I come from the University of Rennes 2, in France, where I did a Licence and a Master’s degree in research in musicology. During my Master, I wrote a dissertation on the music adapted from Alice in Wonderland. I joined DCU last year to start a PhD on Romantic music in the Victorian Era.
Beyond red roses, impossible loves, soppy sunset contemplations hand in hand, and eating spaghettis with your beloved one while the chef sings ‘Bella Notte’, Romanticism represents a major philosophical and artistic movement of the nineteenth century.
Immanuel Kant is probably the best representative of the philosophical impulse that gave birth to Romanticism. In Critic of Judgment, he disputes the views of Enlightenment that every question finds a logical answer, demonstrable through science, as everything in the Universe is logically connected. Kant asks where are human beings to find their freedom and subjectivity if they are limited by a physical world and nature where everything is to be decided through reason. For the Romantics, art must seek to enter in opposition to the classical forms, and appeal to an unmeasurable sense of the infinity: what art only can create and science will never demonstrate.
Music does not stay in the background and, for its ‘ineffable’ characteristics, it is seen by many Romantics as the ultimate form of expression. Composers like Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Hector Berlioz, compose symphonic poems inspired by Romantic thematics, or ‘musical fragments’.
If some of those compositions clearly revolutionize the rigid forms of eighteenth-century music, it is not clear why some others should be included in the Romantic movement. The confusion has long reigned in musicology, and it is now common to say a music is Romantic just because it was composed in the nineteenth-century, and not because of its characteristics.
My thesis is to seek for the characteristics and background of a music which, depending on its context of production and reception, will show an incompatibility with, even a contestation of the musical logic we now know as ‘classical’. As research in Romantic music has been focused a lot on Germany, I wanted to cross the sea and have a closer look at what happened during the Victorian Era. Even if a big interest has been reintroduced lately in this field, a lot more is to be done.
I work on several composers, most of whom were active in London, and interpret some pieces of their production I deem linkable to a Romantic ideology. It is a work of interpretation of my own, and some composers could have, without intending it, produced pieces I will call Romantic.
The Irish Melodies of Thomas Moore, as Popular airs forced into the limits of ‘serious’ piano music, and rewritten by many composers all along the nineteenth century, present poetical and musical contradictions that put them in a unique fashion regarding classical songs.
William Balfe, an Irish expatriate, composes an opera on a Polish rebel fighting the Austrian empire, staging love and revolution. William Sterndale Bennett, despite great similarities with the style of Felix Mendelssohn, that has been called more than once a classical, follows the very singular ‘piano school’ of the Royal Academy of Music in London. My research should lead to a better understanding of Romanticism in music, and a new approach of Victorian composers.
Written By: Maxime Le Mée