Romanticism and Impressionism in Music


Inregard to the field of music romanticism and impressionism areclosely related. The aforementioned periods exhibit a salientrelationship in which certain similarities are observed. Theseperiods each play a different role regarding their relationships. Theperiods may show the ways in which the other develops or they maydelineate the ways in which the two periods differ. In this paper,there’s discussion on romanticism and impressionism as periods inmusic. The latter is the first period, and the former is the laterperiod (Baofu, 2012).

Asprior mentioned the romantic era was the first period in regard tomusic. It was between 1790 and 1850 that this period becamewidespread. It is important to note that it was difficult to have aconclusion regarding what was rendered “romantic”. Most romanticshave attempted to define it and due to the diversity in meanings, itis impossible to settle on one definition. Baofu (2012) outlines theadvent of romanticism was as a result of the urge of people toexpress their respective intense feelings, and emotions. Also, it isimportant to observe that composers were motivated by Ludwig VanBeethoven to venture into romantic music. He was the key proponent ofmusic in the romantic era, and it is through him that variouscomposers appeared on the surface. In this period, there was theexistence of the Romantic Movement whose main concentration was onthe emotions of various composers (Baofu, 2012).

Theromantics outlined a good number of characteristics pertaining toromanticism. Firstly, it is obvious to note that this period greatlyleans toward strong emotions, and feelings. In fact, that is the mostconspicuous characteristic used to separate romanticism fromimpressionism (Baofu, 2012). Romanticism largely focuses on mattersto do with nature. In fact, Romanticism was initiated because of theendorsement of nature pertaining to Enlightenment thinking.Additionally the romantics did not take the efforts of individualsfor granted. Instead, they upheld, and celebrated each and everyindividual’s achievements. According to Baofu (2015), the periodalso focused on the necessity of imagination. The use of one’simagination was part of romanticism and for this reason, it is a keycharacteristic of the period (Baofu, 2012).

Onthe other hand impressionism was the later period in the field ofmusic. During the late 19th century, Claude Debussy aFrench composer introduced impressionism. It is through the paintingsof a small band in Paris that the music acquired inspirationpertaining to its title. The advent of impressionist music was due tothe fact that Debussy considered the emergence of romanticism adramatic gesture (Clancy, 2003). The French composer made use ofimpressionist music as a way of reacting to the emergence of theromantic era. As prior mentioned emotions occupy a big role inrelation to romanticism. Through Debussy’s styles those emotionswere replaced by mood, and atmosphere of a given environment. It isbecause of the French composer that interdependent chords wereintroduced. Before the era of impressionism, those chords weredepending on one another to execute respective functions (Clancy,2003).

Justlike romanticism the impressionism period also depicted itscharacteristics. Unlike romanticism, this period does not associateitself with harmonic sequence (Baofu, 2012). Impressionism focuses onatmosphere, and mood as opposed to emotions, and feelings delineatedby romanticism. Furthermore, impressionism is seen as ambiguous innature (Clancy, 2003). It does not adopt any form of simplicity henceambiguity is the order of the day. Also, there’s the presence ofirregular phrases regarding to impressionism. Irregularity results inflexibility, and consequently, rhythm is created. According to Clancy(2003), impressionist composers also dwelled on individualinstruments, and for this reason they were able to produce soundsthat were independent. Through setting apart of instruments, andsounds each sound was distinguished. Also, in the impressionismperiod composers concentrated more on chromatic scales as opposed totenets of Western music (Clancy, 2003).

Asabove mentioned the two periods exhibit a salient relationship.According to Baofu (2012), the connection is observed apropos of thesimilarities, and differences of the periods. The two periods werenoted to have emerged around the same time, within the same place.The earlier period was initiated during the 19th centurywhile the later period initiated during the late 19thcentury. Furthermore, France was a common place in which the twoperiods developed (Baofu, 2012). As discussed, impressionism was as aresult of the reaction of the emergence of romanticism. In the sameway romanticism was initiated due to the fact that it was disputingthe theory of Enlightenment thinking. It is important to realize thatthe two periods are akin in this respect. Furthermore, there areworks of art in these two periods that are similar. “Cote desGrouettes, near Pontoise” by Camille Pissaro, and “Evening:Landscape with an Aqueduct,” by Gericault fall under romanticism,and impressionism respectively. The two works were similar becausethey both dealt with the theme, and scope revolving around nature.

Also, it is noted that the two periods incorporate elements ofnature in their content (Baofu, 2012). For example Gericault’s“Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct”. On the other hand, thereare differences noted in regard to the styles of romanticism andimpressionism. Firstly, it is clear to see that the earlier periodfocuses on emotions while the later period dwells on atmosphere, andmood. It is Debussy’s styles that led to the final styles used inthe impressionism period. Furthermore, there is observation ofharmonic sequences in romanticism. However, Debussy altered thestyle, and initiated new rhythms, and new combinations of chords(Baofu, 2012).

Insummation it is noted by the impressionists that the later perioddeviated from the earlier period. There are many reasons that back upthe visibility of deviation. For example as prior mentionedimpressionism involves the initiation of new rhythms, chromaticscales, and a new combinations of chords (Clancy, 2003). In the eventwhere the later period was forging on with the earlier period therewould be a development rather than eradication in the harmonicsequence. It is important to observe that impressionist music croppedup as a new method of composition hence the deviation from romanticmusic. The methods incorporated in impressionism greatly differedfrom those in romanticism. Consequently, there was a great bridgeseparating the two periods. Also, it is noted that the later periodhas a significant influence in the future of the world art. Accordingto impressionists, the period brought about immense developments inmodern painting. The influence of the period is not only in Americabut, also in Europe (Clancy, 2003). In fact, the later period has ledto the emergence of the modern movement in painting. It is speculatedthat due to its history in regard to art impressionism is expectedto give the best results, apropos of the future of world art (Clancy,2003).


Baofu, P. (2012). Future of post-human performing arts: A prefaceto a new theory of the body and its presence. Newcastle uponTyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Pub.

Clancy, J. I. (2003). Impressionism: Historical overview andbibliography. New York: Nova Science Publishers.