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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 7: Paul Hindemith: The Challenge of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Das Marienleben

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CHAPTER 7

Paul Hindemith: The Challenge of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Das Marienleben

Hindemith’s decision to set Rilke’s Das Marienleben [The Life of Mary] is somewhat curious, given that his compositional output does not, in general, indicate an affinity with Lieder. The reason for his choice of text remains undocumented, with no surviving biographical information to support a religious connection or a particular affinity with Rilke’s work. Hindemith certainly found the task challenging and neither his first setting of the Das Marienleben poems, published in 1923, nor his later revision, published in 1948, were completed with ease or complete satisfaction.1 The songs of 1923 should not be seen simply in comparison with the 1948 reworking, but rather as a contrast between an essentially instinctive reaction to the text on the one hand, and a methodically conceptualised interpretation based on musical criteria on the other. During the years between the two works, Hindemith made repeated attempts to revise and improve his original songs, some undergoing as many as twenty re-writings.2 His letter to Willy Streker in May 1941, claims the work to be finished, following many revisions, yet in July 1942, he wrote to his wife that Mariae Verkündigung had just undergone an ‘umpteenth’ alteration.3

Hindemith’s Das Marienleben offers an opportunity to examine a three-dimensional contribution to the Lieder repertoire and assess the ← 157 | 158 → potential of this tripartite composition for the future of the Lied and the song cycle. It was an exciting challenge...

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