On this page you will find a colourful collection of Romantic Era composers. Below you can read some biographics, followed by a link to the music.
If you are impatient or eager… Go to the Music directly!
Luigi Mozzani (1869-1943) was born in the region of Romagna in Italy. Despite the fact that he was already interested in the guitar as a youngster, he studied oboe at the conservatory, because there was a fair chance that he would find a job as musician with this instrument. As an oboe player he became involved with the Parisian guitar scene at the beginning of the twentieth century, so his old love for the guitar flourished again, causing him to take up the guitar and start building instruments too.
At the end of his life he established a school for luthiers in his native region. The school existed until 1947. After the establishment closed down, all rights and designs were sold to an Italian musical instrument manufacturer.
Auguste Zurfluh (1871 – 1941) was guitarist with the Opera-Comique in Paris and established a music publisher firm –Editions Zurfluh– that still exists today.
Antonio Cano-Curriela (1811-1897) is the composer of this typical nineteenth century romantic guitar piece. He was a pupil of Dioniso Aguado. Cano did not start with guitar playing and composition. He originally was a surgeon who abandoned his scalpel in favour of the guitar. He wrote a guitar method (Metodo de Guitarra (1852)) with some studies and concert pieces with a total of about a hundred pieces.
Sebastan de Iradier y Salaverri (1809-1865), who is commonly known as Yradier because his music publisher in Paris wanted his name to be more French (looks good on the covers), exploited a new musical form, the Habanera. The most famous of them -La Paloma- was published in 1855. Yradier lived and worked in Madrid, Paris, Cuba and the United States and in the end died in Spain.
The Brazilian composer Joao Pernambuco was also known as Joao Teixeira Guimaraes (1883 – 1947). At a young age he learnt to play the viola caipira, a small steel string guitar, the Brazilian national instrument and he got in touch with the music from the street. After his parents died, he landed in Recife as an orphan. Here he made a living with various jobs like a blacksmith.
In Rio de Janeiro he became well known with compositions of national musical forms like Jongos, Valses, Toadas, and Cancoes. Because he was illiterate, he had to trust that his partners scored and published his music under his name. Unfortunately, many broke this trust and quite a few top hits were published under other names, so Pernambuco did not see a penny from it. Heitor Villa Lobos helped him a bit, scoring and publishing a number of Pernambuco’s songs under the name of the composer.
The English composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was born in a very musically gifted family and consequently landed in the musical profession as an autodidact. He is mainly known by his symphonic works, in particular the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, from which for example the well-known song Land of Hope and Glory originates. One of his compositions, the melody of one the best-known community songs Jerusalem, every year sounds at The First Night of the Proms.
Enrique Granados (1867 – 1916) was a Spanish composer and pianist. He mainly wrote piano and vocal music, so the guitar pieces are transcriptions. He studied under amongst others Emilio Pujol and Felipe Pedrell and founded the Barcelona Conservatory in 1901.
In contrast with the other Spanish composers of his generation, he had little interest in the culture of his native district. He felt attracted, however, to the Castilian Tonadilla and the Spanish art from the classical and early romantic period. His love for the paintings of the classical Spanish painter Goya is legendary and shows in many pieces he composed with Goya’s paintings in mind.
Although his work was influenced by Robert Schumann, Grieg and Liszt, he developed a characteristic style with individual harmonic and rhythmic progressions and original melodies. Distinctive for his intuitive style are the excessive and monotonous repetition of phrases. For instance, in Oriental, the starting theme occurs many times in different octaves.
His major works are the Goyescas, pieces after Goya’s paintings, the Spanish Dances and the Colleccion de Tonadillas for voice and piano. Further he wrote an essay about the use of the piano pedal, published sonatas by Allessandro Scarlatti, re-arranged a Chopin piano concerto and wrote multiple romantic pieces like Valses Poeticos and Escenas Poeticos.
He met his death in a sad way. In march 1916, near Dieppe on the English Channel a German submarine torpedoed his ship on which he returned to Europe after a concert tour in the USA. He drowned miserably.
Antonio Alba (1873 – 1940) was guitarist and composer. Alba was not his real name, which was Juan Antonio Hava Ferré. He seems to be one of the first guitarists and composers working under an artist name. He worked in Spain -particularly Catalonia- and in Chile. He is best known for his pieces based on traditional Chilene and other Latin Americal musical forms.
He wrote quite a number of works for guitar and guitar ensembles, more than 100 Opus numbers are listed.
Jules Massenet (1855-1912) got piano lessons from his mother in his early youth and studied piano and composition at the Conservatoire in Paris. After a modest beginning with piano music, orchestral works, oratories and ballets, he achieved fame with his operas. Within his operas he succeeded in creating an obvious connection with the libretto and its text and the music. Besides composer, Massenet was a celebrated music pedagogue.
Gaetano Braga (1829 – 1907) already was impassioned by music in his youth, in that time he studied with Saverio Mercadante. At the age of fourteen he started his formal study on the cello and achieved experience in composition. Braga is mainly known by his operas and chamber music for the salon.
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was born in 1830 in the Italian town of Le Roncole. His family had little to do with music, his father was innkeeper, his mother worked as silk-spinster. The young Giuseppe appeared to be very musical, as a ten-year-old he was the main organist of the local church. First, he was bound to become a priest, but his great musical talent gave him other directions.
The Milan Conservatory, however, did reject him, they had their own candidates in mind. Fortunately, Verdi found a private teacher that taught him the juicy details of the profession and the Theatre La Scala showed him many examples of opera compositions.
His father would have liked that Verdi returned to his birthplace as the band leader of the church. That appeared no simple matter, bitter conflicts arose because there were other local candidates and the war was fought with the bare fists and in the courtrooms. Apparently in present day Italy these practices have little changed since Verdi’s time.
Thus, Verdi took off to Milan again and composed his first opera’s, amongst others Nabucco. An impresario discovered Verdi and his works and a worldwide fame was the result. In that period, he composed his best-known operas like Rigoletto en Aida.
At the end of his life, Verdi established a rest home for retired musicians, the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti. It was an initiative unheard of in those days, many musicians died in poverty. The Casa became Verdi’s final resting place when he died in 1901.
Besides his operas, Verdi composed sacred music, symphonic music and chamber music. It is striking how versatile many composers in the nineteenth century were. Most of this work is hardly known, Verdi’s operas have remained most famous.
Chopin is known as an inegenious and innovative composer for the piano. He mastered the instrument on a very high level (history states that he knew the complete Wohltemperiertes Klavier -24 preludes and fugues in all keys- by Bach by heart, and that is quite a thing!) I guess that is why you won’t find much of Chopin’s more elaborate works arranged for solo guitar, the complexity of his musical textures is too much. Well, after a little search on Internet you will find some nevertheless, the attraction of his music is definitely there despite the more limited scope of the guitar.
At the age of eighteen I had my first introduction to Chopin’s music. Listening to the classical pop arrangements by Ekseption and just starting to play the classical guitar, I became interested in classical music. So, I wanted to have some classical albums. That was no sinecure for my low budget, because most classical LPs were about ten guilders more expensive than a recent popular LP (which sold at 21 guilders already). Apparently, those days there was some elitism in the prices of classical music. That has changed today, just consider the underselling of classical music collections by Kruidvat, one of the Dutch drugstore concerns! And just consider the present-day Naxos label with lots of good guitar music at a quite reasonable price!
The De Slegte Bookstores -well known in Holland for its second-hand book sales and remaindered books- came with an absolute bargain of a collection of classical records in EP format (a size in between single and LP). Probably it was some ‘All Time Classics’ set which was dead stock as a whole and was sold per album instead. The records were delivered in a very limp cover which served as a kind of fold-out which revealed some information about the music. The record would drop out if you were not aware of the silly sleeve!
It was a pleasantly inexpensive introduction to classical music, particularly for a high school student with little pocket money. I bought a few of these records, including two with Chopin’s music, one record with Polonaises and one mixed bag album, some waltzes, nocturnes and other stuff.
When I played the records, the sound quality was a little poorer than I expected, the recordings looked like a conversion of old 78 rpm records. But the musical idea was clear nevertheless, particularly one piece –Berceuse Op. 57– impressed me with its nocturne-like tranquility.
Later when I met the girl who would be my wife, Chopin’s music returned. She played the piano and a few waltzes, mazurkas and nocturnes by Chopin were part of her repertoire. When I got settled, I bought some more of Chopin’s music, and the nocturnes and ballades became my favourites.
You will have to study some history in order to understand the atmosphere of Chopin’s music.
Poland prospered most in the sixteenth century when it consisted of the present-day Poland, a large part of the Ukraine and the Baltic states.
In the seventeenth century the problems started when Austria, Prussia, Sweden and Russia attempted to incorporate parts of Poland in the progress of their expansive policies. At the end of the eighteenth century, Poland was off the map.
The end of the eighteenth century brought the French Revolution and the notion of more or less democratic freedom for many European nations. The Polish felt the same and started resistance against their Russian masters, a pursuit which the latter suppressed without mercy. The 1830 revolution became a disaster and a terrible defeat for the Polish ‘insurgents’, which inspired Chopin to write his ‘Revolutionary’ Etude Op. 10, No. 12. The next attempt -the 1863 revolt against the Russians- would not bring a Polish state either, because the Polish were defeated again. It would take until deep in the twentieth century before Poland became a sovereign state despite the attempts of a world-wide ideology to prevent Polish nationalism.
Chopin spent his youth in Poland, but left for Paris when he was 21 in order to continue his piano career in the cultural capital of Europe at that time. The failure of the Polish 1830 revolution made his return to his homeland forever impossible. His sadness about this and his longing for his homeland can be heard in all his music, even in the more joyful passages.
Chopin made the Polish musical characteristics well-known in the world of classical music, he used lots of themes and phrasing from Polish popular music. A Polish dance form -the Mazurka from the Masurian district- spread through Europe as a classical form, so that even the Spanish composer Tarrega composed some beautiful mazurkas for guitar.
The Paraguayan Augustin Barrios (1885 – 1945) was one of the great guitar virtuoso’s from the romantic era. His compositions are virtuoso and contain lots of innovative techniques.
Barrios was born in San Bautista de las Misiones in Paraguay as the fith son of a married couple of teachers. His parents included a great deal of music and culture in his education. Inspired by his mother’s play, Augustin started playing guitar at an early age. After his musical training in the capital Asuncion, Barrios toured the world as a guitar virtuoso. He also occupied himself with composition, literature and poetry. He was one of the first guitarists to be recorded, a few recordings are an evidence of his virtuoso and inspired playing.
His music was influenced by three aspects: the folklore of his land, the mystics of religion and his love for the European classical music, e.g. by Bach. He left more that three hundred compositions.
Johann Decker Schenk
Johann Decker-Schenk (1826 – 1899) was an Austrian guitar virtuoso that was introduced to the guitar in his childhood, his father was a luthier. He did not build the small ones only, he also constructed large harp-guitars in various configurations. Those were hardly portable instruments.
Decker-Schenk composed for the ten-string guitar, yet he remained within the range of the modern guitar in quite a number of pieces. In his days his compositions were quite popular, today many people would consider his music over-sentimental.
Carl Oscar Boije
The Swede Carl Oscar Boije af Gennas (1849-1923) was a passionate amateur guitar player who gathered an enormous collection of guitar music. Part of this collection was a large part of the nineteenth century guitar literature plus a great number of guitar periodicals, which contained pieces for guitar and various ensembles of guitar with voice, violin and even piano.
Boie had stated in his last will that his collection was to be donated to the Statens Musikbibliotek, the central Swedish library for sheet music. All the music from the Boie collection presently is in the Public Domain.
That’s a nice invitation to an odyssey for new music. The collection contains a great deal, music from the classical period and the early romantic era. A large number of pieces is decently engraved, but quite a few are just hand written concepts.
Eduardo D. Bensadon
The Argentine guitarist and composer Eduardo D. Bensadon. He was born in Buenos Aires and studied music at the Conservatorio de Musica y Declamacion. He was a versatile man, besides a career as a guitarist he performed in various movies as an actor. He composed about a hundred works.
Gerardo Matos Rodriguez
Gerardo Matos Rodriguez (1897-1948) was the son of the owner of the Moulin Rouge in Montevideo. With this name I immediately think of music, dance and not to mention the CanCan. It is quite obvious that tangos were also danced there.
In his childhood, Matos Rodriguez began to compose and in 1916 it became the tango La Compursita that made him world famous. He travelled in Europe and continued his career in music as a composer of dance and film music and the direction of a tango orchestra in Montevideo.
Edward R. Day
Edward R. Day (1866-1919), who is that? I came across a one-off: I couldn’t find anything about this composer on the Internet except a link to this piece. Given the nature of the example of his compositions on this site, I imagine that he was active in salon and entertainment music.
Thanks to a hint from Annette Kruisbrink, I found a link to a group of American guitarists / composers around people such as Justin Holland (1819-1887), William Foden (1860-1947) and the aforementioned Luigi Mozzani who apparently ended up in the United States. These musicians were strongly influenced by the classical romantic European guitar music. What is clear from the example of Day that I encountered: European-oriented salon music with its own unique touch.
Michael William Balfe was born in 1808 in Dublin, Ireland. His father was dance master and violinist. The young Michael was a good observer and already played the violin as a kid during the dancing lessons of his father. As a teenager he took off to London, became member of a stage orchestra and in passing studied music with Cherubini and Rossini.
Besides learning to play the violin, Balfe attempted to become an opera singer. Doing so, he was not quite successful, so he turned to the other side, the opera composition. This went much better, resulting in 28 operas with The Bohemian Girl as the most famous one. Besides operas, Balfe composed about 250 songs. Many of these songs are classics in Ireland.
In the end he became director and leader of the orchestra of the Italian Opera in London. With this job he reached his retirement, he died in 1870. After his death, his wife left his complete oeuvre to the British Museum.
Carrie V. Hayden
In the second half of the nineteenth century, salon music for guitar became popular, not only in Europe, but also in the United States. As a consequence, a large number of waltzes, polkas and arrangements of popular classical works were created in America. People like Winslow Hayden (1839 – 1886) and Justin Holland (1819 – 1887) brought cultural music in the salon and living room within reach of the amateur guitarist.
Winslow Hayden had a daughter Carrie V. who continued her father’s business. I discovered some of her material that is a nice example of American salon music in the nineteenth century.
Winslow Lewis Hayden
Winslow Lewis Hayden (1839 – 1886) was a nineteenth-century American guitarist / arranger / composer. He had his own publishing house in Boston and focused on the market for amateur and domestic music. In addition, he collaborated with publishers such as White Smith & Co and released several bundles focused on the student and amateur segment, mainly with arrangements of popular songs, dances and easy listening classics.
His works are not super difficult because of the target group he worked with. That sometimes causes a feeling of disappointment, especially with arrangements of well-known classical works, because he sometimes sacrificed a justified harmony with a difficult setting for something simpler that sounds less good.
Yet his work is a nice example of popular music for the classical guitar. It plays relatively easy.
Rafael Arias (1832 – 1882) is a bit of a mystery if you look up his name on the Internet. It is suspected that he was Argentinian. I found one of his pieces in the Spanish library.