Romantic Period Timeline

What is the Romantic period of music? The Romantic period started around 1830 and ended around 1900, as compositions became increasingly expressive and inventive. Expansive symphonies, virtuosic piano music, dramatic operas, and passionate songs took inspiration from art and literature. Famous Romantic composers include Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mahler, and Verdi – to name but a few!

Find out about Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mahler, and the Romantic music period...

Tchaikovsky said, Truly there would be reason to go mad were it not for music

Schumann spent the last two years of his life in an asylum, at his own request

Mahler was briefly director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic

1880 Tchaikovsky composes 1812 Overture 1877 Tchaikovsky composes Swan Lake

1900 Rachmaninov composes Piano Concerto No. 2The 20th Century period timeline

Romantic era: Fast And Friendly Guide

Download: Classic FM's Romantic collection

The Romantic era is known for its intense energy and passion. The rigid forms of classical music gave way to greater expression, and music grew closer to art, literature and theatre. 

  • Beethoven pioneered Romanticism and expanded previously strict formulas for symphonies and sonatas, and introduced a whole new approach to music, giving his works references to other aspects of life - for example, his 'Pastoral' Symphony No. 6 describes countryside scenes.
  • As well as symphonies, the tone poem and descriptive overture were popular as pieces of stand-alone orchestral music that evoked anything from a painting or poem to a feeling of nationalistic fervour
  • The Romantic era gave birth to the virtuoso. Liszt was one of the greatest of his time, and wrote demanding piano music to show off his own brilliance. Chopin is also among the outstanding composer-performers from this timeIn the world of opera, cue the entrance of Verdi in the middle of the Romantic era. He turned Italian opera on its head by introducing new subject material, often with social, political or nationalistic themes, and combined these with a direct approach to composing.
  • Germany’s Richard Wagner also played a key role in developing the operatic genre.Before Wagner, the action and music in opera was split into short pieces or 'numbers' much like a modern-day musical show. Wagner's operas are written as long, continuous sweeps of music. The characters and ideas are given short signature melodies called leitmotifs.
  • Wagner's ideas dominated most music, from the large-scale symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler to the heroic tone poems and operas of Richard Strauss, even reaching Italy, where Verdi and Puccini started to produce operas according to many of Wagner’s rules.
  • Ideas and compositions became more and more outlandish and inventive until the musical rules had to be rewritten, and the scene was set for the biggest change in music for centuries - the beginning of Modernism.


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At just four years old Tchaikovsky composed his first song

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1876 Brahms composes Symphony No.1 1874 Wagner composes his Ring Cycle

1894 Verdi composed his last orchestral composition, Otello