Romanticism in music was characterized by an emphasis on emotion and great freedom of form. It attained its fullest development in the works of German composers. Although elements of romanticism are present in the music of Beethoven, Weber, and Schubert, it reached its zenith in the works of Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner. Less totally romantic composers usually placed in the middle period of romanticism are Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Grieg; those grouped in the last phase include Elgar, Puccini, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Sibelius.
Many romantic composers, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, and Brahms, worked in small forms that are flexible in structure, e.g., prelude, intermezzo, nocturne, ballad, and cappriccio, especially in solo music for the piano. Another romantic contribution was the art song for voice and piano, most notably the German lied (see song). Romantic composers, particularly Liszt, in combining music and literature, created the symphonic poem. Berlioz also made use of literature; much of his work is described as program music. Romantic opera began with Weber, included the works of the Italians Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi, and culminated in the work of Wagner, who aimed at a complete synthesis of the arts in his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art].
While Tchaikovsky was inspired by a more universal romanticism, the movement in Russia was nationalist in nature, exemplified by the works of Mikhail Glinka. The music of the Czech composers Bedřich Smetana and Dvořák and that of the Norwegian composer Grieg also expressed romantic nationalism. Toward the end of the 19th cent. interest in classical forms was revived by Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Franck. The end of the romantic period—frequently described as decadent and grandiose—is often referred to as postromanticism and is represented by the works of Holst, Elgar, Mahler, and Richard Strauss.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.