Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The term romance in musical compositions and arts

The Orchestra and Community Choral Artists of the Tahoe Area (TOCCATA) performed works of Bach, Bruch and Dvorák this February. The Dvorák piece was Romance in F minor for violin and piano, Op. 11, with Elizabeth Pitcairn as the violin virtuoso. Listening to the guest violinist and orchestra clearly is the best way to get the feeling of what romance means, but I also like the brief introduction given in the program notes [1]:
The term romance has a centuries-long history. As applied to narrative ballads in Spain, by the 18th century, it came to be used for simple lyrical pieces for voice as well as for instruments alone. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Russian composers developed the French variety of the romance as a sentimental category of Russian art song. (“Ochi Chornie” - “Dark Eyes” - is a well-known example.) The Oxford Dictionary of Music states that “generally it implies a specially personal or tender quality.” As for instrumental romances, Mozart subtitled the second movement of his piano concerto no. 20 in D minor (K.466) “Roamanze” and his Horn Concerto has a romanze and Rondo. Robert Schumann was particularly fond of the title for lyrical piano pieces.
Romances became an international affair in the 19th century. Carl Dahlhaus wrote [2]:
[…] the French romance has a history more complicated than would seem to be the case if we simply accept the general verdict, issued from the standpoint of the German lied, that it was nothing but salon music for voice. At the time of Rosseau's Dictionnaire du musique (1767) the romance may well have been a “folklike” narrative song in a “simple, touching” style with a “certain antique aura,” but in the hands of Méhul and Boieldieu in the early nineteenth century it drew either on the cantabile of Italian canzonettas and cavatinas or on the declamatory melodic style of the German lied. True, before Berlioz there were no significant examples of the genre known as romance dialoguée, where the vocal part was held in balance by an illustrative piano accompaniment.
True, now we know what a romance is (if we didn't already before).

[1] TOCCATA, The Tahoe Symphony Orchestra, Bach & Bruch with James Rawie (Artistic Director & Conductor):
Program NotesAntonín Dvorák, February 5-9, 2010.
[2] Carl Dahlhaus: Nineteenth-Century Music (translated from German into English by J. Bradford Robinson). University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989; p. 104.

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