Characteristics of Romantic Music

Romantic music is a type of orchestral music that was popularized in 19th-century Europe, coming about after a shift in culture. Composers took many elements from their predecessors and added an intense emotional connection to it. Not only had the feeling of the music changed, the size and range of the orchestra had also evolved, with new instruments added and sections expanded.


When a new type of music starts to become present in culture, it's usually as a result of some sort of rebellion against the previously popular styles of music. Romantic music is different from that. In fact, romantic music borrowed many ideas in terms of form and rules exemplified by classical music, which preceded it. The major difference was the approach in attitude that the composers took toward it. Composers began to focus less on a piece being easy to listen to and more toward conveying an emotion or attitude. The height of the romantic period began around the time of Beethoven's death in 1827 and ended around the time of Mahler's death in 1911. However, romantic music was created before 1827 even by Beethoven himself and continues to be created today.


Romantic music was created with a little more freedom in its form. Composers wrote their pieces to appeal more to personality and emotions rather than fitting in more of a structured form within boundaries. The melodies are more chromatic and significantly more lyrical and song-like than any of its other orchestral counterparts. Sharp contrasts in dynamics were also introduced within the genre to convey the broader range of emotions.

The Orchestra

The size of the standard orchestra increased dramatically during the Romantic period. Valves had been invented for brass instruments and therefore they became more flexible. Tubas were also added to the brass section of the orchestra. For woodwind instruments, the piccolo, cor anglais, bass clarinet and double bassoon were added. More diverse percussion instruments were starting to be called for within pieces as well. Not to be left out, the strings section had expanded drastically to keep up with the growth of the other sections.


There are many famous composers who created Romantic music. Some of the most famous are Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Chopin, Wagner, Verdi, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Strauss. Ludwig von Beethoven, who is considered to have written classical music in the earlier part of his life, composed romantic music later in his life. In fact, most of Beethoven's most famous music is classified as romantic.


In the 19th century, Europeans were beginning to get a stronger sense of national identity. In Germany and Italy, especially, the people were starting to feel a greater pride for their nation. As the ideas of nationalism spread, so did the changes in music. Romantic music showed this change differently, depending on the region in which the music was created. Local dance rhythms, folk tunes and native instruments were used to tell the stories of local heroes or major local events in many different countries, further rallying the support of the people for their respective nations.