Word and Song: The Paradox of Romanticism

Catherine Ingram, Western Kentucky University


Among the various outcomes of the Romantic period, an interest in the relationship of the arts remains a widely recognized yet rarely examined field of study. Music and literature seemed to develop a particular kinship, yet to identify the exact relationship is as difficult as defining Romanticism itself. In this study, I attempt to do both. In exploring the concept of Romanticism, its paradoxical development from Classicism is examined through the comparison of six great composers and poets of the period. By tracing the similarities and differences in style of Beethoven/Wordsworth, Schumann/Keats, and Brahms/Tennyson, hopefully a clearer understanding of the evolution of Romanticism is achieved. These artists, although creating through different mediums, address the apparent rejection of Neoclassicism, the apex of Romanticism, and the realization of its limitations. The result is the revelation of the paradox of Romanticism. For each artist, the realization of the Romantic spirit presents contrasts. Ultimately, the rejection of Neoclassic thought becomes as important to Romanticism as its dependence on Neoclassic form. These six artists achieved success not only because of their talents but also because of their acknowledgement of this fact. In this study, I trace their development through the rise and fall of Romanticism as more than instances of shared techniques or borrowed texts; the similarities in thought, poetic vision, and style shared by these artists are explored as well. The paradox of Romanticism is revealed through the interrelationship of poetry and music.