By the end of the 18th century, the word romanticism was initially used to represent new ideas in painting and literature, then was later selected by musicians to identify the shifts in musical style after the turn of the century. Preceded by the artistic eras of the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Neoclassical, the Romanticism Movement originated in Europe and spread throughout the Western world from approximately 1820-1910. During this rising movement, Romanticists found their voices through all genres of literature, music, art, and architecture (The Art Story Foundation, 2019).
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement which acknowledged that not all truth could be determined from epigrams, “that there were inescapable realities in the world which could only be reached through emotion, feeling and intuition” (Boundless.com, n.a.; New World Encyclopedia, 2019, para. 3). Artists during this period stressed that sense and emotions were just as important as reason and order for understanding and experiencing the world (The Art Story Foundation, 2019).
Likewise, Romantic composers disclosed a desire to deliver a powerful expression of emotion, often exposing their innermost thoughts and feelings. These emotional expressions were not just about love, but also about hate or even death. Accordingly, Romantic music attempted to intensify emotional expression and power to define these deeper truths yet to preserve or even broaden the formal compositions from the previous Classical era (New World Encyclopedia, 2019).
Fundamentally, “Musical Romanticism was marked by emphasis on originality and individuality, personal emotional expression, and freedom and experimentation of form” (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).
The Classical and Romanticism eras were basically bridged by two well-known composers, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. While their formal musical styles were largely 18th century Classical, the deeply personal sense of their music and their use of colorful programmatic features presented an essential template for 19th-century Romantic composers (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). Consequently, many of these composers provided important contributions to music in the Romantic era including Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner (Mills, 2018).
Romantic composers aspired to blend the large structural harmonic planning established by earlier masters such as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven with further chromatic developments to increase fluidity and contrast, and to meet the needs of longer works (New World Encyclopedia, 2019). Music theorists formed the concept of tonality to define the harmonic vocabulary derived from the Baroque and Classical periods (New World Encyclopedia, 2019).
Opportunities for dramatic expressiveness in music were intensified both by the development and perfection of the instrumental repertoire and by the creation of new musical forms, such as the lied, nocturne, intermezzo, capriccio, prelude, and mazurka (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).
The Romantic spirit frequently found inspiration in poetic texts, legends, and folk tales, and the connecting of words and music through such forms as the concert overture and incidental music (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). A growing attraction for the new instrumental music established a departure from the former sensibilities of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, which had held vocal music in the highest regard (Cengage, 2019). Its rising importance was a product of new thinking about the arts.
As in music, Romantic art focused on color whereas Classical art valued design and form. While Napoleon and other artists were determined to cling to the principles of Neoclassicism, there were two artists, in particular, who challenged the status quo: Theodore Géricault and Eugene Delacroix (Mills, 2018). Strongly influenced by the works of Michelangelo and Peter Paul Rubens, Géricault’s early paintings revealed violent action, bold design, and dramatic color; striking qualities that instantly set him apart from Neoclassical painters which led him to become known as a leader of the French Romantics (Mills, 2018, p. 139).
Delacroix’s dramatic interpretation of scenes from mythology, literature, and political, religious, and literary history are what characterized him as a Romantic painter (Mills, 2018). Because of the extraordinary emotional expressiveness of his work, Delacroix became respected as the most impressive painter of the Romantic movement in France (Mills, 2018, p. 139).
Delacroix, himself, proclaimed that “if by romanticism one means the free manifestation of my personal impulses, distancing myself from the rules set in schools, and my distaste for the recipes of the academy, I must confess that not only am I a romantic, I was from the age of 15” (The Art Story Foundation, 2019).
A fascination with history became a prevailing philosophy of the Romanticism movement: “A sense of history pervaded almost all aspects of thought and activity in the Romantic Movement. … In such unstable and drastically changing times, historical precedents were cited in all fields — social, political, economic, and aesthetic — to promote a feeling of continuity and stability” (Mills, 2018, p. 139).
During this movement, Hegel’s and Marx’s philosophical and social schemes were based on the changing aspects of history; scientific rational considered the origins and evolution of species; and the historical novels of Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and James Fennimore Cooper became bestsellers (Mills, 2018, p. 139). Moreover, Medieval motifs and imagery stimulated the spirit of Goethe’s Faust, Delacroix’s paintings, and Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique (Mills, 2018, p. 139).
Overall, the Romanticism Movement can perhaps be seen as the economic, social, political and historical turning point for liberal artistic expression. The guiding principles of calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that characterized Classicism and Neoclassicism were clearly rejected by Romanticism (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).
To an extent, Romanticism was also a reaction against the Enlightenment, 18th century rationalism, and physical materialism overall (Mills, 2018). “Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental” (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019, para. 3). Romanticism welcomed individuality and subjectivity to ease the excessive persistence on logical thought (The Art Story Foundation, 2019).
Artists began considering a range of emotional and psychological states as well as moods. “The preoccupation with the hero and the genius translated to new views of the artist as a brilliant creator who was unburdened by academic dictate and tastes” (The Art Story Foundation, 2019, para. 4).
Focusing on the artist’s passions and inner struggles, this new view of the artist was evolving to “a person whose creative spirit is more important than following formal rules and traditional procedures” (Mills, 2018, p. 138) As French poet Charles Baudelaire observed, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” (The Art Story Foundation, 2019, para. 4).
From late 18th century to early 19th century, the rise of Romanticism certainly inspired an important transformation for all genres of literature, music, art, and architecture. While it is typically true to state that the boundaries of decades or centuries are too contrived to identify the ends of artistic movements, it is reasonable to affirm that the 1800’s established a significant change in European music and art that undoubtedly affected all of Western culture (Cengage, 2019). From this period forward a new Romanticism would rise above the prominence of the long-standing sensibilities of the Baroque and Classical eras. [Word Count 1174]
- Boundless.com. (n.d.). Neoclassicism and romanticism . Retrieved from Lumen Learning Website: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/neoclassicism-and-romanticism/
- Cengage. (2019, August 21). The Rise of Classicism and Romanticism. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com Website: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/culture-magazines/rise-classicism-and-romanticism
- Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019). Romanticism. (K. Kuiper, Ed.) Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica Website: https://www.britannica.com/art/Romanticism/Music
- Mills, R. P. (2018). Religion and Art in Western Culture. Lynchburg, VA: Gallus Academic Publishing.
- New World Encyclopedia. (2019, July 29). Romantic music. Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia Website: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/romantic_music
- The Art Story Foundation. (2019). Summary of romanticism. Retrieved from The Art Story Website: https://www.theartstory.org/movement/romanticism/