A vague term borrowed from literature and applied to music of the 19th century that signified a freedom from Classical traditions and the rise of the individual. Music in this period often had an extra-musical element that encouraged the composer to represent it musically. Berlioz wrote his Symphonie Fantastique while under the influence of opium. It tells of his obsession with an actress who he eventually married and is emotionally highly charged!  Forms either grew larger, like the Symphony and Opera, or contracted, like the short piano piece and song. In comparison with the other arts, music enjoyed a new higher status and flourished accordingly.

Advances in manufacture and design resulted in louder, more powerful instruments capable of sustaining longer melodic lines. The woodwind and brass families of instruments could now play all the chromatic notes of the scale (all back and white notes on the piano), allowing composers to use more combinations of chords to greater expression. The piano was given an iron frame to cope with the enormous pressures exerted by the tensions of the strings. With larger forces available to a composer, orchestral music required a full-time conductor rather than relying on one of the players to direct the music.

In retrospect, the period seems dominated by Opera and instrumental music. In particular the Germanic instrumental music of late Beethoven and Schubert, continued by Brahms and Schumann, contrasts with the French-Italian Opera traditions of composers such as Rossini and Meyerbeer. However at the time, the dominant forms were vocal: the oratorio and the lied (song). With more people learning to play instruments and sheet music freely available, the nineteenth century sees the rise of the amateur musician. Small concerts could take place in rich middle-class homes, and choral societies began to spring up. With the re-discovery of Bach and Handel (the inspiration behind Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah), hundreds would gather to perform Baroque choral works such as The Messiah.

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