Romantic Music: the Ideals of Instrumental Music

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  • Topic: Hector Berlioz, Program music, Franz Liszt
  • Pages : 3 (862 words )
  • Download(s) : 299
  • Published : October 8, 1999
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Romantic Music: The Ideals of Instrumental Music

At one point in the study of the Romantic period of music, we come upon the first of several apparently opposing conditions that plague all attempts to grasp the meaning of Romantic as applied to the music of the 19th century. This opposition involved the relation between music and words. If instrumental music is the perfect Romantic art, why is it acknowledged that the great masters of the symphony, the highest form of instrumental music, were not Romantic composers, but were the Classical composers, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven? Moreover, one of the most characteristic 19th century genres was the Lied, a vocal piece in which Shubert, Schumann, Brahams, and Wolf attained a new union between music and poetry. Furthermore, a large number of leading composers in the 19th century were extremely interested and articulate in literary expression, and leading Romantic novelists and poets wrote about music with deep love and insight.

The conflict between the ideal of pure instrumental music (absolute music) as the ultimate Romantic mode of expression, and the strong literary orientation of the 19th century, was resolved in the conception of program music. Program music, as Liszt and others in the 19th century used the term, is music associated with poetic, descriptive, and even narrative subject matter. This is done not by means of musical figures imitating natural sounds and movements, but by imaginative suggestion. Program music aimed to absorb and transmit the imagined subject matter in such a way that the resulting work, although "programmed", does not sound forced, and transcends the subject matter it seeks to represent. Instrumental music thus became a vehicle for the utterance of thoughts which, although first hinted in words, may ultimately be beyond the power of words to fully express.

Practically every composer of the era was, to some degree, writing program music, weather or...
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