The Romantic Composers

Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Austrian composer, whose songs are among the masterpieces of that genre and whose instrumental works reflect a Classical heritage as well as looking forward to 19th-century Romanticism.
Schubert was born on January 31, 1797, in Vienna. The son of a pious schoolmaster, he became a choirboy and began studies at the school for court singers. He played violin in the school orchestra. His earliest works are some songs. When his voice broke in 1813, Schubert began teaching in his father's school. The following year, he wrote his first opera which had never been popular at all. In the same years he also wrote his first Mass, in F major; and 17 songs. In 1815 Schubert completed his second and third symphonies and wrote two masses, in G and B-flat major, other sacred works, some chamber music, and 146 songs, including “Erlkönig” (Erl King), based on a mythological figure of death. That year, he also worked on five operas, that he could never complete. In 1816 he wrote his Symphony in C Minor, known as the Tragic Symphony (No. 4), the Symphony in B-flat Major (No. 5), additional sacred music, an opera, and more than 100 songs. About this time Schubert gave up teaching, devoting himself exclusively to composition. Not a success with the general public during his lifetime, Schubert was recognized as a composer of genius by a small circle of friends, among them the poets, playwrights and the singers.
He also composed sacred music such as the Twenty-third Psalm and the unfinished oratorio Lazarus. A group of his songs was published in 1821. In 1822 he wrote the Symphony in B Minor (No. 8), known as the Unfinished Symphony, and the Mass in A-flat. His song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin (The Miller's Beautiful Daughter) was composed in 1823. For the next two years Schubert wrote constantly, producing the Symphony in C Major (No. 9), known as The Great in 1825, and the song cycle Die Winterreise (Winter's Journey) in 1827. Some of his last works were published after his death under the title “Swan Song”. Schubert died on November 19, 1828, of typhoid fever.
Schubert's early instrumental works, which follow the patterns used by Mozart and Haydn, are marked as Romantic by a new sonority and a harmonic and melodic richness. In his early piano sonatas, Schubert worked to free himself from the influence of Beethoven.
Schubert's instrumental works show development over a long period of time, but some of his greatest songs were composed before he was 20 years old. In Schubert's songs the literary and musical elements are perfectly balanced, matched on the same intellectual and emotional level. Although Schubert composed impressive songs throughout his career, he did not follow set patterns but accomplished bold and free forms when the text demanded it. His reputation as the father of German Lieder (“art songs”) rests on a body of more than 600 songs.
Lied is a song based on a poem sung by a vocal soloist and accompanied by piano. The piano part reflects the mood of the poem in a dramatic way.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), German composer, one of the leading figures of early 19th-century European Romanticism. Born Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy on February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, he was the grandson of the noted Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. (The name Bartholdy was added to his surname when the family inherited property from a relative of that name, but he was always known by his original name.) As a child he converted with his family to Protestant Christianity. Mendelssohn first appeared in public as a pianist at the age of 9 and performed his first original compositions when 11 years old. His masterly overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream was composed at the age of 17; the famous “Wedding March” and the rest of his incidental music to the play were written 17 years later.
A revival of public interest in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach was directly attributable to Mendelssohn, who in 1829 found the musical material of St Matthew Passion in a butcher’s shop and conducted the first performance of it within three months.
Mendelssohn appeared as a pianist and conductor throughout Europe, making frequent trips to England, where he was a favourite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He was musical director for the city of Düsseldorf (1833-1835), conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig (from 1835), and musical director to King Frederick William IV of Prussia (from 1841). In 1842 he helped to organize the Leipzig Conservatory. He suffered a physical collapse at the death of his favourite sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (one of the female composers in the history of music known to us) and died a few months later in Leipzig on November 4, 1847.
In spite of an enormously active schedule as pianist, conductor, and teacher, Mendelssohn was a fertile composer. With his symphonies we enter into the geograpihcal realm. Of his five symphonies, the best known are the Italian Symphony (1833) and the Scotch Symphony (1843). His organ and choral music is among the best of the 19th century and includes, for choir and orchestra, his oratorios, cantatas are important works. His organ works constituted the most important addition to the organ repertoire since the works of J. S. Bach. Also important are the Variations sérieuses (1841) for piano; his concert overtures, including The Fingal’s Cave Overture (1832); his concertos for violin (1844) and for piano (1837); and the eight volumes of Songs Without Words for piano.
His Romanticism shows most clearly in his use of orchestral colour and in his fondness for programme music depicting places, events, or personalities. Structurally, Mendelssohn's music attaches to classical forms. It is lyrical and graceful, and in a harmonic idiom that places him among the more conservative composers of his time
Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), Italian violonist and composer. The son of a dockyard worker. He is regarded as the greatest of all violin virtuosos. Composed very difficult pieces according to his own talent. His Mephistophelean appearance led to stories that his virtuosity stemmed from demon-like powers. His legendary pact with the Devil ensured that he could not be buried in consecrated ground, and his body continued to be moved aronud until 1926. He composed 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violine, 3 violin concertos, chamber works and works for guitar.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856), German composer, a principal figure of the early Romantic movement in 19th-century music. Schumann was born on June 8, 1810, in Zwickau, Saxony, and educated at the universities of Leipzig and Heidelberg. The son of a bookseller, he early became absorbed in literature, particularly that of the German Romantic writers. In 1830 he abandoned the study of law in order to devote himself to music. He studied piano with the German teacher Friedrich Wieck, but a permanent injury to one of his fingers forced him to abandon the career of pianist. He then turned to composition and the writing of musical essays. In 1834, in an attempt to fight what he saw as the artistic philistinism (uncultured, anti-intellectual) of the time, he founded the music journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which he edited until 1844. Schumann married the pianist Clara Josephine Wieck, the daughter of his former teacher, in 1840. As Clara Schumann, one of the emminent pianists of history of music, she became a major exponent of his piano works. In 1843 Schumann was appointed to the faculty of the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory, but finding himself temperamentally unsuited to teaching, he soon resigned. In 1850 he was appointed town music director of Düsseldorf; advancing mental illness, which had threatened him since adolescence, forced him to resign in 1854. That same year Schumann attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhen river and was confined to an asylum near Bonn, where he died on July 29, 1856.
One of the most typical of Romantic composers, Schumann characterized himself in two imaginary figures, the forceful Florestan and the poetic Eusebius, whose names he signed to his critical articles and whose musical portraits he drew in his piano suite Carnaval (1834-1835). During 1840, following his marriage after years of opposition from Clara's father, he achieved what is generally considered his greatest work when he suddenly turned to writing songs. In that year he composed 138 songs.
Schumann's piano works are largely musical expressions of literary themes and moods. With the exception of the Fantasy in C Major (1836) and Études Symphoniques (1854), his finest piano compositions consist of cycles of short pieces in which a single lyrical idea is brought to completion within a small framework. In addition to Carnaval, these include Butterflies, (1831), Scenes from Childhood, (1838), Kreisleriana (1838), and Album for the Young, (1848). Although Schumann rarely achieved in his larger works the unity of form found in his songs and piano pieces, they do contain much that is beautiful and dramatic. This is particularly true of the First Symphony (1841), Piano Quintet (1842), Piano Concerto (1845), Second Symphony (1846), and Piano Trio (1847). The Fourth Symphony has an innovative form in which the four movements are linked and play continuously. He also wrote an unsuccessful opera, Genoveva (1848).
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), Polish composer and pianist of the Romantic school, regarded by some as one of the greatest composers of piano music.
Born March 4, 1810, near Warsaw, of a French father and a Polish mother, Chopin began to study the piano at the age of four and when eight years old played at a private concert in Warsaw. Later he studied harmony and counterpoint at the Warsaw Conservatory. He was precocious also as a composer; his first published composition is dated 1817. He gave his first concerts as a piano virtuoso in 1829 in Vienna, where he lived for the next two years. After 1831 he lived in Paris, where he became noted as a pianist, teacher, and composer. He formed an intimate relationship in 1837 with the French writer George Sand. In 1838 Chopin began to suffer from tuberculosis and she nursed him in Majorca in the Balearic Islands and in France until continued differences between the two resulted in separation in 1847. Thereafter his musical activity was limited to giving several concerts. He died in Paris on October 17, 1849, of tuberculosis.
Nearly all of Chopin's compositions are for piano. Although an expatriate, he was deeply loyal to his war-torn homeland; his mazurkas reflect the rhythms and melodic traits of Polish folk music, and his polonaises are marked by a heroic spirit. The influence of Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini can also be heard in his melodies. (Bellini was an inventor of beautiful melodies). His ballades, scherzos, and études (studies, each testing a particular aspect of piano technique) exemplify his large-scale works for solo piano. His music, romantic and lyrical in nature, is characterized by wonderful melody of great originality, refined—often adventurous—harmony, subtle rhythm, and poetic beauty. Chopin's many published compositions include 55 mazurkas, 27 études, 24 preludes, 19 nocturnes, 13 polonaises, and 3 piano sonatas. Among his other works are Concertos in E minor and in F minor, a cello sonata, and 17 songs.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), French composer, and conductor, who was a principal force in the development of 19th-century musical Romanticism. Berlioz was born in La Côte-Saint-André on December 11, 1803, and was originally educated in medicine in Paris. Abandoning medicine, he studied music from 1823 to 1825 at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1830 he won the Prix de Rome which was (and still is) the most important price for the composers where they spend one year in Rome as a reward. He toured the Continent and Great Britain several times as a conductor and also wrote musical criticism.
Berlioz's position in 19th-century music is that of an influential figure, directly influencing symphonic form and the use of the orchestra as well as musical aesthetics; to many he exemplifies the Romantic image of the composer as artist. He laboured ceaselessly to promote the new music of his time. Forced to train orchestras to meet the demands of this music, he educated a generation of musicians and became the first virtuoso conductor. His Symphonie fantastique (1831) created an aesthetic revolution by its integral use of a literary programme (inspired by his fascination for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson), and established programme music as a dominant Romantic orchestral genre. In this work and in Harold in Italy (1834), for viola and orchestra, his use and transformation of a recurrent theme (the ideé fixe, or fixed idea) foreshadowed the genre termed symphonic poem by the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt; the genre was developed by many notable composers such as Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, who developed the idea known as Leitmotiv in German, to an enormous extent in his music dramas, in which each character and concept in the drama was given its own Leitmotiv, a musical label.
Among his most important works is the monumental opera The Trojans (1859), in which his Romanticism is infused with Classical control. Other works include the symphony with chorus Roméo et Juliette (1838), the cantata The Damnation of Faust (1846), the requiem mass Grande messe des morts (1837), the oratorio, The Childhood of Christ, (1854), and the “The Roman Carnival Overture (1844). Berlioz died in Paris on March 8, 1869.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Hungarian-born pianist and composer, originator of the solo piano recital and, through his network of pupils, the most influential pianist of the 19th century. Also he is the creator of the genre called, Symphonic Poem.
Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, near Sopron in Hungary. He studied the piano first with his father, then with the Austrian pianist Carl Czerny in Vienna, where he also studied theory with the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. In 1823 he moved with his parents to Paris, where he soon established himself as a pianist. Residing in Paris for 12 years, Liszt knew many of the city's intellectuals, including composers such as Berlioz and Chopin and, among many literary acquaintances, the novelist and poet Victor Hugo, the poet Alphonse de Lamartine, and the German poet Heinrich Heine. His connections with the Italian violin virtuoso Nicolò Paganini particularly inspired him to establish the same, “transcendental” level of technique for the piano that Paganini had for the violin. In 1833 Liszt met the French countess Marie d'Agoult, known as a writer under the pen name Daniel Stern. They formed a liaison that endured until 1844, and they had three children, one of whom, Cosima, became the wife of the German conductor Hans von Bülow and later of the German composer Richard Wagner.
From 1839 to 1847 Liszt toured Europe from Lisbon to Moscow and from Dublin to Istanbul, rising to a degree of fame first-time for a performing artist. In 1847, however, he abandoned his career as a virtuoso, rarely playing in public again. The same year he met the Russian princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, who remained his closest, most influential companion for the rest of his life. From 1848 to 1861 he was musical director at the grand ducal court at Weimar, giving performances of works by Berlioz, Wagner, and others, as well as his own.
Departing from Weimar in 1861, Liszt for nearly ten years resided chiefly in Rome, where he studied theology and became a lay cleric (almost a priest). After 1871, dividing his time between Rome, Weimar, and Budapest, he continued to conduct, teach, compose, and to promote the music of Wagner. He died in Bayreuth, Germany, on July 31, 1886, during the Wagner Festival there.
Liszt was one of the most remarkable personalities of his time. Aside from his achievements as pianist and conductor, Liszt taught more than 400 pupils, turned out some 350 compositions, and wrote or collaborated on 8 volumes of prose, not counting his correspondence. He also made more than 200 piano arrangements and transcriptions of works by other composers, whose music he wished to advance.
Liszt was one of the 19th century's harmonic innovators, especially in his use of complex, chromatic (half-tone) chords. His compositions for the piano inaugurated a revolutionary, difficult playing technique that gave to the piano an extraordinary variety of textures and sonorities. Among his well-known works for the piano are the 12 Transcendental Etudes (1851), the 20 Hungarian Rhapsodies (1846-1885), Six Paganini Etudes (1851), Concerto No. 1, in E-Flat (1849), Concerto No. 2, in A-Major (1848), and the character pieces making up the three-volume Years of Pilgrimage (1855, 1858, 1877). Some of these last, representing nature scenes, anticipate the impressionism of the French composer Claude Debussy. The orchestral works include, besides the Faust and Dante symphonies (both 1857), 13 examples of the symphonic poem, a genre of programme music that Berlioz invented and Liszt named; Les préludes (1854), the best known, is based on a poem by Lamartine. Although the ultimate value of Liszt's large output remains uncertain, its originality is unquestioned; in harmony and form, his later compositions foreshadow music of such 20th-century composers as the Austrian Arnold Schoenberg (in the atonality of his works), and the early nationalistic works of the Hungarian Béla Bartók.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), German composer, one of the major composers of the 19th century, whose works combine the best of the Classical and Romantic schools. Brahms was born in Hamburg on May 7, 1833. After studying the violin and cello with his father, a double-bass player in the city theatre, Brahms mastered the piano and began to compose under the guidance of the German music teacher Marxsen. In 1853 Brahms went on a concert tour as accompanist to the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi. In the course of the tour he met the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who introduced him in turn to the German composer Robert Schumann. Schumann was so impressed by Brahms's unpublished compositions that he wrote a wildly enthusiastic magazine article about him. Brahms cherished a deep affection for both Schumann and his wife Clara, a famous pianist. The friendship and encouragement he received from them gave motivation to his work. Many biographers contend that Brahms was deeply in love with Clara, but he did not propose to her after Schumann's death in 1856, and he never married.
In 1857 Brahms secured appointment as conductor at the court theatre in Detmold, where he remained until 1859; for several years thereafter he travelled in Germany and Switzerland. His first major work to be publicly presented was the Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor, which he performed in Leipzig in 1859. The composition was not well received, however, because it lacked the showiness and the virtuoso passages then in vogue. The composer went to Vienna in 1863 and became director of the Choral Academy but left the post a year later.
In 1868 Brahms won fame throughout Europe following the performance of his A German Requiem, so called because the text is taken from Luther's German translation of the Bible rather than the Latin texts normally used. The piece, cast in seven divisions, focuses on the sorrow of those who mourn, rather than speculating on the fate of the dead. Brahms settled in Vienna in 1871 and devoted himself for composing.
Until 1873 Brahms had written chiefly for the piano, the instrument he knew best, and for chorus and orchestra (and he continued to write piano music until the end of his life). In that year, however, he produced the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, scored for full orchestra. His masterpieces include the Four Symphonies (1876,1877, 1883, 1885); the Academic Festival Overture (1880),Tragic Overture (1881). All these works display a tightly knit structure, stemming from the Viennese Classical tradition. Unlike his contemporaries, Brahms shunned exploitation of new harmonic effects and new tone colours for their own sake. He concerned himself rather with creating music of inherent unity, utilizing new or unusual effects only to enhance internal structural nuances. Thus, his best works contain no extraneous passages; each theme, each figure, each modulation is implicit in all that has preceded it. The Classicism of Brahms was a unique phenomenon in its day, entirely at odds with the trends in contemporary music as represented especially by the German composer Richard Wagner.
Brahms wrote in every medium except opera. The Violin Concerto in D Major (1878), a classic in the violin repertoire; 3 string quartets; 5 trios; a clarinet quintet; numerous other chamber works for various combinations of instruments; and more than 150 songs. Brahms died on April 13, 1897, in Vienna.

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