The Romantic Period, 1800–1910

In literature, art and music, Romanticism is seen as being a style that puts an emphasis on the imagination, emotions and creativity of the individual artist, and it was most popular in the nineteenth century. It was inspired, to a large extent, by social change in Europe and the United States, resulting in a reaction to the traditional restraints of the previous Classical era.

The early Romantics wished to stress through their art the importance of how the individual feels about the world, either natural or supernatural. It was also a nostalgic movement, with artists looking back to an imagined idyllic past of breath-taking landscapes, natural beauty and sanitised historical scenes.

Musically, there was a preoccupation with nationalistic roots and folk music, with composers such as Janácek and Grieg drawing heavily on the culture of their countries for inspiration. Emotion, however, was the popular theme of the time, and it was here that we began to see the emergence of the 'sensitive artist'. It became acceptable for people, especially men, to express themselves in ways in which a restrictive society had previously prevented them from doing. Thus it was that Chopin might burst into tears while reading a particularly moving poem, or Berlioz would run through the Italian countryside laughing his head off from sheer ecstasy.

Many operas and ballets were written at this time, usually based on classic or mythological tales. It was a great period of experimentation and therefore it is difficult to define its end correctly, as the transition from Romantic to Modern was a vague one with huge overlaps. Nevertheless, the Romantic period as a whole was essential to the development of European music as it suddenly made possible a whole new range of expression to emerge, resulting in some incredibly powerful and moving works.


Composer Home Country Born Died
Hector Berlioz Isère France 1803 1869
Felix Mendelssohn Hamburg Germany 1809 1847
Frederic Chopin Warsaw Poland 1810 1849
Robert Schumann Zwickau Germany 1810 1856
Franz Liszt Sopron Hungary 1811 1886
Richard Wagner Leipzig Germany 1813 1883
Bedrich Smetana Bohemia Czechoslovakia 1824 1884
Johannes Brahms Hamburg Germany 1833 1897
Modeste Mussorgsky Karevo Russia 1839 1881
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky Votkinsk Russia 1840 1893
Antonín Dvořák Bohemia Czechoslovakia 1841 1904
Edvard Grieg Bergen Norway 1843 1907
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Novgorod Russia 1844 1908
Gabriel Fauré Paris France 1845 1924
Leoš Janáček Hukvaldy Czechoslovakia 1854 1928
Edward Elgar Broadheath England 1857 1934
Gustav Mahler Bohemia Czechoslovakia 1860 1911
Claude Debussy Paris France 1862 1918
Frederick Delius Bradford England 1862 1934
Richard Strauss Munich Germany 1864 1949
Sergei Rachmaninov Oneg Russia 1873 1943
Maurice Ravel Ciboure France 1875 1937