An in-Depth Analysis of the Use of Specific Musical Concepts in Correlation to the Romantic Period

3 March 2017

The Romantic Era was a period of great change and emancipation. It moved away from strict laws by allowing artistic freedom, experimentation and creativity. Romantic music evolved from ideas established in earlier periods, such as the classical period, and went further through the use of expression and passion. New musical concepts evolved due to current trends and the music was deeply personal and nationalistic. Musical concepts including pitch, tone colour and dynamics and expressive techniques each express the style of the Romantic period in differing ways.

These concepts are exemplified through Nocturne and Valse, both by Chopin. Nocturne and Valse are both emotionally expressionistic pieces typical of the romantic era, written by Chopin, a renowned composer of the time. Through Chopin’s strong use of expressive techniques and dynamics, he shows his creativity and experimentation, which was a common motivation for composers of the time. This is typified through his vast use of crescendos, decrescendos, accents and differing volume levels including piano (soft), mezzo forte (moderately loud), pianissimo (very soft) and forte (loud).

An in-Depth Analysis of the Use of Specific Musical Concepts in Correlation to the Romantic Period Essay Example

The Nocturne begins at a volume level of piano, which expresses feelings of gentleness. Throughout bars 1-9, the music remains in piano but with the occurrence of crescendos and diminuendos. Composers alike would frequently use dynamics to evoke emotional characteristics that they intended to express. The associated volume levels were merely consequences of the feelings. In bar 17, a crescendo leads up to the forte in bar 18. This loud onset of music expresses feelings of strength or dominance. Often composers of the romantic period would use ornamentation in their tunes to make them more intricate, interesting and expressive.

While maintaining the overall melodic contour, ornaments affect the pitch by adding new notes to the melody and also affect the rhythm by making it busier. Ornamental techniques in the Nocturne and Valse include Trills, acciaccaturas and fast phrases of semi and demisemi quavers. Demisemi quavers A major characteristic of Romantic music involved sharp contrasts between faint whispers and sonorities of unprecedented power. As the Nocturne concludes, it experiences a loud forte contrasting with a decline in intensity, when the piece reaches pianissimo in the final 3 bars.

The Valse experiences a wide range of dynamics and expressive techniques, with most bars containing a dynamic mark of some kind. This depicts the rise and fall in intensity and heightens emotions for the listener. The piece begins at a volume level of mezzo forte, but within the next bar is immediately lowering with the use of a decrescendo. This is the beginning of the large use of expressiveness that is heard through the piece. The Valse experiences extremes for example in bar 55, the volume level of forte increases to a sforzando in bar 56.

This contrasts with bar 66, which changes to pianissimo. Chopin’s Nocturne is also characterised by pitch. His melodic structures were always highly original and reflective. Preference for song-like melodies evolved in the Romantic Period and this is demonstrated by Chopin in the Nocturne. The piece opens with a legato melody containing graceful upwards steps, which become wider as the line unfolds. The significant melody of the piece begins in bars 2-4. This melody is heard again throughout the piece and with each repetition, is varied by even more elaborate ornaments and decorative tones.

This is shown in bars 10-12, 31-33 and 39-41. The character of the melody can be understood as it is played with legato articulation. This strongly illustrates a sense of smoothness and flow. As the Nocturne is played with legato articulation, this creates more freedom and expression. The Valse however, is played with Tempo Giusto. This means it is much more strict as it must be played in exact time. This does not allow for variation, unlike the Nocturne, which is common with waltzes. The smooth character of the Nocturne and Valse is also linked with the inclusion of sostenuto articulation.

The loud pedal creates an overlapping effect, which contributes to the nature of the piece. The type of layer relationship shown in both the Nocturne and Valse is homophonic. They consist of a dominant melodic layer accompanied by subordinate harmonic layers. Many composers of this time, reached for extremely high or low sounds. This was in search of increased brilliance and depth in sound. Throughout the Nocturne the broken chords in the bass span from relatively high to low pitch with the lowest note, an f, in bar 8 and the highest, an a#, in bar 37.

The treble experiences a similar type of pitch pattern, with notes ranging from mid pitch to high pitch, which can be seen in bars 30-37 of the piece. Romantic composers revelled in rich and sensuous sound, using tone colour to obtain variety of mood and atmosphere. Never before had timbre been so important. Composers sought new ways of blending and combining tone colours to achieve the most poignant and intense sound. The Piano, the favourite instrument of the romantic age, was vastly improved during the 1820s and 1830s.

The piano’s tone became more ‘singing’. Its range was also extended. With a stronger instrument, the pianist could produce more sound. Need to create more sounds from the piano is highlighted in bars 36 – end of 37. Showing the composers use of 8va. Also wider range of keys further contributed to the expressions, which were so typical of the era. Different timbres can be created in a number of ways. Contributing factors to the flowing timbre of the Nocturne can include, use of the damper pedal, the varying registers and playing techniques.

Within the nocturne and the valse, the density is thickened by the damper pedal. The use of the damper (loud) pedal allowed a sonorous blend of tones from all registers of the piano. This pedal is continued throughout almost every single bar of the pieces and enriches the tones sounded. Pedal markings The moving registers, as mentioned above, gradually vary the timbre. In the lower register the timbre is velvety and breathy. In the middle register the quality of sound is pure and in the upper register, the sound becomes quite high and singing.

The middle register feels most comfortable. The upper and lower registers are usually extremes, which was becoming increasingly common during the romantic period. Within the Valse, the piece experiences elements of both lower and upper registers, but generally through step-like patterns and not sudden leaps. This is an example of the flowing timbre of the piece. The Nocturne experiences step-like patterns as well, but in the bass the notes are at rather large intervals, compared to the Valse. Playing techniques are a large component in the timbre of a piece.

Some techniques in the Nocturne include accents, which involves a rather emphasised striking of a key and legato playing, which enables a smooth connection from one note to another. Example of an accent The brightness of the sound produced, referred to as sonic lustre, can be depicted in pieces. The sonic lustre of the pieces can be described as warm and rich in parts and also clear and luscious throughout most bars. The nocturne contains mellow timbral qualities but when the volume is at an extreme it affects the sonic lustre.

This is also similar in the Valse, for example when it reaches up to sforzando and down to pianissimo. Through analysing Chopin’s Nocturne and Valse, with the intertwining of the three musical concepts, there is a sense of cohesion. Dynamics and expressive techniques, pitch and tone colour all link together to create interesting and expressive pieces. Therefore many different aspects of the concepts combine together and this is shown above. Both pieces also hugely resemble the style of the romantic period, as Chopin was one of the greatest and most influential composers of the time.

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