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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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The four chapters of this first part have defined significant areas in the cultural scenery of the early decades of the twentieth century, in order to frame and contextualise the artistic challenges facing poets and musicians during a time of arguably unequalled disruption to social and political life.

The nineteenth-century landscape has been seen to be musically extremely fertile and also rich in the production of formally structured fiction and poetry. By the end of the century, the Lied remained in a secure position, supported by conditions of flourishing supply and demand as well as frequent performance, although this was gradually moving from private into public venues and taking place increasingly within programmes which offered the public a wide range of musical styles. This was not, in itself, a sign of impending genre displacement, as it was also artistically acceptable to perform single movements of symphonies, instrumental solos and individual operatic arias within one programme at the time. It was, however, an indication that, in this changing performance environment, there was a danger of loss of identity and, potentially, artistic significance arising from juxtaposition, and even competition, with larger scale works, and from a lack of contextualisation of the Lieder performed, particularly if they were extracted from a song cycle.

Concert performance had become, on the one hand, notably extrovert and with the popularity of the virtuoso soloist, whose focus was to present increasingly astounding technical display rather than musical insight, this somewhat flamboyant...

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