Character pieces for the piano:

Musical Genres in the Romantic Period


Same forms as in the Classical Period

  • Opera 2) Symphony 3) Sonata 4) Chamber Music 5) Concerto 6) Masses 7) Opera


The Genres new to the Romantic period were:

  • The Art Song: a composition for solo voice and piano. The accompaniment is an integral part of the composer’s conception and it serves as an interpretive partner to the voice. These songs were composed to be sung and enjoyed in the home.

The genre flowered in part due to the popularity of the piano and the flowering of Romantic Poetry by Goerthe and Heine. Songs were a fusion of music and poetry. A song with a German text is called a Lied.  The plural is Leider (songs).

Common themes of the poems would be despair of unrequited love and lost love.  Also, nature such as the beauty of flowers, trees, brooks, supernatural and folktales were themes.

Songs are: Strohpic (stanza-repeating the music for each stanza of the poem) or Through-Composed-new music for each stanza). Song Cycles were groups of song with common story line or musical theme.


2) Character pieces for the piano: these are pieces written for the piano in a three part form: ABA and were designed to express two contrasting moods, an example is dramatic verses lyrical.  These piano pieces are short and designed to invoke a definite mood or programmatic idea.


3) Program Music:  Romantic composers were attracted to program music, instrumental music associated with a story, poem, idea, or scene.  Programmatic orchestral works depict the emotions, characters, and events of particular stories or the sounds and motions of nature.  Such nonmusical ideas are usually specified by the title or by the composer’s explanatory comments (program) in the concertgoer’s program. There are several categories of program music and are as follows:

  1. A Program Symphony: a symphony with a program, a composition in several movements.
  2. A Symphonic poem or Tone Poem, is also a one-movement composition. Symphonic Poems take many traditional forms such as sonata form, rondo, or theme and variations, as well as irregular forms and combines them together without pause or break.  Franz Liszt developed the symphonic poem in the late 1840’s and 1850’s and it became the most important type of program music after 1860.  During the late 19th century, symphonic poems became an important means of expression for nationalism in music.


Conservative Romantics Composers:  Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms

Radical Romantic Composers:  Chopin, Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner

The Story for Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique: This Story is autobiographical.  He saw Harriet Smithson, an actress, performing in a Shakespeare Play and feel in love her.  She didn’t feel this way about him yet he continued to be obsessed with her, writing him letters.  He composed this piece based upon his love for her.  She later listened to it and read the story (program) behind the symphony and she becomes interested in him. The two eventually get married but have a difficult marriage.  The symphony has a main theme called the Idee Fixe (Fixed Idea) that is used in each movement.  This Theme represents Harriet Smithson.