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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 8: Arnold Schönberg: Re-thinking Musical Interpretation of the Poetic Text

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CHAPTER 8

Arnold Schönberg: Re-thinking Musical Interpretation of the Poetic Text

Schönberg was, unquestionably, an original thinker. He had vision and courage – even arrogance – which enabled him to pursue his musical instinct, despite frequent hostile criticism of his redefinition of harmony and tonality. First performances of his compositions were notoriously controversial and, although respect for his music has grown, his musical legacy still provokes reactions either of admiration or of rejection, but never indifference.

A relatively recent article in The Guardian discussed the hostility towards the first performance of Schönberg’s second string quartet at a concert in Vienna on 21 December 1908:

Initially, the audience was taken aback by the music’s restraint – ‘the first movement went tolerably’, wrote one critic – but the second movement was a different matter. Any sense of harmonic security quickly evaporated, and when Schoenberg briefly quoted the nursery rhyme tune ‘Ach, du lieber Augustin’, its homely familiarity emphasised the strangeness of its new musical setting. During a pause in the music someone sneezed, provoking howls of laughter that temporarily drowned out the instruments. Things got worse in the last two movements. Breaking with 150 years of musical tradition, Schoenberg had decided to add a soprano to the two violins, viola and cello that normally constitute a string quartet. The soprano had been silent for the first two movements of the piece, but as soon as she began to sing in the third movement people started...

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