Book Review: The Romantic Revolution

08/20/2013

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It’s hard in less than 200 pages to go into a great deal of detail, but in this book, Tim Blanning manages to sketch out the why and how of romanticism. Why this “movement” began, as a reaction against the Enlightenment, but also as an outgrowth of societal and political change. How romanticism spread, through the most important countries – Germany, France and England – and how new modes of production led to the diffusion of romantic ideas.

For the romantic movement is more than just an artistic movement, even though it covered the major forms of art: music, literature and painting. Many of the causes of its spread were due to new structures, institutions and technologies. Romantic music was spawned in part by the change from patronage to public support for musicians, both in performance and in publication, and to performances both in concert halls and in salons. Literature spread through the many changes in technology that made printing and books cheaper. And images circulated in the form of lithographs and other types of prints that were developed in the early 19th century.

Romanticism is, at heart, about the imagination, about feeling, about art for art’s sake, about the individual being the most important element in the world. Beethoven is the best example of the romantic artist, with Schubert a close second. But romanticism had many forms, from the near-transcendence of Beethoven’s late works, or of Schubert’s finest songs, to the development of characters in literature, such as in Hugo and Balzac. The rise of tourism – notably to the Alps and the Rhine – led to a new appreciation of nature, and a discovery of other lands and worlds. All in all, the romantic movement is probably the greatest cultural and artistic revolution of our time, and this book, in less than 200 pages, sketches the main figures and themes.

While this book is just an introduction, it gives plenty of suggestions of books to read, music to listen to, and art to see to better understand just how powerful this period was. This is a revolution that has not ended; our arts and culture are still influenced by the ideas of the romantics. And this book helps grasp just how important this period was.