The Romantic Era: Keats and Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
John Keats (1795-1821)
John Keats (1795-1821)

A Review: Keats vs Beethoven

by Bianca C. Tate

June 5, 2011

The Romantic era was often the term used to express the nineteenth century. It grew from the political and social catastrophe that followed the French Revolution (Forney and Machlis, 264). Music and literature was the heart of the Romantic era. “The revolt against the formalism of the Classical age produced an outpouring of emotional lyric poetry that reached its peak in the works of Byron, Shelly, and Keats” (Forney and Machlis, 265). Literature in turn influenced the music world. The Romantic era introduced advances in musical instruments making them more affordable and flexible. Several new instruments were developed along with the development of a highly expressive musical vocabulary. “In all of the arts, the Romantics abandoned traditional formal constraints to explore new, imaginative avenues of expression” (Fiero, 2). Keats' poem"Ode on a Grecian Urn" and Beethoven's Symphony No.5 are both apart of the Romantic Era.

John Keats (1795-1821) was threatened by death due to several family members’ death of tuberculosis. He was aware of the virtues in friendship, beauty, and love. Keats’ poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn," supports the central idea that art is a higher form of nature that that grasps the human lifespan. "Ode on a Grecian Urn” is inspired by Greek artifact in which Keats refers to a Greek vase throughout the poem (Fiero, 9).

"Ode on a Grecian Urn” is not one of my favorite poems but it is my favorite by Keats. My personal taste in poetry doesn’t fall in times where I can barely depict what the poet is saying. Old English always sounds quite bizarre to me. My favorite part of Keats’ poem was the second and third stanza. The speaker looks at another picture on the vase. The picture illustrated a man playing his pipe lying next to a woman under the trees. His music will be forever new because they are frozen in time. He will never be able to kiss her either but her beauty will last forever. The leaves of the trees will never fall off. The last stanza held the most memorable line. As time passes, the vase will still be the same. The only thing the urn knows or needs to know is that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” "Ode on a Grecian Urn” made me visualize art in a different way, but Keats is no match to the genius of Beethoven.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was the leading composers of the early 19th century and one of the greatest musicians of all time (Fiero, 60). His talents surpassed his disability and his passion and determination lead him to make beautiful music. Beethoven started to lose his hearing very early in his career. Many people of his time thought he was crazy and his music wasn’t even popular until decades after his death (Forney and Machlis, 221). He influenced the old society to the new. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies but his best-known symphony is Symphony No. 5 (Forney and Machlis, 220).

The Fifth Symphony compared to Keats"Ode on a Grecian Urn,” was most entertaining to me. I relate more to music than literature. The symphony is approximately seven minutes long and the first movement is the most familiar three-note rhythm. The “short-short-short-long” notes are energetic, forceful and vigor and provides unity to the symphony.“The powerful opening notes of the Fifth Symphony—a motif that Beethoven is said to have called ‘fate knocking at the door’—exemplify his affection for inventive repetitions and surging rhythms that propel the music toward a powerful climax” (Fiero, 61). I like the two contrasting themes in Beethoven’s work; first it is serious then softens then it repeats. I love how the movements of the symphony transition together. I also adore how each note follows after the other. When I close my eyes and listen, I think a massive flood of destruction; the water is unstoppable and swallowing everything in its path. I envision falling water; one drop after the other, one wave after another, and one gigantic wave clashing harder than the last. Symphony No. 5 is without a doubt one of the best pieces of musical masterpieces Beethoven left with us.

Music, literature, and even art tend to complement each other throughout the Romantic era. During this time, people, women and men, were practicing their individuality and creativity. A lot of them broke the rule and set new ones for others to follow. Whether a person loved music or rather read, they were captivated and influenced by the work of the Romantics. Many of the Romantics were ahead of their time and their work was not yet appreciated until many years after their deaths. Beethoven never even heard most of his work. Keats died by tuberculosis at the young age of 25. Imagine if Beethoven could hear, how much better his work would have sounded. Imagine is Keats would have lived another 25 years, what beautiful poetry he would have bestowed to the world. It’s a wonder.


Works Cited

Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition Book 5 Romanticism, Realism, and the Nineteenth-Century World. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill College, 2011. 2, 9, 60-1. Print.

Forney, Kristine, and Joseph Machlis. Enjoyment of Music. 11th ed. Ww Norton &, 2011. 220-1, 264-5. Print.

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