Musical Romanticism: Beauty, Ecstasy, and Expression
What we today call classical music is largely a Romantic creation. But Romanticism’s impact extends far beyond a single genre: most of us—when we look to music for self-expression or ecstasy, condemn it as inauthentic or praise it as sublime—are thinking in Romantic categories and hearing with Romantic ears. Yet it can be hard to hear the Romantics themselves, in part because we’ve forgotten what to listen for. We think of their music as something simple—emotional, high-minded, a little grandiose—when in fact it was hugely contradictory: a precarious fusion of pathos and irony; monumentality and fragmentation; utopian hope and nationalist nostalgia; morbid pessimism and carnivalesque play. Romanticism embodied its era’s highest ideals and deepest tensions, ones that would prove ever harder to resolve as the century progressed. If artists are prophets, as the Romantics thought, then what did their music prophecy? Did it promise the renewal of European culture or embody the forces that would eventually tear it apart? And how should we think about Romantic music, and its legacy, today?
In this course we’ll explore the music and aesthetics of Romanticism, placing them in the context of the ideas that shaped them, the cultural and political shifts they catalyzed, and the ways they’ve transformed our own understanding of music. We’ll listen to works by Beethoven, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Berlioz, Wagner, and others, placing it in dialogue with their own writing and that of contemporaries like Goethe, Schiller, George Sand, and E.T.A. Hoffmann. We’ll read later observers like Jacques Barzun, Thomas Mann, and Eric Hobsbawm, discussing their views on Romanticism’s meaning and subsequent impact. And we’ll try to understand what this contested history means for us—both for how we hear the Romantics, and how we’ve come to hear everything else.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
February 01 — February 22, 2022