Siemiradzki - Chopin concert (1887)


Romanticism is the artistic period that runs almost all the 19th century (from the première of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony Eroica in 1805 to the publication of Debussy's symphonic poem La Mer in 1905).
A new society appeared since the French Revolution, which praised mankind's freedom above all things. Romanticism emerged as a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment, exalting freedom and emotions. Music was available to a much wider audience. The composer was no longer a servant of his patron, but he was admired as a "genius" by the audience.

  • Rhythm: it became more complex and irregular, with the presence of polyrhythms and syncopation.
  • Melody: it was the main element to express feelings, with an increased use of chromaticism.
  • Harmony: it became more complicated, chromatic harmony derived from the chromatic scale.
  • Texture: thick textures were popular, exploring a wider range of pitch, dynamics and timbres.
  • Timbre: the orchestra expanded sometimes to huge proportions.
  • Form: the expression of intense feelings led to freedom in form, from small intimate pieces to huge orchestral compositions.
  • Germany: Wagner, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mahler.
  • ltaly: Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini.
  • France: Bizet, Chopin, Franck, Berlioz, Dukas.
  • Spain: Albéniz, Granados, Falla, Turina, Barbieri, Chueca.


Large forms
Mass / oratorio: religious vocal music maintains these forms, but they are both in decadence.
Opera: it is still popular but with significant changes depending on each country.
Italy: the main schools are
Bel canto: these operas are made for the singers to shine, with technically demanding passages. Represented by Rossini (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Donizetti (L'elisir d'amore) and Bellini (Norma).
Verismo: these operas have more realistic plots, with scenes from real life such as poverty, misery, etc. Represented by Leoncavallo (Pagliacci) and Puccini (La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly).
Verdi (Rigoletto, Il trovatore, La traviata) represents the peak of the Italian opera. His operas are related with Italy's nationalism in the post-Napoleonic era, and he became an icon of the patriotic movement.

Germany: the main composers are:
Carl Maria von Weber (Der Freischütz) is the initiator.
Wagner (Tristan und Isolde, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Parsifal) is the great figure. He considers opera as a "total work of art", a fusion of music, poetry, dance, etc. He develops an "endless melody" blurring the aria-recitative distinction, and the leitmotivs or recurring themes often associated with certain characters and concepts.

France: the main composers are:
Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots) is the creator of the "grand opera", with large set designs and ballets.
Offenbach (Orphée aux enfers) is the main representative of the "operetta", with humor and dialog.
Bizet (Carmen) replaces the "grand opera" by the "opera comique", more realistic with popular themes.
Verdi - Il trovatore. Coro di zingari 
(Italian opera)
Wagner - Die Walküre.The Ride of the Valkyries 
(German opera)
Bizet - Carmen. Habanera
(French opera)

Small forms
Lied (plural lieder): means "song" in German. It is a short, simple and easy-to-sing piece written for voice and piano upon a poetic text with pastoral or romantic themes. The piano accompaniment enhances the meaning of the text by harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic material independent of the voice part. The main lieder composers are Schubert and Schumann. The most common forms are:
- Strophic lied:
A A' A''
- Binary lied: |:A :||: B :|
- Ternary lied: ABA
Schubert - Das Wandern (Strophic lied)


Instrumental music, as an undetermined and free language, is considered the perfect vehicle for the Romantic expression. This is the age of grand orchestras, but also of solo instruments. The Romantic orchestra multiplies the number of performers increasing wind and percussion families.

Large forms
Symphony / concerto: these classical forms are still cultivated by developing the timbric richness of the orchestra. Symphonies reach their moment of maximum splendour with Beethoven. Audiences appreciate solo concertos of virtuoso performers such as Liszt (pianist) or Paganini (violinist).

Program music is a composition that is based on an external source (a poem or image). It was often cultivated by nationalist composers. The main forms of program music are:
- Program symphony: it has several movements. It was created by Berlioz with his Symphonie Fantastique.
- Symphonic poem: it has just one movement. It was created by Liszt with Les Preludes. Another famous example is The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas.
Dukas - The Sorcerer's Apprentice (symphonic poem)

Small forms
Character piece: piano forms such as nocturne, ballad, prelude, rhapsody, fantasia, impromptu, study, waltz, polonaise, mazurka, etc.: composers develop short single-movement forms for piano that usually incorporate many technical difficulties. The piano reaches its ultimate technical perfection in this era and it becomes the "king of instruments" capable of expressing a wide range of sounds and feelings. Among the main piano music composers were Chopin, Schumann and Liszt.
Chopin - Nocturne op. 9 n.º 2


- String: piano (1).
- Wind: harmonium (2), accordion (3), piccolo (4), double bassoon (5), saxophone (6), trombone (7), tuba (8).
- Percussion: bass drum (9), snare drum (10).


Nationalism appeared in the mid-19th century, because this was a time of territorial aspirations and wars. Many countries were traditionally influenced by Italian, German and French music. Nationalist composers break free from that influence and begin to value their own traditions. They reflect their national identity using folk songs, dances, legends, etc. They use folklore in two different ways:
- By literally copying the sources.
- By imitating its characteristic musical features.

  • Russia: Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov.
  • Finland: Sibelius.
  • Norway: Grieg.
  • Czechoslovakia: Smetana, Dvořák.
  • Hungary: Bartók, Kodály.
  • Poland: Chopin.
  • United States: Gershwin.
  • South America: Villalobos.
  • Spain: Albéniz, Granados, Pedrell.
Borodin - Prince Igor. Polovtsian dances
Gershwin - Rhapsody in blue
Albéniz - Asturias


PROFANE VOCAL MUSIC: Verdi - La donna è mobile (from the opera Rigoletto)
  • Rhythm: triple time signature (3/8).
  • Texture: accompanied melody.
  • Timbre: tenor and orchestra.
  • Form: aria of opera, strophic form with an orchestral ritornello.


  • Rhythm: duple compound time signature (6/8), flexible beat.
  • Texture: complex textures with frequent changes in keys and new dissonances.
  • Timbre: orchestra.
  • Form: symphonic poem, free form.
Composer's description:
The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows (hunt), through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Elbe.