Romanticism in Music

Romanticism in Music

Music has been part of humanity for as long as humanity has existed. Composers and performers have continuously used music to demonstrate diverse scenarios and indicate different feelings and experiences. These concepts in music have however evolved over the years and demonstrated distinct periods under which music can be categorized. Romantic Music has been in existence for over two centuries now[1]. Most notably are the emergence of the Romantic period in music which happened in the nineteen century. With the contribution of composers and artists such as Von Weber, Felix Mendelssohn and others, romanticism in music became relevant and significant. This paper is an argumentative essay that seeks to demonstrate that the nineteen-century music demonstrated adequate romanticism. The paper will focus on Felix Mendelssohn and his two pieces of work, the Overture and Incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The paper is guided by the thesis that Romanticism has been well exemplified in these Felix Mendelssohn’s music pieces.

Mendelssohn was a great lover of the Shakespearean literature. He and his family always had collections of Shakespeare’s books and plays and gained inspiration from them. Mendelssohn was also from a family of musicians and composers. At only 17 years, Mendelssohn came up with the idea of composing the Overture to a favorite work by Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Years later, at the royal request of the King, he composed the incidental music to the same literary work by Shakespeare[2]. These two pieces of music, strategically exemplify Romanticism in music. This is seen from the various application of style and formations of music by the composer.

First, although the overture was not associated with any performance of the original play, it demonstrated a marvel of maturity that was not expected of a seventeen years old. The piece is evidently fascinated with the past with a major turn to spooky mystics and supernatural ideas. The composer uses the story to demonstrate a longing for the Middle Ages[3]. In addition, the style of this piece is quite free and seems not to follow any rules. However, the composition easily carries away the listener from the reality to a fantasy world full of romance and desire. The 4-cords in the winds representing the e-minor entry for the fairies, royal music and the dance of the lovers demonstrate the fascination of the composer to romance and fantasy. The piece plays a minor for the lover’s theme to exemplify a feeling of detachment from the reality into fantasy which is very key for romanticism.

The Nocturne and the wedding march in the incidental music piece are purely instrumental movements. This use of style in this piece is made even more romantic by the distinction between Acts of the play. In every act, a different musicianship is employed. Some acts are played without music while others have music with or without instrumentation. This variation is dependent on the theme of the Act[4]. For the most romantic scenes, such as the Wedding March, Mendelssohn achieves the feeling and the atmosphere by the use of music and romantic dances that are played with a minor key to exemplify the serenity of the moment. The most impacting thing about such changes in key and tone is the ability of the piece to create imagination and move the audience from the reality world to the fantasy world. An attribute that is quite necessary for romantic music.

Mendelssohn pieces use a very distinct sonata form. This implies that the pieces begin with a short introductory section that is slower than the main piece. This is made effective by the low key and the slow dances that accompany the pieces[5]. The introductory is followed by an exposition piece which is aimed at bringing out the primary theme of the piece. Both the overture and the incidental music use this section to demonstrate love and romance in both words and dances. In continuously opposing keys, with a very distinct modulating transition, the pieces then close this section with a clear codetta[6].  The development of the theme is made effective by another flow of harmonic transitions and textural development that explores further the theme of the pieces. This kind of transitions disconnects the pieces from the traditional musical formulations and conventions leading to a free-style kind of music that exemplify the intended themes.

There are also several other attributes of romantic music that are seen in the two pieces of music composed at two different times by the same artist. The instrumental movements that are created in these pieces by Mendelssohn demonstrate a very distinct expression of remoteness and are also strange and surprising to the classical musicianship. These are important traits in romanticism as the help support the intended abstract theme as frightful yet compelling and still terrifying to the audience. In addition, the flow helps support the spiritual experience expected of romance and create an aura of infinite preoccupation with fantasy and unusual experiences. These attributes of the pieces make them largely exemplify romantic feelings and experiences.

Before the official beginning of the romantic music era, Romanticism still existed in music. As long as love has existed, composers embarked on music that demonstrates aspects of romance for a very long time. Although the Mendelssohn pieces can be regarded as belonging to the classical era of music, the freestyle applied by the composer as well as in the performance of the music demonstrate its romantics. Besides having a smooth flow that allows easy duo-dancing and romantic conversations within the music, the notes and the keys used in these pieces strongly suggests a romantic atmosphere. Mendelssohn was quite articulate in creating this aura especially based on his choice of readings and literature[7]. Although the two pieces were composed at different times in history, first one during the beginning of his music career and the second just a few years before his death, Mendelssohn has been able to show that even the nineteenth-century music demonstrate romanticism. It is, therefore, evident from the analysis that A Midsummer Night’s Dream should be considered Romantic music

[1] Peter Jameson Mercer-Taylor, The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn, Cambridge Companions to Music, 2004, doi:10.1017/CCOL9780521826037.

[2] Walter Frisch, German Modernism: Music and the Arts, California Studies in 20th-Century Music, 2005.

[3] M Cherington, R Smith, and P J Nielsen, “The Life, Legacy, and Premature Death of Felix Mendelssohn.,” Seminars in Neurology 19 Suppl 1 (1999): 47–52.

[4] Mercer-Taylor, The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Carl Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music, California Studies in 19th Century Music, vol. 5, 1989.

[7] Mercer-Taylor, The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn.

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