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Lied (German pronunciation: [liːt]; plural Lieder [ˈliːdɐ]) (German, "song"), originally denoted in classical music the setting of Romantic German poems to music, especially during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, examples including settings by Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. Among English speakers, "Lied" is often used interchangeably with "art song" to encompass works that the tradition has inspired in other languages. The poetry forming the basis for Lieder often centers upon pastoral themes, or themes of romantic love.
Typically, Lieder are arranged for a single singer and piano, the Lied with orchestral accompaniment being a later development. Some of the most famous examples of Lieder are Schubert's "Der Tod und das Mädchen" ("Death and the Maiden") and "Gretchen am Spinnrade". Sometimes Lieder are gathered in a Liederkreis or "song cycle"—a series of songs (generally three or more) tied by a single narrative or theme, such as Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, or Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben and Dichterliebe. Schubert and Schumann are most closely associated with this genre, mainly developed in the Romantic era.
For German speakers, the term "Lied" has a long history ranging from 12th century troubadour songs (Minnesang) via folk songs (Volkslieder) and church hymns (Kirchenlieder) to 20th-century workers songs (Arbeiterlieder) or protest songs (Kabarettlieder, Protestlieder).
In Germany, the great age of song came in the 19th century. German and Austrian composers had written music for voice with keyboard before this time, but it was with the flowering of German literature in the Classical and Romantic eras that composers found high inspiration in poetry that sparked the genre known as the Lied. The beginnings of this tradition are seen in the songs of Mozart and Beethoven, but it is with Schubert that a new balance is found between words and music, a new absorption into the music of the sense of the words. Schubert wrote over 600 songs, some of them in sequences or song cycles that relate a story—adventure of the soul rather than the body. The tradition was continued by Schumann, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf, and on into the 20th century by Strauss, Mahler and Pfitzner. Partisans of atonal music, such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, composed Lieder in their own style.
Other national traditions
The Lied tradition is closely linked with the Germanic languages. But there are parallels elsewhere, notably in France, with the mélodies of such composers as Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy and Francis Poulenc, and in Russia, with the songs of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in particular. England too had a flowering of song, more closely associated however with folk song than with the 19th-century art song, in the 20th century represented by Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Ivor Gurney and Gerald Finzi.
At the end of the 19th and during the 20th century classical Lieder produced in the Netherlands were usually composed in several languages; Alphons Diepenbrock and Henk Badings composed Dutch, German, English and French songs and in Latin for choirs; together with a strong influence from French impressionism and German romanticism which made the Dutch Lieder tradition the only strong cosmopolitan one in Europe.
- Hallmark, Rufus (1996). German Lieder in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Schirmer. ISBN 0-02-870845-8.
- Parsons, James (2004). The Cambridge Companion to the Lied. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80027-7.
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