Essayists Of Romantic Period Music Composers

This is a list of Romantic-era composers. Note that this list is purely chronological, and also includes a substantial number of composers, especially those born after 1860, whose works cannot be conveniently classified as "Romantic".

Classical-era/Romantic-era composers (born 1770–1799)[edit]

NameDate bornDate diedNationalityComments
Ludwig van Beethoven17701827German composer and pianist, regarded by many as the first Romantic-era composer, most famous for Symphony No. 5 and Für Elise among others.
Ferdinando Carulli17701841Italiancomposer for the guitar, wrote concertos and chamber music.
Édouard Du Puy17701822Swiss composer, singer, director and violinist.
Peter Hänsel17701831German-Austriancomposer and violinist.
James Hewitt17701827Americancomposer, conductor and music publisher.
Anton Reicha17701836Czech-French composer who experimented with irregular time signatures in his keyboard fugues, composed a large number of significant works for wind quintet.
Christian Heinrich Rinck17701846Germancomposer and organist.
Jan August Vitásek17701839Bohemiancomposer.
Adam Valentin Volckmar17701851Germancomposer.
Friedrich Witt17701836Germancomposer and cellist.
Johann Baptist Cramer17711858Englishmusician of German origin.
Ferdinando Paer17711839Italiancomposer.
Maria Frances Parke17721822Englishcomposer, pianist and soprano.
François-Louis Perne17721832Frenchcomposer and musicographer.
Josef Triebensee17721846Bohemiancomposer and oboist.
Johann Wilhelm Wilms17721847Dutch-Germancomposer, best known for writing Wien Neêrlands Bloed, which served as the Dutch national anthem from 1815 to 1932.
Sophie Bawr17731860Frenchcomposer, writer and playwright.
Pietro Generali17731832Italiancomposer of operas and vocal music.
Václav Tomáš Matějka17731830Czechcomposer.
Bartolomeo Bortolazzi17731820Italianmandolin and guitar virtuoso and composer.
Pierre Rode17741830Frenchcomposer and violinist.
Gaspare Spontini17741851Italian opera composer and conductor (La vestale).
Václav Tomášek17741850Czech composer and music teacher.
Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse17741842Danishcomposer in the Danish Golden Age.
Johann Anton André17751842Germancomposer and music publisher.
François-Adrien Boieldieu17751834French composer.
João Domingos Bomtempo17751842Portuguesecomposer, pianist and pedagogue.
Bernhard Crusell17751838Finnishcomposer and clarinet player.
Sophia Dussek17751847Scottishcomposer of Italian descent, singer, pianist and harpist.
François de Fossa17751849Frenchcomposer and guitarist.
Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann17761822Germancomposer, author of fantasy and horror, jurist, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist.
Joseph Küffner17761856Germancomposer and musician.
Philipp Jakob Riotte17761856Germancomposer.
Ignaz von Seyfried17761841Austriancomposer, musician and conductor.
Ludwig Berger17771839Germancomposer, pianist and piano teacher.
Pauline Duchambge17781858Frenchcomposer and pianist.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel17781837Austrian composer and pianist, his music bridged the Classical era of music and Romantic era of music.
Sigismund von Neukomm17781858Austriancomposer and pianist.
Fernando Sor17781839Spanishcomposer for the classical guitar who is credited with elevating the guitar to the level of concert instrument.
William Knyvett17791856Britishcomposer and singer.
Louise Reichardt17791826Germancomposer and songwriter.
Luigi Antonio Calegari17801849Italianopera composer.
Conradin Kreutzer17801849Germancomposer and conductor.
Louis François Dauprat17811868Frenchcomposer, horn player and music professor at the Conservatoire de Paris.
Anton Diabelli17811858Austriancomposer, music publisher and editor.
Mauro Giuliani17811828Italian composer and virtuosoguitarist.
Anthony Heinrich17811861Americancomposer.
Sophie Lebrun17811863Germancomposer and pianist.
François Joseph Naderman17811835Frenchcomposer, harpist and teacher.
Daniel Auber17821871Frenchopera composer, noted for La muette de Portici.
Carlo Coccia17821873Italianopera composer.
John Field17821837Irish composer and pianist, notable for cultivating the nocturne.
Niccolò Paganini17821840Italian composer and virtuoso violinist, wrote the 24 Caprices for violin, five concerti for violin, string quartets and works for violin and guitar.
Charlotta Seuerling17821828Swedishcomposer, concert singer, harpsichordist and poet.
Friedrich Dotzauer17831860Germancomposer and cellist.
Teresa Belloc-Giorgi17841855Italiancomposer and contralto.
Martin-Joseph Mengal17841851Belgiancomposer and instructor.
Francesco Morlacchi17841841Italiancomposer.
George Onslow17841853Anglo-Frenchcomposer.
Ferdinand Ries17841838German composer, friend and pupil of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Louis Spohr17841859German composer, violinist and conductor, renowned for chamber music and compositions for violin and harp.
Alexandre Pierre François Boëly17851858Frenchcomposer, organist and pianist.
Bettina von Arnim17851859Germancomposer, writer and novelist.
Catherina Cibbini-Kozeluch17851858Austriancomposer of Bohemian ancestry and pianist.
Isabella Colbran17851845Spanishcomposer and opera singer.
Karol Kurpiński17851857Polishcomposer, conductor and pedagogue.
Marie Bigot17851820Frenchcomposer and piano teacher.
Henry Bishop17861855Englishcomposer.
Friedrich Kuhlau17861832German-Danish composer.
Pietro Raimondi17861853Italiancomposer.
Carl Maria von Weber17861826German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant Romantic opera composers.
Alexander Alyabyev17871851Russiancomposer, conductor and pianist.
Michele Carafa17871872Italianopera composer.
Johann Peter Pixis17881874Germancomposer and pianist.
Simon Sechter17881867Austrianprolific composer, renowned music theorist, teacher, organist and conductor.
Elena Asachi17891877Romaniancomposer of Austrian birth, pianist and singer.
Nicolas-Charles Bochsa17891856Frenchcomposer and musician.
Friedrich Ernst Fesca17891826Germancomposer of instrumental music and violinist.
Maria Agata Szymanowska17891831Polishcomposer and virtuoso pianist.
Harriet Browne17901858Englishcomposer and writer.
Isaac Nathan17901864Anglo-Australiancomposer, musicologist, journalist and self-publicist known as "the father of Australian music".
Carl Czerny17911857Austrian composer, teacher and pianist.
Ferdinand Hérold17911833French operatic composer.
Giacomo Meyerbeer17911864German composer for grand opera (Il crociato in Egitto, Les Huguenots, L'Africaine).
Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart17911844Austrian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher and youngest child of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Carlo Evasio Soliva17911853Swiss-Italiancomposer.
Jan Václav Voříšek17911825Czechcomposer, pianist and organist.
Gioachino Rossini17921868Italian prolific opera composer, best known for The Barber of Seville.
Hedda Wrangel17921833Swedishcomposer.
Cipriani Potter17921871Englishcomposer, teacher and pianist.
Gertrude van den Bergh17931840Dutchcomposer and pianist.
Bernhard Klein17931832Germancomposer.
Caroline Ridderstolpe17931878Swedishcomposer and singer.
Princess Amalie of Saxony17941870Germancomposer.
Ignaz Moscheles17941870Czech composer and piano virtuoso, head of the Leipzig Conservatory after Felix Mendelssohn.
Josif Šlezinger17941870Serbiancomposer.
Heinrich Marschner17951861Germanconsidered to be the most important composer of German opera between Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner.
Saverio Mercadante17951870Italian composer.
Nikolaos Mantzaros17951872Italian-Greekcomposer.
Franz Berwald17961868Swedishcomposer, little known in his lifetime, but his works, including his four symphonies are better known today.
Helene Liebmann17961835Germancomposer and pianist.
Carl Loewe17961869German composer, baritone singer and conductor.
Mathilda d'Orozco17961863Swedishcomposer, noble, salonist, poet, writer, singer, amateur actress and harpsichordist.
Giovanni Pacini17961867Italiancomposer.
Emilie Zumsteeg17961857Germancomposer, pianist, songwriter and choir conductor.
Luigi Castellacci17971845Italianvirtuoso on the mandolin and guitar, instrumental composer and author of popular French romances with guitar and piano accompaniments.
Gaetano Donizetti17971848Italian opera composer, known for Lucia di Lammermoor and L'elisir d'amore among others.
Franz Schubert17971828Austrian composer, best known for his more than 600 lieder, chamber music, piano works and symphonies.
Annette von Droste-Hülshoff17971848Germancomposer and writer.
Antonio Rolla17981837Italiancomposer and violin and viola virtuoso.
Olivia Buckley17991847Englishcomposer, harpist and organist.
Maria Fredrica von Stedingk17991868Swedishcomposer and courtier.
Fromental Halévy17991862French composer.
Oscar I of Sweden17991859Swedish composer and king of Sweden and Norway.

Repertoire key: B=In Classical Net's basic Timeline of Major Composers 1600–present[1]

Early Romantic-era composers (born 1800–19)[edit]

NameDate bornDate diedNationalityComments
Vincenzo Bellini18011835Italian opera composer, known for I Puritani, Norma and La sonnambula among others.
Tomasz Padura18011871Ukrainian-Polish poet of the so-called Ukrainian school, musician-torbanist and composer-songwriter.
Jean-Baptiste Duvernoy18021880Frenchcomposer and pianist.
Amédée Méreaux18021874Frenchcomposer, his works are somewhat known for their immense difficulties.
Cesare Pugni18021870Italianprolific composer of ballet music.
Eliza Flower18031846Englishcomposer.
Adolphe Adam18031856French composer, best known for his ballet score, Giselle.
Hector Berlioz18031869French composer, famous for his programmatic symphony, Symphonie Fantastique.
Henri Herz18031888Austriancomposer and pianist.
Franz Lachner18031890Germancomposer and conductor, brother of Ignaz Lachner and Vinzenz Lachner.
Louise Farrenc18041875Frenchcomposer of three symphonies and many chamber works including the earliest known sextet for piano and wind quintet (1852).
Mikhail Glinka18041857Russian nationalist composer whose works include the opera, A Life for the Tsar.
Johann Strauss I18041849Austrian dance music composer, famous for Radetzky March.
Fanny Mendelssohn18051847Germancomposer and pianist, sister of Felix Mendelssohn, mainly known for her vocal compositions and chamber music.
Leopold von Zenetti18051892Austriancomposer, mainly known for being one of Anton Bruckner's masters.
Napoléon Coste18051883Frenchvirtuoso guitarist, teacher and composer.
Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga18061826Spanishcomposer who died at nineteen and by which time he had already been nicknamed the "Spanish Mozart" for his Symphony in D and three string quartets.
Johann Kaspar Mertz18061856Hungariancomposer, known for his guitar pieces.
Friedrich Burgmüller18061874Germancomposer and pianist.
Carlo Curti18071872Italiancellist, performer and educator at Royal School of Music in Parma who composed cello and piano music.
Ignaz Lachner18071895Germanconductor, composer and organist, a prolific composer, notable for his chamber music such as his string quartets and trios.
Michael William Balfe18081870Irishconductor and composer, remembered for his opera, The Bohemian Girl.
Sebastián Iradier18091865Spanishcomposer, best known for La Paloma.
Felix Mendelssohn18091847German conductor, music-director, composer and pianist, brother of Fanny Mendelssohn, best known for Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Otto Lindblad18091864Swedishcomposer.
Frédéric Chopin18101849Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, his output includes nocturnes, ballade, scherzos, etudes and a number of Polish dances such as mazurkas, polonaises and waltzes (including Minute Waltz).
Ferenc Erkel18101893Hungariancomposer of grand opera.
Otto Nicolai18101849Germanopera composer and conductor, best known for The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Norbert Burgmüller18101836Germancomposer and brother of Friedrich Burgmüller, praised by Robert Schumann.
Robert Schumann18101856German composer and pianist, husband of Clara Schumann, a significant lieder writer, a prolific composer, wrote many short piano pieces, four symphonies, concerti and chamber music.
Ludwig Schuncke18101834Germancomposer and pianist.
Ferdinand David18101873Germancomposer and violinist.
Vinzenz Lachner18111893Germancomposer, brother of Franz Lachner and Ignaz Lachner.
Franz Liszt18111886Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist, wrote a number of tone poems and extended piano technique, best known for his Hungarian Rhapsodies and other solo piano works, one of the most influential and distinguished piano composers of the Romantic era.
Ferdinand Hiller18111885Germancomposer, conductor, writer and music-director, close friend of Felix Mendelssohn.
Wilhelm Taubert18111891Germanpianist, composer and conductor whose early works received praise from Felix Mendelssohn.
Ambroise Thomas18111896French composer, best known for his two operas, Mignon and Hamlet.
Spyridon Xyndas18121896Greekopera composer and guitarist.
Sigismond Thalberg18121871Austriancomposer and one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era.
Louis-Antoine Jullien18121860Frenchconductor and composer of light music, king of promenade concerts in England.
Emilie Mayer18121883German composer of eight symphonies as well as overtures, lieder and numerous chamber works.
Friedrich von Flotow18121883German composer, chiefly remembered for his opera, Martha.
Alexandre Dubuque18121898Russian-Frenchcomposer, known for teaching.
Joaquín Espín y Guillén18121881Spanishmajor opera and zarzuela composer and musician, best known for Padilla, Carlo Broschi and El encogido y el estirado.
Johann Rufinatscha18121893Austriancomposer.
Alexander Dargomyzhsky18131869Russian composer.
Semen Hulak-Artemovsky18131873Ukrainian opera composer, singer (baritone), actor and dramatist.
George Alexander Macfarren18131887Englishmajor opera composer, best known for Robin Hood, She Stoops to Conquer and Helvellyn, also known as a teacher.
Stephen Heller18131888Hungariancomposer, highly affected the late Romantic composers.
Richard Wagner18131883German major opera composer, best known for his cycle of four operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Ernst Haberbier18131869Germancomposer.
Giuseppe Verdi18131901Italian major opera composer, best known for Nabucco, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Aida and Otello.
Charles-Valentin Alkan18131888Frenchcomposer and virtuoso pianist.
Andonios Liveralis18141842Greekopera composer and conductor.
Giuseppe Lillo18141863Italiancomposer, best known for his operas among which is worth noting Odda di Bernaver and Caterina Howard.
Adolf von Henselt18141889Germancomposer and pianist.
Philipp Fahrbach der Ältere18151885Austriancomposer, father of Philipp Fahrbach der Jüngere
Josephine Lang18151880Germancomposer and pianist.
Ferdinand Praeger18151891Germancomposer and pianist.
Robert Volkmann18151883Germancomposer, companion of Johannes Brahms.
Józef Władysław Krogulski18151842Polishcomposer and pianist.
William Sterndale Bennett18161875Englishcomposer, conductor and editor.
Charles Dancla18171907Frenchviolinist, composer and teacher.
Émile Prudent18171863Frenchpianist and composer.
Károly Thern18171886Hungariancomposer, conductor and teacher.
Niels Gade18171890Danishcomposer, violinist and organist.
Henry Litolff18181891Britishpianist, composer and music publisher, best known for his five Concertos Symphoniques.
Charles Gounod18181893French composer, best known for his two operas, Faust and Roméo et Juliette.
Antonio Bazzini18181897Italianviolinist, composer and teacher, best known for The Dance of the Goblins.
Jacques Offenbach18191880Frenchopera and operetta composer, known for The Tales of Hoffmann and Orpheus in the Underworld.
Franz von Suppé18191895Austrian composer and conductor, notable for his operettas.
Stanisław Moniuszko18191872Polishcomposer, best known as the Father of Polish National Opera.
Clara Schumann18191896Germancomposer and pianist, wife of Robert Schumann, one of the leading pianists of the Romantic era.
Vatroslav Lisinski18191854Croatiancomposer, famous for his first Croatian opera, Love and Malice and his second Croatian opera, Porin

Middle Romantic-era composers (born 1820–39)[edit]

NameDate bornDate diedNationalityComments
Henri Vieuxtemps18201881Belgian composer and violinist.
Giovanni Bottesini18211889Italianconductor, composer and double bass virtuoso.
Josip Runjanin18211878Croatiancomposer.
Emilie Hammarskjöld18211854Swedishcomposer, concert pianist and organist.
Joachim Raff18221882Swiss-born German composer, best known for eleven symphonies, most of them program music.
César Franck18221890Belgian-born French composer, noted for his Symphony in D minor, also a significant composer for the organ.
Luigi Arditi18221903Italiancomposer, violinist and conductor.
Édouard Lalo18231892French composer, remembered for his Symphonie Espagnole for violin and orchestra and his Cello Concerto.
Theodor Kirchner18231903Germancomposer and pianist, he wrote over 1,000 piano pieces.
Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly18231896Kazakhstanicomposer.
Anton Bruckner18241896Austrian composer of nine large-scale symphonies (one incomplete) and two more unacknowledged.
Bedřich Smetana18241884Czech nationalist composer, best known for his cycle of six symphonic poems, Má vlast and his opera, The Bartered Bride.
Carl Reinecke18241910Germancomposer, conductor and pianist, best known for his attachment to classical forms and conducted Gewandhausorchester for nearly 35 years.
Jean-Baptiste Arban18251889Frenchcomposer and virtuoso cornetist, wrote the "Grande méthode complète pour cornet à pistons et de saxhorn" now referred to as the "Trumpeter's Bible".
Johann Strauss II18251899Austrian

The Classical period

The Classical era in music is compositionally defined by the balanced eclecticism of the late 18th- and early 19th-century Viennese “school” of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, who completely absorbed and individually fused or transformed the vast array of 18th-century textures and formal types. Expansion of the tripartite Italian overture had produced the basic three-movement scheme of the symphony even before the 18th century reached midpoint. Shortly thereafter, the minuet, borrowed from the dance suite, was inserted with increasing frequency as a fourth movement between the slow movement and the fast finale. The French opera overture in turn lent its slow introduction where needed for structural variety. Texturally, homophony (chordal texture) and polyphony soon assumed rather specific roles, with polyphonic writing usually reserved for the central or development section of the classical first-movement form. The organic fusion of a number of stylistic traits previously associated with strong and immediate contrast is exemplified by the obbligatoaccompaniment, the texture most typical of Viennese classicism. Here the relative equality of all the melodic parts in a given composition is ensured without denying the melodic supremacy of the treble and the harmonically decisive role of the bass. The evolution of this characteristic texture can be traced in the string quartets of Haydn. At first, following earlier 18th-century custom, Haydn wrote strictly treble-dominated compositions with a simplified bass (as compared with the more varied basso continuo); then, with the six Sun Quartets, Opus 20, dating from the early 1770s, he defied precedent and concluded each work with a fugue in the “learned style” of Handel. Finally, in his Russian Quartets, Opus 33, written, in his own words, “in a new manner,” Haydn achieved the fusion of elements of both the learned and the treble-dominated styles. The result was a harmonically oriented, yet polyphonically animated, texture that was to affect both instrumental and vocal ensemble music for generations. It was also at this point, when compositional procedures reached a degree of stability and universality unmatched since Renaissance polyphony, that composition began to be taken seriously as a separate musicianly discipline. Johann Joseph Fux’s famous Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus), published first in Latin in 1725 and subsequently in every important modern language, was still basically a didactictreatise on counterpoint abstracted from 16th-century practice. As such it served its purpose throughout the 18th century, while harmony continued to be taught as the art of accompaniment—i.e., the improvised realization of a figured bass. But eventually the general fascination with comprehensive knowledge, sparked by the French Encyclopédie, inspired at first sporadic, then ever more numerous, volumes dealing progressively with all aspects of composition. During the ensuing 19th century the rapid institutionalization of musical education in the image of the National Conservatory of Music in Paris, created while the French Revolution was still raging, added further to the academic systematization of all musical studies along lines that have essentially remained in force. Thus the teaching of musical composition reflects to this day the biases of the 19th century, specifically its concern with functional harmony as the principal generative force in music—a doctrine first proclaimed in the 1720s in the name of nature (as being consistent with the harmonic overtone series) by the composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau.

The Romantic period

With the onset of the Romantic era in the wake of the French Revolution, composers began to view their own role in society as well as the social function of their work, and hence also its aesthetic prerequisites, in a radically different light. With respect to social function, Beethoven was actually the first musician of stature to achieve emancipation in the sense that his work reflected, with relatively few exceptions, purely personal artistic concerns. He simply took it for granted that patrons would supply funds sufficient for him to pursue his creative career unfettered by financial worries. This attitude represents a total reversal of the basic assumptions of the preceding century, when composers were hired by and large to satisfy the musical needs of specific individuals or institutions.

The view of the composer as artist also changed. If during the Middle Ages the craft of musical composition had been evaluated largely in terms of its strict adherence to established rules, instinctiveness and spontaneity had remained suspect well into the Italian Renaissance. For a 15th-century composer-theorist like Johannes Tinctoris, the value of a musical composition depended on learned judgment as well as spontaneous reaction. Thus his admiration for certain composers of his time stemmed both from the happiness and from the enlightenment that he found in examining their music. But the Swiss theorist Henricus Glareanus, writing 70 years later, explicitly preferred natural talent to the most exquisite craftsmanship. The Renaissance was the first epoch in European intellectual history to recognize that the greatness of a composer rests upon his inherent talent and unique personal style, and that genius supersedes both experience and the observance of theoretical precepts. Likewise, it was the first era in which the process of composition was viewed as linked to powerful internal impulses. The rising tide of academicism notwithstanding, this basic attitude on the whole dominated the European scene more or less consistently from then on. According to E.T.A. Hoffmann, the early 19th-century poet, critic, and composer, “effective composition is nothing but the art of capturing with a higher strength, and fixing in the hieroglyphs of tones, what was received in the mind’s unconscious ecstasis.” And Romantic composers from Schumann and Chopin to Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler did in fact produce much of their very best creative work in precisely such a state of exaltation, in a few tragic instances (e.g., Schumann and Wolf) to the ultimate detriment of their sanity.

The aesthetic effects of this drastic change in conception of the composer’s task and potential were immediate and far reaching. For one, every large-scale composition assumed artistic significance of a type previously accorded only a whole series of works, sometimes a composer’s entire output. And, concomitantly, many leading composers of the 19th century wrote in considerably smaller quantities than their predecessors. But in exchange they revelled in idiomatic and structural peculiarities even in works that nominally fell into the same formal category. Thus, although “characteristic” symphonies alluding to nonmusical ideas occurred occasionally in the late 18th century, virtually every symphonic composition postdating Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Opus 55 (Eroica; completed 1804), could be so designated. “Characteristic” works like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Opus 68 (Pastoral; 1808), or his overture to Goethe’s drama Egmont are but one step removed from the kind of characteristic scenes that make up the Symphonie fantastique of the French composer Hector Berlioz or, for that matter, Felix Mendelssohn’sHebrides (also known as Fingal’s Cave), an overture unrelated to any particular drama, spoken or sung. Franz Liszt, in the free-wheeling forms of his symphonic poems, simply pursued the individualistic line to its ultimate consequences, severing whatever tenuous ties to traditional structures the works of his immediate predecessors had still maintained. The Romantic composer viewed himself basically as a poet who manipulated musical sounds instead of words. But if the composers catered to poetry, writing Lieder (German songs) and attempting to retell stories in instrumental works, the poets looked with awe and envy upon the composers’ use of a language so utterly dissociated from material existence. “All art aspires to the condition of music,” said Wordsworth. It is thus hardly surprising that opera, whose extramusical connotations had in the past been responsible for some of the most daring stylistic innovations, rapidly incurred the disfavour of progressive composers. Although some, like Berlioz, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, tried their hands at an occasional opera, others, including Chopin, Liszt, and Brahms, felt no inclination whatever to compose for the stage. Instead, each developed personal idioms capable of a depth of expression that words could not match. Mendelssohn spoke indeed for many when he remarked that, as far as he was concerned, music was more precise in meaning than words.

As in the late Renaissance, harmony once again furnished the primary expressive means. In defining musical structure, too, harmonic and modulatory procedures predominated at the expense of the contrapuntal interplay of motives. Numerous Romantic composers excelled in concise forms of strong melodic-harmonic import, variously entitled Impromptu, Nocturne, Song Without Words, Ballade, Capriccio, Prelude, Étude, etc. The form of these works was nearly always tripartite, with a literal or modified repeat of the first part following a melodically and harmonically contrasting middle section. Works of larger scope often consisted of a series of relatively autonomous subunits tied together either by the same tune presented in different guises (as in variation sets) or by fairly literal recurrences of an initial musical idea (the rondo principle). Compositions of the Classical sonata-allegro type, to which motivic-contrapuntal development was essential, inevitably suffered from the Romantic love for pure, harmonically defined melody. Thus Tchaikovsky frankly admitted in 1878 that, although he could not complain of poverty of imagination or lack of inventive power, his lack of structural skill had frequently caused his “seams” to show: “there was no organic union between my individual episodes.” Composers such as Tchaikovsky were indeed particularly successful with chainlike formations like the serenade or the ballet suite, which comprised a well-calculated number of carefully wrought smaller entities.

In the context of functional harmony, the Classical motivic-contrapuntal approach had no doubt been exploited in the last sonatas and string quartets of Beethoven to the very limits of its potential to define musical structure. The heroic image of Beethoven as one who had overcome every possible personal and artistic difficulty to achieve the highest aims of the art assumed well-nigh traumatic proportions among 19th-century musicians. Not only did composers ill equipped both by training and artistic temperament try to emulate him, but theorists from Adolf Bernhard Marx to Vincent d’Indy based treatises on his works. Thus, unwittingly the Classical Beethovenian inheritance turned into something of an aesthetic liability for Romantic composers swayed by the image of Beethoven and unable or unwilling to face the fact that their particular talents were totally unsuited for any further capitalization of his basic compositional procedures. Confronted with the task of writing in the Beethovenian manner, a great master like Schumann, who had created the near-perfect, totally Romantic suite Carnaval, Opus 9 (1835), was clearly out of his element: the development of his Symphony No. 1 in B Flat Major, Opus 38 (Spring; 1841), offers a prime example of the “rhythmic paralysis” that affected so many large-scale 19th-century works. That this symphony managed nevertheless to maintain itself in the concertrepertoire, on the other hand, demonstrates the extent to which the best among the German composers compensated for obvious weaknesses in handling motivic development by sustaining above all constant harmonic interest. For their part, the French, always coloristically inclined, turned instrumentation into a principal compositional resource, so that in an unadorned piano transcription Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique retains little more than its basic contours. That by the end of the century virtuoso instrumentation had become universal practice is attested by any work of Richard Strauss or Gustav Mahler.

Characteristically, the most unique compositional achievement of the 19th century, that of Richard Wagner, was also the most eclectic. Wagner represents the apotheosis of Romanticism in music precisely because he fused into musico-poetic structures of unprecedented proportions virtually every musical resource that went before him. Seen in this light it may be more than mere coincidence that Tristan und Isolde, perhaps Wagner’s most perfect music drama, begins with the same four notes that make up the motivic substance of four of Beethoven’s string quartets (Opuses 130–133). Unlike most instrumental composers after Beethoven, the dramatist Wagner fully assimilated the motivic-contrapuntal process, even though his texture is principally determined by strong harmonic tensions and by a masterful use of instrumental colour in the vein of Berlioz and French grand opera. Just as he integrateddiverse compositional techniques, Wagner also achieved a balance of musical and poetic elements so perfect that critics, both favourable and unfavourable, have never ceased to be puzzled by its aesthetic implications. How consciously Wagner proceeded is attested not only by his numerous theoretical writings but also by compositional sketches pointing in some instances to several stages of mutual adjustments involving music and text.

The 20th century

Wagner’s highly expressive harmonic bequest could not but drive chromaticism eventually beyond the retaining confines of the idea of a central key, for the extensive use of chromatic chords tends to blur the listener’s ability to perceive the basic harmonic relationships that define a key. In their nontonal compositional procedures, Arnold Schoenberg and his 20th-century Second Viennese school abandoned the concept of key, using all notes freely without relating them to the system of functional harmony. They thus represent not so much a reaction to as a logical extension of Wagnerian principles. Wagner’s compelling artistic personality certainly exercised near-magic powers over many of his younger contemporaries and successors, exceeding even Beethoven’s spell. But others, too, contributed to “the music of the future.” As Schoenberg was to point out in one of his remarkable essays, even Brahms, who looked upon himself as a conservative in the best sense of the term, was, historically speaking, a true “progressive,” especially in his propensity for irregular phrasing and complex motivic manipulations.

The growth of political nationalism in the “peripheral” countries of Europe also had significant repercussions in musical composition. In the last half of the 19th century distinctive folk-music elements, previously totally unheeded by Europe’s elitist musical cultures, found enthusiastic response in sophisticated circles, exerting an “exotic” attraction similar to that which had accounted earlier in the century for the Romantic infatuation with Eastern civilizations. Thus at a time when the exhaustion of Europe’s “civilized” compositional resources appeared imminent, the “untutored” harmonies of the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky—steeped in the spirit of Russian folk music and based on chord progressions alien to the standard harmonic usage of his day—helped breathe new life into a harmonic language about to succumb to redundant overdoses of functional chromaticism. Mussorgsky thus paved the way for the later whole-tone and pentatonic (five-note scale) experiments of Claude Debussy and Béla Bartók.

What was being questioned publicly in many quarters at the dawn of the 20th century was the evolutionistic view of Western art music as man’s ultimate achievement in the realm of sound and its logical consequent that 19th-century harmony represented in turn music’s most advanced stage of development. This increasing skepticism, given by the nature of late 19th-century music itself, was strongly reinforced by the growing awareness of historical compositional techniques that resulted from the mushrooming discoveries of musicological scholarship. Before long, all manner of pre-19th-century textures and structural principles were seized upon to counteract the type of self-defeating post-Wagnerianism—so tragically exemplified in several of the most ambitious works of Max Reger. The 20th-century search for fresh, flexible techniques extended far beyond the nontonal Second Viennese school of Schoenberg. In historical perspective, Anton Webern’s fascination with 15th-century canonic techniques, Paul Hindemith’spredilection for both modal and early-18th-century polyphony, Igor Stravinsky’s emulation of Domenico Scarlatti, and, for that matter, Kurt Weill’s reinterpretation of John Gay’sBeggar’s Opera (1728) represent but various individual and culturally conditioned manifestations of the same determination: to put the burden of history to positive use in a concerted effort to revitalize an art that seemed moribund by the time World War I changed the socio-economic and political physiognomy of Europe.

Historically, Schoenberg’s formulation of the laws of composition with 12 tones—involving the consistent melodic and harmonic use of a specifically arranged sequence of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale—sprang in the early 1920s from the same obsession with textural and structural clarity that marked the postwar Neoclassical syndrome as a whole. Schoenberg himself may have considered his most fundamental contribution to musical history to be “the emancipation of dissonance”—a relativistic conception of intervals and chords that disregarded the careful regulation of dissonance characteristic of functional harmony. Actually, the 12-tone procedures he developed so consistently served to restore, to an extent far beyond that which Mahler had been able to achieve within the traditional harmonic framework, the primacy of motivic-contrapuntal development as a musical resource. Thus it was that the profusion of simultaneous melodies that animates Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major (completed 1900) found its ultimate potential realized in Schoenberg’s most uncompromising polyphonic work, the Wind Quintet (1924).

Possibly the most successful attempt to regenerate Beethovenian procedures without the total abandonment of functional tonality is represented by the string quartets and certain other instrumental compositions of Bartók. Drawing upon the rhythmic-melodic properties of Hungarian and Romanian folk music, Bartók produced a unique type of functionally extended harmony determined largely by the contrapuntal interaction of motives. Others, such as Charles Ives in the United States and, under the impact of South American popular music, Darius Milhaud in France, transcended traditional tonality by writing polytonally (in two or three keys simultaneously).

Whatever their specific approach, progressive 20th-century composers everywhere clearly gave precedence to melodic-rhythmic energies. Even instrumental colour was pressed into the service of melodic definition. Years before World War I Schoenberg had advocated in practice (Five Orchestral Pieces) and in theory (Harmonielehre, 1911; Theory of Harmony, 1947 [the English edition omits the pertinent chapter]) the idea of tone-colour melody, or Klangfarbenmelodie. But it was his pupil Webern who, in his mature works, divided the individual components of melodic phrases over several instruments as an imaginatively coloristic reinforcement of the complex polyphony that characterized his style. After World War II Webern’s procedures were adopted enthusiastically by composers on both sides of the Atlantic. Living in increasingly automated societies, the post-Webern composers soon discovered total serialism, a manner of composition in which all musical parameters follow numerical rules laid down in the course of what has been called the precompositional process. Whereas Schoenberg’s row technique merely fixed the sequence of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale in accordance with the motivic context of a given piece, Webern had indeed begun to serialize rhythm and to some extent instrumentation, possibly under the influence of medieval isorhythmic techniques. But total serialization, as practiced by the post-Webernians, left little, if anything, to spontaneous inspiration, and the 1950s thus witnessed the closing of a creative circle initiated during the early Middle Ages when spontaneous inspiration was manifestly suspect. Perhaps inevitably, such a hermetically closed system of composition provoked reactions that moved the aesthetic pendulum violently to the extreme opposite position. Spur-of-the-moment action became the watchword in music as well as in life generally. Aleatory (chance-music) composition in its more radical manifestations provides only minimal guidelines for performers who are told to improvise freely within certain temporal or spatial limitations, or both.

Thus, with the 20th century in its final quarter, the West has returned, insofar as is possible, to the pre-typographical stage when musical tradition was essentially oral. More than that, the relatively recent replacement of “the public,” once essentially the cultural elite, by a whole host of publics to whom mutually exclusive types of composers cater with great solicitude, suggests that the private musical life of the immediate past is in the process of being transplanted by experiences serving, among other things, the identification of special group interests and needs. At the same time, novelty rather than originality has become the order of the day. Musical compositions, electronically recorded—more recently also electronically produced—and distributed as salable items by mass-oriented corporations, have attained the status of physical objects that are easily discarded and replaced. Still, there are those who try to transform the burdens of history into significant new forms of composition. A new eclecticism is in the making, destined perhaps to preserve a long tradition that has been among the West’s proudest achievements.

Alexander L. RingerThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

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