Online Exhibits@Yale


Boundaries of Romanticism poster

It has long been customary to describe the history of western art music as a stately progression of historical periods, from Medieval through Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical, and Romantic to Modern. (As the music of the late 20th and the 21st centuries has grown ever more diverse, it has become increasingly difficult to sustain any terminology that could plausibly describe the past few decades as a whole, although labels such as Post-Modern are sometimes applied.) These periods form the basis of countless books, articles, anthologies of scores and recordings, courses, faculty appointments, professional associations, radio programs, and so on. The effects of this scheme are so tangible that it’s easy to forget that they are the creation of historians and critics, not a depiction of the natural order of things. They are useful fictions; they help us take the disorderly and contradictory assemblage of sources that have come down to us, and turn it into a coherent story. (In most romance languages, “history” and “story” are the same word.) They are always subject to debate, and different historians may choose to define their periods differently, to add or subtract from the scheme, or to change the location of the boundary lines.

In this exhibit, we highlight composers who stand (chronologically or stylistically) near the dawn of the Romantic era, such as Beethoven and Schubert, as well as others from its twilight, such as Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Rachmaninoff. Our exhibit concludes with the pianist (and sometime composer) Vladimir Horowitz, who was often touted as “the Last Romantic.”

The Gilmore Music Library has many other materials from the Romantic era. Between 2009 and 2013, some of these were displayed in a series of exhibits honoring the 200th birthdays of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, and Verdi. These and other exhbits are available online at

Boundaries of Romanticism is one of three related exhibits at Yale in 2015; the others are The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760-1860 at the Yale University Art Gallery, and Illuminated Printing’: William Blake and the Book Arts at the Haas Arts Library.