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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 5: Hans Pfitzner: Traditionalist or Regressive Modernist?



Hans Pfitzner: Traditionalist or Regressive Modernist?

Hans Pfitzner (1869–1949) presents the curious contradiction of having been a highly respected composer during his lifetime yet in many ways ill at ease with the time in which he lived. Johann Vogel’s study of his life and work acknowledges:

Die Wurzeln Pfitzners liegen im 19. Jahrhundert, bei Schopenhauer, Schumann und Wagner. Anders als Mahler, Richard Strauss und Schönberg reißt er die Brücken nicht hinter sich ab.’1

[Pfitzner’s roots lay in the nineteenth century with Schopenhauer, Schumann and Wagner. Unlike Mahler, Richard Strauss and Schönberg, he did not break his ties with his past.]

While there is no doubting that Pfitzner’s formative years were entrenched in the musical tradition of Mozart and Beethoven and the Romantic influence of Schumann and Brahms, Pfitzner’s position as an artist who failed to separate himself from tradition should take into account that his mature years were unsettled by challenges which he felt threatened the destruction of the musical legacy of his early influences. His musical output included a considerable amount of Lieder, of which 106, with piano accompaniment, remain in publication today.2 The songs cover a period of fifty years, their composition taking place in periods of concentrated creativity devoted entirely on Lieder, setting side his orchestral, instrumental and chamber works, four operas, a cantata and a choral fantasia. Whether these returns provided a restorative break from his larger compositions, or...

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