British Romantic Music (1789- 1824)

In art and literature the Romantic period is generally classified as lasting between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However, in terms of music, the term Romanticism can apply to music composed in the beginning of the 19th century and lasting midway through the 20th. The music of the Romantic period summed up much of the sentiment of the time, such as the French Revolution, which occurred at the end of the 18th century. Woven into the music was often the composer's temperament at the time or a work of literature, like a poem (4).

Characteristics/ Elements of:

Comparisons to Classical Music

Classical music is defined by its structure and strict form. Its order and control can be seen through all aspects of the music including its tempo and instrument choice. In direct contrast to Classical music, Romantic music is often free-spirited with its aims to capture emotion. Romantic music is able to convey rich feelings of passion because of its range of instrumental use and its focus on orchestral sounds.

Components of Romantic Music

Romantic music is often regarded as having many different themes. Like in British Romantic Poetry, the themes of nationalism, extreme love of nature, individualism, and emotions were highly emphasized. The themes can be noted by the types of instruments used, as well as by the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, used. For example, lets say that there is musical peice about spring (which represents love of nature), a woodwind trill might be an indicator of fun, sunny weather and a deep drumbeat might represent a sudden afternoon thunderstorm. The pieces of the era tended to have long and intricate melodies with experimental with types of tones and rhythms (1).

Significant Figures of the Period:

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)


Born in Rome, Italy on January 23, 1752, Muzio Clementi aspired to become one of the main guys of the music of the British Romanticism Era. At the youthful age of fourteen, he became the organist at his local church. One day, a member of the British Parliament heard him play and whisked him away to his home in England to further continue his education. England then preceeded to become his home until he died on March 10, 1832 in England.
Throughout his lifetime, Clementi was noted for muliple accomplsihments. He was the composer of piano music, chamber music, as well as symphonies. Clementi was noted as both a keyboard player and instructor as well as a music publisher. He was also a piano manufacturer and would spend much of his time while on his European tours promoting the pianos that he and his partner F.W. Collard created. While Clementi was not a native-born Englishman, he most certainly ended up becoming one of the most influencial and notable musician of British Romantic music (2).

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

external image Edward_Elgar.jpg

Edward Elgar was born on June 2, 1857 in the village of Broadheath, England. His father owned a music shop and Elgar taught himself to play the piano. Life was rough for Elgar, growing up as a Roman Catholic, surrounded by a Protestant majority. Despite a separation in classes, in 1889, Elgar, a mere music teacher, married one of his students, Caroline Alice Roberts.
By the 1890s, Elgar had begun to establish himself as a respected composer. Notably, "Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma)," piece of work dedicated to his friends and stemming from simple improvisation and his wife's positive feedback. Year after year continued to bring Elgar success. In 1904, an "all-Elgar" festival was held in which some of his newer works were showcased. That very year, he was knighted by Edward the VII and the following year he toured Europe as well as the United States. At the death of Edward the VII in 1911, he dedicated his Symphony No. 2 in E flat. He continued to compose music through World War I. However, in 1920, his wife, Caroline, passed away. She had played an important role in Elgar's life and after her death, he became very much removed from society. In October of 1934, a malignant tumor was discovered against his Sciatic nerve. He had only a few months to live and on February 23rd of that same year he passed away (3).

John Field (1782-1837)


John Field was a renowned composer of the Romantic Era. He was born in Dublin, Ireland and his family moved to London when he was a child with the intentions of promoting his musical talents. In England, Field studied under Muzio Clementi for six years. He worked for Clementi in his piano factory, but also was his apprentice where he honed his skills as a composer and a pianist. After Field's apprenticeship with Clementi, he traveled Europe doing performances for various aristocratic families of Russia and France, among others. Field's unique style in his composing and performing did not go unnoticed and he is remembered as one of the foremost Romantic composers of his time.

Examples of Romanticism in British Music:

Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar

Analysis of Enigma Variations can be found here.

Nocturne in A Major by John Field

Listen to John Field's most famous work Nocturne in A Major.
Analysis of Nocturne in A Major can be found here

Works Cited

1: Vaughan, William. "romanticism." In Gowing, Lawrence, ed. Facts On File Encyclopedia of Art: Romanesque Art to Romanticism, vol. 4. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Modern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc. 17 4 May 2007.

2: Reill, Peter Hanns, and Ellen Judy Wilson. "Clementi, Muzio." Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, Revised Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2004. Midern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc. 4 May 2007.

3: Lace, Ian. "Sir Edward Elgar - A Short Biography." The Elgar Society. 1979. 17 May 2007

4: "Romanticism - Definition Compiled From The Web." Romantic Piano Music. 2005. 17 May 2007