1810 - 1910

Romantic Era


After Napoleon's defeat attempts to re-establish the old European order failed. The ideals of democracy and the growing impact of the Industrial Revolution were changing the nature of society. Subject nations wanted independence, and popular uprisings occurred throughout Europe in the first half of the century. Britain and France made war on Russia to support the declining Ottoman empire. Italy achieved unity in I870, as did Germany in 1871, after conflicts with Austria and France. 

A wave of Romanticism swept through Europe, gripping the imagination of a whole generation. The power of nature and of human emotion found powerful expression in the novels of Sir Walter Scott and the poetry of Wordsworth and Victor Hugo. An enthusiasm for the Middle Ages inspired London's Gothic-style Houses of Parliament, while the beauty of nature influenced the paintings of Constable and Turner.

Western civilization was propelled into industrial urbanization by steam power Railways gave a new mobility and, together with the telegraph, revolutionized communications. Spectacular advances were achieved in science, particularly in medicine and biology, with the invention of anaesthetics and the work of Mendel and Darwin.

In music the Romantic standard-bearer was Beethoven, who expanded traditional musical forms to convey great depth and intensity of feeling. Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt were inspired by the grandeur of nature, but it was also the age of the virtuoso and the public flocked to hear Chopin and Paganini. The growing nationalism was reflected in the operas of Wagner and Verdi and in the work of Russian composers.

After Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 every effort was made by the victorious powers to restore the old order in Europe, which had been undermined by 20 years of war and revolution. Yet the apparent triumph of conservatism was to prove a delusion. The forces of liberalism and nationalism unleashed by the French Revolution had been only temporarily subdued and, although war between the nations of Europe was successfully avoided for the next 40 years, they remained potent disruptive elements.

The origins of Romanticism

As an adjective the word "romantic" had a long pedigree. It derived from the old "romances" — the tales of chivalry popularized by troubadours in the Middle Ages — and was used to convey the evocative, imaginative qualities typical of these works. As early as 1666, the diarist Samuel Pepys could describe a castle as "the most romantic in the world." The word retained this fairly loose meaning until the late eighteenth century, when it was adapted by a group of German writers that included Schiller, Goethe, and Novalis. They drew a clear division between "Romantic" and "Classical" literature, a distinction soon applied to all other branches of the arts.

The Romantics opposed Classicism by proclaiming the superiority of emotion over reason. They demanded the right to free expression in place of the old emphasis on restraint, and elevated the power of the imagination to near-divine status. Artists could make such claims largely because patronage had shifted away from aristocratic courts to the middle classes. Painters and composers had more control over their careers. In many ways the Romantic movement provided them with the artistic equivalent of a declaration of independence.

These changes were not immediate. During the early nineteenth century the line dividing Classicism and Romanticism was often blurred. Beethoven, Schiller, and Goya all had a foot m each camp. The Spaniard Goya illustrated this ambivalence by his reaction to the French occupation of his country in 1808. He was court painter to Charles IV, the king deposed by Napoleon, and was later employed by Ferdinand VII when the monarchy was restored in 1814. Despite his official position, Goya's Disasters of War series (1810—14) is an unflinching record of the atrocities, both French and Spanish, perpetrated during the bitter guerrilla war. This notion of the artist as spokesman of his times was a feature of the Romantic movement.


                       Pierre Renoir. Yvonne and Christine Lerolle Playing the Piano. 1897

The New World

Napoleon's involvement in Span demonstrated his willingness to wage war on all fronts in Europe. Outside the continent, however, it was a different matter. In 1803 Bonaparte agreed to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States, following a discreet hint by President Jefferson that the territory might otherwise be taken by force. Britain's disastrous experience of waging a long-distance war against its American colonies in the previous century no doubt informed his decision.

The British government learned more slowly. In 1812 Britain engaged the United States in a second war, largely over the question of maritime rights. British forces occupied Washington, burning the Capitol to the ground. However, their success was short-lived and peace was concluded at Ghent in December 1814, with the United States once more victorious.

Surprisingly, the war hastened industrial growth in the former colonies, since the conflict made it difficult to import goods from Europe. At the same time the United States itself expanded, admitting six new states to the Union by 1821. Two years later the country's independence was reaffirmed with the so-called Monroe Doctrine, President James Monroe's warning to the European powers that the United States would brook no further interference in the affairs of the New World.

This parting of ways between Europe and the United States did not yet extend to the musical sphere. Inevitably, the earliest American composers of note were immigrants — Moravians such as Johann Friedrich Peter and David Montz Michael and the Bohemian musician Anthony Philip Heinrich. Native-born American composers often wanted to travel to Europe to learn their craft, though Europe did not always welcome them. Louis Gottschalk, for example, went to Paris where, reportedly, the Conservatoire refused to admit him purely on the grounds that he was an American. Undeterred, the young man gained instruction from Berlioz and made a name for himself with Romantic piano pieces such as The dying poet and The last hope.

The sources of Romanticism

The Romantics looked back on the Middle Ages with the enthusiasm their predecessors had reserved for ancient Greece and Rome. This taste for medievalism permeated all the arts. In architecture it produced the Gothic Revival style, pioneered by figures such as A.W.N. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc. In literature it was represented by Sir Walter Scott, whose Wauerley novels were popular throughout Europe. It also inspired groups of painters like the Nazarenes and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to emulate the medieval artists.

Opera in Germany, France, and Italy had a distinct character during this period. Romantic German opera, given impetus by Beethoven's Fidelio, was firmly established by Carl Maria von Weber, Weber's operas Der Freischutz, Euryanthe, and Oberon incorporated themes from fantasy and folklore. Together with operas by Heinnch Marschner they paved the way for the monumental music dramas of Richard Wagner, whose greatest works drew on Arthurian legend (Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde) or on the folk tales contained in the thirteenth-century Nibelungenlied. In France, Auber and later Gounod popularized the opera comique (generally light works, though not necessarily comic, that included spoken dialogue). Meyerbeer, a leading figure of Grand Opera, composed epic five-act operas featuring a host of spectacular effects that impressed the young Wagner when he saw them in Pans. In Italy Rossini's sparkling comic operas developed the bel canto (beautiful singing) technique, which stressed the lyrical qualities of the voice over raw power, and paved the way for Bellini and Donizetti. Heir to the legacy of all three Italian composers was Verdi, who like Meyerbeer treated historical subjects, but with a decidedly political slant.

The Romantics distanced themselves from the values that had prevailed during the Age of Reason. It naturally followed that they should take an interest in the irrational. Accordingly, a taste for the macabre figured prominently in their aesthetic, with madness, horror, and the supernatural as common themes. Artists like Gericault and Goya produced penetrating studies of lunatics, while Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) led the craze for the "gothick" horror novel. In music this influence can be seen, for example, in Berlioz's Symplionie fantastique (1830), in which the composer sought to evoke a series of opium-induced hallucinations. These visions became increasingly disturbed, culminating in an orgiastic witches' sabbat, during which the heroine danced on her former lover's grave and a section of the Catholic Mass was burlesqued.

Given such dark subject matter, it may seem surprising that the other great preoccupation of the Romantics was nature. Schumann's Rhenish symphony (1850), for example, was intended as a tribute to the beauties of the German Rhineland district where he lived. Similarly, Mendelssohn's Italian and Scottish symphonies (1833 and 1842 respectively) were inspired by his travels in those countries. In his Fingal's cave overture (1832), Mendelssohn responded to the rock formations on the island of Staffa, confirming his genius for composing musical landscapes.

Once again, other branches of the arts produced parallels. Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote emotionally charged poetry about the imposing beauty of the Lake District, while painters such as Constable, Turner, and Corot brought to their canvases lyrical visions of the world they saw around them.

Of course, an appreciation of nature was not new, but the Romantic version developed in direct response to various contemporary factors. The spread of the Industrial Revolution and the increasing urbanization of society made the countryside seem idyllic. At the same time there was a fierce reaction against the perceived artificiality of courtly life in the preceding era. Where Classical artists had sought to arrange natural elements in order to create a harmonious effect, the Romantics did not try to modify nature but only to record their personal impressions of it. They felt themselves to be at the mercy of the elements, rather than in control of them.

The value the Romantics attached to their personal feelings and to individualism in general, extended to all other aspects of society. These rebellious tendencies often brought them into conflict with authority as the subversive champions of liberty and change.


Uprisings and revolutions

The first half of the nineteenth century was no more violent than other ages, but it was marked by a different type of struggle. Alongside the usual territorial aggression and dynastic jealousies, a spate of internal revolts erupted, characterized by the same democratic impulses that had spawned the French Revolution.

In 1831 the Polish army joined the populace in mounting a challenge to their Russian rulers. However, a lack of planning and unity doomed the attempt; by the end of the year Russian troops were back in control and many dissident Poles were expelled. Most of them took refuge in France, where the campaign for a "Free Poland" enjoyed warm support. One of the expatriates who found a new home in Paris was Frederic Chopin. Although Chopin was never to return to Poland, his music bristles with the typical rhythms and melodic strains of his native land. His polonaises and mazurkas were lively dance forms that evoked among his fellow exiles the pride and grandeur of Poland's noble past.

French support for the Polish cause was probably boosted by its own domestic upheavals. Since 1824 the country had been ruled by Charles X, who harboured bitter memories of the Revolution and did his utmost to restore some of the monarchy's lost power. Accordingly, when the elections of 1830 went against him, Charles dismissed his Chamber of Deputies and tried to rule by decree. A popular uprising in Paris soon forced him to abdicate, and after frenzied negotiations, the crown was offered to Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans.

Louis Philippe's moderation guaranteed him a certain measure of support, although there were dangerous enemies waiting in the wings. These included the Republicans, who were seeking a return to revolutionary principles: the Legitimists, who argued for the restoration of the monarchy to the Bourbon dynasty; and the Bonapartists, who regretted the loss of power and prestige that France had suffered since the defeat of the emperor Napoleon.

                                                     Pierre Renoir. Lady at the Piano. 1875


Developments in music

The economic benefits that flowed from the Industrial Revolution had considerable advantages for musicians. The spread of education and the growth of the professional classes provided a new audience, enabling some players to achieve great tame. The virtuoso performers were the real beneficiaries. The greatest, Niccolo Paganini, wove such magic on his violin that he was rumoured to have made a pact with the devil. The maestro undoubtedly encouraged this sort of sensationalist publicity, though some took it seriously. In fact, for five years after his death his body was denied burial in consecrated ground.

Paganini's showmanship inspired Liszt, who transcribed some of Paganini's compositions for the piano. With his exaggerated mannerisms and his histrionic playing style, Liszt also managed to ape much of the violinist's success. The concert circuit also included a growing number of lesser-known pianists, such as Sigismond Thalberg, Alexander Dreyschock, and J.B. Cramer, whose dexterity caused one commentator to suggest that he had two right hands.

This sort of virtuosity was stimulated by technical advances in the manufacture of instruments, in particular that of the piano. The gradual introduction of the metal frame enabled it to withstand greater stress and allowed for the addition of more strings. The expanded range of the piano in turn encouraged musicians to become ever more daring in their compositions.

One side-effect of this trend was the creation of a widening gulf between "light" and "serious" music. The technical difficulty of many pieces made them the preserve of only the most expert players. Conscious of this, some Romantic composers began to make a distinction between the different levels of their listening public and, in so doing, created a certain elitism. This was itself something of an irony, as within what was essentially a middle-class movement it became fashionable to mock bourgeois taste as "philistine."

A similar split developed in the scale of musical production. On the one hand, shorter, small-scale works were performed to select audiences in the intimate surroundings of salons. On the other hand, the size of the orchestra was gradually increasing to accommodate the rich effects of the full-blown Romantic symphony. This, in turn, helped to establish the role of the conductor. Just a generation earlier Haydn had been able to direct performances of his work while seated at his harpsichord among the players. Now, as the music assumed greater complexity, a more disciplined approach was required. The baton became a standard piece of equipment after 1850, and the conductor's influence grew as the century wore on. Indeed, some musicians felt that they took too many liberties with their arrangements; Verdi was once heard to complain that the conductor had replaced the singer as a composer's worst enemy.

The dominant trend after Beethoven moved towards grander works. Brahms, Bruckner, and Wagner all expanded the sonata form to suit their large-scale designs, and Liszt coined the term symphonic poem for his single-movement works, which described subjects from mythology or literature. Chopin had earlier suggested the possibility of shorter, more intimate pieces, his preferred compositional forms being etudes and preludes.


1848: the year of revolutions

In 1848 a wave of political unrest swept across Europe. Once again French instability provided the tinder for the flames of revolution. In February of that year rioting in Paris persuaded a weary Louis Philippe to abdicate in favour of his grandson. Radical insurgents refused to accept this nomination, however, and pressed for a return to republicanism. Their demands were met, and a new constitution was approved in November. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was sworn in as the first president, and it appeared that the Republic would survive. But in December 1851 he staged a coup and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III.

News of the 1848 riots in Paris had meanwhile brought discontent to the surface in one city after another. Rebels took to the streets in Vienna, and Klemens Metternich, the autocratic Austrian Chancellor and self-appointed "policeman of Europe", fled to England. Taking advantage of the confusion, nationalists in other parts of the Austrian Empire - Bohemia, Hungary, Serbia, and Italy - all rose up against their Hapsburg overlords.

After the initial shock the Austrian authorities fought back. Prague was occupied in June 1848, and the collapse of Czech resistance soon followed. In Italy the rebels were sought out, and the defeat of Charles Albert of Piedmont at Novara in March 1849 brought a temporary halt to hostilities. Hungary mounted the stiffest resistance. Under the leadership of Kossuth it repelled a Croat invasion in September 1848 and regained control of Buda and Pest in the following spring. It was only when Tsar Nicholas I sent in Russian troops to help stem the revolt that the cause proved hopeless. Kossuth acknowledged defeat and went into exile.

When the dust had settled, it seemed that order had been restored. The flurry of nationalism appeared to have dispersed is the Austrian leadership resumed its grip on its vast domains. In tact, the problem had simply been deferred. Nationalism was л time bomb, and the fuse had only just been lit.

Europe at mid-century

While Romanticism held sway in the music world, it was gradually supplanted in literature and the visual arts after the middle of the century, with the Realist movement producing writers such as Flaubert and Zola. In 1850 the painter Courbet exhibited his masterpiece of realism, Burial at Ornans, and in 1866 Manet's Olympia foreshadowed the Impressionist movement.

The sense of disillusionment that followed the failure of the 1848 revolutions contributed to this change of attitude. At the same time, the spectacular achievements of science gave the age great confidence and a firm belief in progress. In 1 851 the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London demonstrated the extent of recent scientific and technological advance: the development of electricity; the isolation of new chemical substances which were to have important industrial uses; and the discovers' of anaesthetics. Geologists were beginning to examine the fundamental nature of the earth itself, and Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 would soon revolutionize humankind's conception of its place in nature. The power of the steam engine had upset all previous ideas about distance, and by 1840 the electric telegraph was already in use in England and France. In 1861 experiments began in the United States with a new source of energy: petroleum.

                                                              Edgar Degas. Cafe Concert


Russia: nationalism and music

In 1848, the very year in which the continent of Europe was rocked by a series of popular uprisings, Karl Marx declared nationalism a movement without a future. The proletariat — '"a class without a country" - he believed would be at the core of new developments. Marx's analysis of social evolution proved prophetic in many ways but, in this instance, he could not have been more wrong. In the latter part of the century nationalism would become a powerful instrument for change, with music playing a vital role at the heart of the movement.

The failed 1830 uprising in Poland was followed by a second, equally disastrous Polish revolt in January 1863. After its suppression, Tsar Alexander II sought to eliminate the problem by expelling patriots and by Russianizing the culture of his troublesome Polish domains. But Alexander's subjugation of Poland could not mask the fact that Russia, too, had yet to assert its cultural independence. By Western standards the country was industrially backward, with illiterate serfs constituting 80 per cent of the population. Alexander began the long process of freeing these peasants in 1 858, but widespread emancipation did not take place until the 1880s.

Russian art mirrored this situation. Music, for example, was still the preserve of the nobility, who expected it to follow Italian, French, or German models. Serf orchestras were common, but the most talented musicians received their training abroad. Catherine the Great had initiated some changes, encouraging her Italian court composers to use Russian librettos. The real breakthrough, however, came with Mikhail Glinka.

After learning his craft in Italy and Germany, Glinka returned home to produce A life for the Tsar (1836), which with its patriotic theme can be classed as the first genuine Russian opera. He followed this with Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), in which the musical roots of his native land were still more apparent. In his footsteps came Alexander Dargomyzhsky. Both men were profoundly influenced by the writings of Pushkin, the Romantic poet and dramatist credited as the founder and creator of the modern Russian language.

The nationalist trend initiated by Glinka continued through the group of Russian composers known collectively as "The Mighty Handful" or "The Five" (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov). They were anxious to avoid the Germanic playing style taught in the official academies such as the St Petersburg Conservatoire and determined to take responsibilty for their own tuition. The results were unconventional and, in the opinion of some critics, amateurish. The St Petersburg Opera twice refused Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov as being too unsophisticated for public taste.

In the political sphere, however, national pride took a dent when Russia became embroiled in a war with Britain and France. The crisis was precipitated by the gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the east. Fearing that Nicholas I would attempt to absorb these Turkish territories, Britain and France sent a fleet to the Black Sea in January 1854. In the ensuing war, the Allied armies laid siege to Sebastopol, Russia's great naval fortress in the Crimea, a lengthy operation that was not concluded until September 1855. By this time Piedmont and Austria had added their weight to the Allied cause. Given the strength of the opposition, Russia sued for peace, thus bringing the Crimean War to a close in early 1856.

The American Civil War

Like Russia, the United States was a nation still coming to terms with its own identity. Here the tension focused on slavery. The songs of Stephen Foster— "Camptown Races", "My Old Kentucky Home" — may have conjured up a rosy picture of life on the Southern plantations, but the Northern outcry against the institution and spread of slavery grew.

The immediate catalyst for war was the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in I860. South Carolina seceded from the Union in December of that year, to be followed by six more states at the start of 1861. The Southern Confederates' attack on Fort Sumter in April marked the official outbreak of hostilities.

The North should have won easily, with its advantage of greater numbers (23 states against the South's 11) and superior economic resources, but the issue remained in doubt for a full two years. Only with the decisive Northern victory at Gettysburg in July 1863 did conflict end; an armistice was eventually signed in April 1865. The widespread euphoria in the North that accompanied this achievement was rapidly cut short, however, when Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington shortly afterwards.

The true sense of nationhood that eventually resulted from the American Civil War did not bring with it an immediate appreciation of native-born culture. The most acclaimed composers were those who had received their training in Germany and who worked in distinctly European styles. The first truly successful integration of American elements into the European mainstream came in fact from the Czech, Dvorak, in his symphony of 1893, From the new world.

                                     Edgar Degas. Rehearsal of Ballet on the Stage. 1874



France and Britain

After a shaky start Napoleon Ill's administration in France, which lasted from 1852 to 1870, ushered in a period of great prosperity and artistic exuberance. Nothing could have symbolized this better than the wholesale transformation of Paris under the supervision of the Emperor's Prefect, Baron Georges Haussmann. In place of the congested, filthy slums of the medieval city, Haussmann designed and created a modern Paris, with wide boulevards, leafy parks, and handsome public buildings, the crowning example of which was Charles Garnier's Opera House, commissioned in 1858. Although compared by some to "an overloaded sideboard", the sumptuous decoration of Garnier's creation fitted the mood of the age to perfection. Though Grand Opera might seem a likely musical counterpart to this new Paris, it was in fact the opera bouffe (comic opera) or operetta, popularized by Jacques Offenbach, that came into vogue. Offenbach's witty, gently satirical productions were the rage of Paris in the 1860s, and proved a fertile source of inspiration for the English "Savoy Operas" of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Savoy Operas, like their French counterparts, were celebratory in tone, reflecting the zenith of Britain's imperial power. During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) the country reaped the benefits of its long-term political stability and its commitment to the Industrial Revolution. The growing railway and shipbuilding enterprises found obvious outlets in the expanding Empire, while the success of banking and insurance operations turned the City of London into the financial capital of the world.


II Risorgimento

The nationalist trend evident in Russia and the United States was also visible in Europe. In Italy the growing clamour for unification, also known as II Risorgimento (Resurrection), had been an active force since the early years of the century. It began with republican revolutionaries like the Carbonari, and Giuseppe Mazzini, who founded the Young Italy movement in 1831. Towards the middle of the century, however, a new vision emerged. Count Camillo Cavour, the Prime Minister of Piedmont and Sardinia, began to argue the case for a monarchy, with his master, Victor Emmanuel II, as the leading candidate. This ambition lay behind Cavour's willingness to commit troops to the Crimean War. He hoped that this involvement would raise his country's international standing, and, indeed, Piedmont was rewarded with a place at the peace negotiations, alongside the major powers.

In the long term, though, the dream of Italian independence could be achieved only if a wedge were driven between France and Austria, which had effectively divided Italy between them. Cavour drove the wedge in 1859, when he persuaded Napoleon III to support his call for Austrian withdrawal. The French Emperor envisaged the creation of a confederation of Italian states dependent on France, and had been promised Savoy and Nice as the price of his assistance.

But Napoleon had underestimated the strength of nationalist feeling in Italy. He was alarmed at the number of states that voluntarily joined with Piedmont; and when Garibaldi and his "Red Shirts" invaded Sicily in May 1860, he proposed Anglo-French intervention. The British government refused, openly supporting Italian unification. Napoleon's hands were tied, Sicily and Naples fell, and in March 1861 the independent Kingdom of Italy was established. Venice and Rome were added to the union in 1 866 and 1 870 respectively.

Progress towards independence was echoed in the music of Giuseppe Verdi. Indeed, his very name represented freedom, reflecting as it did the initials of Vittorio Emmanuele Re D'Italia (Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy), and "Viva Verdi!" became a rallying cry for revolutionaries. On the strength of his popularity. Verdi was eventually elected to serve in the first national Parliament, holding office until 1865.

Towards German unification

Verdi's career is often compared to that of Richard Wagner. Exact contemporaries, the two men were linked to the nationalist movements in their respective countries. In Wagner's case this proved almost fatal. Following his participation in a local rebellion at Dresden in 1849, a warrant was put out for his arrest and he was forced to flee. He stayed in exile, living mostly in Switzerland, until he was allowed to return in 1861.

Wagner's banishment coincided with a long cat-and-mouse game between the Prussian and Austrian governments as they wrestled for control of the disparate German states. (Prussia consisted of northern and central Germany, extending from France to Poland.) In September 1850 Prussian troops entered Hesse, a show of aggression that resulted m an emergency meeting of the German states. Prussia was forced to withdraw, leaving Austria supreme under its powerful Emperor, Franz Josef.

Despite the political defeat, however, Prussian fortunes were in the ascendant. An economic boom was under way in northern Germany, the railway system was expanding and Berlin's stature as a banking centre had increased dramatically. All Prussia required was a statesman with the vision to transform this wealth into power.

Prussia's salvation arrived with Otto von Bismarck, who was appointed Prime Minister in 1862. Certain that Austrian domination would never be removed by diplomacy or democratic means, but only by "blood and iron", Bismarck channelled Prussia's resources into military reform, creating an engine of war that would be a match for any army in Europe.

Bismarck soon saw an opportunity to deploy these forces. The death of the Danish king, Frederick VII, in November 1863, provided a pretext for the annexation of the German-speaking duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Prussia took control of the former and Austria the latter but, in 1866, Bismarck complained that Vienna was abusing its power in the province and ordered his troops into Holstein. At the same time, as part of a prearranged agreement with Bismarck, Italian nationalists invaded the Austrian territories around Venice. Fighting on two fronts, the divided Austrian army was rapidly overwhelmed. Its defeat at Sadowa in July 1866 effectively removed Austria's influence from German affairs. Bismarck's decisive campaign had lasted just one month.

Wagner's conversion to the Prussian cause was symptomatic of the patriotic sentiments that Bismarck managed to inspire. In his early days the composer had been a committed democrat, sharing the liberal ideals of the '"Young Germany" group and the left-wing poet Heinnch Heine. However, as unification turned from a dream into reality, Wagner was swept up in the excitement, dedicating verses to Bismarck and writing the Kaisermarsch in celebration of his victory in the Franco-Prussian War.


Austria's troubled empire

The Austrian government, as it represented such a variety of cultures, feared exclusion from German affairs and so redoubled its efforts to Germanize its domains. This naturally caused resentment among the Austrian people and stoked the fires of nationalism. The events of 1866 led some Austrian subjects to renew their claims for independence. These were rejected, but the recent reverses had shown the Emperor, Franz Josef, the value of moderation. Thus, when treating with Hungary in 1867, his government negotiated the Ausgleich (Compromise). This left the Hapsburg territories intact, but also established the Dual Monarchy, which granted the Hungarians internal autonomy and a share in the running of the Empire.

Other ethnic groups were offered less generous terms. The Ausgleich gave the Poles of Galicia and the Slav-Croats limited rights of self-government, but for most the situation remained unchanged. The Czechs, for example, would have to wait until after World War I for the creation of their nation state. However, their nationalist aspirations were to find expression in their rich output of music in the second half of the century.


German supremacy in Europe

The Prussian victory at Sadowa enabled Bismarck to bring northern Germany under his control. His opportunity to complete the unification process arose in 1870, when the vacant Spanish throne was offered to Prince Leopold, a member of the Hohenzollern family. The French, horrified at the prospect of a German monarch in Spain and demanding the withdrawal of Leopold's candidature, were cunningly manoeuvred by Bismarck into declaring war.

The ensuing struggle was a virtual repeat of the Austro-Prussian conflict. Less than two months after declaring war. Napoleon was defeated at Sedan. Pans fell after a bitter tour-month siege, and France was forced to surrender Alsace and Lorraine. With peace negotiations under way. Bismarck managed to persuade the southern German states to join with Prussia in a new union. Accordingly, on January 18,1871, the Prussian king, Wilhelm, was crowned Kaiser (Emperor) of Germany at Versailles.

The French had still further indignity to suffer. In Pans radical Republicans took control of the city and established a revolutionary commune that rejected the authority of the French government after the surrender to Prussia. The Paris Commune survived for just two months before being violently suppressed. Meanwhile, outside the capital, German troops remained on French soil until the autumn of 1873.

By the 1870s Russia had become once again the focal point of European concern. After the Franco-Prussian War the German Empire was the dominant force on the mainland, preserving a fragile balance of power between its neighbours. It was m the east, where the Ottoman Empire continued to crumble, that the greatest danger lay. Trouble erupted in 1875 when Bosnia rebelled against its Turkish rulers. Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria soon joined the tray, hoping to enlist the support of Russia. Western leaders were torn between sympathy for the predominantly Christian rebels and suspicion that the crisis had been provoked by Pan-Slav agitators in Russia. Their fears increased as the Tsar's army invaded Turkey and marched on Constantinople. Western pressure halted its progress ten miles short of the capital and a European summit was called at Berlin. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 segments of the Ottoman Empire were shuffled like cards and dealt out to the major powers, and Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria all achieved a measure of independence. Serious hostilities had been averted for the time being, but the tangled web of nationalist jealousies in the Balkans remained unresolved.

Romanticism had played its part in arousing the revolutionary and nationalistic fervour of the nineteenth century, its extolling of personal feelings and the individual acting as a potent force for both political and artistic change. Beginning with Beethoven, a rich seam of musical innovation was mined throughout the era. As time went on, the Romantic movement would become generally less significant, although in the musical world its influence was to remain powerful for many years.

The 1880s saw a great expansion of European power overseas and much of tropical Africa was divided between the great European nations. Asian colonies were also established - at the expense of the Chinese empire - drawing the United States into the expansionist tide. Britain fought a bitter war with the Boer republics, and a newly industrialized Japan inflicted a harsh defeat on Russia, provoking the futile revolution of 1905. Ancient rivalries between Russia and Austria-Hungary combined with German ambitions and nationalist strife in the Balkans to fuel European tensions, The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian patriot sparked off a brutal conflict that swiftly engulfed the continent.

In France, art became involved in a fruitful period of controversy, with Impressionist painters making major advances in the use of colour and technique to capture light and atmosphere. Traditional forms were profoundly challenged, and by the early 1900s abstract art had appeared.

The later nineteenth century witnessed some remarkable scientific achievements -the beginnings of atomic physics, the discovery of X-rays and Pasteur's work on micro-organisms, as well as Einstein's theories of relativity. Technological innovation was vigorous - the phonograph and electric light bulb made their first appearances - to be followed by the motor car aeroplane, and wireless.

In music, nationalism remained a potent source of inspiration; British, Czech, and Russian composers drew on native songs and folk music, as did Grieg in Norway and Bartok in Hungary. From the United States came ragtime - highly popular and also rooted in indigenous traditions.

By the late 1870s the revolutionary and nationalistic fervour so closely associated with the Romantic movement had transformed the map of Europe. The new German Empire maintained a fragile balance of power, upholding the resolutions that had been agreed upon at the Congress of Berlin. Nationalism was by no means a spent force but, in the later years of the century, it assumed a different character. While the unification of Germany and Italy had been essentially constructive processes, as disparate states were built up to form new nations, similar forces in central and eastern Europe tended more to destruction, leading to the break-up of long-established empires.

Romanticism played a lesser part in this second strain of nationalism. In literature and the visual arts the movement was gradually supplanted in the mid-nineteenth century, giving way to the Realist school. In the musical world Romanticism had a longer life. One of its foremost exponents, Richard Wagner, was still a dominant figure at the end of the century. Increasingly, however, it became a mark of tradition, rather than an instrument for change. In a musical context realism's nearest equivalent was VERISMO (true to life) opera, inspired by Bizet's Carmen (1875), which shocked Parisian audiences with its uninhibited portrayal of lust and savagery. Even so, it helped to create a demand for operas that concentrated on the seamier aspects of lite — a demand which was cheerfully supplied by composers like Puccini and Mascagni.

                                                 Edgar Degas. Orchestra Musicians. 1871


The influence of Impressionism and the East

In the meantime, a veritable revolution was taking place in the art world. In 1874 a group of French painters banded together to stage the first Impressionist show in Paris. In all, they would mount eight exhibitions, all in open defiance of the academic establishment. These artists sought to capture on canvas the ephemeral effects of light and of changing patterns of weather,

as well as the immediacy of contemporary Parisian life. Rejecting the carefully composed artifices of their predecessors, they tried to paint pictures that were like "snapshots." The Impressionists' emphasis on the fleeting moment had slight Romantic overtones, but their overall approach was more scientific — Monet painted more than 20 versions of Rouen cathedral to illustrate how its appearance altered under different light conditions — and they fiercely opposed the emotionalism of Romantic art.

The Impressionists' evocative style translated well into musical terms. Manuel de Falla described his Nights in the gardens of Spain (1916) as a series of "symphonic impressions" for piano and orchestra; some of Ravel's pieces, such as Jeux d'eau (1901) and Miroirs (1905). could be called impressionistic; and Claude Debussy was greatly attracted to the work of the Impressionists. Indeed, striking parallels exist between the effects created by Impressionist paintings and Debussy's vise of subtle textures of harmony and tone to conjure up images of misty, atmospheric scenes, as in his Nuages (the first part of Nocturnes). The understatement and restraint characterizing works of this kind distanced them from the passion and the storytelling that were typical of Romanticism.

From the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889 Debussy carried away deep impressions of the unique sound of the Javanese gamelan orchestra. He soon incorporated its exotic flavour into works such as Pagodas and his String quartet in G minor. Other composers followed suit, similarly seduced by the mystique of the East. Puccini's Madama Butterfly centred on the plight of a Japanese geisha girl; Mahler based his Song of the Earth on a cycle of six Chinese, poems; and Gilbert and Sullivan scored one of their biggest popular successes with The mikado. based on an Eastern theme. This vogue for things oriental swept through most branches of the arts. Blue and white porcelain and Japanese prints became significant collector's items, and the latter profoundly influenced painters like Van Gogh and Gauguin. The higher profile of the East, in part due to the beauty of its culture, was all the more exaggerated as the rush for imperial possessions gathered pace in the final years of the nineteenth century.


Nationalism and imperialism

The ferment within Russia seemed to vindicate the views of Cecil Rhodes (the founder of Rhodesia), who declared that nations should become imperialist if they wished to avoid civil war. Many European governments shared this opinion, recognizing that colonial success would not only bring economic benefits, but could also deflect social discontent at home.

This brought about a significant shift in the nature of nationalist feeling. Whereas in the earlier part of the nineteenth century nationalism had usually been associated with liberalism or with the radical tradition of the French Revolution, it was now also used as a political tool by conservative elements. They sought to awaken a pride in national values and a patriotic sense of duty in order to draw attention away from domestic economic uncertainties.

This proved to be a double-edged sword. While greater national pride had its uses, it also led to an increase in xenophobia which, in turn, added to the risk of war. For example, the long-running Dreyfus affair, a case of treason that scandalized France for over a decade, was inflamed by the fact that the army officer in question was Jewish. Captain Dreyfus was wrongly convicted in 1 894; his sentence would not be quashed until 1906. Similarly, in England, the hostility to foreigners reached such a pitch that the royal family followed the prudent course of masking their German origins by adopting the name of Windsor.

Nationalism and music

In the latter half of the nineteenth century nationalism proved a potent source of inspiration for many composers. In Czech music the groundwork had been laid by Frantisek Skroup, who in 1826 had produced the first homegrown opera, Dratenik (The Tinker); he also wrote the song that would many years later be chosen as the national anthem. He was followed by Smetana. whose nationalist sympathies had been stirred by the 1 848 uprising. In 1866 his most famous opera, The bartered bride, a lively evocation of rural life in a Bohemian village, was first produced. Smetana continued to celebrate his homeland with operas such as Libuse and with his cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast.

This patriotic flavour was maintained in the work of Smetana's compatriot. Antonin Dvorak, who had played under his direction as a violinist in the national orchestra. Dvorak made particular use of native dance forms such as the dumka and the furiant, and his two collections of Slavonic dances won him international acclaim.

The Czech experience was replicated in other parts of the continent as composers looked to their musical roots for inspiration. However, the political dimensions of this trend varied considerably. Some composers used folk elements as a colourful and exotic feature of an otherwise cosmopolitan style. Liszt's Hungarian rhapsodies, for instance, mostly published in the

1850s, were not based on true traditional forms, but rather derived from the gypsy music that could be heard in the restaurants and cafes of Budapest. The genuine folk music of Hungary was not appreciated until many years later.

Nationalism also prompted some nations to re-examine their own heritage. In France the National Society for French Music, founded in 1871, attempted to revive the country's musical fortunes by commissioning new editions and performances of works by earlier French masters. This, together with the Schola Cantorum (another educational body, founded in 1904), helped to restore the nation to its prominent position m the musical world.

The British emphasized the creation of a new native school. One mischievous German critic had described England as "the land without music" but, after the turn of the century, this jibe had lost its sting. Edward Elgar captured the patriotic mood of the country with his Pomp and circumstance marches, while Henry Wood's Promenade Concerts (beginning in 1895) provided the nation with an enduring musical tradition. Their efforts were consolidated by that most English of composers, Ralph

Vaughan Williams. His work benefited from his experience as editor of the Sew English hymnal— he later wrote that his "close association with some of the best (as well as some of the worst) tunes in the world was a better musical education than any amount of sonatas and fugues" — and from his links with the English Folk Song Society, founded in 1898. Together with Gustav Hoist, another folk enthusiast, he made field trips into the English countryside, noting down the songs and dances that he heard. Excursions of this kind into East Anglia provided the raw material for his three Sorfolk rhapsodies and Inthe Fen Country.

                                               Edgar Degas. Singer with a Black Glove. 1878


The importance of folk music

The collecting of folk songs had begun in earnest in England in 1843 with the publication of the Reverend John Broadwood's Old English songs. This led to a series of similar anthologies, culminating in the work of Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), who collected some three thousand songs during Ins travels. Francis Child, a professor at Harvard University, performed an equally mountainous task in the United States. The motives of most of these collectors were either curatorial -preserving an aspect of culture that was in danger of dying out — or educational.

In Germany, Brahms used arrangements of folk songs as the basis of many of his Lieder. Elsewhere, the use of folk material represented a reaction against the dominance of German culture, whose influence had been so far-reaching that many talented young musicians believed it was necessary for them to study in a German conservatoire, if their music was to gain wide acceptance.

One such composer was Edvard Grieg, who trained in Leipzig but returned to his native Norway determined to break away from his foreign musical education. He helped found the Norwegian Academy of Music (1867) and produced scintillating piano arrangements of peasant dances. Debussy might have described some of his pieces as "bonbons stuffed with snow", but Grieg's fellow-countrymen considered them a perfect evocation of their misty Nordic homeland. In Finland Sibelius struck a similarly patriotic note, using the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, as source material for many of his compositions. Equally, composers such as Albeniz and Falla in Spain used traditional sources as a basis for much of their music.

In England the next crucial stage in the collecting of folk songs was undertaken by an Australian musician, Percy Grainger, who had been inspired by Grieg to take an interest in folk music. In 1908 he journeyed round Lincolnshire, using a phonograph to record any tunes he came across. His research was echoed independently in the studies of Kodaly and Bartok. They, too, employed a phonograph, amassing some 16,000 recordings of peasant songs and dances during their travels in Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania.

The conditions under which this kind of research was conducted were arduous and painstaking. The machines themselves were barely portable, while the wax cylinders they used ran for only two and a half minutes, which meant interrupting the flow of the performance. Even so, the recordings allowed

musicians to study the material more closely and accurately and this, in turn, altered the way in which folk sources were applied. Whereas the earlier Romantics had tended to smooth out the irregularities they found in traditional songs or had simply composed in a folk idiom, later musicians used their discoveries as a departure point for creating newer and more original forms. This was particularly true of Bartok, who developed a very personal musical language that stretched tonality - the conventional method of composing a piece around one particular key — to its limits.

Scientific developments

The phonograph, invented by Edison in 1877, was just one of the products of the technological revolution that transformed society in the years leading up to World War I. In 1895 the Lumiere brothers had presented the first cinematograph performance in Paris. Four years later Marconi set up wireless communications between England and France and just two years after that managed to establish similar links between Cornwall and Newfoundland. The same period also saw the appearance of such diverse advances as the electric light bulb, the safety razor, and the vacuum cleaner. Just as these symbols of progress were being invented, other scientists were casting doubt on the very foundations of contemporary belief. In 1900 Max Planck postulated his Quantum Theory and, five years later, Albert Einstein published his first Theory of Relativity. In 1904 Sir Ernest Rutherford's book on radioactivity challenged the concept of the indestructibility of matter, taking the study of physics along a new and dangerous path. Equally

influential, though in an entirely different way. was Sigmund Freud's work on psychoanalysis. Gustav Mahler was one of his patients, seeking relief from the agonized soul-searching which permeates so much of his music.

The last years of the nineteenth century also witnessed enormous advances in the fields of transportation and communications. The motor car, which had been pioneered by Daimler and Benz m the 1880s, became an increasingly common sight. London introduced its first taxicabs in 1903 and, four years later, the Model T Ford went into production in Detroit. Even as these developments were taking place, the Wright brothers were hard at work on the next mechanical marvel. In 1903 they achieved the first series of successful aeroplane flights in North Carolina, the longest of these lasting for just 59 seconds.

New trends in music and art

The vast improvements in communications helped to speed up the transmission of artistic currents. A series of "crazes" swept across Europe, as musical innovations from the New World made their mark. John Philip Sousa took his band on several well-attended tours of Europe, winning great acclaim for marches like 'The Washington Post and The Stars and Stripes forever. He gave his name to the sousaphone, a type of tuba, and became an international bestselling author with his biography, Marching Along.

Another — far less respectable — import was the tango, which had evolved in the brothel quarter of Buenos Aires. Eyebrows were raised at the popularity of this "immodest" dance. At the same time, and with far greater impact, ragtime burst upon the London scene m 1912. In that year a revue called Hullo rag-time opened at the Hippodrome Theatre in London and ran for 451 performances, giving British audiences their first taste of modern American music.

The undisputed centre of artistic developments at this time was Paris. The Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev chose the city as the home for his Ballets Russes company, and painters from all over Europe gravitated towards it. Indeed, it was a measure of the city's cosmopolitan appeal that the "School of Paris" — the group of artists who pioneered modern art at the start of the twentieth century — included two Spaniards (Picasso and Gris), three Russians (Chagall, Soutme and Lipchitz), an Italian (Modighani), a Romanian (Brancusi), and a Dutchman (Van Dongen).

If the geographical barriers between the arts were shrinking, so too were the aesthetic ones. Many painters of the period consciously sought to endow their pictures with musical qualities. James Whistler went one stage further, giving his canvases musical titles such as "Nocturnes" and "Symphonies." Accordingly, he dubbed his celebrated portrait of his mother An Arrangement in Grey and Black. Conversely, the composer Alexander Scriabin aimed at a marriage of sight and sound through his music. He wanted performances of his symphonic poem Prometheus to be accompanied by a display of coloured lights flashed onto a screen. Each note was to be represented by a different colour: "E", for example, he visualized as "pearly white and shimmer of moonlight."

It nothing else, these experiments demonstrated the feverish spirit of creativity that prevailed in prewar Europe. Post-Impressiomsm, Art Nouveau, Fauvism, Symbolism, Cubism, and Expressionism were all spawned within a matter of years. The specifics of these new styles differed greatly, but in general they marked the diminishing influence of the official academies that had controlled the arts for so long.


The road to war

The shadow of war had loomed over Europe since an uneasy peace emerged from the 1878 Congress of Berlin. By 1893 the continent had divided into two camps: the Dual Alliance of France and Russia, and the Triple Alliance of Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. The situation became more complicated in 1904 as France and Britain entered into their Entente Cordiale. On the surface this was little more than an imperialist pact by which France recognized British claims to Egypt, in return for support of its own activities in Morocco. However, the agreement also placed an extra strain on the delicate balance of power. German leaders voiced their tears about encirclement by their enemies, while the opposing powers were equally concerned at the mounting threat of Pan-Germanism. France's lingering bitterness over the loss of Alsace and Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War rubbed further salt into this wound.

Once again it was the strength of nationalist feeling in the Balkans which tilted the balance towards chaos. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. These provinces, under the nominal control of Turkey, had in reality been administered by the Austrians ever since the Berlin conference. Their annexation now was meant to stem the ambitions of Serbia, which hoped to unite all the Slav nations under its banner. Inevitably, the Serbs protested vociferously at the annexations, supported in this move by Russia. However, the Austro-German commitment to the seizures proved too powerful to contest and Russia was forced to climb down.

The Serbs gained their revenge in June 1914 when the heir to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Ferdinand, was murdered in Sarajevo. The Serbian press boasted that the assassination had been plotted in Belgrade, and pressure on the Austrian government to retaliate was overwhelming. However, in the years that had elapsed since the Bosnian crisis, attitudes had hardened. This time there was to be no backing down. Once Serbia and Austria had begun hostilities, the complex system of alliances came into play, and within a week the continent was at war.

Edgar Degas. Orchestra of the Opera. 1868-69

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