The human voice is a natural instrument with unique capabilities. Speech and music have been combined since the earliest times, so that Song is probably one of the oldest musical forms. Simple definitions for song might be “a piece of music performed by voice, with or without instrumental accompaniment,” or “a poem set to music.” The German word for such classical song is Lied (singular) and Lieder (plural), so that you will hear the terms “art song,” “lied” and “lieder” used interchangeably. In France the term is Melodie, and in Italy, Romanza. Music enhances words with emotional energy that speech alone cannot convey. But obviously, there is more to it than this! There are vocal compositions, for example, with no articulated text at all, called vocalises or vocalizzi in Italian.
Although such works traditionally have been used as exercises, some 20th century composers have written concert vocalises as well. Additionally, singing styles differ among cultures, reflecting such influences as social structures, levels of literacy, languages and even sexual mores. This has resulted in a wide variety of musical products commonly accepted as “song.” Yearning-inspired by a lost love, nature, a legend, or other times and places haunted the imagination of romantic poets. Thus art songs are filled with the despair of unrequited love; the beauty of flowers, trees, and brooks; and the supernatural happenings of folktales.
There are also songs of joy, wit, and humor. But by and large, romantic song was a reaching out of the soul. Song composers would interpret a poem, translating its mood, atmosphere, and imagery into music. They created a vocal melody that was musically satisfying and perfectly molded to the text. Important words were emphasized by stressed tones or melodic climaxes. The voice shares the interpretive task with the piano. The mood is often set by a brief piano introduction and summed up at the end by a piano section called a postlude . Form of Art Songs
In the art song, the pianist becomes equal partner to the singer, not a mere accompanist. Poetry of some literary distinction set to beautiful music which enhances the poem in a very unique way. Strophic form: repeating the same music in each stanza of the poem. Strophic form makes a song easy to remember and is used in almost all folk songs. Through-composed: writing new music for each stanza. Through-composed form allows music to reflect a poem’s changing moods. Modified strophic form: A(stanza 1) – B(stanza 2) – A(stanza 3), two of the three stanza are set to the same music.
The Song Cycle
Romantic art songs are sometimes grouped in a set, or song cycle. A cycle may be unified by a story line that runs through the poems, or by musical ideas linking the songs. Among the great romantic song cycles are Winterreise (Winter’s Journey, 1827) by Schubert. How to categorize the art songs?
While many pieces of vocal music are easily recognized as art songs, others are more difficult to categorize. For example, a wordless vocalise written by a classical composer is sometimes considered an art song and sometimes not. Art songs come in all shapes and sizes, styles and voices, but your standard art song must meet a few criteria to distinguish itself from other forms of song such as aria or folk song.
An art song must:
• Be a piece of solo vocal music set to poetry
• Be performed by a classically trained singer
• Be supported by piano or small ensemble
• Not necessarily require staging, set, costumes or lighting (though they may be used)
• Be written down in sheet music
• Be of short duration (approx. 3 minutes)
Other factors help define art songs:
Songs that are part of a staged work (such as an opera or a musical) are not usually considered art songs However, some Baroque arias that “appear with great frequency in recital performance” are now included in the art song repertoire. Songs with instruments besides piano and/or other singers are referred to as “vocal chamber music”, and are usually not considered art songs.
Songs originally written for voice and orchestra are called “orchestral songs” and are not usually considered art songs, unless their original version was for solo voice and piano. Folksongs are generally not considered art songs unless they are concert arrangements with piano accompaniment written by a specific. There is no agreement regarding sacred songs. Many song settings of biblical or sacred texts were composed for the concert stage and not for religious services; these are widely known as art songs (for example, the Vier ernste Gesänge by Johannes Brahms). Others sacred songs may or many not be considered art songs.
The leader of Lieder – Franz Schubert
More often than not, “classical” composers write art songs. Almost all of the great composers wrote some form of art songs in their careers. Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, Brahms, Berlioz, Richard Strauss, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Britten and Copland have all written art songs that are still part of the repertoire today. Arguably the most famous composer of art songs was the Viennese composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who wrote upwards of 600 Lieder in his lifetime, which is a feat unto itself when you consider he composed over half of them before age 20 and died at age 31. His Lieder are considered masterworks, combining text, voice and piano in an inseparable trio. Some of his most famous Lieder were composed on the poems of great German poets such as Müller , Heine and Goethe . Schubert was famous for creating piano parts that were an inseparable contribution to the poetic text, creating not just moods and emotions, but distinct musical pictures of the words. His “Die Forelle” (The Trout) is an excellent example, creating musical bubbles in the piano as the fish in the poem thrashes about.
Schubert was born in Vienna, the son of a schoolmaster. Even as a child, he had astounding musical gifts. At eleven, Schubert became a choirboy in the court chapel and won a scholarship to the Imperial Seminary, where he played first violin and occasionally conducted the orchestra. Schubert so loved music that he once sold his schoolbooks to buy a ticket for a performance of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. His love of poetry led him to the art song, a form that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven had only touched on. Inflamed by the poetry and passion of Goethe’s Faust, the seventeen-year-old Schubert composed his first great song, Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel).
The next year he composed 143 songs, including The Erlking. Most of his works were composed for performances in the homes of Vienna’s cultivated middle class. Unlike Beethoven, Schubert did not mingle with the aristocracy. Schubert was thirty-one when he died of syphilis in 1828, a year after Beethoven’s funeral. His reputation was mainly that of a fine song composer, until the Unfinished Symphony was performed almost forty years later. Then the world began to recognize Schubert’s comprehensive greatness.
Schubert is Romantic, compared with his predecessors and contemporaries, in the superabundance, the overflow of music with which he provides both the voice part and the accompaniment. It is characteristic that deeply honored and whose work he most frequently set to music. The songs embrace an enormous variety of moods and types. His melodies range from simple, folk-like tunes to complex lines that suggest impassioned speech. He uses unexpected dissonances to capture a mood, and he shifts abruptly to contrasting keys. With Schubert, the accompaniment gives everything at once-the feeling, the picture, the atmosphere. It is a kind of painting with the emphasis upon felling; it is the expression of a kind of feeling most acutely sensitive to all the pulsations of nature.
The piano becomes a universal instrument, which in color, capacity for expression, and pure and noble sensuousness has made no greater gains at the hands of any master than at Schubert’s. He always appeals to feeling and fantasy at the same time; and one would only stifle the hearer’s imagination were one to try to interpret the role of the piano in orchestral form, to “realize” it-which means to coarsen it naturalistically. Shubert is Romantic, furthermore, in his relationship to folk song. He does not try to imitate it. But he creates it, involuntarily. Some of his songs are folk songs pure and simple, such as his setting of Goethe’s “Heidenroslein.” Others, like that of Muller’s “Am Brunnen vor dem Tore”- from the second and last of his two great song-cycles.
It simplifies the song, “sings it to pieces,” until it can sound well from the lips of the most unsophisticated singer. Schubert never followed a mere pattern. To the end of his career he kept up the strophic song, which he enlarged into the strophic song with variations only when the text invited his doing so. The remark of one of his teachers applies more to his mature than to his earlier years: “I can teach him nothing; he has learned everything from the good Lord God himself.” Schubert had given a big contribution in the developing of the art songs, he is deserved to be called “The Leader of the Lieder”.