When thinking of the word “romantic” one might think of a movie that surrounds a couple in love. This is not the case when we refer to the period in history when artists, particularly opera composers, began to produce music that expressed their deepest feelings – the Romantic era. Self-awareness became the new way to create.
Of course, there would be no operas without composers so we thought we would pay tribute to the people who generated the songs and stories of this particular artistic period. Here we go with a list of some of the famous Romantic opera composers.
This opera composer who emerged in the Romantic Period was born in 1813 in a small town in Northern Italy. His family had little finances so, with the help of a friend, Verdi was able to study music. It was apparent to his parents that his talent lied in music by the age of seven. At eight was already paid to play the organ.
At twelve Verdi began to train and learn from Ferdinando Provesi, who was the director of the local music school and the resident Philharmonic Society. The next year he began composing and has been said to reference the pieces he created for the next five years as “a motley assortment.”
These pieces consisted of band marches, concertos, serenades, cantatas, and church pieces. Verdi wouldn’t write his first operas until he was out of his teen years. His first opera was encouraged by Pietro Massini, who was the leader of the local chorus in which Verdi became associated. The piece was first titled Rocester.
Beginning in 1842 Verdi would go on to write twenty operas over the following sixteen years. Some of these works are Nabucco, I Lombardi alla prima crociata, La traviata, Rigoletto, Macbeth, and Attila. He composed many more works after this period including Don Carlos, Aida, Otello, and Falstaff, which was his last published opera.
Over the span of more than fifty years, our first composer who was most known for his work during the Romantic Period wrote thirty-seven operas, some of which are timeless.
Personally Verdi struggled with tragedy. His wife Margherita gave birth to a daughter Virginia in 1837 and a son, Icilio, in 1838. Both died as infants. Unfortunately, this is not where Verdi’s experience with misfortune would end. His beloved wife Margherita died next, at the age of twenty-six when Verdi’s composition Un giorno di regno was debuted.
Verdi passed on in 1901 in Milan, Italy. Still, his works live on with every production. It is said that in opera, Verdi compositions are still performed than any other musicians.
Our next romantic composer is, not surprisingly, of French origin. Born in 1803 near Grenoble, his fascination with music as a small child was early evidence that Berlioz was destined greatness.
Still, his father wanted him to become a doctor so Berlioz moved to Paris in 1821 to begin his medical studies. Verdi was unable to avoid sneaking off to spend time at the opera while there, taking in a great deal of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s compositions. It was evident to Berlioz that music was his future so he quit school to pursue writing music.
Beginning his studies at the Paris Conservatoire in 1826 and four years later penned Symphonie fantastique, which was inspired by Harriet Smithson’s performance at Ophelia. This piece would become an important piece in Romantic writings with the passionate use of music to tell the story.
In that same year Berlioz began to train at the Conservatoire studying directly under Jean-Francois Le Sueur and Anton Reicha. In 1830 he won the Prix de Rome, a local scholarship, after his fourth try.
Berlioz composed the opera Benvenuto Cellini in 1836, a work that proves to be very challenging today and is rarely played live. It premiered on September 10th at the Paris Opéra but flopped in front of an unresponsive audience. To earn enough to support his family at this time Berlioz resolved to write musical critiques.
In the 1840’s Berlioz traveled around Europe due to his difficulty to achieves success with his music in France. After spending time in Germany, England, Austria, and Russia. Still, beginning in 1830 and leading up to 1847, would be the years when Berlioz was most prolific with composing music.
During that time, he wrote Romeo et Juliette, Grande messe des morts, Harold en Italie, and Symphonie fantastique.
This operatic conductor was also revered for his conducting skills. In 1847 the musical director Louis Antoine Jullien selected Berlioz to conduct at the Drury Lane Theatre in London.
With many more achievements under his belt, too many to put in this list, Berlioz died at his home in Paris in 1869. His remains were interred at the Montmartre Cemetery alongside his family. It is said that his last words were, “At last, they are going to play my music.”
This composer tips over the line of Classical Music into Romantic Composition. He was born in Himmelpfortgrund, Austria in 1797 showed his talent for music at a young age, just like the other two composers on our list.
He showed early abilities in piano, organ, and the violin. His schoolmaster father encouraged his love of music as well his older brother. Having a wonderful singing voice gave Schubert the opportunity to train as a vocalist at the Stadtkonvikt. In 1808 he won a spot in the court’s chapel choir.
Unfortunately, in 1812 his voice was damaged. The silver lining in this cloud is that this disruption caused Schubert to focus on composing. He continued his studies under Antonio Salieri. Schubert’s theater would go on to call him a musical genius.
In 1814 Schubert planned on leaving music behind when he enrolled in a teachers training college in Vienna after receiving pressure from his family. He would then go on to be an assistant in the school his father ran.
Still, a teaching job couldn’t keep Schubert away from composing so he continued to do so. It turns out that during this time this operatic composer was very prolific. By the age of seventeen Schubert had written several string quartets, a symphony, some piano pieces and an opera consisting of three acts.
In Vienna, on March 1, 1818, his piece “Italian Overture in C Major” was debuted to an adoring crowd and this inspired Schubert to quit teaching a pursue music as a full time profession.
Still the future was not always bright for Schubert. Two operas he composed for different houses failed badly. He was breaking into the Romantic Era and other companies were hesitant to hire him. In their opinions Schubert was too young and not traditional enough.
Operas composed by Schubert include Adrast, Der Spiegelritter, and Der vierjährige Posten. Yet, his health weakened during the time in his life when he was most prolific. At the age of thirty-one this composer died from a combination of mercury poisoning and syphilis. The cemetery where he was once buried was made into a park in 1925 and is named after him. There is a bust of Schubert marking the site where his grave used to be.
Carl Maria von Weber
Hailing from Germany, Weber is the last composer on our list of writers who made their mark during the Romantic Period. Born into a family of musicians in 1786. He studied under Michael Haydn and Michael’s younger brother Joseph.
Weber’s first opera Das Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden) was first performed in 1800 at Freiberg. It flopped so Weber finished the first opera of his that has survived entirely, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn. This second attempt was debuted in 1803 in Augsburg but also failed.
Three years later Weber was appointed to the position of Director at the Breslau Opera, a company from Poland. His goals were to improve the opera by using larger orchestras and replacing the older singers.
After a dramatic exit from his last post Weber moved on to serve as Duke Ludwig’s private secretary. At this time Weber’s father embezzled money from Ludwig’s estate. He and his son Carl were convicted and arrested in 1810. Carl von Weber’s arrest happened during the rehearsals of his opera Silvana. They were both thrown into prison and subsequently banished from Württemberg.
Weber served at the Opera in Prague from 1813 until 1816, where he then went on to work in Berlin until 1817. Then he went on to direct at Opera in Dresden focusing on solidifying Germany’s place in the world of opera.
His opera Der Freischütz, which first premiered on June 18, 1821 in Berlin catapulted a tour that would see most of Europe. Two years later Weber composed the opera Euryanthe and in 1824 he was invited to compose a piece entitled Oberon for The Royal Opera. The piece was finally completed two years later and prepared to debut Oberon on April 12th.
Tragically, Weber was diagnosed with tuberculosis and he died at a friend’s home only a week before Oberon was set to premiere. He was just thirty-nine years old and was first buried in London. Weber was eventually excavated and relocated to his family’s burial plot in west Dresden.