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Romantic music is a stylistic movement in Western orchestral music associated with the period of the nineteenth century commonly referred to as the Romantic era (or Romantic period). It is closely related to the broader concept of Romanticism—the intellectual, artistic and literary movement that became prominent in Europe from approximately 1800 until 1910.

Romantic composers sought to create music that was individualistic, emotional, dramatic and often programmatic; reflecting broader trends within the movements of Romantic literature, poetry, art and philosophy. Romantic music was often ostensibly inspired by (or else sought to evoke) non-musical stimuli, such as nature, literature, poetry or the plastic arts.

Influential composers of the early Romantic era include Adolphe Adam, Daniel Auber, Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, François-Adrien Boieldieu, Frédéric Chopin, Sophia Dussek, Ferdinand Hérold, Mikhail Glinka, Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, John Field, Ignaz Moscheles, Otto Nicolai, Gioachino Rossini, Ferdinand Ries, Vincenzo Bellini, Franz Berwald, Luigi Cherubini, Carl Czerny, Gaetano Donizetti, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Carl Loewe, Niccolò Paganini, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Anton Reicha, Franz Schubert, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Louis Spohr, Gaspare Spontini, Ambroise Thomas and Carl Maria von Weber. Later nineteenth-century composers would appear to build upon certain early Romantic ideas and musical techniques, such as the use of extended chromatic harmony and expanded orchestration. Such later Romantic composers include Albéniz, Bruckner, Granados, Smetana, Brahms, MacDowell, Tchaikovsky, Parker, Mussorgsky, Dvořák, Borodin, Delius, Liszt, Wagner, Mahler, Goldmark, Richard Strauss, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Stanford, Parry, Scriabin, Elgar, Grieg, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Rachmaninoff, and Franck.

During the Romantic period, music often took on a much more nationalistic purpose. For example, Jean Sibelius' Finlandia has been interpreted to represent the rising nation of Finland, which would someday gain independence from Russian control (Child 2006). Frédéric Chopin was one of the first composers to incorporate nationalistic elements into his compositions. Joseph Machlis states, "Poland's struggle for freedom from tsarist rule aroused the national poet in Poland. … Examples of musical nationalism abound in the output of the romantic era. The folk idiom is prominent in the Mazurkas of Chopin" (Machlis 1963, 149–50). His mazurkas and polonaises are particularly notable for their use of nationalistic rhythms. Moreover, "During World War II the Nazis forbade the playing of … Chopin's Polonaises in Warsaw because of the powerful symbolism residing in these works" (Machlis 1963, 150). Other composers, such as Bedřich Smetana, wrote pieces that musically described their homelands

Another development that had an effect on music was the rise of the middle class. Composers before this period lived on the patronage of the aristocracy. Many times their audience was small, composed mostly of the upper class and individuals who were knowledgeable about music (Schmidt-Jones and Jones 2004, 3). The Romantic composers, on the other hand, often wrote for public concerts and festivals, with large audiences of paying customers, who had not necessarily had any music lessons (Schmidt-Jones and Jones 2004, 3). Composers of the Romantic Era, like Elgar, showed the world that there should be "no segregation of musical tastes" (Young 1967, 525) and that the "purpose was to write music that was to be heard" (Young 1967, 527).

During the Romantic period, music often took on a much more nationalistic purpose. For example, Jean Sibelius' Finlandia has been interpreted to represent the rising nation of Finland, which would someday gain independence from Russian control (Child 2006). Frédéric Chopin was one of the first composers to incorporate nationalistic elements into his compositions. Joseph Machlis states, "Poland's struggle for freedom from tsarist rule aroused the national poet in Poland. … Examples of musical nationalism abound in the output of the romantic era. The folk idiom is prominent in the Mazurkas of Chopin" (Machlis 1963, 149–50). His mazurkas and polonaises are particularly notable for their use of nationalistic rhythms. Moreover, "During World War II the Nazis forbade the playing of … Chopin's Polonaises in Warsaw because of the powerful symbolism residing in these works" (Machlis 1963, 150). Other composers, such as Bedřich Smetana, wrote pieces that musically described their homelands; in particular, Smetana's Vltava is a symphonic poem about the Moldau River in the modern-day Czech Republic and the second in a cycle of six nationalistic symphonic poems collectively titled Má vlast (My Homeland) (Grunfeld 1974, 112–13). Smetana also composed eight nationalist operas, all of which remain in the repertory. They established him as the first Czech nationalist composer as well as the most important Czech opera composer of the generation who came to prominence in the 1860s (Ottlová, Tyrrell, and Pospíšil 2001).

See also