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Definition of Classical and Romantic Music


In music history, the term “Classicism” refers to the time period dominated by three composers, J. Haydn, W. A. Mozart and L. v. Beethoven, who constituted the so called “first school of Vienna”. The term “classic” was attributed to this kind of music after Beethoven’s death due to the scripts’ perfection, its highly humanitarian content and the beauty ideals it promoted.

The path from Baroque to Classicism was marked by the French Galante style in 1730, the new Italian “opera buffa”, the sonata and sinfonia, which transformed the Rococo music into a pre-classical style around 1750-1760 and finally, through Sentimentalism, lead to Classicism.

Beethoven’s death in 1827 signaled the end of the Classical era while the tendency towards Romanticism was already evident.



In music history, the term “Romanticism” refers to 19th century creations. It is the continuance and evolution of Classicism’s music language and forms to the extend that justifies the integrated study of both eras. Romanticism refers to 19th century creations, from Schubert to Strauss, while during this period the prevailing tendencies are at times romantic and at times classical. Music tends to express the emotions of each specific composer.

The Romantic period can be distinguished into three phases:
  • Early Romantic era 1800 - 30: Vienna is the centre of developments. The first work to acquire the wider public’ s response with references to folk characters, nature, superstitions and miracles was “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826). Franz Schubert’s works expressed the poetic spirit of the time and the whimsical music of Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868) contradicted Beethoven’s meaningful music.
  • The climax of Romanticism 1830 - 50: Paris is the centre of developments and music receives new influences from the French literary Romanticism. The spirit of the time is reflected in Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique”. Nicolo Pagannini’s and Franz Lizst’s exceptional skills also characterize this era. Moreover, this era is characterized by the development of the magical sound of Frederic Chopin, the poetic music and smart critique of Robert Schumann, the romantic classicism of Felix Mendelssohn, the romantic opera of Richard Wagner, the appealing operas of Giussepe Verdi and Meyerbeer.
  • Late Romantic era 1850 - 1890: Following the deaths of Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann, a new era begins with Lizst’s symphonic poetry, Wagner’s musical dramas and Verdi’s early operas. A new generation of creators like Cesar Franck, Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms also appears in this period. Formalistic and expressionistic aesthetics marched together with national colors adding late romantic characteristics to music.

Around 1890 Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss appear in the music scene and through their works they drive new tendencies to the extremes. At the same time, French impressionism appears as a modernistic phenomenon of late Romanticism. The end of the Romantic period is marked by Schonberg’s transition to atonality at around 1907-8.