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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 9: Alban Berg and Anton Webern: Refining and Redefining the Lied



Alban Berg and Anton Webern: Refining and Redefining the Lied

Schönberg undeniably stands at the apex of the Second Viennese School triangle. Alban Berg and Anton Webern occupy positions at each of the base angles, representing points from which their own individuality and musical achievement gained momentum. They are also inextricably linked through their tutelage with and devotion to Schönberg, the former considerable advantage counteracted to some degree by the detrimental effect of the latter. As a teacher, Schönberg believed firmly that extending and exploring the possibilities of a new musical language could be meaningfully achieved only once a traditional foundation of technical and structural compositional skill had been secured. Only then could the individual pupil’s developmental ideas flourish.

Writing in June 1938, Schönberg outlined his overall concept of teaching:

Modernism, in its best meaning, comprises a development of thoughts and their expression. This cannot be taught and ought not to be taught. But it might come in a natural way, by itself, to him who proceeds gradually by absorbing the cultural achievements of his predecessors.1

The sagacity of this methodology must, however, be set against the often autocratic nature of Schönberg’s personality, which resulted in a need for ‘absolute personal dedication and loyalty, unstinting support for his own ← 219 | 220 → embattled, but increasingly prominent career as a composer, and wholehearted submission to his methods of instruction’.2

This had a pronounced...

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