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The German «Lied» after Hugo Wolf

From Hans Pfitzner to Anton Webern


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 2: Modernism: Exploring Convergence and Divergence



Modernism: Exploring Convergence and Divergence

The developmental journey of the Lied during the years covered in this study is complicated by an abundance of literary material outlining converging and diverging ideas concerning the function of art and the artist. These in turn gave rise to various movements which evolved from or reacted against each other. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the German literary world, particularly that of the cities, was absorbing the increasing social, political and cultural concerns relevant to the time, while music leaned towards retaining its strong technical and aesthetic links with the expansive resources, sonorities and expressivity of Romanticism and the influence of Wagner. It was from these sources that musicians took their ideas into the early years of the twentieth century, focusing on progressing towards a new means of expression which revolved around the extension and ultimate removal of reliance on tonal boundaries. David Metzer refers to ‘significant departures in musical language that occurred around the turn of the twentieth century’ as being ‘the widely accepted notion of the term’ [Musical Modernism], but he also makes clear that there is an argument for the term extending beyond the compositional innovations in harmony, melody, sound and rhythm which took place at that time.1 ‘Innovation’ covers only part of modernist theory, combining as it does an emphasis on what is ‘new’ with the implication that it is an improvement on the ‘old’. Beethoven could be regarded as innovative for...

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