Romanticism and Europe
In 2001-2002, I attended the University of King’s College in Halifax and studied in the Foundation Year Programme. It is an integrated programme in which human history is explored through six sections by examining works of literature, philosophy, music and art produced in that time period. For me at the time, it was a bit overwhelming as I was living on my own for the first time (not in residence) and the reading assignments were very demanding, nonetheless I managed to pass with a quite good mark and decided not to return to university the subsequent year (or ever). I do feel that it was a worthwhile exercise, and I am still working through the texts we studied and trying to reach deeper into the material, with my new awakened perspective.
The text that moved me the most at the time, and still to this day makes me sob and cry like an emotional teenager, was Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. An early novel by arguably the greatest German writer of all time, and the first German book to be a success in England and France, Werther caused a stir across Europe and inspired many youths to adopt not only his clothing style, but also his unfortunate end. To me, the character of Werther embodies the passion, sensitivity, and depth of feeling that is at the heart of the European soul.
Werther and other works belonging to the Sturm und Drang movement laid the way for Romanticism proper to emerge in Germany, England and France. During the period from about 1780 to 1880 there was a tremendous amount of artistic, musical, literary and philosophical genius taking place in Europe, in which Nationalism and reverence for nature played a large role. This movement was a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment thinkers who promoted the growing systems of democracy, capitalism, bureaucracy and litigation. The Romantics attempted to restore and elevate the the individual human experience and emotion that was being lost in European culture. I see this movement as the last great struggle for life in European culture, which was snuffed by modernism, the beginning of World War I, and of course all the degenerate fecal matter we call contemporary art.
Now, enough talk, let me give some examples of great Romantic music and art! Click on the pictures to enlarge.
Notice how the human figures and their constructions are dwarfed, humbled by their magnificent surrounding landscapes. Also I find the music from this period more free-formed, dramatic and emotive than earlier music. Evokes action and passionate feeling.
Norwegian Romantic painter Johan Christian Dahl:
I think it’s important we remember that every great movement needs great culture to inspire it to great achievements. During the Romantic period, the forces which now threaten to annihilate us were strengthening their hold in our homelands, and certain individuals were giving prophetic warnings about what was to come. I will close with the overture from Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and an excerpt from Act Three of the libretto:
Beware! Evil tricks threaten us:
if the German people and kingdom should one day decay,
under a false, foreign rule
soon no prince would understand his people;
and foreign mists with foreign vanities
they would plant in our German land;
what is German and true none would know,
if it did not live in the honour of German Masters.
Therefore I say to you:
honour your German Masters,
then you will conjure up good spirits!
And if you favour their endeavours,
even if the Holy Roman Empire
should dissolve in mist,
for us there would yet remain
holy German Art!