Romantic music developed directly from the classical period. There is no clear date as to when classical ended and romantic began but the period was approximately from 1780 to 1910.

Famous composers from this period include:

  • Peter Tchaikovsky
  • Edvard Grieg
  • Johannes Brahms

Beethoven’s early compositions are called classical. As his music developed with new instruments and techniques, his later works can be called romantic.

Romantic music focuses on provoking emotion and passion. Music was used to evoke stories, places or events.

Nature was a particularly popular subject. For example Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture" was inspired by the composer's trip to the island of Staffa.

'Hebrides Overture' by Felix Mendelssohn

Romantic music can be recognised for:

  • larger orchestras
  • use of rubato - slight speeding up and slowing down of the music
  • adventurous harmonies and modulations

All of these features create interest and variety for the listener.


During the romantic period, the orchestra had become a great force due to its increasing size including the following:

  • strings - larger string section
  • woodwind - flutes and piccolo, oboes and clarinets, bassoon and double bassoons
  • brass - trumpets, trombones and French horns (tuba added later in the period)
  • percussion - full percussion section
  • key - piano

Types of romantic music

The symphony for orchestra, a large piece of work with four movements, was louder and longer. The improvement in instrumental build, along with the increased number of players, ensured that a romantic orchestra could have lots of dynamic contrast - including exaggerated crescendo, diminuendo and sforzando - and lots of timbral colour.

Instrumental music continued to develop and virtuoso compositions were created, demanding a high degree of skill in technical playing.

As you listen to Rachmaninoff's 'Piano Concerto No. 3', you will hear some of the common features of romantic music. Look at the size of the orchestra and listen out for the change of dynamics and moods.

Rachmaninoff's 'Piano Concerto No. 3'