A Range of Romantics

The words 'romantic music' may be misleading.  Romantic composers like Chopin were not all hearts and flowers!

A Range of Romantics

Perhaps all music is essentially romantic ~ i.e. it engages the emotions as well as the intellect ~ but true Romanticism in the creative arts was getting into its swing about a couple of hundred years ago, around the time of the end of the Napoleonic Wars and as a 'counter' to the Industrial Revolution which was then hitting its stride. Much wonderful, accessible and memorable music came out of those times ~ how much of it do you know?

One of the giants of Romantic music (in terms of the size of his personality, the nature and scale of his output) was a French composer who was much taken with things Italian on his visit there ~ as in the 'Roman / Romanesque' element of the 'Romantic' label; he wrote a work for viola and orchestra, somewhere in between being a concerto for that instrument and a programmatic depiction of a journey around parts of Italy. Who was this composer?
Hector Berlioz
Gabriel Faure
Jules Massenet
Cesar Franck
Berlioz (also famous for his towering Symphonie Fantastique and Grande Messe des Morts) wrote Harold in Italy
Who became known and feted as 'the Poet of the Piano', just as that instrument was becoming popular in concert halls and domestic dwellings?
Robert Schumann
Franz Schubert
Franz Liszt
Frederic Chopin
With his Nocturnes, Ballades and moody versions of the dances of his native Poland, this was Chopin. In best Romantic fashion (though not of his own fault, and one would never have wished it upon him), he lost his strength and eventually his young life to TB ('consumption') as the archetypical Suffering Artist, but not before leaving a remarkable and enduring corpus of work. He also survived long enough to be the subject of early photographs, though these tend to show him more haggard than earlier portraits painted by artists in his younger and healthier days
Haydn wrote a very popular one; in the good old days of LP records (some fair while later than the composers!), another similar work would often feature on the other side of the disc, by the somewhat less well-known ~ but very genial and competent composer ~ Johann Nepomuk Hummel. What form of work was this?
Clarinet concerto
Trumpet concerto
Bassoon concerto
Viola concerto
If you know and love the Haydn but are not yet actively familiar with the Hummel, it is highly recommended in like vein. Given the level of energy and muscular concentration required to play this instrument, the concerti are both brief and to the point without leaving anyone feeling short-changed
Francois Joseph Nadermann (1781-1835) came from a family associated with a particular instrument and made it his life's study as a teacher, performer and composer. This instrument might quite fairly be regarded as at least as Romantic as any other; which instrument was it?
The organ
The concert harp
The piano
The flute
He left a wonderful collection of atmospheric music for this instrument
Earlier on we mentioned Chopin, one of whose most characteristic genres of piano pieces was the Nocturne (a 'night-piece', with obvious inherent potential for romantic evocation of darkness and dreams). The generic title was not Chopin's own invention, though he takes due credit for developing it and creating many rightly admired examples.
But who had 'beaten him to it' in starting off the Nocturne, as a form?
John Field, from Ireland
Wilhelm Bach, grandson of Johann Sebastian
Ignace Leybach
Felix Mendelssohn (-Bartholdy)
John Field (1782-1837) was a well-travelled musician who spent a lot of time in St Petersburg, among other places
This man was another of the Romantic archetypes of the virtuoso instrumentalist: alongside his prodigious technique ~ possibly helped by having unusually long fingers, and which aroused admiration, curiosity and probably jealousy ~ he had a reputation for addictive or compulsive behaviour, and there were even rumours that he had some form of pact with the Devil himself. Who was he?
Antonio Vivaldi
Nicolas Bochsa
Niccolo Paganini
Gioachino Rossini
There are various picaresque tales attached to him, and a film on this theme was made in the recent and suitably lugubrious year of 2013
This composer's name is less well-known, but he shared some crucial elements of personal background with that arch-Romantic Mendelssohn, and gave him what was probably a rather two-way piano lesson when Mendelssohn was just 15 years old. He encouraged Mendelssohn's musical and international initatives, and succeeded him as head of the Leipzig Conservatory on Mendelssohn's death in 1847. He is remembered, among some 142 works, for a series of wonderful piano concertos and various books of attractive and thorough studies.
Who was he?
Ignaz (b. Isaac) Moscheles
Anton Rubinstein
Joseph Joachim
J B Cramer
19th century music clearly owes him a great debt
Who is the odd one out here?
Gaetano Donizetti
Vincenzo Bellini
Giacomo Rossini
Antonio Rolla
Rolla's interests were in the stringed instruments; the other three were principally operatic composers
Music-making around the salon or parlour piano became a realistic aspiration or habit for many people in the Romantic period, with Chopin's piano pieces and the Mendelssohn Songs Without Words becoming particularly popular. Printed sheet music and reasonably reliable pianos were both within increasing reach of people in the growing middle classes as a result of technical progress in the Industrial Revolution (thanks to steam-driven printing presses and stronger steel string frames), even as such Romantic composers encouraged people to escape, at least temporarily and in their minds, from the pace and 'physicality' of just such technical advances.
Amateur vocalists were very happy to do their party-piece from an opera or operetta, and one particular such 'number' became thoroughly typical: I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls from The Bohemian Girl ... by ... ?
Adolphe Adam
Michael William Balfe
Otto Nicolai
Ambroise Thomas
These are all good and genuine opera composers of those days, but the 'hit' was definitely Balfe's
This French Romantic composer is possibly best-remembered for interpolating a vocal line on top of Bach's Prelude in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, to the words of the Ave Maria. He wrote plenty of other music himself including opera, oratorio, ballet, masses, songs and chamber music; Funeral March of a Marionette is a well-known, wistfully amusing and well-crafted example of his style as an instrumental miniaturist.
Who was he?
Gabriel Pierne
Louis Vierne
Cesar Franck
Charles Gounod
... though if you do (or would) enjoy French Romantic music and haven't explored much further down the alphabet than Berlioz, Bizet, Debussy and Faure, these others are ~ gently yet firmly ~ recommended!


Author:  Ian Miles

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