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The German «Lied» after Hugo Wolf

From Hans Pfitzner to Anton Webern

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Lesley-Ann Brown

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.
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Chapter 1: Landscaping German Song

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CHAPTER 1

Landscaping German Song

During the nineteenth century performances of Lieder flourished within the intimacy of private house venues where groups of people would gather, either for social events at which Lieder provided a cultural addition, or specifically for the purpose of hearing the current work of prominent composers of the time. The genre was ideally suited both to the small-scale setting and to supplying the variety and duration of performance favoured by those in attendance. These were, however, effectively closed circles, supported by those already committed to the genre. Edward Kravitt describes the structure of a typical Viennese musical evening at which Lieder would be performed;

A group of musicians […] and wealthy music lovers made their homes available for regular weekly evenings of music. Usually forty to sixty people were invited; dinner was generally served first, after which all the guests retired to the music salon for the concert. Often a composer associated with the group presented an evening of his own works; these included Mahler, Kienzl, Bittner, Schönberg and Berg.1

Liederabende – evenings devoted only to the performance of Lieder – became increasingly popular in Germany during the first decade of the twentieth century. Between November 1901 and March 1902, twenty Liederabende took place at the Bösendorfer Saal in Vienna, the Lieder of Richard Strauss appearing in all.2 The formation of societies among the cultural elite was a natural progression, offering a showcase for the works ← 17 | 18 → of...

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