Romantic music in France

Romantic music in France

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  • Hector Berlioz.

    GOSSET DE GUINES, known as GILL Louis Alexandre (1840 - 1885)

  • Frédéric Chopin.

    COUTURE Thomas (1815 - 1879)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: February 2005

Historical context

Faced with the expansion of the bourgeoisie and the cult of personal enrichment, artists during the Romantic period developed a kind of counter-power made of fantasy, through which they intended to restore man's greatness. Chopin, born of a Polish mother and a French father, set out to develop preludes, waltzes and "Polish" ones, Berlioz took up the formula of program music (symphonic poem) which he first introduced in her Fantastic symphony (1830), the creation of which provoked an outcry similar to that aroused by Hernani at the theatre. Appearing in spite of themselves among the first cursed artists, they anticipate a type of artistic personality which will emerge at the end of the XIXe century. Within the Romantic movement, however, French musicians, unlike in other countries, were relegated to poets, playwrights and painters.

Image Analysis

The portrait of Berlioz

Made from a photograph by Nadar, this portrait has long been attributed to Daumier. The pictorial technique can indeed justify this attribution. But it is a work of Gill, a newspaper cartoonist (The moon, The Eclipse) who was a kind of disciple of Daumier, very politically engaged since he was director of the Luxembourg museum during the Commune. From Berlioz, the artist has retained the inner drama of the musician. By his technique, he shows the features almost to the point of caricature. It is a rigid, closed Berlioz, entirely turned on his intellect that he presents, just like Achille Peretti in the portrait he produced of the musician, his head resting on his hand, seeming to be plunged into a deep reverie (Paris, musée of the Opera). But it is also the inner revolt that Gill painted: Berlioz, never really recognized during his lifetime, seems to be pondering injustice in the face of genius. It is true that France then glorified Meyerbeer or Offenbach. Ultimately he is the dark Berlioz of Trojans and of The Damnation of Faust that Gill painted.

The portrait of Chopin

A sensitive soul, Chopin had been a child prodigy. A free spirit, he only attached himself to the piano which allowed him to harmonize his life with his art. Couture's work shows a restless Chopin, but without the sickly fragility that other portraits reveal, in particular that of Delacroix, with a vibrant touch well made to evoke the dreamy spirit of the musician.


It was a misunderstanding - the Russian suppression of the Polish uprising in 1830 - that propelled Chopin to the rank of national hero of Poland, when he himself did nothing to assert himself Polish. Despite the “Polish” her work does not really have a national character, nor that of Berlioz. The latter, very marked by the social tensions of the romantic period from which he had to suffer, only developed fashionable themes, inspired by Byron (Manfred) or Goethe (Faust), but none of them drew inspiration from popular themes like the Russians or the Czechs. Their art is romantic only in form, through the suffering and pain it releases, through the search for the human freedom that underlies it.

  • music
  • portrait
  • romanticism
  • Berlioz (Hector)
  • Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von)
  • Hugo (Victor)
  • Chopin (Frédéric)
  • Byron (Lord)
  • Musset (Alfred de)
  • Sand (George)
  • Stendhal (Henri Beyle, dit)


Joël-Marie FAUQUET (dir.)Dictionary of music in France in the 19th centuryParis, Fayard, 2003.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Romantic music in France"

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