Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in late 18th century Western Europe. It stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom within or even from classical notions of form in art, and overturning of previous social conventions, particularly the position of the aristocracy. It followed the Enlightenment period and was in part inspired by a revolt against aristocratic social and poltical norms from the previous period, as well as seeing itself as the fulfillment of the promise of that age.
In a general sense, "Romanticism" was the group of related artistic, political, philosophical and social trends arising out of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. But a precise characterization and a specific description of Romanticism have been objects of intellectual history and literary history for all of the twentieth century without any great measure of consensus emerging.
Arthur Lovejoy, the founder of the "history of ideas," attempted to demonstrate the difficulty of this problem in his seminal article "On The Discrimination of Romanticisms." Successive generations of scholars have engaged with this question, with some believing that a general description of Romanticism is possible, and others arguing against it. Similarly, some scholars see romanticism as completely continuous with the present, some see it as the inaugural moment of modernity, some see it as the beginning of a tradition of resistance to the Enlightenment, and still others date it firmly to the direct aftermath of the French Revolution. The topic is complex enough that most "characteristics" taken as defining Romanticism have also been taken as its opposite by different scholars.
Still, in common usage, Romanticism is often understood as a set of new cultural and aesthetic values. It might be taken to include the rise of individualism, as seen by the cult of the artistic genius that was a prominent feature in the Romantic worship of Shakespeare and in the poetry of Wordsworth, to take only two examples; a new emphasis on common language and the depiction of apparently everyday experiences; and experimentation with new, non-classical artistic forms.
Romanticism also strongly valued the past. Old forms were valued, ruins were sentimentalized as iconic of the action of Nature on the works of man, and mythic and legendary material which would previously have been seen as "low" culture became a common basis for works of "high" art and literature.
Origins and precursors
The term 'Romanticism' derives ultimately from the fictional romances written during the Middle Ages ("romance" being the medieval term for works in the vernacular Romance languages rather than in Latin). These included the Arthurian cycle, and were notable for their use of magic and focus on personal characteristics of honor and valor, as well as a sense lofty idealism and a "lost world".
In English, the term 'Romantick' was often used in the 18th century to mean magical, dramatic, surprising. But it was not until the German poets, critics and brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel used the term that it became a label for a wider cultural movement. For the Schlegel brothers, 'Romanticism' was a product of Christianity. The culture of the Middle Ages created a Romantic sensibility which differed from the Classical ideals embodied in the philosophy, poetry and drama of ancient Athens. While ancient culture admired clarity, health and harmony, Christian culture created a sense of struggle between the dream of heavenly perfection and the experience of human inadequacy and guilt. This sense of struggle, vision and ever-present dark forces was allegedly present in Medieval culture. The Schlegel brothers were also responsible for making Shakespeare into an internationally famous writer, translating his work into German, and promoting his plays as the epitome of the Romantic sensibility. Many later Romantic dramatists sought to imitate Shakespeare and to reject Classical models for drama.
While this view partly explains Romantic fascination with the Middle Ages, the actual causes of the Romantic movement itself correspond to the sense of rapid, dynamic social change that culminated in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. However, Romantic literature in Germany preceded these crucial historical events. The 'Sturm und Drang' (Storm and Stress) movement in German drama was associated with Friedrich Schiller, and the early work of Goethe, in particular his play "Goetz von Berlichingen", about a Medieval knight who resists submission to any authority beyond himself. Goethe's novel "The Sufferings of Young Werther" (1774) had huge international success. This too concerned an individual who felt a strong contradiction between his own internal world of intense feeling, and the external world that failed to correspond to it. Werther eventually commits suicide. In later works Goethe rejected Romanticism in favour of a new sense of classical harmony, integrating internal and external states.
See also: Romantic music.
In general the term Romanticism when applied to music means the period roughly from the 1820's until 1910. This usage was not contemporary, in 1810 ETA Hoffman called Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven the three "Romantic Composers", and Ludwig Spohr used the term "good Romantic style" to apply to parts of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. However, by the early 20th century, the sense that there had been a decisive break with the musical past lead to the establishment of the 19th century as "The Romantic Era", and as such it is referred to in almost all encyclopedias of music.
European music was deeply affected by Romanticism, stemming from some anti-classical aspects of heroic dynamics, internal struggle and tonal freedom in Ludwig van Beethoven and the restless harmonic flux of Franz Schubert. In opera a new Romantic atmosphere combining supernatural terror and melodramatic plot in a folkloric context came together first in Weber's Der Freischütz (1817, 1821). Enriched timbre and color marked the early orchestration of Hector Berlioz in France, while the demand for freer forms led to Franz Liszt's tone poems, and rhapsodies, both essentially Romantic forms. The German musical tradition of the 19th Century that is typically labelled 'Romantic' would also include the work of Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner. Liszt and Wagner each embodied the Romantic cult of the free, inspired, charismatic, perhaps ruthlessly unconventional individual "artistic" personality.
But just as Romanticism had as its base a search for the "natural" in emotions, in music it included a strong strain of reverence for classical models, it was not all sweeping emotionalism. It was during this period that the Sonata Form was codified, and the study of counter-point, particularly fugues, was held in high regard. Reinvented Classic and Baroque structures inform the work of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms especially, but Felix Mendelssohn, the editor and early reviver of Bach. The work of Mozart was used as a model by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Camille Saint-Saëns. The need for rigorous models was also a primary concern of Russian Composer Rimsky-Korsakov, who editted the scores of fellow Russian composers Borodin and Modest Mussorgsky with an eye to greater formal rigor.
Labels like 'Late Romantic' and 'Post-Romantic' link disparate composers of various nationalities, such as Jean Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Samuel Barber and Ralph Vaughan Williams, all of whom lived into the middle of the 20th century. See Romantic period in music. The conscious 'Modernisms' of the 20th century all found roots in reactions to Romanticism, increasingly seen as not harsh and realistic enough, even not brutal enough, for a new technological age. Yet Bartók began by collecting Hungarian folk music, Stravinsky with lush ballets for Diaghilev and Arnold Schoenberg's later spare style had its roots in rich freely chromatic atonal music evolving from his late Romantic style works, for example the giant polychromatic orchestration of Gurrelieder.
Art and Literature
In art and literature, 'Romanticism' typically refers to the late 18th Century and the 19th Century.
The British poet James Macpherson influenced the early development of Romanticism with the international success of his Ossian cycle of poems published in 1762, inspiring both Goethe and the young Walter Scott. Romanticism in British literature developed in a different form slightly later, mostly associated with the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose book "Lyrical Ballads" (1798) sought to reject Augustan poetry in favour of more direct speech derived from folk traditions. Both poets were also involved in Utopian social thought in the wake of the French Revolution. The poet and painter William Blake is the most extreme example of the Romantic sensibility in Britain, epitomised by his claim 'I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's'. Blake's artistic work is also strongly influenced by Medieval illuminated books. The painters J. M. W. Turner and John Constable are also generally associated with Romanticism. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats constitute another phase of Romanticism in Britain. The historian Thomas Carlyle and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood represent the last phase of transformation into Victorian culture. William Butler Yeats, born in 1865, referred to his generation as "the last romantics."
In Roman Catholic countries, Romanticism was less pronounced than in Protestant Germany and Britain, and tended to develop later, after the rise of Napoleon. In France, Romanticism is associated with the 19th century, particularly in the paintings of Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, the plays of Victor Hugo and the novels of Stendhal. The composer Hector Berlioz is also important.
In Russia, the principal exponent of Romanticism is Alexander Pushkin; though Russian composers are also given the label. Pushkin's Shakespearean drama 'Boris Godunov' (1825) was set to music by Modest Mussorgsky.
Romanticism played an essential role in the national awakening of many Central European peoples lacking their own national states, particularly in Poland, which had recently lost its independence. Revival of ancient myths, customs and traditions by Romanticist poets and painters helped to distinguish their indigenous cultures from those of the dominant nations (Russians, Germans, Austrians, Turks, etc.). Patriotism, revolution and armed struggle for independence also became popular themes in the arts of this period. Arguably, the most distinguished Romanticist poet of this part of Europe was Adam Mickiewicz, who developed an idea that Poland was the Messiah of Nations, predestined to suffer just as Jesus had suffered to save all the people.
In the United States, the romantic gothic makes an early appearance with Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1819), followed from 1823 onwards by the fresh "Leatherstocking" tales of James Fenimore Cooper, with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and their fervent landscape descriptions of an already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by "noble savages" like Uncas, "The Last of the Mohicans." There are picturesque elements in Washington Irving's essays and travel books. Edgar Allan Poe's tales of the macabre and his balladic poetry were more influential in France than at home, but the romantic American novel is fully developed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's atmosphere and melodrama. Later Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson still show elements of its influence, as does the romantic realism of Walt Whitman. But by the 1880s, psychological and social realism was competing with romanticism. The poetry which Americans wrote and read was all romantic until the 1920s: Poe and Hawthorne, as well as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poetry of Emily Dickinson – nearly unread in her own time – and Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick can be taken as the great epitomes of American Romantic literature, or as successors to it.
- Hector Berlioz (composer)
- Georges Bizet (composer)
- Eugène Delacroix (painter)
- Théophile Gautier (poet)
- Theodore Gericault (painter)
- Victor Hugo (poet, novelist, dramatist)
- Alphonse de Lamartine (poet)
- Alfred de Musset (poet)
- Charles Nodier, (writer), leader of the Romanticist movement
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (philosophic grounds)
- Stendhal (novelist)
- Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (architect)
- Caspar David Friedrich (painter)
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (poet, essayist, nature philosopher)
- Jakob Grimm (story collector, linguist)
- Adam Müller (literary critic and political theorist)
- Novalis (poet, novelist)
- Friedrich von Schiller (poet, dramatist)
- Friedrich Schlegel (poet, theorist)
- Franz Schubert (composer)
- Robert Schumann (composer, polemicist)
- Ludwig Tieck (novelist, translator)
- Richard Wagner (composer, polemicist)
- Franz Liszt (composer)
- Frederic Chopin (composer)
- Aleksander Fredro (comedy playwright)
- Zygmunt Krasinski (poet)
- Adam Mickiewicz (poet)
- Cyprian Norwid (poet)
- Juliusz Slowacki (poet)
- Kornel Ujejski (poet)
- Mihai Eminescu (poet)
- Alexander Pushkin
- Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
- Alexander Borodin
- Modest Mussorgsky
- Cesar Cui
- Mikhail Glinka
- Mily Balakirev
- Karl Briullov
- William Blake (painting, engraving, poetry)
- Lord Byron (poetry)
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poetry, philosophy, criticism)
- John Constable (painting)
- John Keats (poetry)
- Charles Lamb (poetry, essays)
- James Macpherson (poetry)
- Sir Walter Scott (poetry and historical novels)
- Percy Bysshe Shelley (poetry)
- Robert Southey (poetry, biography)
- Joseph Mallord William Turner (painting)
- William Wordsworth (poetry)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (poetry, essays)
- Henry David Thoreau (poetry, essays)
- Edgar Allan Poe (poetry, short stories)
- John Greenleaf Whittier (poetry)
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (poetry)
- Walt Whitman (poetry)
- James Fenimore Cooper (novelist)
- Nathaniel Hawthorne (novelist)
- Herman Melville (novelist)
- Washington Irving (novelist, satirist)
- Henrik Wergeland (poet)
- Edvard Grieg (composer)
- Adolph Tiedeman (painter)
- Hans Gude (painter)
- Johan Christian Dahl (painter)
- Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger, Denmark
- France Preeren, Slovenia
- Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine
- Esaias Tegnér, Sweden