Music and the Poetic in the beginning of the 19th century

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Music and the Poetic in the beginning of the 19th century

When addressing major changes in approaches to music, noticeable movements in compositional technique and tangible shifts in ideals and expectations among audiences one must always look for references in history. What was the social and political milieu in Europe of mid 19th century? The common theme is quite obvious – the nineteenth century was the century of revolutions: in France, Italy, Hungary (this especially relevant for Liszt), many of the German states. Although most these revolutions failed to depose the ruling authority, the spirit of revolution, with common ideal of freedom and a special connotation of nationalism, overwhelmed the thinking aristocracy. Major repercussions of these concepts in the artistic world would once again call for a change in values and aesthetic ideals. The role of the romantic artist drastically reformed by Beethoven in the beginning of the century would undergo another major change – from the acquired acceptance and ascent from the servitude of the 18th century the artist would make another step and come to the forefront as intellectual and spiritual leader, one of superior place in society.

To realize the poetic aspect of music in the early 19th century it is best to draw comparison between compositions that were completed around the same time, but are vastly different in style. Five years dividing Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne geliete(1816) and Weber’s magic opera Der Freischutz(1821) seem to be a short period of time, but the musical environment and stylistic needs had changed so rapidly, that Beethoven’s cycle seems to be more a transitional from the late Classicism to Romanticism, while Weber’s creation is undoubtedly a quintessential romantic opera. The composers’ styles differ in many ways; one of the more illuminating differences manifests itself in Beethoven’s and Weber’s representation…


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