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Music History
The Romantic Era (1820 - 1900)
• The term Romantic refers to the music
being expressive and emotional (rather
than referring specifically to love).
 • Patronage declined and successful
composers became famous – the
equivalent of pop stars in their day.
 • Most of the musical developments
were creative rather than technical.

Musical Characteristics
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• Ensembles increased in scale.
– The orchestra increased in size adding more
instruments and numbers of players.
– Chamber music was less popular. There are few
string quartets, etc.
• Programme music rose in importance.
• Harmonies became more dissonant and
chromatic.
• Composers increasingly ignored the formal
structures phrasing typical of the classical
era.
The Virtuoso Performer
• The performer (rather than the composer)
became the star of many pieces.
 • The virtuoso performer would amaze their
audience with their technical ability on their
instrument (most often piano or violin).
 • Many composers wrote virtuosic pieces
often for particular performers.

Instrumental Music

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The piano developed technically and became
much more like the powerful and expressive
instrument we know today.
• Solo Piano Music:
– Etudes – studies showing off a performer’s
technical ability
– Character Pieces – short programmatic works
– Variations – virtuoso pieces based on a theme a
variation form
– Stylised Dances – based on popular dances forms
such as the waltz, mazurka, polka and gallop
Instrumental Music (continued)

• Orchestral Music:
– Symphony – less formal and less restrictive than the
Classical symphony.
– Concerto – similar to the Classical concerto. The violin
and piano were the preferred solo instruments.
– Symphonic Poem – Single movement programmatic
work.
– Concert Overture – Similar to the Symphonic Poem but
more formal and less programmatic.
– Symphonic Suite – Programmatic works in several
movements.
– Dances – similar to the stylised dances for solo piano.
The Romantic Orchestra
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• The percussion section increased in size and
number of instruments.
• The woodwind and brass sections increased in
numbers and several new instruments were added.
• The number of string players was increased to
balance the larger woodwind and brass sections.
• The harp was added to the string section.
• Instruments were often directed to use more
unusual techniques (such as pizzicato and flutter
tonguing
Programme Music

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• Unlike the absolute music of the classical era
Romantic music often reflected a narrative or
extra-musical idea. This meant that
composers would often abandon the formal
structures that were popular in the classical
era.
• The Symphonic Poem (or Tone Poem) is a
single movement orchestral work that
incorporates an extra-musical element.
Composers would often put several of these
pieces together for a larger scale work.
Vocal Music
• Art Song (Lieder)
– Song Cycles
 • Opera
 • Voices (either as soloists or choruses)
were often incorporated into orchestral
pieces.

Song Cycles
• Song cycles were collections of songs,
arranged for solo voice and piano, that
had a common theme or narrative.
 • They were intended, on the whole, to
be performed in sequence.
 • The term lieder is sometimes used to
refer to the songs in a song cycle.

Opera

• Opera took on board many of the trends
of the Romantic Era:
– The distinctive structures of songs,
recitative, aria and chorus, gradually broke
down and merged together.
– The harmony became more chromatic.
– The number and variety of instruments in
the orchestra increased.
Nationalism
• Many romantic composers began to
incorporate features from their home
country into their music.
 • These may have been:
– Folk Stories (as the narrative in opera
or programme music)
– Rhythms and Themes from folk music

Romantic Composers
• Franz Peter Schubert (1797 – 1828)
 • Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)
 • Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

Summary
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• Music became more expressive.
• Harmony became more dissonant and
chromatic.
• The orchestra increased the number and
variety of instruments.
• Absolute Music gives way to Programme
Music.
• Very little chamber music – mostly orchestral
or solo music.
• Music led by lyrical (song like)