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Romanticism was a secular and intellectual movement in the history of ideas that originated in late 18th century Western Europe. It followed the Enlightenment period and was in part inspired by a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the previous period, as well as a reaction against the rationalization of nature by the Enlightenment: Romanticism is an aspect of what has been called the Counter-Enlightenment. It stressed strong emotion (which now might include trepidation, awe, and horror as aesthetic experiences), legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority (which permitted freedom within or from classical notions of form in art), and overturned some previous social conventions. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability in the representation of its ideas. Romanticism stressed the awe of "nature" in art and language and the experience of sublimity through a connection with nature. An influence upon the Romantic movement by the ideologies and events of the French Revolution is thought to have characterized the movement. Romanticism is also noted for its elevation of the achievements of what it perceived as misunderstood heroic individuals and artists that altered society altogether.


In a general sense, Romanticism refers to several distinct groups of artists, poets, writers, musicians, political, philosophical and social thinkers and trends of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. Generally speaking, this movement is typically characterized by its reaction against the Enlightenment; whereas the Enlightenment emphasized the primacy of reason, Romanticism emphasized imagination and feeling. Rather than an epistemology of deduction, the Romantics demonstrated elements of knowledge through intuition. But a precise characterization and a specific description of Romanticism have been objects of intellectual history and literary history for all of the twentieth century without any great measure of consensus emerging. Arthur Lovejoy attempted to demonstrate the difficulty of this problem in his seminal article "On The Discrimination of Romanticisms" in his Essays in the History of Ideas (1948); some scholars see romanticism as completely continuous with the present, some see it as the inaugural moment of modernity, some see it as the beginning of a tradition of resistance to the Enlightenment, and still others date it firmly in the direct aftermath of the French Revolution.

Romanticism and music

In general the term "Romanticism" when applied to music has come to mean the period roughly from the 1820s until 1910. The contemporary application of "romantic" to music did not coincide with modern categories: in 1810 E.T.A. Hoffmann called Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven the three "Romantic Composers", and Ludwig Spohr used the term "good Romantic style" to apply to parts of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. By the early 20th century, the sense that there had been a decisive break with the musical past lead to the establishment of the 19th century as "The Romantic Era", and as such it is referred to in the standard encyclopedias of music. However the 20th century use of the term 'romanticism' amongst music writers and historians did not evolve in the same way as it did amongst literary and visual arts theorists, so that there now often exists a serious disjunction between the concept of romanticism in music and in the other arts. Whereas the latter may tend to consider romanticism in terms of the 'alienation' of the artist, and the value of art for art's sake, such concepts are only gradually creeping into musicology, where there is still considerable confusion between 'music of Romanticism' and the less definable, (perhaps somewhat redundant,) category of 'music of the Romantic Era'. The 'traditional' discussion of the music of Romanticism indeed includes elements , such as the growing use of folk music, which are more directly related to Nationalism and are only indirectly related to Romanticism. Some aspects of Romanticism are indeed already present in eighteenth-century music. The style of Sturm und Drang, giving heightened contrasts and emotions, seems a precursor of the Gothic in literature, or the sanguinary elements of some of the operas of the period of the French Revolution. The libretti of Lorenzo da Ponte for Mozart, and the eloquent music the latter wrote for them, convey a new sense of individuality and freedom. In Beethoven, perhaps the first incarnation since the Renaissance of the artist as hero, the concept of the Romantic musician begins to reveal itself - the man who, after all, morally challenged the Emperor Napoleon himself by striking him out from the dedication of the Eroica Symphony. In Beethoven's Fidelio he creates the apotheosis of the 'rescue operas' which were another feature of French musical culture during the revolutionary period, in order to hymn the freedom which underlay the thinking of all radical artists in the years of hope after the Congress of Vienna. Beethoven's use of tonal architecture in such a way as to allow significant expansion of musical forms and structures was immediately recognised as bringing a new dimension to music. The later piano music and quartets, especially, showed the way to a completely unexplored musical universe. The writer, critic (and composer) Hoffmann was able to write of the supremacy of instrumental music over vocal music in expressiveness, a concept which would previously have been regarded as absurd. Hoffmann himself, as a practitioner both of music and literature, encouraged the notion of thinking of music as 'programmatic' or telling a story - an idea which new audiences found attractive, however irritating it was to some composers (e.g. Felix Mendelssohn). New developments in instrumental technology in the early nineteenth century - iron frames for pianos, wound metal strings for string instruments - enabled louder dynamics, more varied tone colours, and the potential for sensational virtuosity. Such developments swelled the length of pieces, introduced programatic titles, and created new genres such as the free standing overture or tone-poem, the piano fantasy, nocturne and rhapsody, and the virtuoso concerto, which became central to musical Romanticism. In opera a new Romantic atmosphere combining supernatural terror and melodramatic plot in a folkloric context was most successfully achieved by Weber's Der Freisch?tz (1817, 1821). Enriched timbre and color marked the early orchestration of Hector Berlioz in France, and the grand operas of Meyerbeer. Amongst the radical fringe of what became mockingly characterised (adopting Wagner's own words) as 'artists of the future', Liszt and Wagner each embodied the Romantic cult of the free, inspired, charismatic, perhaps ruthlessly unconventional individual "artistic" personality. It is the period of 1815 to 1848 which must be regarded as the true age of Romanticism in music - the age of the last compositions of Beethoven (d. 1827) and Schubert (d. 1828), of the works of Schumann (d. 1856) and Chopin (d.1849), of the early struggles of Berlioz and Richard Wagner, of the great virtuosi such as Paganini (d. 1840), and the young Liszt and Thalberg. Now that we are able to listen to the work of Mendelssohn (d. 1847) stripped of the Biedermeier reputation unfairly attached to it, he can also be placed in this more appropriate context. After this period, with Chopin and Paganini dead, Liszt retired from the concert platform at a minor German court, Wagner effectively in exile until he obtained royal patronage in Bavaria, and Berlioz still struggling with the bourgeois liberalism which all but smothered radical artistic endeavour in Europe, 'Romanticism in music' was surely past its prime - giving way, rather, to the period of musical romantics.

Music after the romantic heyday

Romantic nationalism, the argument that each "nation" had a unique individual quality that would be expressed in laws, customs, language, logic, and the arts, found an increasing following after 1848. Some of these ideals, linked to liberal politics, had been exemplified in Beethoven's antipathy to Napoleon's adoption of the title of Emperor, and can be traced through to the musical patriotism of Schumann, Verdi, and others. For these composers and their successors the nation itself became a new and worthy theme of music. Some composers sought to produce or take part in a "school" of music for their own nations, in parallel with the establishment of national literature. Many composers would take inspiration from the poetic nationalism present in their homeland. This is evident in the writings of Richard Wagner, especially after 1850, but can be clearly seen in Russia, where the 'Kuchka' (handful) of nationalist composers gathered around Balakirev, including Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov. These composers were concerned about the enormous influence of German music in Russia, and they largely resented the founding of the conservatoires in Moscow and St. Petersburg by the brothers Nikolai and Anton Rubinstein, which they believed would be Trojan horses for German musical culture. (In fact however Russian 'romantic' music is today now closely identified with Anton's favourite pupil, Tchaikovsky). This movement continued forward through into the 20th century with composers such as Jean Sibelius, although nationalism found a new musical expression in study of folk-song which was to be a key element in the development of Bart?k, Ralph Vaughan Williams and others. Labels like 'Late Romantic' and 'Post-Romantic' are sometimes used to link disparate composers of various nationalities, such as Jean Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Samuel Barber and Ralph Vaughan Williams, all of whom lived into the middle of the 20th century. See Romantic period in music. The conscious 'Modernisms' of the 20th century all found roots in reactions to Romanticism, increasingly seen as not realistic enough, even not brutal enough, for a new technological age. Yet Arnold Schoenberg's later spare style had its roots in rich freely chromatic atonal music evolving from his late Romantic style works, for example the giant polychromatic orchestration of Gurrelieder; and Stravinsky's originally controverisal ballets for Diaghilev seem to us far less controversial today when we can understand their descent from Rimsky-Korsakov.

Art and literature

In art and literature, 'Romanticism' typically refers to the late 18th century and the 19th Century. The British poet James Macpherson influenced the early development of Romanticism with the international success of his Ossian cycle of poems published in 1762, inspiring both Goethe and the young Walter Scott. An early German influence came from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe whose 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther had young men throughout Europe emulating its protagonist, a young artist with a very sensitive and passionate temperament. At that time Germany was a multitude of small separate states, and Goethe's works would have a seminal influence in developing a unifying sense of nationalism. Important writers of early German romanticism were Ludwig Tieck, Novalis (Heinrich von Ofterdingen, 1799) and Friedrich Hoelderlin. Heidelberg later became a center of German romanticism, where writers and poets such as Clemens Brentano, Achim von Arnim and Joseph von Eichendorff met regularly in literary circles. Since the Romanticists opposed Enlightenment, they often focused on emotions and dreams (vs. rationalism) in their works. Other important motives in German Romanticism are travelling, nature and ancient myths. The late German Romanticism (of, for example, E.T.A. Hoffmann's Der Sandmann - The Sandman, 1817, and Eichendorff's Das Marmorbild - The Marble Statue, 1819) was somewhat darker in its motives and has some gothic elements. Romanticism in British literature developed in a different form slightly later, mostly associated with the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose co-authored book "Lyrical Ballads" (1798) sought to reject Augustan poetry in favour of more direct speech derived from folk traditions. Both poets were also involved in Utopian social thought in the wake of the French Revolution. The poet and painter William Blake is the most extreme example of the Romantic sensibility in Britain, epitomised by his claim 'I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's'. Blake's artistic work is also strongly influenced by Medieval illuminated books. The painters J.M.W. Turner and John Constable are also generally associated with Romanticism. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats constitute another phase of Romanticism in Britain. The historian Thomas Carlyle and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood represent the last phase of transformation into Victorian culture. William Butler Yeats, born in 1865, referred to his generation as "the last romantics." In Roman Catholic countries Romanticism was less pronounced than in Protestant Germany and Britain, and tended to develop later, after the rise of Napoleon. In France, Romanticism is associated with the 19th century, particularly in the paintings of Th?odore G?ricault and Eug?ne Delacroix, the plays and novels of Victor Hugo (such as Les Mis?rables and Ninety-Three), and the novels of Stendhal. The composer Hector Berlioz is also important. In Russia, the principal exponent of Romanticism is Alexander Pushkin. Mikhail Lermontov attempted to analyse and bring to light the deepest reasons for the Romantic idea of metaphysical discontent with society and self, and was much influenced by Lord Byron. The poet Fyodor Tiutchev was also an important figure of the movement in Russia, and was heavily influenced by the German Romantics. Romanticism played an essential role in the national awakening of many Central European peoples lacking their own national states, particularly in Poland, which had recently lost its independence to Russia when its army crushed the Polish Rebellion under the reactionary Nicholas I. Revival of ancient myths, customs and traditions by Romanticist poets and painters helped to distinguish their indigenous cultures from those of the dominant nations (Russians, Germans, Austrians, Turks, etc.). Patriotism, Nationalism, revolution and armed struggle for independence also became popular themes in the arts of this period. Arguably, the most distinguished Romanticist poet of this part of Europe was Adam Mickiewicz, who developed an idea that Poland was the Messiah of Nations, predestined to suffer just as Jesus had suffered to save all the people. In the United States, the romantic gothic makes an early appearance with Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1819), followed from 1823 onwards by the fresh Leatherstocking tales of James Fenimore Cooper, with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and their fervent landscape descriptions of an already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by "noble savages", similar to the philosophical theory of Rousseau, like Uncas, "The Last of the Mohicans". There are picturesque elements in Washington Irving's essays and travel books. Edgar Allan Poe's tales of the macabre and his balladic poetry were more influential in France than at home, but the romantic American novel is fully developed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's atmosphere and melodrama. Later Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson still show elements of its influence, as does the romantic realism of Walt Whitman. But by the 1880s, psychological and social realism was competing with romanticism. The poetry which Americans wrote and read was all romantic until the 1920s: Poe and Hawthorne, as well as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poetry of Emily Dickinson – nearly unread in her own time – and Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick can be taken as the epitomes of American Romantic literature, or as successors to it. Novels written during this time such as Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick evoked a more realistic, and sometimes deeply psychological and philosophical, view of the world as opposed to the very early romantic tales from the Middle Ages, such as The Green Knight, that used magical occurrences and enchanted lands as literary devices while giving little recognition and descriptive detail to the actual realistic difficulties faced by characters in such works. As elsewhere (England, Germany, France), literary Romanticism had its counterpart in the visual arts, most especially in the exaltation of untamed America found in the paintings of the Hudson River School. In the 20th Century Russian-American writer Ayn Rand called herself a romantic, and thought she might be a 'bridge' from the romantic era to an eventual esthetic rebirth of the movement. She wrote a book called The Romantic Manifesto and called her own approach Romantic realism. A Romantic heroine: in The Lady of Shalott(1888) John William Waterhouse's realistic technique depicts a neo-medieval subject drawn from Arthurian Romance Enlarge A Romantic heroine: in The Lady of Shalott(1888) John William Waterhouse's realistic technique depicts a neo-medieval subject drawn from Arthurian Romance


One of Romanticism's key ideas and most enduring legacies is the assertion of nationalism, which became a central theme of Romantic art and political philosophy. From the earliest parts of the movement, with their focus on development of national languages and folklore, and the importance of local customs and traditions, to the movements which would redraw the map of Europe and lead to calls for "self-determination" of nationalities, nationalism was one of the key vehicles of Romanticism, its role, expression and meaning. Early Romantic nationalism was strongly inspired by Rousseau, and by the ideas of Johann Gottfried von Herder, who in 1784 argued that the geography formed the natural economy of a people, and shaped their customs and society. The nature of nationalism changed dramatically, however, after the French Revolution, with the rise of Napoleon, and the reactions in other nations. Napoleonic nationalism and republicanism were, at first, inspirational to movements in other nations: self-determination and a "consciousness" of national unity were held to be two of the reasons why France was able to defeat other countries in battle. But as the French Republic became Napoleon's Empire, Napoleon became not the inspiration for nationalism, but the object of it. In Prussia, the development of spiritual renewal as a means to engage in the struggle against Napoleon was argued by, among others, Johann Gottlieb Fichte a disciple of Kant. The word Volkstum, or nationality, was coined in German as part of this resistance to the now conquering emperor. Fichte expressed the unity of language and nation in his address "To the German Nation" in 1806: Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself, long before any human art begins; they understand each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly; they belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole. ...Only when each people, left to itself, develops and forms itself in accordance with its own peculiar quality, and only when in every people each individual develops himself in accordance with that common quality, as well as in accordance with his own peculiar quality—then, and then only, does the manifestation of divinity appear in its true mirror as it ought to be.

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