The phrase “romantic lyricist” or “lyricism” is a product of the transformation in Western classical music that occurred during the so-called “Romantic” period in European cultural history. Generally considered to date from the mid-18th Century to the early 20th Century, the Romantic period found its expression in the introduction of more personal and emotional lyrics in musical compositions, in addition to vastly greater levels of mysticism, spirituality, and fantasy. As with earlier transformations in music, romanticism was a direct rejection of the more restrained and “rational” approach to lyrics that preceded it. Romantic lyrics also reflected increased fascination with the medieval period of European history, and also manifested itself in expressions of patriotic zeal. Mozart, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Dvorak, Brahms, and Richard Strauss are considered the most important musical composers of this period, and the nationalist sentiments that were prevalent in much of their music, especially that of Tchaikovsky, were characteristic of the lyricism of this period.
Romantic lyricism is considered to have found its greatest voice in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1864), whose most famous poem, “Kubla Khan,” was said to have been inspired by his experimentation with opium:
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea…But oh! That deep romantic chasm which slanted down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! A savage place! as holy and enchanted/As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted/By woman wailing for her demon-lover!”
Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is similarly representative of the unconventional nature that was characteristic of the lyricism of the Romantic period (“Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks/Had I old and young!/ Instead of the cross, the albatross/ About my neck was hung.”) Almost Homeric in scale and substance, Coleridge’s “Rime” ushered in the Romantic period in his native England and cemented his place among the greatest lyricists from of that period.
A modern example of romantic lyricism is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in which there is a sense of the artist's presence in many a passage. Specifically, in some passages there is "a sensuality of expression" as this lyricism is defined. For instance, while there are such phrases as the description of Daisy Buchanan's voice as a "deathless song," Fitzgerald employs music as the backdrop for his scenes, such as the jazz song "Three O'Clock in the Morning." Using cars as symbols of the unsettled, driving nature of the characters, Fitzgerald's description of Jay Gatsby's car is reflective of his romantic creation of persona, and is nothing less than lyric:
It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes...and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory....
With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Astoria....(Chapter 4)