In some ways it is a reaction against the previous period, known as Classicism, which was much cooler, more regulated, and backward looking towards ancient Greek and Roman models and ideas. Romanticism is not necessarily concerned with romantic love, but this theme occurred quite frequently because this is one of the strongest feelings known to man.
In music, Romanticism is closely linked with the books and plays which were popular at that time. The Erlkönig, for example, picks up on an emerging cultural awareness of Germanic folklore, and it is part of Schubert’s large repertoire of Lieder (songs). The words were written by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, probably Germany’s greatest author of all time, and the music is very dramatic. There are a lot of emotions in the music, from the fast drumming of the horses’ hooves, to the high pitched cries of the son, the deep reassuring voice of the father, and the eerie, sneaky voice of the Erlkönig. These differences in tone and pitch transform the music from the original strictly uniform line and verse structure of a ballad and take it to a new Lied form much more like a short story with a beginning, a middle and an end. The Erlkönig has an instrument only introduction, rising tension in the voices, and a big silence towards the end, followed by a slump in which it is clear that the boy is dead. This playing around with structure is a big feature of Romantic music, and it shows an adventurous attitude towards the conventions of the time.
The Berlioz piece is orchestral, and so there is not the advantage of voice to convey details of a dramatic narrative. The subtitle of the piece “March to the Scaffold” however, reveals the tragic scenario that Berlioz has in mind. There is in this piece also a rising tension, almost to an unbearable level, before there is a sudden climax, which reminds the listener of the falling of the guillotine on the poor victim’s neck. The instrumentation is also characteristic