Romantic Era Composers: Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovsky & More

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  • 0:05 What Was the Romantic Era?
  • 0:28 Early Romantic Era Composers
  • 1:42 Middle Romantic Era Composers
  • 4:12 Later Romantic Era Composers
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alisha Nypaver

Alisha is a college music educator specializing in historic and world music studies.

This lesson is like a 'Who's Who' of Romantic era composers. Learn about some of the most influential composers of European Romantic era and what makes them noteworthy.

What Was the Romantic Era?

The Romantic era was a European artistic movement that spanned the 19th century. Music of this era was exciting, passionate, and full of life, as were the composers who created it. This era championed individualism and innovation, and each composer wrote highly-acclaimed music in their preferred genres that is still popular with audiences today.

Early Romantic Era Composers

Ludwig van Beethoven bridged the gap between 18th and 19th century styles of music. His fiery passion is reflected in his powerful and evocative music. Beethoven's best-known works include the Moonlight Sonata, Für Elise, Ode to Joy, and his Fifth Symphony, all of which he wrote after he began to suffer from severe tinnitus, a condition that eventually caused total deafness. Despite this ailment, Beethoven continued to compose amazing works. After his death, he was idolized as a musical genius by later Romantic era composers.

Franz Schubert was like a 19th-century Billy Joel who is best remembered as a prolific songwriter whose career was cut short by an early death from syphilis. His favorite genre was lieder, which just means 'songs' in German, but is used in classical music to refer to German songs from the Romantic period for the piano and voice. Schubert loved to sing his lieder while accompanying himself on the piano at musical parties called 'Schubertiades'. In addition to writing over 600 lieder, he also composed many instrumental works, including his famously 'Unfinished Symphony'.

Middle Romantic Era Composers

Franz Liszt was a piano virtuoso who showed off his skills on trans-European concert tours. A fabulous performer, Liszt really knew how to work a crowd, incorporating flashy hand movements to dazzle his audiences and often tossing handkerchiefs and gloves to the crowd for fans to fight over. He was very popular, and started a craze nicknamed Lisztomania that swept Europe. As a composer, Liszt's music helped to form the New German School of music, which featured expanded musical forms and new harmonies. He also did a number of transcriptions, rewriting orchestral music so that it could be played on the piano.

Unlike Liszt, Frederic Chopin was very shy and hated to perform in public. Almost all of the music he wrote consists of short, one-movement works called character pieces that were created for home performance on the piano. Born and raised in Poland, Chopin used his music to support nationalistic sentiments that were sweeping Europe by incorporating Polish folk tune idioms into his compositions, which can be heard in his mazurkas and polonaises.

Giuseppe Verdi is known mainly for his operas. Several of his more catchy opera songs can be heard today outside the opera house in commercials, movies, and other pop culture reference media. These include 'La donna e mobile' from Rigoletto and 'the brindisi (drinking song)' from La Traviata.

Like Chopin, Verdi was also a nationalist. He used his opera music to help fuel the Risorgimento, an Italian political movement that sought to unify Italy. Verdi played an important role in Italian nationalism. Even today, Verdi's chorus 'Va pensiero' from his opera Nabucco is often regarded as the unofficial national anthem of Italy.

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