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12-8-2022, 14:52 UTC
The Romantic Era
History of Music

Giuseppe Verdi Just as the word "Classical" brings to mind certain concepts, the word "romantic" is even more evocative. Through such examples as Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" and the paintings of Delacroix, Romaticism implies fantasy, spontaneity and sensitivity.

The Classical period was oriented towards structural clarity and emotional restraint. Classical music was expressive, but not so passionate that it became unbalanced. Beethoven, who was actually responsible for "lighting the flame of Romanticism" and is considered a bridge between the eras, always fought (not always successfully) for maintaining the equilibrium of a piece. Most composers of the Romantic period followed this model of Beethoven's and looked for their own balance between emotional intensity and classical form. "Musical story-telling" also started to play a not insignificant role, not only in opera but also in purely instrumental compositions. The genre of the symphonic poem was brought to the fore during the Romantic era. In its performance, a conposition had to set a scene, and then tell a story from that scene.

Petr Iljic Tchaikovski The color of sound is a characteristic tool for expression in Romantic music. New instruments, never before included, found their way into orchestras and composers experimented with new ways of wresting new sounds out of old instruments. A large pallet of the colors of sound, necessary for expressing exotic scenes, was an element no composer's technique could be without. Exoticism was an obsession of the 19th century. Russian composers wrote music describing the Spanish countryside (ie. Capriccio Espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff) and German composers about Scotland (ie. Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony). Operas were also mostly set in exotic localities, such as Verdi's "Aida" in Ancient Egypt.

Another new element brought to music by the Romantic period was the appropriation of folk music for Classical music. Nationalism became a driving force in the later Romantic period, with composers trying to express their cultural identity through their music. These trends were most apparent in Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe, where elements of folk songs were incorporated in symphonies, symphonic poems and other forms.

The Romantic era was a golden age for virtuoso performers. Exceptional performers were greatly lauded. Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist and composer, played the piano with such vigour and passion that women fainted. Because so many of the authors of this period were such virtuosos, the music that they wrote is also very demanding in its technical execution.

Important Composers

Franz Schubert(1797 - 1828)
Hector Berlioz(1803 - 1869)
Felix Mendelssohn Brtholdy(1809 - 1847)
Fryderyk Chopin(1810 - 1849)
Robert Schumann(1810 - 1856)
Franz Liszt(1811 - 1886)
Giuseppe Verdi(1813 - 1901)
Richard Wagner(1813 - 1883)
Anton Bruckner(1824 - 1896)
Johannes Brahms(1833 - 1897)
Modest Mussorgski (1839 - 1881)
Petr Iljic Tchaikovski(1840 - 1893)
Antonin Dvorak(1841 - 1904)
Nikolaj Rimski-Korsakov(1844 - 1908)
Gabriel Faure(1845 - 1924)
Edward Elgar(1857 - 1934)
Giacommo Puccini(1858 - 1924)
Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)

Czech Music of the Romantic Era

Frantisek Skroup This period saw the advance of the National Revival in the Czech Lands. The greatest display of these revivalist tendencies in the spirit of Romanticism appeared primarily in Czech opera. The resounding success of Weigl's "singspiel" Swiss Family in 1823 inspired Chmelensky and Frantisek Skroup (1801 - 1862) to compose their own Czech variations of the genre. Skroup was born at Osice u Pardubic and began to compose while still in school there, continuing during his studies of philosophy and law in Prague. After the performance of his eclectic singspiel Dratenik (1826), he became the conductor of the Theater of the Estates. With Chmelensky he composed other the Czech operas Oldrich a Bozena (1826) and Libusin snatek (1835) (the Marriage of Libuse). The music for Tyl's play Fidlovacka (Spring Festival) is the memorable song Kde domov muj(Where is My Home).

One of the most important authors of this period is Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884)

Bedrich Smetana Bedrich Smetana was born in Litomysl from the third marriage of Master Brewer Frantisek Smetana to Barbora Linkova. The family was constantly on the move, and young Bedrich went to high school in Jindrichuv Hradec, Jihlava, Havlickuv Brod, Prague and Plzen, where he graduated under the supervision of his cousin. He appeared as a pianist for the first time in 1830 at the Litomysl Academy of Philosophy. A deciding factor in Smetana's artistic development was his period studying under Josef Proksch in Prague, from 1843. After completing his studies, he founded his own private piano school in Prague, and a year later married his teenage love Katerina Kolarova.

During this period, he devoted his compositional efforts almost exclusively to the piano. The peak of his production from this period is his Klavirni trio g moll (1855) (Piano trio in g minor), which reflected his grief over the death of his daughter Bedriska. In an attempt to escape a place where everything reminded him of his loss, Smetana decided to move abroad, and in 1856 he moved to Goteborg in Sweden. The northern climate accelerated Katerina's illness and she died in 1859. A year later he married again to the 20-year-old Bettina Ferdinandiova.

Smetana was a great admirer of Franz Liszt, and they were in frequent contact through correspondence and personal meetings. He was gripped by Liszt's idea of the symphonic poem. This gave rise to such works as his Richard III., Valdstynuv tabor (Waldstein's Camp) and Hakon Jarl. After the easing of the political situation in the Czech lands, he hurried home, although things did not immediately go well for him. But in 1863 he finished the singspiel Branibory v Cechach (Brandenburgers in Bohemia,with a libretto by Karel Sabina), which was a great success - and brought its author some much-needed finances. He completed Prodana nevesta (The Bartered Bride) in 1866 and conducted it himself.

In 1873, Smetana also became the chief director of opera and drama atthe Provisional Theater, where he focused primarily on opera. The fruit of these efforts are such works as Dalibor, Rolnicka, Libusin soud and others. During this period, after three years of work, he completed his masterpiece Libuse. The opera emerged from his awareness of his responsibility to his nation, and his firm belief in its future.

On the night of October 19 to 20, 1874, as a result of a long illness, Smetana was inflicted with the worst misfortune that can befall a composer: absolute deafness. Despite his catastrophe he managed to realize his long-held creative project: to celebrate his homeland and nation with a cycle of symphonic poems. The result was the cycle Ma vlast (My Homeland), consisting of the parts Vysehrad, Vltava, Sarka, Z ceskych luhu a haju (From Czech Fields and Groves), Tabor and Blanik. Towards the end of his life, he composed another great string of operas, Hubicka (1876) (The Kiss), Tajemstvi (1877) (The Secret) a Certova stena (1879 - 82) (The Devil's Wall). Bedrich Smetana died on May 12, 1884 in the Prague Institute for the Mentally Ill.

Antonin Dvorak The other great figure of Czech Romanticism is Antonin Dvorak. He was born on September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, where he grew up in an atmosphere of village musicianship. At sixteen, he came to Prague to attend organ school, and he later became a violist in Komzak's ensemble, with which he came to the Provisional Theater. His first work was Hymnus from Halek's Dedici Bile hory (Inheritors of White Mountain). He won a state scholarship and Johannes Brahms, the most influential member of the panel, recommended him to the Berlin publisher Simrock, for whom he composed his first piece in 1878 Slovanske tance (Slavonic Dances), which immediately became famous all over the world. His symphonic works were promoted by Bulow, Richter and others, and his oratorios and cantatas became representative pieces for domestic choral ensembles as well as at important festivals in England. In 1890 and 1891, Dvorak was awarded honorary doctorates at Cambridge and Prague universities. In 1891 he was awarded the title of professor, from 1892 to 1895 he was the artistic director for the National Conservatory in New York City, and he then became artistic director for the Prague Conservatory. Honored as one of the greatest composers of his time, Dvorak died in Prague on May 1, 1904.

Beside Smetana and Dvorak, the most distinctive figure of this period was Zdenek Fibich (1850 - 1900). His work was dedicated to hugely diverse subjects. His songs (Sestero pisni - Six Songs), Jarni paprsky (Spring Rays) and duets have an intimate charcter. His compositions for piano are represented by such pieces as the lyrical cycle Z hor (From the Mountains) and the four-handed Sonata in B Major. His orchestral production encompassed all the genres of the era; his Third Symphony in E minor can be classed alongside Dvorak's symphonies as among the best Czech symphonies of the 19th century. The most important of Fibich's operas are Nevesta mesinska (The Bride of Messina) and Sarka. Fibich is also famous for his melodramas - Stedry den, Pomsta kvetin, (Christmas Eve, Revenge of the Flowers) and so on.

Important Composers

Bedrich Smetana(1824 - 1884)
Antonin Dvorak(1841 - 1904)
Zdenek Fibich(1850 - 1900)
Vilem Blodek(1834 - 1874)
Karel Bendl(1838 - 1897)