Five Giants of Romantic Music: Friends in Life, Rivals in Art - Smithsonian Associates

Friday, October 16 @ 12PM 

Franz Liszt, 1858, by Franz Hanfstaeng, (left) and Felix Mendelssohn, 1830, by James Warren Childe (right)

Born between 1809 and 1813, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Richard Wagner were geniuses of Romantic music, and as intriguing for their personal interrelationships as they were for their creations. Friends who were often at odds, they were candid critics of one another’s work yet advocates of their individual musical languages. They entertained, argued, and concertized together—even sketched one another—as they critiqued one another’s music publicly. They were performers, conductors, correspondents, and teachers who had a profound cultural impact on their times, to say nothing of our own.

combines presentations and piano demonstrations to examine the lives and work of these five musical giants.

As Europe emerged from the chaos of the Napoleonic wars, the world of the 19th-century professional musician was changing, and prodigiously talented young artists were emerging.

Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Chopin—three dashing young composer-pianists—take Paris by storm. Robert Schumann falls in love with his teacher’s brilliant young daughter, Clara Wieck, with consequences that would reverberate throughout the century. Wagner claws his way towards public recognition. The five composers spend their time conducting, performing, writing, editing, networking, and creating some of the greatest music of the 19th century.

With the deaths of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Chopin by 1856, it is left to Liszt, Wagner, and other great composers such as Verdi and Brahms to create the works that continue to inform musical life today.