Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

4.10: Romantic (ca. 1820–1900)

  • Page ID
    54759
  • In many respects, the social and political history of 19th century Europe and the United States is a continuation of trends and movements rooted in the previous century: secularization, industrialization, democratization. But the way in which artists perceived, interpreted, and expressed the world was informed by a romantic aesthetic. As a general descriptive, romantic is applied to literature, visual arts, and music that emphasize imagination over objective observation, intense emotion over reason, freedom and spontaneity over order and control, individual over universal experience. The romantics of the 19th century sought inspiration in nature (poetry of Wordsworth, paintings of Constable and Turner), mythology and folklore (stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann), and the past (Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn; Dumas, The Three Musketeers). They idolized tragic heroic figures (Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe), and the artist as visionary (Walt Whitman, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself”). And they were fascinated by subjects associated with dreams (Goya’s The Dream of Reason), oppression, injustice, and political struggle (novels of Dickens, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable), the macabre (stories of Edgar Allen Poe), and death (poems of Emily Dickinson). The lives of many romantics were marked by the restlessness, longing, and unhappy love relationships they depicted through their art (the English poets Byron and Shelley).

    Music was in a number of respects the perfect romantic art form. In the words of the composer Franz Liszt, “Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought…” Music was used as a vehicle for expression of personal emotion, for awakening nationalistic aspirations, and for the display of virtuosity. Composers continued to use genres they inherited from past, such as the symphony, concerto, piano sonata, and opera, but also developed repertories particularly associated with the 19th century, such as the art song and instrumental program music. Whatever the form, romantic composers spoke a musical language infused with poetic lyricism, harmonic complexity, and dramatic contrasts. The requirements of their orchestral scores led to the expansion of the orchestra, both in size, to eighty or more players, and in its palette of instrumental colors through the addition of trombones and tubas, piccolo and contrabassoon, harp, cymbals, triangle, and a variety of drums. The concept of what constituted a single work encompassed the extremes from short, intimate songs and piano miniatures of Schubert and Schumann intended to be performed in intimate surroundings, to the operas of Wagner and symphonies of the late romantic written for large concert halls and demanding enormous performing resources.

    Historic Context

    Death of Napoleon I, 1821.
    Mexico becomes a republic, 1823; slavery is abolished, 1829.
    Slave revolt in Virginia led by Nat Turner, 1831.
    Charles Darwin’s expedition to South America, New Zealand, Australia, 1831–1836.
    Anti-Slavery Society founded in Boston, 1832.
    Abolition of slavery in British Empire, 1833.
    Public demonstration of the telegraphy by Samuel Morse, 1837.
    Vulcanization of rubber by American inventor Charles Goodyear, 1839.
    Invention of the bicycle by Scottish inventor Kirkpatrick Macmillan, 1839.
    Texas and Florida become U.S. states, 1845.
    Founding of Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1846.
    Potato famine in Ireland, 1846.
    First U.S. women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., 1848.
    Marx and Engels issue The Communist Manifesto, 1848.
    First California gold rush, 1848.
    California becomes U.S. state, 1850.

    Continuous stitch sewing machine invented by Isaac Singer, 1851.
    Paris World’s Fair, 1855; subsequent fairs in London, 1862; Vienna, 1873; Philadelphia, 1876;
    Paris, 1878; Melbourne, 1880; Moscow, 1882; Amsterdam, 1883; Chicago, 1893, Brussels,
    1897; Paris, 1900.
    Construction of Suez Canal, 1859–1869.
    Victor Emmanuel II named King of Italy by Garibaldi, 1860.
    Lincoln elected sixteenth president of the United States, 1860.
    U.S. Civil War, 1861–1865.
    Speed of light measured by Foucault, 1862.
    Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation; Gettysburg Address, 1863.
    Thirteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery, 1865.
    Alfred Nobel invents dynamite, 1866.
    Russia sells Alaska to United States, 1867.
    P. T. Barnum opens his circus “The Greatest Show in Earth,” in Brooklyn, 1871.
    Brooklyn Bridge opened, 1872.
    Republic proclaimed in Spain, 1873.
    First Impressionist exhibit, Paris, 1874.
    Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, 1876.
    Thomas Edison invents the phonograph, 1877.
    Cholera vaccine discovered by Pasteur, 1880.
    New York streets first lit by electric lights, 1880.
    Tuskegee Institute founded by Booker T. Washington, 1881.
    Pasteur invents rabies vaccine, 1885.
    Statue of Liberty is dedicated, 1886.
    Manufacture of electric motor constructed by Nikola Tesla, 1888.
    Henry Ford builds first car, 1893.
    Invention of motion picture camera by August and Louis Lumiere, 1895.
    First Nobel prizes are awarded, 1896.

    Milestones in Music

    Founding of Royal Academy of Music, London, 1822.
    Improvements in piano mechanism by French maker Erard, 1823.
    Patent of the saxophone by Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax, 1841.
    Founding of piano firm Steinway and Sons, New York, 1853.
    New York Symphony gives its first public concert, 1858.
    Metropolitan Opera House opens in New York, 1883.
    First magnetic sound recordings, 1899.

    Musical Genres

    Art song: setting of a poetic text, usually for voice and piano. Schubert and Schumann were
    both masters of the art song.
    Concerto: work for instrumental soloist and orchestra with prominent display of virtuosity.
    The violinist Paganini and the pianist Liszt wrote concertos to show off their astonishing
    technical abilities.
    Opera: as in previous periods, a drama set to music; heavy emphasis on bel canto (“beautiful
    singing”) and vocal virtuosity. The operas of Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner are standard
    repertory of opera companies today.
    Program symphony: orchestral work that musically depicts a story, images, events, or other
    nonmusical subjects. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique,
    nationalistic orchestral works of Smetana, and the tone poems of Liszt and Strauss exemplify
    this genre.
    Symphony: as in the classical period, a large-scale work for orchestra. Symphonies by Schubert,
    Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Mahler are staples of the
    orchestral repertory.

    Major Figures in Music

    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827): German late classical/early romantic composer; see
    Musician Biographies.
    Nicolo Paganini (1782–1840): Italian composer and violin virtuoso.
    Franz Schubert (1797–1828): Austrian composer; see Musician Biographies.
    Hector Berlioz (1803–1869): French composer.
    Frederic Chopin (1810–1849): Polish-born composer and pianist.
    Robert Schumann (1810–1856): German composer.
    Franz Liszt (1811–1886): Hungarian-born composer and piano virtuoso.
    Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901): Italian opera composer; see Musician Biographies.
    Richard Wagner (1813–1883): German opera composer.
    Clara Wieck Schumann (1819–1896): German pianist; see Musician Biographies.
    Bedrick Smetana (1824–1884): Czech nationalist composer.
    Stephen Foster (1826–1864): American songwriter.
    Johannes Brahms (1833–1897): German composer.
    Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881): Russian composer.
    Peter Illich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893): Russian composer.
    Antonin Dvorak (1841–1904): Czech composer; see Musician Biographies.
    Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924): Italian opera composer; see Musician Biographies.
    Gustav Mahler (1860–1911): German composer.
    Claude Debussy (1862–1918): French impressionist composer.

    Other Historic Figures

    Francisco de Goya (1746–1828): Spanish painter; portraits of royalty; other subjects include
    inhumanity of war.
    William Blake (1757–1827): English poet and artist; author of Songs of Innocence; illustrator of
    the Bible and works by Dante and Shakespeare.
    William Wordsworth (1770–1850): English poet; Lyrical Ballads anthology; Tintern Abbey, The Prelude.
    Walter Scott (1771–1832): Scottish poet and historical novelist; Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake.
    Joseph Turner (1775–1851): English landscape painter; subjects include London, scenes at sea,
    Venice; The Grand Canal Venice at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
    E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822): German composer and writer; collections of folk tales; story
    enacted in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
    Clemens Brentano (1778–1842): German author and poet.
    Lord Byron (1788–1824): English poet; his peripatetic wanderings and rebellious character
    inspired the concept of the“Byronic hero;” Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
    Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860): German philosopher; observations on desire and will
    coincidentally similar to principles of Buddhism.
    Joseph Eichendorff (1788–1857): German writer, author of poems set by Schumann.
    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822): English poet; critic of oppressions, organized religion, and
    convention; Ozymandias.
    Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796–1875): French painter of realistic landscapes.
    Eugene Delacroix (1798–1863): French painter; scenes of war, travels in Africa; Liberty Leading
    the People; portrait of Chopin.
    Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837): Russian poet and writer; father of modern Russian literature;
    operas based on Pushkin include Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades.
    Honore Balzac (1799–1850): French author of realistic novels; Le Pere Goriot, La Cousine Bette.
    Victor Hugo (1802–1885): French poet and writer on political, social, and artistic issues; Les
    Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
    Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870): French author of adventure novels; The Three Musketeers, The
    Count of Monte Cristo.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882): American philosopher, poet, orator, essayist; writings on
    transcendentalism, abolition of slavery.
    John Stuart Mill (1806–1873): English philosopher; On Liberty.
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861): English poet; Sonnets from the Portuguese (“How do I
    love thee? Let me count the ways”).
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882): American poet; Song of Hiawatha, Paul Revere’s Ride.
    Jefferson Davis (1808–1889): leader of Confederacy during U.S. Civil War
    Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865): sixteenth president of the United States; Gettysburg Address,
    Emancipation Proclamation.
    Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849): American author; Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven.

    Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892): English poet; Idylls of the King, Charge of the Light Brigade.
    Charles Darwin (1809–1882): English naturalist; On the Origin of the Species, The Descent of Man.
    Robert Browning (1812–1889): English poet; anthologies of poetry and dramatic monologues.
    Charles Dickens (1812–1870): Victorian writer of novels on social evils and injustice; Oliver Twist,
    Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Bleak House, A Christmas Carol.
    Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855): Danish philosopher; writings on social issues and Christian faith.
    Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898): German statesman; first chancellor of unified Germany.
    Charlotte Bronte (1816–1855): English novelist; Jane Eyre, Villette.
    Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862): American transcendentalist, naturalist, philosopher; On
    the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Walden, The Maine Woods.
    Emily Bronte (1818–1848): English novelist; Wuthering Heights.
    Karl Marx (1818–1883): German political philosopher and socialist; Das Kapital.
    Victoria (1819–1901): Queen of England, 1837 to 1901; proclaimed Empress of India, 1877.
    George Eliot (1819–1880): pen name of the English novelist Marian Evans; Adam Bede, Mill on
    the Floss, Silas Marner, Middlemarch.
    Herman Melville (1819–1891): American novelist; Moby Dick, Typee, Omoo, Billy Budd.
    Walt Whitman (1819–1892): American poet, journalist, humanist; Leaves of Grass, Song of Myself.
    Gustave Courbet (1819–1877): French painter of realistic landscapes, seascapes, common people.
    John Ruskin (1819–1900): English art and social critic; champion of pre-Raphaelite painters;
    advocate of conservation and economic socialism.
    Gregor Mendel (1822–1884): Austrian monk and geneticist; studies of inherited traits; laws of
    genetic dominance and recessiveness
    Louis Pasteur (1822–1895): French microbiologist; germ theory of disease; developed process of
    pasteurization; pioneer in fields of vaccination and immunization.
    Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906): Norwegian playwright and practitioner of dramatic realism; Peer
    Gynt, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler.
    Emily Dickinson (1830–1886): American poet; reflections on nature, love, life, and death
    distinguished by elusive meanings and idiosyncratic use of rhyme and syntax.
    Edouard Manet (1832–1883): French Impressionist painter; scenes of contemporary Parisian life.
    Mark Twain (1835–1910): American novelist and humorist; Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry
    Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Life on the Mississippi.
    Winslow Homer (1836–1910): American painter; landscapes and seascapes.
    Paul Cezanne (1839–1906): French Impressionist painter; late works anticipate cubism and
    abstraction in use of natural forms in landscapes, still lifes, portraits.
    John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937): American industrialist; founder of Standard Oil.
    Claude Monet (1840–1926): French Impressionist painter; explored effects of changing light on
    color and form; gardens and lily ponds at his home in Giverny.
    Pierre Renoir (1840–1919): French Impressionist painter and sculptor; people at leisure, nudes,
    outdoor scenes.
    William James (1842–1910): American philosopher and psychologist; educational psychology;
    nature of the self, religious belief, conscioness; Principles of Psychology, The Meaning of Truth.
    Henry James (1843–1916): American writer; Daisy Miller, Portrait of a Lady, Turn of the Screw.
    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900): German philosopher; Birth of Tragedy, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
    Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922): Scottish-born American inventor in communications;
    inventor of the telephone and microphone; techniques for teaching speech to the deaf.
    Paul Gauguin (1848–1903): French Post-Impressionist painter; richly colored depictions of native
    life in South Sea islands.
    Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890): Dutch painter; precursor of expressionism; still lifes, self portraits,
    Starry Night, Wheatfields with Crows, Bedroom at Arles.
    George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950): English-Irish dramatist, literary and music critic, social activist;
    1925 Nobel Prize for Literature; Pygmalion, Saint Joan, Man and Superman, Heartbreak House.
    Oscar Wilde (1856–1900): Irish poet and playwright; Picture of Dorian Gray, Lady Windermere’s
    Fan, Importance of Being Earnest, Salome, De Profundis.
    Sigmund Freud (1856–1939): Austrian physician, founder of psychoanalysis; Interpretation of Dreams.
    John Dewey (1859–1952): American pragmatist philosopher and educator; Democracy and
    Education, Art as Experience, Freedom and Culture.
    Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930): Scottish author of science fiction, historical novels, crime
    fiction, creator of Sherlock Holmes.
    Edvard Munch (1863-1944): Norwegian painter and printmaker; expressionist themes; The Scream.
    Henry Ford (1863–1947): American automobile pioneer and manufacturer.
    William Butler Yeats (1865–1939): Irish poet and dramatist; 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature;
    founder of Irish Academy of Letters, published Oxford Book of Verse.

    • Was this article helpful?