Romantic harmony references?

Does anyone have any references on books that explore the harmonic style of composers from the romantic era? Would be very interested in reading some.

@festinfurious tagging you since I know that you compose in this style.

Gosh, what a vast topic. I don’t actually know of any reference books, for the reason that my stylistic devices have arrived via emulation and assimilation plus a little trial and error.

Otoh, a few quick devices summarised.

Firstly, the relationship between the treble (ie usually, but not always, the melody) and the bass. This will also be generally true of other eras, but it’s still worth mentioning as something which should be considered. No significant parallel movement; descending treble movement over static bass can be useful; use frequent contrary motion.

Resolution of chromatic dissonance. Leading notes, augmented and diminished harmonies are all useful here. Most famous example in the first double clef extract here: Everything you wanted to know about the Tristan chord but were afraid to ask

I’m very partial to harmonies of the mediant and how you can interrelate them with the tonic.

Also harmonisations of passages where an external part moves largely in semitone steps.

It seems vain to cite myself, but as an example of the last, see the first movement here. The score isn’t perfect, but should be enough for analysis to show that the first movement is almost entirely constructed from harmonisation of the two initial descending cells where the treble moves as above.


The best thing I can think of (outside the academic circle-jerk sort of thing) is Charles Rosen’s ‘The Romantic Generation’. Pretty sure there’s a copy in da SDC ebook repository - if not I can hook u up.

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Thank you for your answers and for the analysis Festin. I’ll find the book Harrison.

There was an interesting book by I believe Dernova and another gentleman whose name escapes me, that attempted to somewhat codify Scriabin’s harmonic language.


I hope it was called “May the Fourths be with you” :sunglasses:


I was thinking more like Chopin, Liszt, Wagner up to Mahler stuff, but thanks for your input!

Just found this vid. I think you might find it interesting.

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Thank you! I really like this series. Alas,

the more I look into this subject, the more these seem important and what I should try to learn how to use.

Augmented harmonies almost invariably add colour. They also (at least with “normal” romantic harmony) require resolution.

Often they can be used to modulate. One of the reasons is their flexibility. Consider G, B, D#. How it resolves will tend to be context dependent, but simply by resolving by moving one part by a semitone only, we can get Bmaj (G->F#), G#min (G->G#), Eb (B->Bb), Cmin (B->C), Gmaj (D#->D), Emin (D#->E).

I should add that a similar principle applies to diminished chords.


Damn, many thanks! This is a very clear-cut way to use them (also allows you to “prepare” chromatic mediant modulations!), never payed attention to this technique! I will practice doing this, thanks again for your help.

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