The period of Romanticism

We know that the free dance will be made up of two pieces, “Piano Concerto in F minor Op.20" from Scriabin and the ballet “The Seasons” from Glazunov. They are both Russian composers who lived more or less at the same time—but that does not make their works the same. It’s important to learn about them and their era, Romanticism

Romanticism overall

The Romantic style that dominated in the early 19th century until the early 20th century has a few main features, including the use of chromaticism and dissonance. To understand “chromaticism”, think of a piano: keeping it simple, every white key to the right advances a tone and each key to the left is a lower tone. The black keys mark half tones on the piano. A chromatic scale always advances by half tones, so if you think of the piano, each key, white and black, is played in the order it appears. When I refer to “chromaticism”, I'm leaving this principle. As for “dissonance”, there are consonant and dissonant intervals. The consonant intervals are those that combine and unite into one sound. The dissonant intervals cause a certain discomfort to hear. The two notes that are played together are at odds.

Romanticism also features many changes of tone, abrupt changes in tempo, texture denser and various other things that were not seen very often or were not even allowed in the previous periods. The symphonies have become longer, and the size of orchestras greatly increased. It was also the time that virtuosity, which means extensive technical skill by soloists, became more valued, consequently solo pieces in the concerts ensured your place in this period.

During Romanticism, the interpreter began to have more freedom. When I say “interpreter”, I am referring to the musician who is playing. So, when I say that the musician has more freedom to interpret what is playing, I mean that he can express how he understands the piece in his own way. Of course, there are some things that cannot be modified much in music, but when a musician is playing something from the Romantic period, he must wonder how he feels about it and follow his instincts. But it is not easy to understand and interpret, even now and it is necessary, in some compositions, to have a certain degree of maturity. The reason for this challenge is kind of complex. Essentially, the musician needs to have a high level of technical difficulty as well as intensity, musicality, sensitivity and various other aspects related, not only to the music, but also to the person who is interpreting.

I say this from my experience. I am currently studying at one of the best music schools in Brazil. Earlier this month, I started studying music from Saint-Saens, a Romantic composer. I have a feeling that this will be my biggest challenge until the day of my test. To overcome the technical difficulties, I just need to study, practice many times, and then this aspect is done. But on the other hand, the greatest complexity of the work is to express the feelings that the music asks, making everything become interesting, and, ultimately, to cause the public to feel those emotions. There are many aspects to interpretation, including emotional overload, whether of joy or sorrow. I personally love the music of this period. It is so beautiful, intense, and expresses feelings in a way so real. This is music that makes you feel goosebumps at times, unrest in others ... and your eyes fill up with tears occasionally, whether you listen in a concert hall or in the quiet of your home.

Having this ability, this sensitivity, is what differentiates an artist from another—”a good artist from an artist median,” as my teacher says. It is something that really comes from within and we have to have sensitivity and courage to bring it from within us, even if we have no experience with such feelings. Actually, on this aspect, I have Tessa and Scott as my inspiration because, to me, they are an example of musicianship and artistic sensibility. Every time I am in class and my teacher speaks about intensity, the moment of greatest emotional charge of music, and that I need to take a character who is hysterical, distressed and bipolar, I immediately remember the Carmen free dance from last last season. Besides having had a high degree of technical complexity, the way they surrendered to the characters was amazing, and it is not as easy as it seems.

Late Romanticism

Late Romanticism is characterized by the growth in the size of orchestras as well as increasing exploitation of tonalities, time signatures and several other aspects. This moment in Romantic music is also focused on nationalism, especially with composers from countries like France and Russia. Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak are among the best known composers of this period.

Beyond beautiful, romantic stories

Composers had more freedom to put their feelings into their music during the Romantic period. However, it is important to realize that the music of this period expresses more than beautiful, romantic stories. Romantic music also brings out the deepest, most obscure feelings and sets them to music. Many composers put their lives and their pain in their songs.

Tchaikovsky was one of these. He was still young when he lost his mother. Aleksandra Andreyevna, Tchaykovsky's mother, was the first woman who marked his life. As a child, his had his first contact with music through folk songs that his mother sang. The composer nurtured from an early age a great love for his mother and when his mother died from cholera when he was 14 years old, it became the worst moment of his life. He was also gay. Wanting to end the questioning of his sexuality by society, he got married, but that marriage was unsuccessful. He had a life marked by denial and prejudices of a society that did neither understood nor accepted him. He also had many other sad events in his life. His 6th Symphony, better known as "Pathetique", is actually considered an autobiography in which he tells, through its four movements, his greatest joys and tragedies until the end, which is described as his own heart stopped beating.

Tchaikovsky's Pathetique

Glazunov was a Late Romantic composer, who did not sympathize much with Impressionist and modern composers. He was also important for nationalism in Russian music. Scriabin, in contrast, began composing after seriously injuring his right hand when felt challenged by Josef Lhevinne, who studied at the same conservatory. During this time, unable to play, yet determined to still keep music as part of his life, Scriabin expressed his sorrow in his first compositions. He wrote the Concerto when he was still influenced by Late Romantic music (he would later be inspired by the Impressionists, which transformed his style of work). I greatly appreciate the music of Scriabin because it is the essence of Romanticism, meaning something extremely beautiful and at the same time sincere and realistic.


by Leticia. To read more, click here