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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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As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the arts stood on the threshold of social, political and conceptual upheaval, both exciting and alarming in the challenges that would be presented to their future position and relevance in society. The literature and music which emerged from the final decade of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth centuries reflect an atmosphere of conscious and innovative response to these changes and to the perceived complacency which had preceded them.

The latter part of the nineteenth century had seen writers such as Theodor Storm (1817–1888), Theodor Fontane (1819–98) and Gottfried Keller (1819–1890) reach the culmination of their creativity. Storm is, arguably, best known as the creator of fifty Novellen, but he was also a prolific writer of lyrical poetry, who ‘saw himself as the last great German lyric poet’.1 He was also an amateur musician, conducting performances given by the choral society which he founded in 1843, and regarding music as the natural companion of lyric poetry:

Without ever imagining that the Volkslied should become the sole or dominant Lied form, Storm did see a break with aristocratic, scholarly or foreign forms as a crucial stage in the development of the German lyric. […] An alliance between poets and musical composers also offered exciting possibilities. In Storm’s view, poetry was not something to be consumed in isolation, but rather something to be recited or sung in the family and at every type...

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