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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 6: Hanns Eisler: The Lied as Medium for Heightened Social Awareness

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CHAPTER 6

Hanns Eisler: The Lied as Medium for Heightened Social Awareness

The literary writing and musical compositions of Hanns Eisler reveal an artist who, throughout his career, strongly opposed the bourgeois ideology and artistic trends amongst which he lived and worked. Born in 1898, his life extended through two world wars and years of great social and political unrest in Germany, all of which profoundly influenced his thought. In 1933, he left Germany and remained in exile until 1948, travelling extensively before settling in America, from where he was deported for ‘Un-American activities’.1 His commitment to a belief that music must have meaning and relevance for his audience, at whatever level of education or sophistication they operated, led to conflict with his teacher, Arnold Schönberg, with whom he studied between the years 1919 and 1926. Having absorbed his ideas of atonality, Eisler’s increasing concerns about the gulf between bourgeois understanding and the need to address a world which was in social upheaval and imminent danger of war, led him to the conclusion that music must play a significant and relevant role in the lives of a society whose working people were becoming increasingly marginalised. ‘Eisler determined on a new audience, on new forms of contact with that audience, and a new way of writing, in order to bring his music closer to them.’2 This altruistic belief inevitably clashed with what he perceived as Schönberg’s esoteric approach to both present and future directions for...

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