Romanticism era was in the 18th and 19th century and was mainly characterized by intense energy and passion. Romanticism was a movement between 1800s and 1910 with a concept that involved imagination and passion in works of art. The essential concept of Romanticism was to revolt against the already existing order of things like laws and formulas that existed in the previous classical period. Because of on-going wars, it was becoming increasingly difficult to financially support composers and private operas. This led to the composers suffering monetary losses and they changed their approach to music to include more imagination and passion. People became more interested in virtuosity and bough pianos to compose romantic music (Whittall, 1987).
The Romanticism period was characterized by praising imagination, emotions and intuition over logic or reason. Romantic writers and artists focused on their passions and inner struggles emphasizing on human personality. The era was generally characterized by ideas of personal and political liberty that broke the features of the 18th century convention. Music composers and artists turned their attention to express themselves with intense feelings in their music. Music was used as a form of expression and this made music more subjective and emotional. The expression of feelings and emotion in all works of art led to the self-described Romantic Movement (Whittall, 1987).
Romantic music composers used classical forms of symphonies and sonatas to expand the style of music and introduce a new approach to music that involved richer harmonies and more dissonance in order to move their audiences. The Romantic era music used symphonies, tone poems and descriptive overture to create a feeling on nationalistic passion. The inspiration to create such music originated from history, native folk songs and also from foreign land. The ideas and compositions of romantic music were outlandish and inventive and this led to the previous musical rules being rewritten completely changing the style of music (Whittall, 1987).
The Harlem Renaissance was in the 20th century and the characteristics of the ear influenced music in a tremendous way. Harlem Renaissance occurred in 1920 and it involved African American musicians, writer and artists embracing the Black heritage as well as the American life culture. This approach made African Americans to be more politically assertive, have racial pride and become more self-confident of their identity. The concept of New Negro was adopted and it referred to an approach whereby there was renewed intellectual curiosity in history of the African American culture and black culture. By applying the concept of New Negro, the role of African Americans in the American music became a true depiction of the black heritage and African descent (Collier, 1978).
This new style of life among the African American population led the emergence of jazz music. During this time, the middle class and upper class African Americans embraced vernacular elements in the African American culture, which was also reflected in jazz music. In addition, there was profound desire to adopt the white business culture that was popular in the north eastern cities. Harlem Renaissance music was mainly characterized by lively clubs and musicians and artists who constantly improved the jazz sound. The competition and innovation in the style of music during Harlem Renaissance was extremely fierce and this created very little patience for musicians who did not have the skills and talent to keep up. The jazz music was mainly defined by the piano which was a symbol of affluence in the north as opposed to brass band that was a symbol from the south and the music was accessible for both wealthy blacks and whites. For most people during this period, jazz was more than just music as it was also a way of life (Collier, 1978).
Relationship between the two periods
The two periods had both stylistic and historical similarities and differences when it came to composing music. In both periods, music was influenced by historical happenings. For instance, romantic music was influenced by the financial challenging times of music composers as rich families could no longer sustain them. In addition, there was a revolt against the order of things in the classical times. In Harlem Renaissance, music was influenced by the great migration to the north following the abolition of slavery. The African Americans had common experiences and uncertain present challenges that influenced the style of music. Both music styles adopted some styles in the previous periods extending the musical vocabulary of their predecessors while incorporating new styles. In both periods, music composers adopted a style that helped them express themselves. In both periods, music composition involved use of piano to create music. The main difference between the stylistic and historical features of the two periods is that romanticism music incorporated feelings and emotions while jazz music incorporated black culture and identity (Whittall, 1987).
Harlem Renaissance deviated continued from the artistic style and tradition of Romanticism. It attempted to increase the expression of people feelings in response to what they were going through. Jazz musicians and artists continued from the artistic style and tradition of romantic music in that pianos were used to compose music and the music attracted huge audiences. Just like romantic music, jazz music flouted different musical conventions practiced before. However, Harlem Renaissance deviated from the artistic style and tradition of romanticism in that it involved improvised instrumental solos and rhythms and the music was mostly performed in night clubs (Collier, 1978).
A comparison of works from both periods
One specific work from romanticism is ‘Symphonie fantastique’ by Berlioz who was among the first romantic composers to take romantic attitudes to the extreme. The piece of work follows the features of romantic music and is an extra musical narrative that was composed as an orchestral work. The orchestra tells a story of an artist who fell in love with an actress and being unhappy in love, takes an overdose of opium (Koury, 1986). An example of a musical piece from Harlem Renaissance era is ‘Big Butter and Egg Man’ that Percy Venable wrote for Louis Armstrong and May Alix during Harlem renaissance. The song talks about a butter and egg man who spends a lot of money in night clubs. The song was recorded at a time when jazz songs by Louis Armstrong were very popular in America (Williams, 1993).
The two works of art tell of true happenings of life at the time. ‘Symphonie fantastique’ talks about how Berlioz fell in love with an actress and composes a song in order to attract the actress’ attention. In ‘during Harlem ‘Big Butter and Egg man’, the music is about the modern lifestyle at the time when big spenders who were travelling businessman could visit night clubs and spend huge amounts of money. Both works of art attracted huge audiences and followings after their release. Both works also used a lot of instruments and symphony in their performance including the piano. The main difference between the two songs is that ‘Symphonie fantastique’ is more about love and emotions while ‘Big Butter and Egg man’ was about big spenders in night clubs. In addition, ‘Big Butter and Egg man’ featured brilliant trumpet work which was popular for jazz music performed by African Americans during Harlem renaissance. The jazz song also used a lot of improvisation and swing-beat while Berlioz’s romantic music did not and was mostly composed by keyboard (Williams, 1993).
Influence of Harlem Renaissance on the future art world
The Harlem Renaissance period has had a stylistic influence on the future art world especially in music. While jazz music from the period extended the musical elements and vocabulary of their predecessors, the music also made various innovations that have influenced the future art world jazz language to different extents. There have been characteristics modifications occasioned by changes in grammar and syntax leading to the more modern styles of music. By the middle of the 20th century, several jazz styles coexisted, making it challenging to discern the mainstream jazz sound or its significant developments (Wheaton, 1979).
The transformation of the Harlem Renaissance music is not unique as this is what has been happening throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in literature, the visual arts, and classical music. The development of a cool style of jazz was also characterized with relaxation of intensity and a lower tone of bop. In addition, the cool style involved impressionistic harmonies that involved inclusion of coloristic effects. Another stylistic influence of Harlem Renaissance period on future art world is the emergence of blues music which is now a benchmark for jazz composers and musicians. Jazz music from the Harlem Renaissance period has been influencing the future art world and artists to achieve more individuality, freedom and self-expression through improvisation as is the characteristic of the modern age music (Wheaton, 1979).