progressively commonplace with the Concerto. Where once a three or four-movement piece was to be expected, the boundaries of the movements begin to blur towards a whole piece based on motivic and thematic development. Beethoven paved the way for this ,(the standard symphony form has 4 movements the 1st-allegro, 2nd-slow, 3d-minuet, 4th-allegro).
The romantic harmonic vocabulary is broader, with more emphasis on colorful, unstable chords. New forms developed and in all forms there was greater tension and less emphasis on balance and resolution. Some romantic composers, such as Mendelssohn and Brahms created works that were deeply rooted in classical tradition and other composers, such as Burlier, List and Wagner, were more revolutionary. Rhythm is extremely diverse, Tempos are flexible and may change frequently (musical term : Tempo Rubato) that permitted great expressively and freedom in performance. Dynamic changes can be sudden or gradual and also we find extremely wide dynamic ranges from very soft to very loud that add considerable to emotional excitement and intensity. The addition of new instruments and the increased size of the orchestra and ensembles led to new and varied timbres. Woodwind, brass and percussion instruments played prominent roles in orchestral and operatic works. Composers experiment with timbre through unusual combinations of instruments or by having instruments play in unusual ways. Melody and Harmony Melodies are often long , complex and highly expressive. Recurring melodies and thematic transformation unify longer works. Prominent use of chromatic harmonies that are rich, colorful and complex. Dissonance is used more freely and resolutions are often delayed to create feelings of yearning, tension and mystery. A wide range of keys and frequent modulations sometimes obscure the sense of an overall tonic or home key.
With the increasing desire by composers to create music that evokes the full spectrum of emotions, or conjures up imagined landscapes, the nature of ensembles they employed changed too. By the time we arrive at the end of the Romantic Era, it was not uncommon to see an orchestra of a hundred players, often with a chorus and organ. This development brought with the huge possibility for composers to exploit an enormous range of dynamics and textures that has given rise to some breathtaking compositions. It also meant that the instruments themselves developed to be able to cope with the ever more extreme demands of the composers.
The Romantic Music Era was that of the virtuoso, as we have mentioned above in the key characteristics of Romantic music, who became a celebrity along similar lines to pop stars we see today topping the charts. Chopin, Beethoven and especially Liszt were all famous for their performances as their compositions. There is a document from that era that states Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist and composer, played the piano with such vigor and passion that women fainted.
The rise of the virtuoso leads directly to the development of the concerto as both as vehicle for romantic expression and a display of supreme technical ability..Because so many of the authors of this period were such virtuoso, the music that they wrote is also very demanding in its technical execution