Characteristics of Beethoven's style

Characteristics of Beethoven’s style and romantic period composers

Beethoven changed over time, so his works are usually divided into three periods. His first period was more conventional, but his second period introduced a number of innovations in such things as the size, emotional force, and variation in key of his compositions. His third period, during which he composed his Ninth Symphony, tended more to meditation and to the bringing together of extremes.

On page 182 of his Vintage Guide to Classical Music, Jan Swafford says of Beethoven that “no one before or since has accomplished such a merging of wildness and control.” He used established forms such as the symphony and concerto, but what he did with the forms pushed them outside of the expected range, for example by introducing vocals or connecting his music to outside ideas such as storms. Further, Barbara Hanning has noted that some of his late compositions are difficult to perform because they stretch the limits of what is playable.

Beethoven’s methods of composition relied heavily on inspiration deriving from objects in nature or his own personality. He also seems frequently to have struggled to compose works that expressed precisely what he wanted them to, leading him to complete a lower number of works than composers such as Haydn. Comparing these facts with what is typical of Romantics shows the similarities.

Characteristics of the Romantic Period

In general, the music of the Romantic movement that became dominant around Beethoven’s death had several characteristics. It had a greater emphasis on emotional expression in music than previously, was often connected to outside themes or stories, simultaneously focused on both compositions grander and more intimate than in the Classical Period, and emphasized expression of personality or nationality in music.

The individual personality was also vital to the Romantics, as their exalted idea of artists required that each one express a personal vision, not one taken from another. Beethoven’s naturally forceful personality made him a hero to the Romantics.