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Nationalism and Exoticism

Composers used music as a tool for highlighting national identity. * Instrumental composers such as Bedrich Smetana made reference to folk music and national images (as in The Moldau), while operatic composers such as Giuseppe Verdi set stories with strong patriotic undercurrents. Composers took an interest in the music of various ethnic groups and incorporated it into their own music. Composers also wrote works based on stories of exotic lands and people.


Increased Interest in Nature and the Supernatural

Romantic artists saw nature in a less idealized way than the artists of the Classical period had. * The natural world was considered less a model of perfection and more a source of mysterious powers. * Romantic composers gravitated toward supernatural texts and stories. Schubert's Erlking and Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique are two good examples.

The Rise of Program Music

Music began to be used to tell stories, or to imply meaning beyond the purely musical. * Composers found ways to make their musical ideas represent people, things, and dramatic situations as well as emotional states and even philosophical ideas.

Changing Status of Musicians

A composer was no longer dependent for income on the steady employment by nobility but relied instead on the support of the public and the patronage of individuals. Music was seen less as an occupation and more as a calling. Specialized training institutions (conservatories) replaced the apprentice system of the church and the court. Women found more opportunities for musical expression, especially as performers, but social and cultural barriers still limited their participation as composers.


The nineteenth century saw the development of many different musical styles, so it is difficult to describe the Romantic style. But as in all the periods you are studying, certain elements stand out: Dynamic range is wider, and there is a larger range of sound. There is a greater variety of instruments, including improved or newly-invented wind instruments. Melodies are longer, more dramatic and emotional. Tempos are more extreme, and tempo rubato is often called for. Harmonies are fuller, often more dissonant. Formal structures are expanded. These are often determined by the programmatic content of the piece.