The Era of the 19th Century in Central Europe


The painting, “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich is considered one of the masterpieces of Romanticism and one of its most representative works.

The 19th century in Europe was an age of dramatic social and cultural changes, brought about in part by the experience of a quarter century of violent upheavals in the Era of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. When peace returned to Europe in 1815 the scientific rationalism of the previous century was increasingly regarded with suspicion and emphasis was placed more and more on emotion as the authentic source of aesthetic experience. The new cultural paradigm is known as Romanticism -- a movement in the arts and literature emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. Romantic composers sought to create music that was individualistic, emotional, dramatic and often programmatic, and as nationalism emerged early in the 19th century increasing recourse was had to national musical elements such as the use of folk songs, folk dances or rhythms, or on the adoption of nationalist subjects for operas, symphonic poems, or other forms of music. The romantic musician followed a public career depending on sensitive middle-class audiences rather than on a courtly patron, spawning a new generation of virtuosi such as Liszt on whose skill the interpretation of the increasingly complex music depended. Composers worked in this tradition throughout the century, but after mid-century growing urbanization and industrialization in Central Europe led to a new era of realism and materialism. Music entered a phase generally described as “late Romantic” notable for its complex textures, rich harmonies and large orchestration.

As a student of Beethoven and a teacher of Liszt the Vienna-born Carl Czerny (1791-1857) in many ways embodied the transition of musical style from Classical to Romantic.  Czerny avowed that he wrote three categories of music. The first, which he called "serious music" remained unpublished and followed Classical structural norms.  Live performances of this music are rare, but may be glimpsed from the Wirth Institute’s 3-CD set produced in conjunction with the Doremi label. The second and best-known category of Czerny’s compositions is the large number of didactic piano pieces he wrote, such as The School of Velocity and The Art of Finger Dexterity, which are still widely used in piano teaching today. Finally, Czerny wrote what he called “brilliant” pieces meant to display the dazzling virtuosity of the performer in the best Romantic tradition.

The tradition of the dazzling virtuosity required of a performer can best be seen in the works of two mid-century Central European composers, both focused on the violin. Karl Goldmark (1830-1915), whose father was a cantor for his local synagogue, came from a large Jewish Hungarian family and initially trained as a violinist at the music academy of Sopron before moving to continue his studies in Vienna. His extremely romantic Violin Concert No. 1 placed high technical demands on the soloist and enjoyed great popularity before sliding into obscurity only to be revived again in the later 20th century. Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), who was born in Russian-controlled Congress Poland, was early recognized as a talented violinist.  He was accepted by the Paris Conservatory at the age of 9 and made a career as a touring soloist and teacher, residing for longer periods of time in St. Petersburg and Brussels.  A violinist of great ability, he wrote some very important works in the violin repertoire, including two technically demanding violin concertos, the second of which remains one of the most popular violin concertos from the Romantic era.

Like Liszt, Mihály Mosonyi (1815-1870) was born in the German-speaking part of old Hungary that is now Burgenland, Austria. His name was actually Michael Brand, but at the age of 44 he changed it as a sign of his commitment to Hungarian traditions. He had intensive contact with Liszt and became increasingly interested in creating a Hungarian musical style. Echoes of both Liszt and Chopin are evident in his Piano Concerto of 1844. The quintessential Hungarian national composer of the 19th century, however, was Ferenc Erkel (1810-1893). Born in Gyula in the ethnically mixed county of Békés of a German father and a Hungarian mother and trained in the Viennese classical tradition at the Benedictine Gymnasium in Pressburg/Pozsony (now Bratislava), he early fell under the spell of Hungarian folk music during his youthful years as a music teacher in Transylvania. Moving to Budapest in 1835, he had an increasingly successful career as a conductor and composer (and, incidentally, as a chess master), and became the founder of Hungarian national opera. Beside his operas, for which he is best known, he wrote pieces for piano and chorus, and a majestic Festival Overture, but he is perhaps most famous for writing Himnusz, which was adopted as the official national anthem of Hungary in 1989.

In a similar fashion the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), though an ethnic Czech grew up speaking German, gravitating to Czech only later in life.  Though introduced to music by his father, he lacked formal musical training until entering the Prague Music Institute in 1844. After Liszt gave a series of piano recitals in the city, Smetana became convinced that he would find satisfaction only in a musical career, but after failing to establish it in Prague, he left for Sweden, where he set up as a teacher and choirmaster in Gothenburg, and began to write large-scale orchestral works. In the early 1860s, Smetana returned permanently to Prague, began improving his halting Czech and threw himself into the musical life of the city, primarily as a champion of the new genre of Czech opera. Of the eight that he wrote The Bartered Bride has achieved the most international success. The influence of Liszt, with whom he remained in contact throughout, is evident in his early Sonata for 2 pianos, but also in his handling of large-scale orchestral forces. In 1874 Smetana became deaf, eventually succumbing to madness likely caused by syphilis. However, it was during these later years that he composed some of his greatest and best-loved masterpieces, including his first string quartet, and, above all, his cycle of six patriotic symphonic poems collectively titled Má vlast (My Home), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of his native land.

The next generation of Central European composers, influenced to a considerable extent by Wagner, carried the late Romantic phase of Central European music to its culmination. Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900), son of a Czech forestry official and an ethnic German Viennese mother, was given his first musical instruction by the latter who encouraged his musical studies. Fibich’s formal studies began in Vienna and continued in Prague (where he studied with Smetana), Leipzig, Paris and Mannheim. While he continued Smetana’s tradition of writing operas in Czech, he encountered severely negative reactions in the Prague musical community in part because most of his operas were based on non-Czech sources and were written in the vein of Wagner’s opera theories. His chamber music also showed the strong influence of the German Romantics such as Schumann. Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) came from the Podolia region of the Russian Empire.  Initially he took piano lessons with a private tutor, but at the age of 12 he was admitted to the Warsaw conservatory, from which he graduated in 1878.  In 1881 he went to Berlin to study music composition but soon moved to Vienna where he completed his studies at the Musikhochschule there, and where he made his concert debut in 1887. Soon gaining great popularity, he undertook a furious pace of touring tirelessly around Europe and the world including the US, Australia and New Zealand. Despite his relentless touring schedule he remained an active composer writing in the lush late Romantic style. His only Piano Concerto premiered in Vienna in 1889 and was one of his most popular works during his lifetime. By the turn of the century, the artist was an extremely wealthy man generously donating to numerous causes and charities.  He migrated to the US in 1902 and started a vineyard in California, but during World War I became a spokesman for Polish independence.  He returned to Poland and was briefly its Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in 1919. Fluent in seven languages he served as a Polish envoy abroad for some years but resigned his office in 1922 and resumed his concert career, rarely visiting Poland thereafter.

The Viennese composer Hans Rott (1858-1884) is little known today. He studied at the Vienna conservatory where tuition was waived due to his impoverished circumstances and where he briefly roomed with Mahler. After studying organ with Bruckner he was employed as organists at the Church of Maria Treu in Vienna. In 1880 he completed his Symphony in E major, which was dismissed by the then highly influential Brahms, who told Rott he had no talent whatsoever.  Soon thereafter Rott began to evidence persecutory delusions and was brought down by mental illness, dying of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Bruckner and Mahler were the first to recognise Rott's talent, the latter asserting that Rott was “the Founder of the New Symphony as I see it.” The work was not premiered until 1989. His contemporary, Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) suffered a similar fate of madness and premature death. Born in the Styrian provincial own of Windischgrätz (now Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia) he showed all the signs of a child prodigy, but proved to be difficult and rebellious student, initially in Graz and then at the Vienna Conservatory. Extremely temperamental, prone to depression and wide mood swings, he had little success in establishing a career either as a music teacher or a music critic. Despite this, he increasingly won fame as a composer of Lieder to which he brought a concentrated expressive intensity, following the chromatic and dramatic musical innovations of Wagner. The years 1887-1891 proved to be amazingly productive years for Wolf. In 1887 he wrote the terse, witty one-movement Italian Serenade, which is regarded as one of the finest examples of his mature instrumental compositional style. Thereafter he set a number of songs set to poems by the great German poets, Goethe, Mörike and Eichendorff, culminating his Spanish Songbook cycle, which he himself regarded as the best work he had written to date. At the end of 1891 Wolf's mental and physical health took a downturn as a result of exhaustion from his prolific past few years combined with the effects of syphilis and his depressive temperament. In 1897 he slipped into syphilitic insanity and was placed in a Vienna asylum at his own insistence, where he died in 1903.

(N.B.: The composers in this posting are listed in chronological order by date of birth) 

Online Performances

Musical selections curated by our founding director, Professor Franz Szabo.

The selections for this posting have been constrained by what is available in live performances on YouTube.  Listeners are encouraged to follow up on the composers mentioned with other, audio-only listings.

Carl Czerny
Born: 21 February 1791, Vienna
Died: 15 July 1857, Vienna

Variations on a Favourite Viennese Waltz by Franz Schubert, Op.12
Gottlieb Wallisch, piano
Live from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, 11 November 2017 

Variations Brillantes on an Air from Bellini's "I Capuletti ed i Montecchi"
for piano 6 hands, Op. 295
Alberto Baldrighi, Anne Colette Ricciardi, and Giampaolo Stuani, piano
Live from the Salone Pietro da Cemmo, Brescia, Italy, 7 December 2016 

Fantasia Concertante for flute, violoncello and piano, Op. 256
Paolo Bortolussi, flute
Cristian Márkos, cello
Jeremy Chaulk, piano
Live from the Blueridge Festival, Vancouver, B.C., 12 August 2017 

The Art of Finger Dexterity, Op. 740 (excerpts)
Nos. 18, 4, 24, 13, 33, 45, 50
Francesco Libetta, piano
Live from the Blas Galindo Auditorium of the National School of Music
of the National Center for the Arts (CENART). Mexico City, 15 September 2015 

Concerto for Piano four hands and Orchestra, Op.153
Bojan Mladenović and Dragana Đorđević, piano duo
Niški simfonijski orkestar
Luke Cleghorn, conductor
Live from National Theatre Hall, Niš, Serbia, 11 June 2015 

Ferenc Erkel
Born: 7 November 1810, Gyula, Békés County, Hungary
Died: 15 June 1893, Budapest, Hungary

Hymnus (Himnusz) in B Major (1844)
"From the stormy centuries of the Hungarian nation"
Chorus of the Hungarian State Opera
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Ákos Somogyváry, conductor
Live from the the Hungarian State Opera House, 1 January 2019 

Ünnepi nyitány (Festive overture)
Zuglói Filharmónia - St. Stephen's Symphony Orchestra
Kálmán Záborszky, conductor
Live from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, 14 September 2014 

Hunyadi László, Overture
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Ádám Medveczky, conductor
Live from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, 26. November 2018 

Csárdás from the opera Bánk bán
Zuglói Filharmónia - St. Stephen's Symphony Orchestra
Gábor Horváth, conductor
Live from Vigadó Concert Hall, Budapest, 7 June 2015 

Mihály Mosonyi (Michael Brand)
Born: 4 September 1815, Boldogasszony, Hungary
(now Frauenkirchen, Burgenland, Austria)
Died: 31 October 1870, Budapest

Piano Concerto (1844)
István Kassai, piano
Symphony Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio
Péter Scholcz, conductor
Live from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, 1 October 2001.  

Bedřich Smetana
Born: 2 March 1824, Litomyšl, Bohemia
Died on May 12, 1884, Prague

String Quartet N.1 in E minor ("From My Life") (1876)
Zemlinsky Quartet
Frantisek Soucek, Violin I; Petr Strizek, Violin II
Petr Holman, Viola; Vladimir Fortin, Cello
Live from the Festival Wissembourg, Alsace, France, 31 August 2016 

Sonata and Rondo for 2 pianos, 8 hands (1849)
Martha Argerich, Lilya Zilberstein, Daniel and Anton Gerzenberg, pianos
Live from the Philharmonie Essen, Essen, Germany, 12 July 2012 

Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15 (1855)
Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, violin
Harriet Krijgh, cello
Magda Amara, piano
Live from TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, Netherlands, 30 June 2018
The Utrecht International Chamber Music Festival 

Festive Overture in C major  (1868)
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Vladimír Válek, conductor
Live from the Congress Hall of the Prague Congress Centre, 7 December 2010 

Libuše, Overture
Symfonický orchestr Frýdek-Místek
Zdeněk Smolka, conductor
Live from the National House, Frýdek-Místek, Czech Silesia, 27 October 2018 

Hubička (The Kiss), Overture
Symphony Orchestra of the Pardubice Conservatory
Jana Mimrová, conductor
Live from the Suk Hall of the House of Music, Pardubice, 13 November 2014 

Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride), Overture
Czech Philharmonic
Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor
Live from Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, 1 January 2013 

Dance of the Comedians (from The Bartered Bride)
Young Cracow Philharmonic
Tomasz Chmiel, conductor
Recorded at the Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw, 1 October 2017 

Má Vlast (My Home)
Czech Philharminc Orchestra
Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor
Live from NHK Hall, Tokyo, 3 November 2015 

Karl Goldmark (Károly Goldmark)
Born: 18 May, 1830, Keszthely, Zala County, Hungary
Died: 2 January 1915, Vienna

Violin concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 28
Bailey Wantuch, violin
Eli Chen, conductor
Live from the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 6 December 2016 

"Frühlingsnetz" Op. 15
Wiener Männergesang Verein
Kyoko Yoshizawa, piano
Antal Barnás, conductor
Live from the Musikverein, Vienna, 26 June 2010 

Henryk Wieniawski
Born: 10 July 1835, Lublin, Congress Poland (Russia)
Died: 31 March 1880, Moscow, Russia

Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 14
Ray Chen, violin
WDR Symphony Orchestra
Cristian Măcelaru, conductor
Live from the Kölner Philharmonie, 17 January 2020 

Violin Concerto no. 2 in D minor, Op. 22
Veriko Tchumburidze, violin
Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra
Marek Pijarowski – conductor
Live from the 15th International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition,
Poznań, Poland, 20 October 2016 

Zdeněk Fibich
Born: 21 December 1850, Libáň, Bohemia
Died: 15 October 1900, Prague

Poéme, Op. 41, No. 4
Symfonieorkest Rijnmond
Cor van der Linden, conductor
Live from the Prinsekerk, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 18 December 2010 

Piano Trio in F minor (1872)
Trio Fibonacci
Julie-Anne Derome, violin
Gabriel Prynn, cello
Steven Massicotte, piano
Live from Bourgie Hall, Montreal, 20 April  2018 

String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 8
Czech Philharmonic Quartet
Olga Šroubková and Viktor Mazáček. violins
Jiří Poslední, viola; Jakub Dvořák, cello.
Live from the Historic Theatre, Levoča, Slovakia, 1 October 2014
20014 Levoča Festival 

Hans Rott
Born: 1 August 1858, Vienna
Died: 25 June 1884, Vienna

Symphony in E major
NHK Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor
Live from NHK Hall, Tokyo, Japan, 9 February 2019 

Hugo Wolf
Born: 13 March 1860, Windischgrätz, Styria (now Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia)
Died: 22 February 1903, Vienna

Italian Serenade
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
François Leleux, conductor
Live from the University of Oslo Aula, Olso, Norway, 4 April 2017 

Gebet (Prayer) from Mörike Lieder
André Morsch, Baritone
Marcelo Amaral, Piano
Live from the Weißen Saal, Neues Schloss, Stuttgart, Germany, 23 March 2017 

“Harfenspieler No.1” from Goethe Lieder
Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer, conductor
Live from the Palace of Arts, Budapest, September 2011 

Eichendorff Lieder (Selections)
Claude Lin, Tenor
Shu-Han Lu, Piano
Live from the National Recital Hall, Taipei, Taiwan, 5 October 2018 

Spanish Songbook
Diana Livingston Friedley, soprano
Geoffrey Friedley, tenor
Mark Neiwirth, Piano
Live from the Jensen Grand Concert Hall, Idaho State University, 8 March 2019 

Monteverdi Choir Würzburg
Mainphilharmonie Würzburg
Matthias Beckert, conductor
Live from the Neubaukirche Würzburg, Germany, 14 December 2014
Part 1 
Part 2 

Einklang (Resignation)
KammerChor Saarbrücken
Georg Grün, conductor
Konzert Dreifaltigkeitskirche Kaufbeuren, 19. Mai 2013 

Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Born: 18 November 1860, Kuryłówka, Podolia, Russian Empire
(now Kurilivka, Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine)
Died: 29 June 1941, New York

Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 17
Szymon Nehring, piano
NFM Wrocław Philharmonic
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Live from the National Forum of Music, Wrocław, Poland, 19 January 2018 

Watch the full collection of performances on our YouTube channel!