(This is part 4 of the GetIntoClassical blabber-free guide to the classical musical eras. You can see all the parts here.)
As discussed in the section on the early Romantic era, this era wasnt called romantic because of all the dating and walks on the beach in the rain. It was due to composers making music about what they felt, instead of trying to make things academically perfect but unemotional. It took a while for this to play out, which is why youll often see the era arbitrarily split into two, just like Ive done here. While the music in both the early and late parts is Romantic, you can hear a definite transition from stuff which sounds old (like Beethoven), to pieces which could pretty much be a modern day film-score (like Tchaikovsky). In fact, people love Romantic music so much that most modern day classical music is still composed in this style.
As the era progressed toward 1900, every aspect of the music became freer. Composers started experimenting with non-standard time signatures (like 5/4 in the 2nd movement of the Pathetique), non-standard instruments (like the celesta), and so on. They also started to use larger and larger orchestras, so that the music is more layered and textured, and generally has more subtleties.
Of all the periods in classical music, this might be the most popular. There are tonnes of famous names in this era: Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, just to name a few.
Sample piece: Marche Slave (Slavic March) by Tchaikovsky
If you know the 1812 overture (also by Tchaikovsky) youll recognize a section towards the end of this which is actually God Save the Tsar, the old Russian national anthem. After the Communist revolution they naturally had to switch to a different anthem, and they even changed the music in this piece as well to avoid any mention of the Tsar, even just musically.
Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic – Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture, Marche Slave, Romeo and Juliet, Capriccio Italien, Hamlet (Expanded Edition)
Sample piece: Symphony No. 4, 4th Movement by Brahms
This is one of my favorites. Its a passacaglia or a chaconne (nobody seems to really know which is which) which means that there is a certain phrase that keeps repeating through the whole movement. In this case its that intimidating chord sequence which is blasted out right at the beginning.
Berliner Philharmoniker & Herbert von Karajan – Brahms: The 4 Symphonies