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Romanticism was a movement in the arts that flourished in Europe and America between 1750 and 1870. It is a term that is loosely applied to the literary and artistic movements of the time. The term Romanticism was used in England in the 18th century and came to mean “Romantic-like” because it resembled medieval romances. The movement cannot be dated by one event in particular. People began to write, paint, compose, and build differently from the people before until all this activity could be identified as a movement. Characteristics of Romanticism include freedom of thought and expression, and imagination and idealization of nature. It tends to focus on the rights and privileges of the individual. Romanticism also provoked talk and writing on political issues and social causes as well. The French were the first to identify Romanticism with politics and art. I am going to discuss Romanticism focusing on the aspects of literature, art, and music.
Before 1800 few writers thought of themselves or their contemporaries as romantic. The term had little to do with what today is called the English romantic movement. Because access to books by an expanded reading audience greatly increased in the late 18th century and because literature was less subject than painting, sculpture, and music, it was the earliest of the arts to show the spirit of romance, which was displayed differently in different nations.
The roots of German romanticism lie in the Sturm and Drang, or Storm and Stress movement of the 1770s and 1780s. It included a group of young intellectuals such as Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and J.G. von Herder. The revival of folk traditions, as important in painting and music as in literature, was exemplified in the ballads of G.A. Burger.
The first generation of German romantics were known as the Fruhromantiker or “early romantics”. They gathered in Berlin and later in Jena during the end of the 18th century. Aesthetic theory was predominant at that time. Two brothers by the names of August Wilhelm and Friedrich von Schlegel formulated innovative aesthetic concepts in their journal which was called Athenaeum. These “early romantics” were under the influence of J.G. Fichte. Their major poets were Novalis and Ludwig Tieck. The second generation of German romantics were known as the Hochromaniker or “high romantics”. They were located in Heidelberg between 1802 and 1815. Their works include the folk songs of Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, Heinrich Heine, Eduard Morike, and J.L. Uhland and the tales of Adelbert von Chamisso, Joseph Eicendorff, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.
English Romanticism is known for its lyric poetry, its prose writing, and its romantic fiction. Some of the early poets were William Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. Some of their poems are the most celebrated poems in the language. Early prose writers included Coleridge, Shelley, and William Hazlitt. They mainly wrote about the political aspect of romanticism. English romantic fiction was dominated by three people: Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and Jane Austen.
Despite having been the country whose political events most clearly shaped European romanticism, France experienced a late flowering of romanticism, which did not reach its height until the 1830s and 1840s. Romanticism had weakened in England and Germany. Bitter controversies involving political and religious loyalties accompanied the emergence of romanticism in France. Some of the more recognizable French romantics are Alexandre Dumas, Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine, and Charles Baudelaire.
Romanticism was never as recognizably a movement in the United States as it was in Europe. The reason was because of the Enlightenment philosophy that supported the founding of the United States. The closest the United States came to duplicating the Europeans was the New England Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Other American writers, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, Edgar Alan Poe, and Walt Whitman, shared a belief in the importance of the creative imagination. They were all romantics in that limited sense.
In the visual arts romanticism is used to refer loosely to a trend that appears at any time, and specifically to the art of the early 19th century. Romantic artists developed precise techniques in order to produce specific associations in the mind of the viewer. Some of the characteristics of early romanticism were the avoidance of classical forms and rules, representation of the unattainable idea, and a preference for exotic themes. The hallmarks of romantic painting are nationalism and the power of individual perception. To a great degree, the story of romantic art is found in the fast rising prestige of landscape painting, which rose to superiority between the middle of the 18th and 19th centuries. Renewed attention to landscape painting is obvious in English watercolors. This an area that experienced a great rise because it could be worked and finished on the scene. Noted watercolorists included John Robert Cozens and Thomas Girtin, as well as some of the greatest painters of the period, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. In England landscape gardening was also used to express the romantic aspects by means of imitating pictures in nature. The concentration of romantic artists in the past and in the more exotic cultures is reflected in the diversity of the architectural styles of the era. There was also a great love for ruins.
In music, romanticism is a term used to describe a broad range of works. It is characterized by an emphasis on emotion and great freedom of form. Long expressive melodies, emphasis on colorful harmony and instrumentation, and flexibility in rhythm and treatment of musical form are also characteristics of romanticism in music. Many 19th century composers took a deep interest in setting romantic poems to music and using romantic novels and dramas as the subject matter for operas and symphonic poems. Some of the many themes of romanticism in music are the cult of youth, individualism, intensity and extremes of feeling, love of nature, alienation, nationalism, and idealism. Some of the more noted composers of the romantic period include Beethoven, Weber, Schubert, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Listz, and Wagner. Some of the lesser noted composers are Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Grieg, Elgar, Puccini, Mahler, Strauss, and Sibelius.
Romanticism and the Romantic Period will always be considered one of the most beautiful and memorable eras in history. All aspects of romanticism, the literature, the visual arts, and the music, are all as equally impressive as the other. The writings, the paintings, and the songs will always be remembered throughout history.
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