When Romanticism crossed the Atlantic, America put its unique stamp on the movement.
In his final lecture on “Landscape and the Romantic Imagination,” James Reel, classical music director of Arizona Public Media, will discuss some of the philosophers, writers, and artists who shaped American thought and culture between 1820 and 1860. The program begins at 2:30 p.m. Thursday (May 25) in the ASA Great Room.
With “Nature,” in 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson laid out the principles of Transcendentalism. Drawing on European ideas of the intrinsic goodness of the natural world and the corruption of human society, it held that spirituality is achieved through personal intuition rather than religious doctrine. Two of his disciples included Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, whose “Walden” and “Leaves of Grass” came out a year apart in 1854 and 1855.
Among the literary lights, James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote of frontier and Indian life, is considered the first true American novelist, and Washington Irving, the master of the American short story. The “dark Romantics”—Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne—explored the supernatural and psychologically complex themes in poetry and fiction.
For artists, the New World brought a fresh landscape, largely wild and unspoiled. Painters such as Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt of the Hudson River School recorded that pristine beauty in American masterpieces.
There was no comparable school of composers, but William Henry Fry’s 1854 “Niagara Symphony,” derided by critics but loved by audiences, employed eleven tympani, snare drums, and a series of discordant chromatic chords to simulate the thunderous crash of falling water.
Written by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer