The 19th century marked a remarkable era in classical music, which is commonly referred to as the Romantic Era. Music of this era was characterized by Nationalism, Expression, and Exoticism (Charlton & Hickok, 2008). Romantic music composers had to strictly adhere to tonality and close attachment to poetry and painting (Charlton & Hickok, 2008).
Romantic music was rich in tone color and emotion (Dorak, 2005). The first part of this paper presents a discussion of a song, Erlkönig by Schubert, which was composed during the Romantic period. Erlkönig is lied based on Goethe’s narrative poem “Der Erlkönig.” The song has got many characteristics that exemplify Romantic Era music.
First, Erlkönig is an art song composed for a solo voice and a piano. It has strong elements of nationalism and exoticism. Schubert adopted the lyrics from Der Erlkönig, a poem based on the German fork tales narrating the story of the king of the elves.
The use of a piano as an equal player in the song brings out the concept of instrumental music of the Romantic era (Charlton & Hickok, 2008). The combination of voice and instrument exemplify the Romantic era expression of emotion. Besides, Schubert used a piano and voice to portray the expressive tone color of Romantic-era music.
The piano follows the storyline of the music while the solo voice narrates the story (Dorak, 2005). Tonal color is enhanced by the contrasts and merging between the piano part and the voice. Another important element of Schubert’s Erlkönig, which exemplify music of the Romantic era, is its colorful harmony portraying differences in characters.
For instance, he used clashing dissonance to suggest the child’s terror (Dorak, 2005). Lastly, this music has an expanded range of dynamics, pitch, and tempo that characterizes Romantic music. The pitch rises steadily as the story unfolds and builds to climax after which it slows down as the story ends when the horse and rider finally get home.
Some contemporary songs still exemplify these characteristics, though at a limited extent. In this regard, I will discuss a song titled If You’re Reading This by Tim McGraw. The song can be accessed at youtube through the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmQEHg6xg2Q. If You’re Reading This is country music based on the story of a soldier writing to his family to express his wishes after his death.
Though a modern composition, this song has some characteristics of Romantic music. Just like the same way music was used in the Romantic era to express one’s feelings about a subject or convey a message, Tim McGraw uses this song to pay tribute to families of soldiers who perished in the war in Iraqi.
The lyrics of the song narrate the message in the form of a letter that was supposedly written by a soldier before his death to his family expressing his wishes. Tim McGraw expresses emotion in the song through his touching vocals, which is characteristic of Romantic music (Charlton & Hickok, 2008).
Besides, the song has some elements of nationalism as it suggests the experiences of American soldiers dying in peacekeeping missions. The rich tonal color expressed through sparse instrumentation, slow tempo, and strong vocals is clear characteristics of Romantic music (Charlton & Hickok, 2008).
However, this song exemplifies some characteristics different from Romantic music. If You’re Reading This, does not have any element of exoticism that depicts Romantic music. Unlike Romantic music in which instruments are used as an equal player in the song, Tim McGraw only uses instruments as accompaniments in his music.
The emotion, as well as the storyline of the song, is expressed through his lyrics and vocals, which through differences in pitch suggest the emotion of the song. A Romantic composer would have incorporated instrumentation to create a colorful tone of emotion.
Charlton, K. & Hickok, R. (2008). Experience music (2nd ed.). New York City: McGraw- Hill College.
Dorak, M. T. (2005). “Romantic (period) music.” Retrieved Sept 16, 2011 from http://dorakmt.tripod.com/music/romantic.html.