The Romantic period covers artistic contributions from the 1800s to the early 1900s. The music of this period came from some of the best-known and most memorable composers, including Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner and the later works of Ludwig van Beethoven. This period included a number of instruments that took precedence over previous musical styles. Keyboarding instruments had dominated previous eras of music. Yet, while the organ and harpsichord lost some of their popularity during the Romantic period, orchestras of the period still used these instruments.
In the periods before the Romantic period, including the Classical era, the harpsichord and organ dominated most musical works with light, soft sounds. In the Romantic period, these instruments diminished in popularity and the piano took their place.
According to the ThinkQuest website, the piano provided a number of advantages over the organ and harpsichord. The piano could play both loud and soft music, while the organ and harpsichord tended toward one or the other. The piano also offered an opportunity for musicians to change tone in the song, which the other instruments could not do. These new features allowed musicians to express a wide range of abilities and new styles, and Romantic period musicians flocked to this instrument and the new opportunities it represented.
According to the Connexions website, the Industrial Revolution sweeping the world during the Romantic period had an important effect on music at the time. Industrialization led to improvements in mechanical and metal pieces such as the valves and keys used in instruments.
Though woodwinds had always been a part of the orchestra, woodwind sections in the Romantic period grew with the improvements in instrumentation. These larger sections included at least two bassoons, oboes, flutes and clarinets; previous orchestras may have featured only one or even none of these woodwinds.
Romantic woodwind sections also added new instruments to the mix, including the piccolo and English horn. These sections also featured variations on traditional woodwind instruments, including contrabassoons and bass clarinets.
Although orchestras had always used the timpani, a small drum made of a copper bowl and calfskin drumhead, the percussion section expanded during the Romantic period. Some orchestras relegated the organ and harpsichord to this section. Musicians also started using bass drums, gongs, cymbals, bells, chimes and other percussion instruments that added to the variety and invention that characterized the Romantic period. The piano, when not used as a solo instrument, could be part of the percussion section of an orchestra, as the instrument functions as a percussion instrument.
As technological innovations lead to brass instruments with valves, the brass section of the Romantic period orchestra increased in size and scope. The brass section includes trumpets, horns, trombones and tubas.
Although the Romantic period did not bring many innovations in the string family, the string section in orchestras grew larger to balance out the sound from the larger woodwind and brass sections. This string section was still the largest section in the orchestra. While pianos and drums allowed for innovation and artistic license, the strings provided the basis of much of the orchestra's sound.
String instruments include violins, viola, cello and stringed bass, also known as double bass. Harp is another string instrument used in orchestras of the period.
Samantha Volz has been involved in journalistic and informative writing for over eight years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a minor in European history. In college she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completed a professional internship with the "Williamsport Sun-Gazette," serving as a full-time reporter. She resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania.