A Short History | Early Romantic | Opera
The early nineteenth century was a period of insurgence in Europe, beginning with the French Revolution in 1789 to the uprisings in 1848. The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain before spreading south to the rest of Europe, was also making its mark.
These two strands of revolution caused transformations in society: growing awareness of national identity, social development, growth of cities and important technological advances – all of which were reflected in the arts.
The first two decades of the nineteenth century also marked a rejection of the scientific certainty that had defined the Enlightenment: symmetry, classical balance and simplicity were replaced gradually by Romantic expressivity, individualism and grand gestures. Distinctive traits – many of which derived from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings – included an interest in nature, the supernatural, the relatively recent past (the Middle Ages in particular) and individual and national identity. Closer links were forged between the arts and social and political reality. In literature, Goethe’s Faust and Walter Scott’s chivalric novels were seen as an embodiment of the age. Of all the arts, it was music that came to be seen as the ideal means of expression, partly because of its ambiguous, indefinable quality.
Classical structures were retained in music throughout this period, but were expanded upon, and new ways to shock or move were sought. Opera increasingly used realistic settings and historical events for its subjects; orchestral music was inspired by historical or literary themes, and virtuoso concertos and intimate mood pieces focused on the expression of the individual. The most influential developments in opera took place in Italy and France, and instrumental music flourished in German-speaking lands.
1808 Part I of Goethe’s Faust published
1812 French invasion of Russia
1815 French defeated at Waterloo; Napoleon is exiled and Bourbon monarchy restored in France and the Vienna Peace Settlement is signed; Johann Nepomuk Maelzel patents his metronome
1820 Revolts crushed in Naples, Spain and Portugal
1822 Greek War of Independence begins following an uprising against the Turks the previous year
1824 Death of Lord Byron at Missolonghi, fighting for the Greeks
1827 Ludwig van Beethoven dies
1829 Stephenson builds the locomotive Rocket
1830 July Revolution in France; Belgian revolt reputedly sparked by a performance of Auber’s la muette de Portici
1831 Michael Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction; circumnavigation by Charles Darwin
1832 Reform Bill passed in Britain; Metternich issues repressive decrees in Germany; Giuseppe Mazzini founds La Giovane Italia with the aim of achieving national independence for Italy; completion of the first continental railway
1837 Death of William IV; Queen Victoria accedes to the British throne; Louis Daguerre invents the daguerrotype, the first practicable process of photography
1840 Death of Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and succession of Friedrich Wilhelm IV
1842 Gazzetta musicale di Milano first published in Italy; Verdi’s Nabucco performed – the choris ‘Va pensiero’ later becomes the provisional national anthem in Italy
1845 Wagner’s Tannhäuser performed in Dresden
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