Romantic Lied, The

§4 of “Lied” article in © New Grove 1980 (pp. 838-844)/R 2001 (with Graham Johnson)

In the 19th century the German vernacular song developed into an art form in which musical ideas suggested by words were embodied in the setting of those words for voice and piano, both to provide formal unity and to enhance details; thus in Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade (1814) the image of the spinning wheel in the title evokes the recurrent circling semiquavers of the accompaniment, while the text later suggests (by its exclamation and repetition) the cessation and resumption of the semiquaver figure at the climax of the song. The genre presupposes a renaissance of German lyric verse, the popularity of that verse with composers and public, a consensus that music can derive from words, and a plentiful supply of techniques and devices to express that interrelation.


1. intellectual, social and musical sources. 2. schubert. 3. loewe and mendelssohn. 4. schumann and franz. 5.wagner, liszt and cornelius. 6. brahms. 7. wolf.


1. INTELLECTUAL, SOCIAL AND MUSICAL SOURCES. The lied thus defined essentially began with its greatest poet, Goethe. But minor poets like Hölty and Müller and even gifted amateurs like Mayrhofer had their importance. The seminal quality of the new verse was not its literary merit but its emotional tone, which blended both higher and lower lyric styles. The former expressed mid­18th-century sentiment in classical metres, in such poems as Klopstock's Die Sommernacht (1776). At the same time Claudius and others of peasant stock were writing simple popular lyrics like Abendlied in rhymed folksong couplets or quatrains. Primitive, national or traditional verse of all kinds and from all lands was a growing influence strongly fostered by Herder (Volkslieder, 1778-9) and a source of resurgent interest in the --> BALLAD. Classical and popular styles, metres and themes are found together in the verses of Hölty (d 1776), who wrote fluently in either style and could also combine the two, as in his Anacreontic or elegiac verses. All these styles and forms were practised by Goethe and Schiller, who both added a further dramatic dimension to lyric verse by writing songs for plays (e.g. Faust and Wilhelm Tell).

     This lyric renaissance, though multi-faceted, has a discernible central theme: personal, individual feeling is poignantly confronted with and affected by powerful external forces, whether of nature, history or society. The human being and the human condition are typically conceived as isolated yet significant (as in the landscape painting of Caspar David Friedrich). The idea had Protean and far-reaching applications and implications, and it was readily adaptable to the expression of national and social aspirations as well as the traditional subjects of lyric verse, both religious and secular. It made a particular appeal to the rapidly expanding German-speaking educated classes, whose feelings it embodied, and to whom the cultural journals and almanacks of the time, where much of the new poetry was published, were specifically addressed. A middle class was well placed to appreciate not only the new personal and emotional content of this poetry but also its stylistic blend of elevated courtly style with popular lyric.

     The Romantic lied directly mirrored these literary developments by combining the styles and themes of opera, cantata or oratorio with those of folk or traditional song, and reducing the result to terms of voice and keyboard. The poetry of individual feelings could thus ideally be expressed by one person who might, in theory at least, be poet, composer, singer and accompanist simultaneously. The piano (from about 1790 the titles of songbooks refer to “Fortepiano” rather than “Klavier”) had so evolved that it could render orchestral sound-effects in addition to the homelier lilt or strumming of the fiddle or guitar. Thus string tremolandos were reproduced at the keyboard to sym­bolize the sights and sounds of nature, from thunder and lightning to brooks and zephyrs, symbols that could then be used as images of human feeling in the lyric mode. Recitative and arioso could be enriched by the simpler movement and structure of popular song melody and the directness of its syllabic word-setting, and these, too, could in turn be used as symbols of emotional immediacy.

     Yet the new art lay dormant for some decades. The intellectual climate was unpropitious to further growth, which though fostered by the popularity of poetry was retarded by the denial of equal rights to music. Many 18th-century songs were entitled simply “Gedichte” for voice and piano. Gluck's Oden and Lieder beim Klavier zu singen in Musik gesetztexemplify his famous dictum (preface to Alceste, 1769) that music in mixed forms was ancillary to poetic expression. This doctrine, evidently unconducive to the development of the lied as an independent art form, was warmly espoused by the north German songwriters Reichardt, Schulz, Zelter and Zumsteeg.

     They were all composers of opera or Singspiels, and imported the expressive devices of those forms into their songs. But as Gluckians they did so only sparingly and with restraint. Not surprisingly, this attitude was ap­proved by Goethe, whose texts they often set. But he knew instinctively that a new art was about to be born, remarking in a letter to Zelter (21 December 1809) that no lyric poem was really complete until it had been set to music. “But then something unique happens. Only then is the poetic inspiration, whether nascent or fixed, sublimated (or rather fused) into the free and beautiful element of sensory experience. Then we think and feel at the same time, and are enraptured thereby.”

     The process had been anticipated by Mozart in Das Veilchen (Goethe) andAbendempfindung (anon.). Each poem anticipated aspects of Romantic individualism; each setting is musically varied yet unified, in response to the poetic mood, by use of vocal recitative and key­board symbolism (light staccato for the tripping shep­herdess, sighing 6ths for the evening winds). These and other Mozart songs were published in Vienna in 1789, and hence were readily available to Schubert, who used analogous motifs (staccato in the pastoral Erntelied, wind-effects in Abendbilder etc).

     Another precursor was Beethoven, who can plausibly be claimed to have created the lied. Though his songs remain in the 18th-century tradition of self-effacing enhancement of the words, his inventive genius often restored the balance, partly by the detail of his illus­trative writing (e.g. not just birdsong but nightingales, larks, doves and quails) but also by the variety and imagination of his more conceptual musical equivalents (from the welling of tears in Trocknet nicht to the crush­ing of fleas in Aus Goethes Faust). Each such motivic usage is integrated into a prevailing unity of musical mood, for example in the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, where such purely musical elements as folk-song melody, harmony, variation form, and cyclic unity are themselves used as expressive devices. A typical example of the conceptual lied-motif would be the repeated chords which for Beethoven the songwriter signify “stars” (Adelaide, bar 33; Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur, bar 19ff;Abendlied unter gestirntem Himmel, bars 10ff and 441). This idea has a precursor in Haydn's The Creation, at the moment when stars were created.

     In these ways Beethoven (and to some extent Haydn, as in The Spirit Song, a setting of English words) asserted the composer's right to independence, a right further implicit in Beethoven's familiar phrase “durch­komponiertes Lied”, that is, a continuous musical struc­ture often superimposed on a strophic poem. In contrast, Weber favoured, both by precept (letter to F. Wieck, 1815) and by example, a consistently 18th-century attitude; form as well as declamation were to derive from the poem, and the music was to forego autonomy.


2. SCHUBERT. It was Schubert who, by fusing the verbal and musical components of the lied, first synthesized in significant quantity the new element predicted by Goethe. His essential apparatus was a mind infinitely receptive to poetry, which he must have read vor­aciously from early boyhood on. His 610 settings demonstrate familiarity with hundreds of textual sources, including novels and plays as well as poems, and ranging from the complete works of acknowledged literary figures to the amateur verses of himself and his friends. His passionate response to imaginative writing impelled him to bring the musical component of song to a level of expressiveness and unity never since sur­passed.

It is arguable that Schubert made no innovation; even the continuous narrative unity ofDie schöne Müllerin and Winterreise was already inherent in Mülller's verses. All Schubert's infinite variety of styles and forms, melo­dic lines, modulations, and accompaniment figures are essentially the result of responsiveness to poetry. Equally notable is his evident sense of responsibility. His revisions confirm that he was actively seeking to re­create a poem, almost as a duty; he would rewrite, rethink, give up and start again, rather than fail a poem that had pleased him, and his aim was to find an apt expressive device that could also be used as a structural element. Each such device occurs, at least in embryo, in his predecessors, whether the quasi-operatic techniques and popular elements of the north German school or the inspired motivic ideas of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. From the former he absorbed the ideas of simplified folklike melody, interpolated recitative, a range of forms from miniature strophic or modified strophic to extended cantatas, and expressive sound-effects. Thus the ”typically Schubertian” brooks and rivers that flow so effortlessly through his piano parts took their rise in north Germany. So did the musical metaphors of human motion and gesture: walking or running rhythms; tonic or dominant inflections for question and answer; the moods of storm or calm; the major–minor contrasts for laughter and tears, sunshine and shade; the convivial or melancholy melodies moulded to the shape and stress of the verse. All these abound in Schubert's precursors, notably Zumsteeg, on whose work his own is often closely and deliberately modelled.

Schubert's debt to the musical resources of Zumsteeg's generation is so evident in his earliest surviving song, Hagars Klage, as to suggest a set composition exercise. The music, though manifestly immature, rises fresh from deep springs of feeling about human fate, here a mother's concern for her dying child. The composer identifies with poet, character, scene and singer and strives to concentrate lyric, dramatic and gra­phic ideas into an integrated whole. It was this concen­tration that distilled the whole essence of the Schubertian lied, but the process was a gradual one and took time to master. Long diffuse ballads or cantatas on Zumsteegian lines continued for some years, as in Die Bürgschaft andDie Erwartung. They seek with varying success to unify disparate elements such as melody, often inset for dramatic purposes to indicate a song within a song (as at “Ich singe wie der Vogel singt” in Der Sänger), recitative, and interpolated descriptive or narrative music (the interludes in Der Taucher or Die Bürgschaft). It is no coincidence, however, that Schubert's earliest masterpieces are settings of shorter and more readily unifiable lyrics on his favourite theme of intense personal concern, whether of a girl for her absent lover (Gretchen am Spinnrade), a father for his doomed son (Erlkönig) or an awestruck observer for the immensities of nature (Meeres Stille). Each is imagined against a background of moods and scenes suitable for quasi-dramatic re-creation in sound. Further, all three poems are by Goethe, whose genius lay in making the universal singable, and these songs were selected by Schubert for earliest publication as reflecting the greatest poet and the most modern spirit of the new age.

They made an instant and intense appeal to an intel­lectual avant garde, the apostles of Romantic individualism. Thus 300 copies of Erlkönig were sold within 18 months; the correspondence of Schubert's own circle and its adherents (comprising lawyers and civil servants as well as musicians and artists) is full of excited references to new songs; the Schubertiads in his honour were staunchly supported by his numerically few but culturally influential devotees. This professional middle-class audience was the musical segment of the wider public for the poetic renaissance described earlier. The musical components of the songs corresponded to the new poetry of which they were the setting and hence the equivalent: a blend of classical and popular, dramatic and lyric, complex and simple. The music of the palace had united with the music of the people to produce the music of the drawing room. In the process he focus of artistic attention had shifted from the larger detailto the smaller, and from the plot or scene to the individual. So the musical motive power of each of these songs, and of Schubertian lied in general, comes from a dramatic source condensed into lyric terms. It is opera with orchestra reduced to voice and keyboard, with scenery and costumes thriftily expressed in sound, trans­ported from the theatre to the home, and economically entrusted to one or two artists rather than to a company. And one stylistic source of the keyboard accompaniment effects and motifs in Schubert's songs is the piano scores of opera and oratorio (which may help to explain why Schubert's keyboard writing is sometimes held to be unpianistic). Thus the ominous figure of the night ride inErlkönig recalls the dungeon scene of Fidelio, while the becalmed semibreves of Meeres Stillehave their counterparts in Haydn's Creation. Each such sonorous image is set vibrating by verbal ideas, and the increasing range and resonance of response from these early masterpieces, through the Rückert songs of 1823 to the final year of Winterreise and the Heine settings, is the history of Schubert's development as a songwriter.

In addition to obvious onomatopoeic devices and other self-evident equivalences, there are hundreds of deeper, more personal and less readily explicable verbo-musical ideas, corresponding, for example, to springtime, sun­light, evening, starlight, sleep, love, grief, innocence and so on, and occurring in infinitely variable permutation. Songs in which such expressive motifs are embodied in musical permutation represent the apotheosis of Schubert's lieder, whether the linking force is rhythm (Geheimes), harmony (Dass sie hier gewesen), melody (all strophic songs), tonality (Nacht and Träume), varia­tion form (Im Frühling), imitation (Der Leiermann), quasi-impressionism (Die Stadt), or incipient leitmotif used either for dramatic (Der Zwerg) or descriptive ends (the river music of Auf der Donauor the brook music of Die schöne Müllerin). The “star” chords already noted in Beethoven, to take just one instance out of hundreds, can be observed in a wide range of illustrative or structural use, as in AdelaideDie GestirneDer Jüngling auf dem HügelTodesmusik,AbendsternDie SterneDer liebliche SternTotengräberweiseIm Freien and many other songs.


3. LOEWE AND MENDELSSOHN. By comparison with those of Schubert, the approximately 375 songs of Carl Loewe lack the dimension of musical independence. Loewe maintained the 18th-century tradition of subor­dination to words designedly, because he was above all a musical raconteur without the emotional range needed to match the great German lyrics (although his 30 Goethe settings include many of the better-known poems). In search of the narrative ballads that best suited him, he used no fewer than 80 different poets, including many in translation. Loewe ran little risk of allowing over-concentrated dramatic and scenic inven­tion to impede the action, nor, conversely, was he usually content with a strophic repetition that relied overmuch on the poem to provide variety and develop­ment. In both respects he improved on his mentor Zumsteeg, and indeed even on Schubert, whose treat­ment of Edward, though much later than Loewe's op.1, is far less telling. Instead of condensed drama or formular narrative Loewe offered a storybook with pictures – expository melody with descriptive accompaniments. His harmony, though mainly monochrome, adds an occasional surprising splash of colour. The vocal line adopts the style appropriate to the reciter of the poem, ranging from monotone (as for the century-long sleep of the hero of Harald) to a free cantilena (in songs about singing, such as Der Nock). The voice can further be put to illustrative use to suggest a harp (Der Nock) or a bell (Des Glockentürmers Töchterlein), as well as by the skilful exploitation of other techniques and styles, including bel canto. Developed preludes and postludes are rare because the piano accompaniments tend to begin and end with the voice, as the narrative form requires. But there are often extended interludes, exploiting particularly the upper register, which are especially effective in illustrating narratives of the supernatural, such as the elves and spirites of Die Heinzelmännchen or Hochzeitslied. So broad was Loewe's command of expressive vocabulary that any song is likely to offer a thesaurus of such devices; Die verfallene Mühle is a typical if rarely heard example. But his practice of stringing such effects on the narrative thread of the poem was not conducive to change and development. His earliest songs include some of his best (in op.1 not only Edward but Erlkönig bears comparison with Schubert). On the other hand, his abundant and continuous invention, and its clear relation to the texts. make Loewe an exemplary if neglected master of the lied. understandably admired by Wolf and Wagner and influential for both.

Mendelssohn is Loewe's antithesis. His approximately 90 songs include no true ballads; indeed, there is rarely any hint of drama, character or action. The music is autonomous in most, and one can readily imagine them arranged as “Lieder ohne Worte” (which may have been the origin of that title). Although Mendelssohn was taught for many years by the doyen of the north German school, Carl Zelter, only the very earliest songs (such asRomanze) show any influence of opera or Singspiel, or any hint of musical subordination to the words. On the contrary, the texts seem almost to have been chosen to be dominated by the music; thus the most frequent of Mendelssohn's 30 poets was his versifying friend Klingemann, with eight settings - twice as many as Goethe. Songs and sketches alike suggest that the main aim was formal perfection, normally conceived as strophic with a varied last verse or coda. The piano offers unobtrusive accompaniment in arpeggios or four-part harmony; the tonality is diatonic with occasional altered chords, often diminished 7ths over a bass pedal. But none of these effects seems clearly related to the poems; and in general there are few overt equivalents for verbal ideas, as though the music had no deep roots in language. Yet Mendelssohn was both original and influential, especially on Brahms. His genius for ex­pressive melody, well exemplified by Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (one of five Heine settings), was manifest from the first. Indeed, publication of his earliest songs in Paris in 1828 may have stimulated the development of the Melodie there. His aim of formal perfection was both salutary and timely; and there are many German poems of the period for which melodic and formal beauty are in themselves close equivalents. In such settings, where the musical expression relies on vocal lilt and cadence, structural pattern and design - Lenau's An die Entfernte or Geibel's An den Mond - Mendelssohn excels.


4. SCHUMANN AND FRANZ. Mendelssohn's praxis compared with Loewe's suggests that the Schubertian compound of words and music was still unstable and could readily split into its narrative and lyric components, losing some energy in the process. Schumann was well placed to reunite them. Like Mendelssohn he was a melodist; like Loewe he was literary. But he too began with the 18th-century notion that the music of a song should just express the poem, which implied not only that songwriting was an inferior art (as he believed, according to a letter of June 1839 to Hirschbach) but also that the composer had a secondary role - whereas Schumann was by temperament a dominant innovator and leader. Hence perhaps his own tentative debut as a songwriter at 18. The following decade as a pianist and composer gave him the necessary foundation of independent musicianship; the emotional crisis of his betrothal to Clara Wieck heightened his receptivity to poetry. The mixture was explosive: his total of 140 songs written in the 12 months beginning February 1840 is unmatched even by Wolf or Schubert for quality and quantity of output in a single year, and it includes most of the best and best known of his nearly 260 lieder.

These recombine the two basic elements of the lied, the verbal equivalence exploited by Loewe and the musical independence stressed by Mendelssohn, thus revealing Schumann as the true heir of Schubert, with whose quasi-verbal expressive style he had always felt the deepest affinity (according to passages in the Jugendbriefe and Tagebücher) and whose immense legacy of songs was increasingly available for study throughout the 1830s. Schumann had complete command of the musical metaphor exploited by Schubert. His introduction of contrasting sections in related keys (such as the mediant minor) without genuine modulation in particular yielded new and subtle contrasts. But his personal innovation was a new independence, to the point of dominance, in the piano part. The paradigm of a Schumann song is a lyric piano piece, the melody of which is shared by a voice. As Mendelssohn played songs on the piano and called them Lieder ohne Worte, so Schumann sang piano pieces and turned them back into lieder. Thus the preludes and postludes to his songs tend to be self-expressive solos rather than merely illus­trative as were Loewe's.

This piano style, together with Schumann's literary leanings and his personal feelings, led him to write love-songs in groups or cycles arranged by poet, often with a deliberately unified tonality. Heine (Dichterliebe op. 48 and Liederkreis op. 24) and Eichendorff (Liederkreis op. 39), both master lyricists of intense and changing moods, were Schumann's favourite poets in early 1840, with 41 and 14 settings respectively. Later in the same year his songwriting became more objective, beginning with the 16 Chamisso songs, includingFrauenliebe and -leben, lyrics that reflected his lifelong social concern.

Schumann's second songwriting phase began with the Rückert and Goethe songs of 1849. His harmonic language had become more intensely chromatic, and the consequent absence of diatonic tensions and contrasts meant that a new principle of organization was needed. In the Wielfried von der Neun songs of 1850 Schumann sought a solution through use of the short adaptable motif, already adumbrated by Schubert and Loewe, which could be changed and developed to match the changing thoughts of the verses; but his increasing illness inhibited his further development of such ideas, which later became the province of Wagner in opera and of Wolf in the lied.

With Schumann songwriting was conscious, even cerebral; he was the first theorist of the lied, which he described as the only genre in which significant progress had been made since Beethoven (NZM, xix, 1843, p. 341). This he attributed to the rise of a new school of lyric poets - Eichendorff and Rückert, Heine and Uhland - whose intensity of emotion and imagery had been embodied in a new musical style. As example he chose the op. 1 of Robert Franz, himself a notable theorist of the lied as well as a practitioner with about 285 songs. For Franz, musical expression of poetry in the 18th-century tradition was a sine qua non. He was explicit, too, about his aims and methods: “In my songs the accompaniment depicts the situation described in the text, while the melody embodies the awareness of that situation”. He claimed that in addition to all the techniques developed by previous songwriters he (and he alone) had deliberately sought to draw on the resources of Bach and Handel, the Protestant chorale, and traditional folksong; and it is true that Franz included modal as well as chromatic harmony.

His own invention, however, especially of melody, was not quite abundant enough to give his songs the musical autonomy characteristic of the best 19th-century lieder, so that his work seems old-fashioned by comparison with that of his contemporaries. As in Mendelssohn's songs, a deliberate limitation of scope resulted in the absence of dramatic or narrative songs. The piano parts are unobtrusive to a fault, and there are few independent preludes or postludes because the musical material is so economically tailored to the poem. Mendelssohnian too is Franz's extensive use of the undistinguished verses of a close friend (Osterwald, with 51 settings). There are also certain palpable defects, such as an over-reliance on the sequential treatment of melody (as in Für Musik) and an over-insistence on formal perfection, with sometimes contrived effects. The compensation is a Schubertian devotion to lyric verse, typified in his passionate identification with Heine (67 settings, the greatest concentration in the lied reper­tory). Thus in Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen the piano part is itself a small-scale song because the poem is about the fashioning of small songs; the illustrative arpeggios at “klingend” are woven into the texture with unobtrusive dexterity; and the slight divergence of vocal and instrumental lines at the end makes the poetic point most tellingly. The craftsmanship is self-effacingly immaculate. Though a minor composer, Franz is a major lied writer, greatly admired by Schumann, Liszt and Wagner: his work is long overdue for reappraisal.


5. WAGNER, LISZT AND CORNELIUS. The admiration of both Liszt and Wagner is relevant because they too belong to lied history, even though their creative gestures were generally too wide and sweeping for the lyric form. Their early songs are rather inflated in style, as in Wagner's 1840 setting of Heine's Die Grenadiere in French. Liszt himself later acknowledged this aspect of his own early songs (letter to Josef Dessauer, Franz Liszts Briefe, ed. La Mara, ii, 1893, p. 403), and al­though he stood far nearer than Wagner to the lyric mode (writing 83 songs as against Wagner's 20), he was not a native German speaker, which caused him some un­certainty of style and scansion (see the first versions of Wanderers Nachtlied andDie Lorelei). In general Liszt's songs are eclectic and experimental, and their inspira­tion seems to have been social or personal rather than literary, drawing on 44 poets in five languages, with texts ranging from acknowledged masterpieces to trivial salon verses. They are treated with musical unity and fidelity to the text, and they tend to be dominated by local colour or sound-effects. Thus even the late Die drei Zigeuner illustrates the surface rather than the substance of Lenau's poem.

Liszt was well aware of these problems, as his revisions show. His integrity as well as his development can be measured by comparing various versions of a single song, as, for example, the three settings of Goethe's Kennst du das Land?; his perseverance was comparable only with Schubert's and was equally motivated by genuine devotion. He may also have been fired by Schumann's songwriting, for his own 62 German settings began in 1840 (when the two met) with a Heine poem set by Schumann in that year, Im Rhein, im schönen Strome. Although lack of deep knowledge and response to language may leave Liszt as only a tributary to the lied, he was nevertheless a powerful influence in the mainstream, and through several channels. He was an active propagandist, both in his prose writing (essay on Franz in Gesammelte Schriften, iv, 1855-9) and more generally through his piano transcriptions of lieder (Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Franz as well as his own songs). His keyboard techniques were a source of new effects and sonorities, and his harmonic originality was also seminal (for example, some passages inDie Lorelei of 1840 and Ich möchte hingehn of 1847 are strikingly predictive of Tristan). Finally, his gift for simple but refined melody, especially in his late settings of unpretentious texts, enabled Liszt to achieve unusual effects of poignancy and even irony, with altered chords and semitonal clashes (as in Es muss ein Wunderbares sein), which look forward to the 20th century, in particular to the songs of Richard Strauss.

Wagner's later songs, notably the five Wesendonk­Lieder of 1857, are also forerunners ofTristan (avowedly so in the third and fifth, implicitly in the rest). Despite their voice and piano scoring they were clearly conceived in broad orchestral terms rather than as re­creations of lyric poetry. In a small, intimate genre like the lied, it is often the minor master like Franz or Peter Cornelius who excels. Cornelius, too, was praised by Liszt and Wagner, and for much of his life he fell directly under their shadow, since he worked for each in turn as an amanuensis. If they were turbulent tributaries, he was a mainstream backwater, receiving mul­tiple influences but contributing little. Yet his very receptivity, to plainsong and Baroque traditions as well as to the latest developments in harmony and declamation, gave him, like Franz, a broad-based originality. Cantus firmus (in the Paternoster cycle) and chorale (in the Weihnachtslieder) appear as unifying devices. Free tonal fluctuations are used for colour or contrast within a diatonic style or, as in the juxtaposition of E major within D, major at the word “Jubel” in op. 2 no. 2, as a deliberate equivalent for a verbal image. Vocal melodies often linger on one note or move by step, as though the words were recited. Such devices and many more, including meaningful motifs, are put at the service of lyric verse.

Alone among lied composers Cornelius was his own favourite poet, with 50 settings of his approximately 100 songs. This was both strength and weakness. Its advantage was that Cornelius had a genuine if slender poetic gift, and as a composer he was well placed to know what musical equivalence was appropriate and how it could be achieved. But the essence of the lied was diluted by using his own poetry: pre-existing familiarity must inevitably lessen the impact of verse on the musical mind. Further, his lyrics themselves tended to be rather wistful and colourless, and hence not especially striking or memorable when wearing their matching music. The rather repetitive or limited emotional content, form and metre of the verses is often reflected in repeated rhythms and melodies of restricted range. Thus the well-known Ein Ton (op. 3 no. 3), in which the voice part has but a single note, in its way symbolizes not only the poem but the whole Cornelian approach to the lied. Yet this quietly inward and spiritual work in music and poetry, based on domestic scenes of worship (Weihnachtslieder) or betrothal (Brautlieder) and often grouped, like Schumann's songs, into sequences or cycles, has its own enduring value.


6. BRAHMS. In his approximately 200 songs Brahms was both more and less objective than Cornelius. He was neither poet nor connoisseur, and never set any verse of his own, but his choice of texts regularly reflects his own inner moods and needs. Hence his comparative neglect of such major poets as Goethe (only five settings) and Mörike (three) and his devotion to such minor lyricists as Daumer (19) and Groth (11) whose specialities were erotic and nostalgic sentiment respectively. Similarly, Brahms had a predilection for anony­mous texts, notably so-called folksongs, whether originally German or translated (46 solo settings, including four from the Bible). Such verses have no identifiable creative personality of their own, and are thus easily adapted for autobiographical purposes. In that sense Brahms departed radically from the 18th-century tradition of re-creating the poem, but in that sense only. In other respects he was both by temper­ament and by training the supreme traditionalist. He received perhaps the most thorough grounding of all great lied composers, and was a practised songwriter at an early age: Heimkehr (1851) andLiebestreu (1853) are already mature in their grasp of word–tone relations and synthesis. Apart from some essays in the extended Schubertian ballad style, the Magelone-Lieder, almost all Brahms's songs are carefully unified formal struc­tures consciously elaborated from certain basic ideas by a process described by the composer in a discussion with Georg Henschel (M. Kalbeck, Johannes Brahms, 1904-14, ii/l, p. 181ff). In his insistence on craftsmanship he reverted to the practice of Mendelssohn, whom he, much admired and whose influence is apparent in even the earliest songs. He felt that a strophic poem should be set in verse-repeating forms, and in fact nearly half his own songs are strophic, most of the rest being simple ternary forms. Even Brahms's expressive devices are academic and formular. Like Franz and Cornelius, Brahms had assimilated the forms and techniques of early music, including the modality of folksong (Sonntag) and the four-part texture of chorale (Ich schell mein Horn), together with such devices as aug­mentation (Mein wundes Herz), inversion and contrary motion (Vier ernste Gesänge). Like Schubert, of whose songs he was editor, collector and orchestrator as well as general devotee, Brahms preferred a song texture of melody plus bass, and indeed he advocated this approach not only as a procedure but as a criterion. The essential Brahms song model is the instrumental duo, the violin or clarinet sonata, whence the typical long-breathed melodies (Erinnerung), some of which are embodied in the violin sonatas (for example, Regenlied in the finale of op.78).

Brahms's song melodies rarely have purely vocal inflections, and thus it is rare in Brahms to find a syllable prolonged or shifted in response to its poetic significance or proper scansion. Similarly, the use of harmonic or textural colouring for analogous reasons is as rare in Brahms as it is common in Schubert or Wolf. The tonal schemes are usually long-range, much as in instrumental forms. Though often complex, the piano parts are essentially integrated with or subordinate to the vocal lines, rather than being dominant or indepen­dent. They are mainly accompaniment figurations (arpeggios or broken chords) altered and disguised; textural and rhythmic variety are cultivated as deliberately yet unobtrusively in the songs as in the duo sonatas.

Against this background Brahms's expressive vocab­ulary tends to sound so purely musical that its quasi-verbal significance may not be readily apparent. Thus the favourite hemiolas used at cadence points had for Brahms the idea of a calming and broadening finality, as of a river reaching the sea (Auf dem See) or, more metaphorically, eternal love (Von ewiger Liebe). His other motivic elements tend to be similarly unobtrusive and predictably related to personal feeling rather than to the poem as such; thus the descending octaves that signify death in Auf dem Kirchhof and Ich wandte mich are almost incongruous in Feldeinsamkeit. This auto­biographical element gives Brahms's lieder a special and unique development over 40 years of personal and musical experience, with heights of nostalgia and long­ing scaled by no other songwriter, culminating in the Vier ernste Gesänge of 1896.


7. WOLF. Hugo Wolf represented the opposite end of the spectrum of lied composition; hence, no doubt, his fanatical anti-Brahmsian, pro-Wagnerian, stance as a critic. His procedures in his own 300 songs were intuitive and poetry-orientated. As an originator rather than a traditionalist he had to create his own models by assimilating the wide variety of vocal and keyboard techniques and devices needed to express the deep emotive content of verse. In one sense this involved a return to the 18th-century concept of poetic dominance; like Schumann, Wolf published songbooks devoted to particular poets (Mörike, Goethe, Eichendorff) under the title “Gedichte von ...”. Far more vital, however, were the 19th-century metamorphoses of poetic elements into musical substance. Wolf was no theorist, but his descriptions of the word–tone relation instinctively drew on metaphors of organic unity and symbiosis: music absorbs and thrives on the essence of poetry like a child on milk, or a vampire on blood. These similes are pertinent to Wolf's own creative function. From the first he battened on poetry and language, absorbing their rhythms, overtones and cadences. In several ways his development as a songwriter is reminiscent of Schumann's career. Like Schumann, he acquired relevant linguistic disciplines through his years as a critic. By composing in all forms he gradually ac­cumulated a personal compendium of expressive device designed to subserve compositional ends which – again like Schumann's – were essentially associated with words and ideas. The parallel is completed by Wolf's choice of texts (the early Heine and Chamisso settings strongly under the Schumann influence, later independent treatments of translations from the Spanish) and most spectacularly by Wolf's delayed and Schumannesque outburst of concentrated songwriting in 1888 – as if the word–music hybrid compensated for its slow germination and growth by a sudden and profuse flowering.

The basic Wolf song style is keyboard writing enriched by vocal and instrumental counterpoint. As with Franz, Wolf's years of training and practice in choral music yielded a four-part piano texture that could be used expressively in its own right for religious songs (Gebet) and also serve as background material on which to embroider expressive motifs. In the depiction of individual emotion (as distinct from the re-creation of great poetry) towards which Wolf evolved in the Spanish, Italian and Michelangelo songs, the four parts can become so independent as to suggest string quartet writing (Wohl kenn ich Euren Stand). Such linear think­ing also yields a variety of counterpoints for expressive purposes, like the duet between voice and piano in Lied eines Verliebten, or within the piano part itself in the postlude to Fühlt meine Seele (the latter a frequent image in the love-songs generally). Wolf's keyboard style is related to that of the contemporary piano reductions of Wagner operas by Klindworth and others, including such masters of expressive techniques as Liszt and Rubinstein. His own pianistic prowess disposed him to add bravura illustrative interludes (Die Geister am Mummelsee) like those found in Loewe, and to write songs the piano parts of which are in effect independent solos, as so often in Schumann. To this basic concept Wolf often added a voice part that was not only itself independent, as in Brahms, but was also moulded to the words in their every inflection, whether of sound or sense; Auf dem grünen Balkon is an example. This characteristic fluidity of melodic line is wholly Wolfian, differing from its Wagnerian equivalent as poetry recitation differs from stage declamation. Thus, the sustained notes Wagner gave Isolde in Tristan (Act I scene iii) express the feeling of the character, while the same effect in Wolf's Die ihr schwebet expresses the beauty of the individual word “geflügelt”. The same distinction applies to Wolf's use of the extended harmonic language of Wagner and Liszt: for Wolf harmonic complexity expressed the symbolic connotations of poetry. Wolf regarded the development of his own detailed motivic language as his most significant contribution; it is a language that varies, in ways too detailed to summarize, from the illustration of a single word (such as “traurig”, in Alles endet, with a deliberately altered minor chord) to the development and contrast of motifs throughout a whole song (Auf einer Wanderung). It includes local colour effects, instrumental imitations and a Debussian sensitivity to the placing and spacing of chords and tones. It offers musical equivalents not only for the subject matter of poetry but also for its technical devices such as dialogue and irony. All this is further enhanced by the extremes of his emotional range – hilarity and desperation, comedy and tragedy. Finally he added a new dramatic dimension within the lyric frame, for his songs encompass dance and incidental music as well as lighting costume and scenery. The Wolfian lied thus continued the Schubertian tradition, culminating in a complete theatre of the mind, a Gesamtkunstwerkfor voice and piano.

Wolf's creative maturity was perhaps too brief to permit radical change or development; the four-part textures of the Italian songs, for example, are already outlined in the Mörike volume. But there is a discernible trend: the dramatic or theatrical element became more rarefied, more generalized. The Spanish songs, and more particularly the Italian, are a musical comédie humaine. Social life is conceived as a stage, with ordinary men and women the players. In this respect the Romantic lied ended as it had begun, with individual concern set against a broader social background as its principal theme. But the element of conflict had evaporated. Neither nature nor society was conceived as puzzling or hostile in the Wolfian lied. Rather, in the poems Wolf chose, the human heart and mind increasingly engender their own delight and despair, without reference to an external cause. Increasingly, too, Wolf turned to translations for his texts, and not to original German verse (as Brahms had similarly had recourse to the Bible in German translation). The end of the century seems to signal an end of the German poetic renaissance, and hence a decline in the power of the lied.

The same may apply to audiences. The Schubert song had become accredited and established; Schumann and his successors, especially Brahms, had come to command a wide public for their songs. But Wolf was offering a new genre. Just as Schubert had reduced Mozart and Beethoven operas and Haydn oratorios to the miniature domestic frame, so Wolf adopted Wagner. That allegiance and that idiom imposed difficulties of appreciation, further restricting the appeal of an art already limited to the poetry lovers among music lovers. So Wolf's work took longer to gain ground and find adherents. As before, dissemination of the new art was through friends and admirers and their immediate circle. The Wolf Society in Vienna corresponded to the Schubertiads of 70 years earlier, but with fewer active members (a relation that persists in posterity). It is as if the springs that had powered the early years of the lied had, for whatever reason, relaxed. An art of strong direct expressiveness culminated in an art of refinement, nuance, subtlety, and perfection within limitations.

The high road had narrowed and arguably reached an impasse. So had some earlier byways, such as accompanied recitation, despite one example from Schubert (Abschied von der Erde), three from Schumann (e.g. Die Flüchtlinge) and six from Liszt (e.g. Lenore). A much more rewarding development was the addition of vocal lines, as in the duets and partsongs with or without accompaniment written by all the major masters of the lied, and still, despite neglect, an essential aspect of their art. But most significant of all was the addition of extra instruments. Schubert had used instrumental obbligato for quasi-verbal effect (e.g. the pastoral sound of the clarinet in Der Hirt auf den Felsen). Schumann orchestrated his song Tragödie, presumably in order to enhance its dramatic content. Liszt's song orchestrations and Wagner's Wesendonk-Lieder pointed clearly along that road; so, less demonstratively, did Brahms's songs with viola obbligato, op. 94. A crucial stage was reached with Wolf's 20 orchestral versions, including one (Der Feuerreiter) for chorus instead of solo. But these new departures meant a farewell to the lied as here considered, namely as a musical expression of the poetry of individual or social concern within the framework of domestic music-making. At the same time, poetry and its musical setting were losing their power to unify and stimulate any special segment of European society, German or other. The hegemony of the lied was in decline.