Music History Romantic Era Terms

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Last updated: December 10, 2019
Nationalism
Inclusion of folk songs, dances, legends, and other national material in a composition to associate it with the composer’s homeland; characteristic of romantic music.

Exoticism
Use of melodies, rhythms, or instruments that suggest foreign lands; common in romantic music.

Program music
Instrumental music associated with a story, poem, idea, or scene, often found in the romantic period.

Program
Explanatory comments specifying the story, scene, or idea associated with program music.

Chromatic harmony
Use of chords containing tones not found in the prevailing major or minor scale but included in the chromatic scale (which has twelve tones); often found in romantic music.

Rubato
Slight holding back or pressing forward of tempo to intensify the expression of the music, often used in romantic music.

Thematic transformation
Alteration of the character of a theme by means of changes in dynamics, orchestration, or rhythm, when it returns in a later movement or section; often found in romantic music.

Art song
Setting of a poem for solo voice and piano, translating the poem’s mood and imagery into music, common in the romantic period.

Postlude
Concluding section; the section at the end of an art song that sums up its mood, played by the piano or orchestra, without the voice.

Strophic form
Vocal form in which the same music is repeated for each stanza of a poem.

Through-composed form
Vocal form in which there is new music for each stanza of a poem.

Modified strophic form
Form in which two or more stanzas of poetry are set to the same music while other stanzas have new music; found in art songs of the romantic period.

Song cycle
Group of art songs unified by a story line that runs through their poems, or by musical ideas linking the songs; often found in romantic music.

Romance
A term often used during the 19th century for short, lyrical pieces for piano.

Nocturne
In French, night piece; a composition, usually slow, lyrical, and intimate in character, often for piano solo.

Étude
In French, study; a piece designed to help a performer master specific technical difficulties.

Polonaise
Composition in triple meter with a stately character, often for piano and solo; originally a Polish court dance.

Absolute music
Instrumental music having no intended association with a story, poem, idea, or scene; nonprogram music.

Program symphony
Symphony (a composition for orchestra in several movements) related to a story, idea, or scene, in which each movement usually has a descriptive title; often found in romantic music.

Concert overture
Independent composition for orchestra in one movement, usually in sonata form, often found in the romantic period.

Symphonic poem (tone poem)
Programmatic composition for orchestra in one movement, which may have a traditional form (such as sonata or rondo) or an original, irregular form.

Incidental music
Music intended to be performed before and during a play, setting the mood for the drama.

Idée fixe
Single melody used in several movements of a long work to represent a recurring idea.

Pentatonic scale
Scale made up of five different tones, used in folk music and music of the Far East.

Lietmotif
Short musical idea associated with a person, object, or thought, characteristic of the operas of Wagner.

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