Romantic and Modern Composers As social and political views changed throughout history, a revolution in the art world followed. Artists use their pieces to explain their point of view, this includes writers, painters, and especially musicians. The end of the French Revolution inspired hope and visions for the future, which musicians responded by entering the Romantic period. In order to compare musicians in the Romantic period and those in the modern era, we must look into the stylistic choices of individual composers.
Romantic period symphonies are described as poetic, as if the instruments are singing. One composer that captures the true essence of romanticism is Franz Schubert. His work includes his moods he was in when he wrote them. For example his song cycle Winter’s Journey was seen as “somber lyricism” (Forney, Kristine. Dell’Antonio, Andrew. and Machlis, Joseph. The Enjoyment of Music. New York/ London 2015) because of his internal struggle with syphilis. His style is very calming and fluid, consisting of a constant melody. In his most well-known piece, Elfking, it tells a narrative poem, in stanza form.
The rhythm has constant triplets in the piano, and the harmony shifts from minor to major to entail the suspense of the story. There is a sense of urgency in his music, but it is followed by a resolution. Even though he died at the young age of 31, his major work includes over 600 Lieder, nine symphonies, seven masses, operas and some chamber music. In the middle of Romanticism there is an artist embedded in the roots of it all. Frederic Chopin was at the center of music at this time. His friend group consisted of a pianist name Franz Liszt, and writer George Sand.
As his relationship with Sand was ripped apart by jealousy and conflict, his music became much more melancholic. It is assumed that there was a love interest involved because of his ballads and sonatas. His technique on the piano coincides with the native dance of Poland called a Mazurka. Chopin’s concertos involve an aspects called rubato, or “robbed time,” meaning that the rhythm can change without upsetting the beat. These subtle shifts in harmony are typical in everyday folk music. His major works include two piano concertos, four ballades, three sonatas, and many more.
He accomplished all of this by the time he was 39 and had an untimely death due to tuberculosis. One of the most famous ballets The Nutcracker was composed by Russian musician Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. He is also known for Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. His music is driven by his attacks of severe depression. He was given money by a widow to start his career as a composer. Most of his work was influenced by folk music, with a staccato melody. . At the age of 51, he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York. His major works include eight operas, seven symphonies, three piano concertos, and a violin concerto.
In 1893 he died from cholera, but there were rumors that he committed suicide based on the tone of his last piece. As music transformed from the Romantic area, a few certain aspects changed with it. For example before there was only rhythmic pattern used at a time, but with time a more advanced system called polyrhythm came about. This means that patterns can be used simultaneously. Along with rhythm comes melody and harmony. “Early twentieth-century melody is conceived in relation to instruments rather than the voice, abounding in wide leaps and dissonant intervals. ” (Forney, Kristine. Dell’Antonio, Andrew. And Machlis, Joseph. The Enjoyment of Music. New York/ London 2015).
There is also the harmonic freedom using chords of six or seven notes called polyharmony. Modern musicians were focusing on their individuality and independence from traditionalism. The new foundation of music opened up many opportunities that were not available before. Lili Boulanger was a religious composer. She had been ill from a young age, and as a therapy learned how to play the violin, cello, harp, and piano. She focused on choral and chamber music, she also worked on two operas.
Her Psalms reflect her devotion to Catholicism. She followed in her father’s footsteps, winning the Prix de Rome competition, getting her a contract with the Ricordi musicpublishing house. Her works are lyrical and harmonic, some include: an unfinished opera, Psalms 24,129, and 130, and Pie Jesu. Pie Jesu was her final song, written on her deathbed, and it was dedicated to her sister Nadia. She died shortly after at the age of 25. Making music more modern means changing the way people see and hear music. Billie Holiday, also known as Lady Day was known for her take on jazz and soul.
Her music thrived during the swing, or big-band era. Jazz is celebrated for its difference in sound, using pitch bending or chord changes where the singer changes her sound over harmonic progressions. Holiday’s most famous song Billie’s Blues was influenced by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. It has a slow tempo, a repeated harmony, pitch inflections and improvisations in the melody, and was accompanied by a trumpet, clarinet, piano, bass, and drums. Her sound was inspiring for a number of reasons, most importantly being that she was the first black singer to sing in public with a white orchestra supporting her.
Eventually her life turned to drugs and alcoholism, and she died at the age of 44. “Beauty in music is too often confused with something that lets the ear lie back in an easy chair… Analytical and impersonal tests will show that when a new or unfamiliar work is accepted as beautiful on its first hearing, its fundamental quality is one that tends to put the mind to sleep. ” This was said by modern composer Charles Ives, telling the truth about music. Being forced to truly analyze his own music bored him.
His music was misunderstood at the time, he wrote what he liked instead of trying to appease the public. He did however gained support from aspiring composers who were also struggling. When he was finally discovered by the public, he went international. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his patriotic and religious songs. His melodies were forceful, his harmonies were dissonant and polytonal. There is a sense of nostalgia associated with his music, as it is accompanied by a wind ensemble, brass, and percussion. He died at the age of 79, at the peak of his success.
The main difference between nineteenth and twentieth century composers is the freedom musicians held. Nineteenth century composer were more traditional and did not stray from that mindset. Their music was melancholic, telling a story and making their instruments “sing. ” Music went from Romantic to Modern by the use of polyharmony and polyrhythm. Twentieth century musicians showed their individualism through their lyrical sounds, and their dissonant harmonies. As times change, music changes with it to appease audiences, and that is what we see between nineteenth and twentieth century composers.