Arts & Culture | The Romantics | Early Romantic | Classical
During the mid-nineteenth century, and in particular Liszt’s time in Weimar in the 1850s, there were many personal and idealistic tensions in the musical world. The cohesive spirit of early Romanticism during the years following Beethoven’s death (1827) had become fragmented. Liszt had surrounded himself in Weimar with pupils who shared his musical ideals; they became known as the New German School, and Wagner and, at a distance, Berlioz were also associated with them. However, Liszt’s passionate belief in musical progression – and his works that espoused this belief, specifically the symphonic poems, a form he invented – met with a deeply critical reaction. The chief argument was over the future of sonata form. Liszt’s view was that the form should be developed and modified to suit his new expressive means, while Johannes Brahms (1833–97), Clara Schumann, Joachim and others believed that the classical tradition should be upheld. Liszt composed not symphonies but symphonic poems, in which the structure unfolds in a single movement and the music is associated with a literary or extramusical programme; Brahms, on the other hand, wrote traditional four-movement symphonies. The arguments – programme music versus absolute music, form versus content, revolution versus reaction – were ultimately unresolvable. In the 1860s Brahms turned to the ‘classical’ medium of chamber music, while Liszt became increasingly isolated and withdrawn, leaving Wagner to occupy the revolutionary stage.
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