Introduction to the Romantic Period
By Catherine Hua
The Romantic period, which took place from 1820 to 1900, was part of the Romantic movement that occured as a reaction to the reason and rationality celebrated during the Enlightenment. The movement induced changes in the art, literature, music, and even politics of the era—feelings, freedom, and emotions were embraced over structure and rules. Poets, artists and musicians celebrated the awe of nature, the terror and strangeness of the supernatural, and the exotic qualities and limitlessness of the world around them.
Because the pieces reflected more of impulse and passion than of structure, they cannot easily be generalized into one style. However, as huge public showings in festivals and performances took place, giving rise to popular, gifted performers known as "virtuosos," composers created pieces not for aristocrats but for performance. As such, the pieces have a greater focus on melody, although not so much the careful weave of melodies of the Baroque period or the well-defined melody and harmony in the Classical period. Pieces of the Romantic period also featured much more chromatic modulation, which added tension and complexity.
Many of these pieces were written for the piano, which had become extremely popular. From etudes, which were meant to build technical skill, to stylized dances like the waltz and the mazurka. They also wrote many character pieces (short pieces with a single mood) such as nocturnes and ballades. At the same time, composers focused on the orchestra by writing concertos, overtures and suites. They added parts in their compositions to include more varieties of instruments, and even featured those instruments with solo sections.
For a large selection of short etudes, mazurkas, nocturnes and more, beginners should try Simply Chopin. Intermediate-level players should order Melodious Masterpieces Book 1, which includes numerous performance-ready pieces, most of which are from the Romantic period. The more advanced player at the late intermediate level will enjoy Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, which features twelve beautiful pieces written for each month of the year.