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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 3: Genre: The Changing Identity and Function of the Lied



Genre: The Changing Identity and Function of the Lied

This chapter will first of all discuss the difficulty of applying the term ‘genre’ as a means of classification to the German Lied, before continuing with an investigation into its evolution from a form which had, by the eighteenth century, become firmly established within the life of the people, whatever their social and intellectual level, to an art form which flourished in the nineteenth century and faced its own particular crisis of identity and survival in the twentieth.

The growth from simple verse structures into a diverse and often hard to categorise group of styles and forms with features in common as well as distinct individual identities, is a journey that is not easily mapped. The history of the Lied is extensive and its origin as a natural accompaniment to everyday life indicates that it would change with the rhythm of the decades and the increasing sophistication of the society around it. Elisabeth Schmierer points out two main difficulties in the study of Lieder history:

Sie umfaßt […] einen viel längeren Zeitraum, vom Mittelalter bis heute; andere Gattungen wie Oper, Konzert, Symphonie entstanden erst im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. Zum anderen sind Gattungsmerkmale des Liedes nur schwer bestimmbar, denn es zeigt sich in den unterschiedlichsten Ausprägungen und mit den unterschiedlichsten Bezeichnungen.1

[It embraces […] a much longer time period, from the Middle Ages to the present day. Other...

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