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Transition from Classical to Romantic music



The transition from the classical period of Western art music, which lasted around 1750 to 1820, to Romantic music, which lasted around 1815 to 1910, took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The shift was associated with composers reacting to the political and philosophical changes brought by the Age of Enlightenment, which proposed that nature could be understood through science and rationalism. Composers began transitioning their compositional and melodic techniques into a new musical form which became known as the Romantic Era or Romanticism. The most famous classical piece acknowledged as a lead contributor to this movement was Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor due to the implementation of lyrical melodies as opposed to the linear compositional style of Classical music.

Contrast between Classical and Romantic styles

Classical music was known for its clarity and regularity of structure, or "natural simplicity", thought of as an elegant international musical style with balanced four-bar phrases, clear-cut cadences, repetition, and sequence. Several developments took place within the Classical period, such as dynamic changes, new homophonic textures, the implementation of the broken chord, and the important contribution of Sonata Form. Sonata form was the foundation for a large number of pieces which provided a foundation for the new era of Romanticism.

Characterized by lyrical melodies, chromaticism and dissonance, and dramatic dynamics, the Romantic era evoked emotions assembled by sovereign story lines and nationalist marches reflecting change. New musical vocabulary began to further develop using terms like "dolce" or "dolente", in addition to enriched harmonic and rhythmic language. Orchestral forms like symphonic poem, choral symphony, and works for solo voice and orchestra, began to draw other art forms closer.

Romantic music was a self-conscious break from the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment as well as a reaction to socio-political desire for greater human freedom from despotism. The movement sought to express the liberty, fraternity, and equality which writers such as Heinrich Heine and Victor Hugo artistically defended by creating new lyric poetry. There was a new surrender to nature, nostalgia for the past, a turn towards the mystical, new attention to national identity, interest in the autobiographical, and a general discontentment with musical formulas and conventions exercised in Classical compositions. Conductors became the central figures in orchestral performances, responsible for the sonic flow of larger pieces.

Beginnings of the transition



Changing technologies

The Industrial Revolution facilitated a dramatic expansion in orchestra size and greater diversity in instruments. The transition was promoted by improvements to the piano, with cast-iron frames enabling thicker strings and deeper brilliant tones. Likewise, new instruments were created such as the tuba, saxophone, piccolo, English horn, and contrabassoon to contribute to the new dream-like interpretation of the past. New public concert halls accommodated the growing size of orchestras.

It was during the transitional period that a distinction between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" compositional works was established, with popular "light music" seen as entertainment and "art music" viewed as serious listening.

Sturm und Drang

The Sturm und Drang or "storm and drive" was a proto-Romantíc movement that helped establish the aesthetics of the Romantic era. Curated by Haydn, it contrasted with the simple pieces of the Classical era into obvious and dramatic emotionalism sought by Romantic composers. Composers such as Haydn were fond of having compositional work reflect the turbulent political climate. This led to the creation of the Farewell Symphony No. 45 in F♯ Minor, containing several characteristics of this transition through long slow adagio and sharp turns to exemplifying the demands of wavering opinions and philosophical themes taking place socially.

Transitional artists, composers, and works

It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the emergent discipline of Musikwissenschaft (musicology) began to identify which composers contributed to the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras. The key figure responsible for this periodisation was Guido Adler, who proposed Franz Schubert and Beethoven as the main transitional composers, despite classical composers Haydn and Mozart exemplifying romantic techniques. Adler deemed Romanticism to be fully matured through the post-Beethoven generation of Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann, Berlioz, and Franz Liszt's compositions.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, better known for composing classical music, incorporated opera, concerto, symphony, sonata, and string quartets which introduced Romantic qualities to music of the time.

The noted composer working at the forefront of this transition, Haydn, composed a string quartet known as "The Lark" which embodied the new Romantic style. Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 was a key contribution to the transition. During the transitional period, the virtuoso piano styles of the Romantics Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt were important to consolidating the Romantic movement, with Franz Schubert, Carl Maria von Weber, and John Field being prominent in the generation of "Proto-Romanticism".

The concept of programmatic music was prevalent among transitional pieces such as Ludwig van Beethoven's titles of Eroica, Pastoral, and Pathetique. Giving compositions characteristic names was expanded upon by Romantic composers such as Richard Strauss and became standard. Ludwig van Beethoven formally cultivated ideas within the music community by interrelating between movements and writing smaller movements within one large piece such as pairing scherzo and trio sections. Franz Schubert took part in the Classical to Romantic transition by being considered the last of the Classical composers in his earlier instrumental pieces, and the first of the romantics through his 600 art songs that were melodic and harmonic.

Gaspare Spontini was responsible for the final actions that led to the changing era due to the fact that he was deeply admired by later romantic composers like Weber, Berlioz, and Wagner. He composed inventive harmonic language in his operas that cultivated closed numbers which was a structural pattern later adopted by Wagner. Spontini was regarded for his works being the Romantic beginnings of Opera.

The last composition of the Classical era is considered to be the String Quintet in C major by Franz Schubert who continued to bridge Romantic music in his succeeding art songs and instrumental works.