There are moments in history where radical change so heavily and propounding reshapes the world we are accustom to that an equally vigorous reactionary movement emerges; this is the case with the Industrial Revolution and subsequent Romantic Movement. During this historic period, the world was drastically and profusely changed. According to many historians the Industrial Revolution is the greatest of histories epochs of change and dynamic redefinition of how humans live and interacted with nature.
Like its name suggests, the Industrial Revolution was a period of rapid industrialization. During the mid-18th and early 19th century, technological advance and industrialization occurred at an astronomical pace. Moreover, it was a shift in the technological, socioeconomic and cultural conditions which defines the Industrial Revolution. This all started in Britain and, then, eventually spread throughout the world. A variety of inventions increased efficiency and facilitated the emergence of new production methods, such as steam power, industrial production techniques, canals, railways, etc.
These changes impacted society greatly. This period in time marked a major turning point in human history, in which almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way. During the Industrial Revolution, an intellectual and artistic hostile towards the new industrial development, which was known as the Romantic Movement, emerged. The movement stressed the importance of “nature” in art and language—in contrast to monstrous machines and factories. Individualism became more widespread, and Romanticism was the initial literary and artistic reaction to the Industrial Revolution.
Power driven machines began to supplant people in many areas once the domain of human labor and manual power. The Romantic Movement, playing off the populace’s fear and mistrust of machines, which were taking their jobs, changed the way people thought about art, writing, and other creative endeavors. The era of Romanticism began in the 1700s and lasted into the mid nineteenth century. The Romantic Movement refers to a shift in thinking, not easily defined absolutely in terms of dates but, rather, as a general change in artistic thinking.
The writers and artists of the Romantic Movement created work that celebrated nature and the spirit of the individual. Emotion, imagination, and independent thinking are three common ingredients often found in the creative work of this particular era. In fact, with the arrival of the Romantic Movement the stale rules of convention and traditional thinking were quickly tossed out to make way for a whole new approach to artistic creation.
The Industrial Revolution changed the way goods were produced and, ultimately, transformed and modernized the world. The basic resources for industrialization: land, capital, and labor, were easily available, leading to rapid mechanization; this, in turned, facilitated the emergence of the modern factory system and industries were forever transformed, such as the textile industry. Steam engines were invented, coal replaced wood and charcoal, steel was created from iron, roads and canals were improved along with railroads and the creation of steamboats advancing transportation means.
The division of Labor, interchangeable parts, mass production, and the assembly line, among many other factors contributed to the modernization of the industry. Advances in technology, communication, science, and medicine took place altering society and ways of life. The Romantic Movement swept across Europe. Romanticism saw the Industrial Revolution as some kind of dehumanizing abomination, which was striping humankind of its humanity and individuality as well as adversely affecting nature. The new factory system released tons of smog, polluting the air, which was eventually inhaled by the populace.
Job openings increased in the city because of the large amount of people needed to operate the new machines and industries, which profoundly changed man’s environment from the wide open country to the confines of urban life. The thought of having a second home became popular also. People started gaining wealth and life expectancy increased—both of which encourage people to own two houses, one in the city for business and one in the country for leisure.
Because of extremes of the Industrial Revolution, the Romanticism reacted with the same extreme magnitude in the opposite direction with music and literature. The romantic novel, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly reflected the industrial revolution’s effect in Europe, mainly signifying the working class’s appeals for suffrage and other rights. The industrial revolution was filled with large factories with extremely wealthy owners, while the working class lived in squalid poverty.
Long hours and low wages led to the development of labor unions and working class demands for voting rights and a less demanding labor environment. Poetry such as “The Cyclops” addressed to the Birmingham Artisans and “The Botanic Garden” by Erasmus Darwin illuminated the ills created by the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution caused people and the world itself to change. People started to perceive the world much differently than before. Theories started emerging that were at odds with pervious beliefs and music became a way of life. Romantic music attempted to increase emotional expression and power in order to describe deeper truths and human feelings, while preserving or extending the formal structures from the classical period or creating new forms that were deemed better vehicles for the new subject matter.
The subject matter in the new music was not only purely abstract, but frequently drawn from other art-form sources such as literature, historical figures, or nature. Composers such as Mozart and Haydn furthered romantic innovations, in order to achieve greater fluidity and contrast. However, composers such as Beethoven and Richard Wagner expanded the harmonic language with previously unused chords or innovated chord progressions.
The artists of the Romantic Movement found a great deal to criticize about the Industrial Revolution. The new technologies and their use grew out of eighteenth-century rationalism, which held that man could employ science to control the earth the way he pleased. The Romantic Movement was a reaction to this philosophy, and held that man was a part of nature and needed to respect and care for the earth. This view extended humanity to encompass a respect for nature as well as individualism.
The romantic poets felt that a few powerful people were making decisions for their own benefit, and others had to take the consequences, which contradicted with their reverence for individualism. Ultimately, the Romantic Movement was an artistic movement which directly opposed the excess of the Industrial Revolution, in that sense, adding artistic moderation to on of histories more polarizing time, but, perhaps more importantly, liberated artistic creativity and emotionalism which continues to shape our collective mentality.