The German «Lied» after Hugo Wolf

From Hans Pfitzner to Anton Webern

by Lesley-Ann Brown (Author)
©2015 Monographs XVIII, 295 Pages
Series: German Life and Civilization, Volume 61


Following the development of the German Lied after the nineteenth century – when it was widely known as the setting of Romantic poetry to music – this book explores the changing artistic scene in the early twentieth century, as rapid social, economic and environmental changes affected German cultural production. The Lied then faced not only a crisis of identity, but also a threat to its survival. This book considers the literary and musical ideas that both challenged and complemented each other as new directions in songwriting were developed across the modern period.
The composers selected for their relevance in Lieder composition during this time illustrate not only the diversity of their musical thought but also a changing approach to the relationship between the poetic text and its musical counterpart. Hans Pfitzner represents the determination to maintain established tradition; subsequently, a chronological progression through the individuality of Paul Hindemith and social integrity of Hanns Eisler leads to the point where transformation of the genre can be said to have begun, with Arnold Schönberg. With the Lieder of Alban Berg and Anton Webern, the genre arrived at a point of convergence with the ideals of German modernism. This study offers new insights into the cultural significance of German songwriting in the first part of the twentieth century.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part One Mapping Aesthetic and Cultural Boundaries
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Landscaping German Song
  • Chapter 2: Modernism: Exploring Convergence and Divergence
  • Chapter 3: Genre: The Changing Identity and Function of the Lied
  • Chapter 4: Musical Perspectives: Tradition and New Directions
  • Summary
  • Part Two Lieder Composers
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 5: Hans Pfitzner: Traditionalist or Regressive Modernist?
  • Chapter 6: Hanns Eisler: The Lied as Medium for Heightened Social Awareness
  • Chapter 7: Paul Hindemith: The Challenge of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Das Marienleben
  • Chapter 8: Arnold Schönberg: Re-thinking Musical Interpretation of the Poetic Text
  • Chapter 9: Alban Berg and Anton Webern: Refining and Redefining the Lied
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


CHAPTER 5:  Hans Pfitzner

Figure 1      Das verlassene Mägdlein bars 1–14
Figure 2      Das verlassene Mägdlein bars 1–12
Figure 3      Sonst bars 89–98
Figure 4      Der Arbeitsmann op. 39 No. 3 bars 38–43
Figure 5      Der Arbeitsmann bar 51–end
Figure 6      Der Weckruf bar 100–end

CHAPTER 6:  Hanns Eisler

Figure 7      Zeitungsauschnitte op. 11 no. 2 Kinderlied aus dem Wedding bars 8–13
Figure 8      Zeitungsauschnitte op. 11 no. 3 Liebeslied eines Kleinbürgermädchens –Heiratsannonce, bars 25–30
Figure 9      Zeitungsauschnitte op. 11 no. 4 Kriegslied eines Kindes bars 1–6
Figure 10    Kriegslied eines Kindes
Figure 11    Zeitungsauschnitte op. 11 no. 5ii Mutter und Vater bars 1–4
Figure 12    Mutter und Vater
Figure 13    Zeitungsauschnitte op. 11 no. 5iii Der Tod bars 8–15 ← vii | viii →

CHAPTER 7:  Paul Hindemith

Figure 14    Das Marienleben, Stillung Mariae bars 1–11
Figure 15    Stillung Mariae bars 25–35
Figure 16    Das Marienleben, Geburt Christi bars 34–37
Figure 17    Geburt Christi bars 25–31
Figure 18    Das Marienleben, Geburt Mariae bars 1–18
Figure 19    Das Marienleben, Mariae Verkündigung bars 116–end
Figure 20    Das Marienleben, Vom Tode Mariae I bars 52–55
Figure 21    Vom Tode Mariae II bars 1–12

CHAPTER 8:  Arnold Schönberg

Figure 22    Mannesbangen
Figure 23    Erwartung
Figure 24    Alles
Figure 25    Alles
Figure 26    Ich darf nicht dankend op. 14 no. 1, bars 15–end
Figure 27    Das Buch der hängenden Gärten op. 15 no. 11, bars 7–12
Figure 28    Das Buch der hängenden Gärten op. 15 no. 1
Figure 29    Das Buch der hängenden Gärten op. 15 no. 1
Figure 30    Das Buch der hängenden Gärten op. 15 no. 7 ← viii | ix →

CHAPTER 9:  Alban Berg

Figure 31    Schliesse mir die Augen beide bars 1–4 (1925)
Figure 32    Schliesse mir die Augen beide bars 18, 19
Figure 33    Vier Lieder op. 2 no. 4 Warm die Lüfte bar 15
Figure 34    Vier Lieder op. 2 no. 3 Nun ich der Riesen Stärksten überwand bars 1–2 (left) and bars 9–10 (right)
Figure 35    Orchesterlieder op. 4 no. 2
Figure 36    Orchesterlieder op. 4 no. 5
Figure 37    Op. 4 no. 1
Figure 38    Op. 4 no. 4

CHAPTER 9:  Anton Webern

Figure 39    Sechs Lieder op. 14 no. 4 Abendland III
Figure 40    Abendland II bars 24, 25 (left), Abendland III bar 1 (right)
Figure 41    Sechs Lieder op. 14 no. 1 Die Sonne bar 7 (left) and bar 25 (right) ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


Research into the early twentieth-century German Lied has been greatly overshadowed by extensive critical and musicological investigation of the repertoire of the previous century, and the challenge of researching musical and literary changes beyond that fertile period and into the early years of the twentieth century has, so far, not been addressed in equivalent detail. Lieder recitals today still favour the established composers of the nineteenth century, and largely ignore German creativity beyond Hugo Wolf, which would seem to confirm the claim of musicologist Jack Stein:

The production of that extremely intimate chamber form known as the German Lied, which at its most exalted moments achieves so close a rapport between poem and music as to approach a union, came to an end when Hugo Wolf’s last songs were written.1

While it is acknowledged that no historical period has a defined beginning and ending, and that any artistic genre waxes and wanes in its developmental stages, the implication is that Hugo Wolf’s final compositions in the form, written during the last decade of the nineteenth century, brought the Lied to a point where its unique partnership of poetry and music could develop no further. This investigation will bring to light that this was not the case, uncovering the years after Wolf’s death, in 1903, during which inspiring contributions to the Lieder repertoire came into being, culminating in the achievements of Anton Webern some twenty years later. These offered not only opportunities for enriching the future repertoire, but also examples of the extent to which the arts were reacting to the increasingly unsettled early years of the twentieth century. This does not merely signify that a definitive end to the genre was simply delayed for two decades, but it marks ← xi | xii → a significant point beyond which the Lied could be said to have diversified beyond close relationship with Stein’s characteristic identity of the genre as an ‘extremely intimate chamber form’.

The Lied thrived during the nineteenth century, during which the intimate ambience of the soiree and the salon concert provided ideal performance environments that were conducive to songs of reflection and romance. This is not a derogatory claim, but an expression of the importance of contextualising the Lied in order to assess the challenge it faced in moving from a relatively comfortable niche in the nineteenth century, into years of greater artistic turbulence. James Parsons poses the question, ‘Does the Lied truly figure in the history of twentieth-century music, or was this the age, as many have insisted, that saw the “death of song”?’2 His subsequent admission that it is a difficult question to answer, possibly highlights both the vagueness of the enquiry and the evasiveness shown by so many writers who prefer to claim that there was no place for the Lied beyond the salons of nineteenth-century Germany. Yet the String Quartet and the Sonata are also self-contained, intimate and concentrated genres which have retained consistent presences in the output of contemporary composers and, perhaps more significantly, in recital programmes. This would seem to indicate that it is the presence of text which puts the Lied into a more complex and questionable category, in which contemporary relevance becomes a significant issue. This study therefore takes an essentially interdisciplinary approach, with the aim of giving equal focus to musical and textual components, avoiding irrelevant debate about the supremacy of either. The extremely specific character of the Lied gives the opportunity to look at changing perceptions in both literature and music, as well as the wider issues of artistic logistics concerning an art form in which so much content was concentrated into such a small structure. This investigation is, therefore, divided into two parts, in order to provide ← xii | xiii → a broad background from which to examine specific composers and their contribution to the genre.

The four chapters of Part One present a broad overview of the artistic environment and the genre identity of the early twentieth-century Lied, looking firstly at the artistic landscape in which the Lied was situated as the twentieth century began, the environment in which it was thriving and the composers who represented past, present and future directions. The ideas of literary Modernism and their implications for, and relevance to, the musical world are discussed in Chapter 2, which is followed by a chapter devoted to an examination of the roots from which the Lied grew and its subsequent evolution and diversification of identity, which culminated in the transformation brought about by the Lieder of Anton Webern. The fourth chapter reveals the powerful written musical discourse of the early twentieth century, through which the extreme polarity of ideas about tradition and innovation convey the turbulent situation in which the Lied had not only to survive, but also to flourish. Composers have been selected as representatives of specific works which illustrate different approaches to Lieder composition, and the possibilities these offered for the future development of German song.

Part Two comprises detailed case studies in which the work of six composers whose contribution to the Lieder repertoire during the first three decades of the twentieth century signpost very different approaches to literature, to music and to the function of song within the cultural and social environment of the time. Overcoming the restrictions imposed by the identification of the modernist years according to date boundaries, which create particular difficulty for an interdisciplinary study, these selected Lieder composers will act as timeline indicators of the journey forward, as well as providing an indication of the responses to the challenges that involved. Adherence to tradition and the work of Schumann and Brahms is exemplified by Hans Pfitzner (1869–1949), whose Lieder form the main part of his output and reflect strong roots in the past as well as tentative, but nonetheless potentially promising, elements of individuality. A broad spectrum of poetic texts arguably reflected more progressive thinking than is apparent in the music of his songs, which are rarely performed today. Baroque structures combined with modernising new ideas are represented ← xiii | xiv → by Hanns Eisler (1898–1962) and Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), both of whom, in their very different ways, addressed the need to overcome the exclusivity of music and allow it to become the rightful possession of the layman as much as the scholar. Although Hindemith was not primarily drawn to Lieder composition, he contributed one of the most substantial and interesting song cycles to the twentieth-century repertoire with his two settings of Rainer Maria Rilke’s group of poems depicting scenes from the life of Mary, Das Marienleben, written in 1923 and extensively revised for republication in 1948. Eisler’s Zeitungsauschnitte provides a unique example of the potential for merging ‘high’ and ‘low’ art song into a new genre of Cabaret-Lied, in which direct communication with the audience is achieved without the intrusion of the individual personality of the performer. By contrast, Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) and his pupils, Alban Berg (1885–1935) and Anton Webern (1883–1945), stand at the heart of musical Modernism and their Lieder, possibly of all their output, most clearly show the formative development of the new creativity of the early twentieth century. All three set the work of Stefan George (1868–1933), an iconic poet for the modernist break with nineteenth-century aesthetics, who held poetry to be an absolute of aesthetic statement in its own right. Schönberg and Webern were also strongly attracted to the work of controversial poet, Richard Dehmel (1863–1920), whose lyrical poetry was regarded as too explicitly sensual by many of his contemporaries, but who nevertheless enjoyed great popularity during his lifetime. Berg turned away from poetry in his setting of the prose of the eccentric Viennese writer Peter Altenberg (1859–1919), whose work encompassed sophisticated essays, semi-autobiographical prose sketches and aphorisms and who was also highly regarded by his contemporaries.


XVIII, 295
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
romantic poetry hanns Eisler Anrold Schönberg Paul Hindemith german modernism
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XVIII, 300 pp., 45 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Lesley-Ann Brown (Author)

Lesley-Ann Brown holds a PhD in German from the University of Nottingham. She is a classically trained pianist, having attended the Royal College of Music as a Junior Exhibitioner and the Royal Academy of Music as a senior student. She also received a BMus degree from the University of London. An accompanist, teacher and examiner, her current research concerns the influence of the German poet Richard Dehmel, whose work prompted composers to produce Lieder during the first years of the twentieth century.


Title: The German «Lied» after Hugo Wolf
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