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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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Concluding Thoughts


As the composer whose output was predominantly associated with the Lied, Hugo Wolf offers an appropriate reference point from which to proceed with an examination of the potential for further development of the genre and the extent to which that was followed through. It must be emphasised that this is not a comparative study, but a search for evidence that there was more to be achieved and that there were composers during the early part of the twentieth century who turned to the Lied genre at significant moments in their creative development. This was not out of a sense of duty to ensure its survival, but because working with poetry and music was their chosen method of creativity through which they could not only assist their musical growth, but also reflect the changing artistic environment in which they were working. Assessment of their contribution to the Lied repertoire is therefore made not only with regard to current appraisal, but also with regard to the context of the time in which the respective Lieder were written.

Although predominantly associated with Lieder for voice and piano, Wolf also aspired to the composition of opera, an ambition which was not realised, but which had some influence on his Lieder, many of which approach the stature of operatic aria. His piano accompaniments also reveal some degree of orchestral thinking, and it is possible, even probable, that he would have moved into orchestral song, had his life not ended at the...

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