19th Century Choral Music

Very little music was written for liturgical purposes in the Romantic period.  However, composers combined voices with instruments, emphasizing the symphonic, rather than the vocal ideal.  These were heard most often in the concert hall, and when used in a church they served a nonliturgical purpose.

A great wealth of secular choral music was written in the 19th century; however, only a few important works have survived, and most of these are for voices and orchestra.  Some composers, such as Beethoven, Liszt, and Mahler, used the chorus as a part of the symphonic form.  The part songs of Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, to name but four composers, may have been conceived for one voice on each part, though today they are often treated and performed as choral works.

In the first half of the 19th century, important masses continued to be written, notably by Beethoven and Schubert.  Earlier, requiem masses were created for performance in services for the dead.  During the course of the 19th century, the purposes for requiem masses became separated from their earlier liturgical function.  Those by Berlioz, Verdi, Cherubini, and Brahms are masterpieces of this later genre, and each, for different reasons, would not be appropriate in liturgical services.

The Romantic oratorio followed the choral tradition of Handel in the works of Mendelssohn, who added the melodic, harmonic, and sonorous qualities of Romantic style.  Although there were very few who wrote for the Protestant Church, many composers set quasi-religious stories of mysticism and Catholic symbolism to music in the manner of the oratorio.  Some of these works are not easily classified because they are neither operas, oratorios, nor cantatas (e.g. Gounod, "La Rédemption).  The orchestra generally plays a more important role than in earlier oratorios, with the chorus and soloists bringing texts to what were conceived largely as symphonic works. Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Berlioz wrote compositions in this fashion for performance in the concert hall.