Art song

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An art song is a vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment, and usually in the classical tradition. By extension, the term "art song" is used to refer to the genre of such songs.[1] An art song is most often a musical setting of an independent poem or text,[1] "intended for the concert repertory"[2] "as part of a recital or other relatively formal social occasion".[3]

Art song characteristics[edit]

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[1] and sometimes not.[4]

Other factors help define art songs:

Languages and nationalities[edit]

Art songs have been composed in many languages, and are known by several names. The German tradition of art song composition is perhaps the most prominent one; it is known as Lieder. In France, the term Mélodie distinguishes art songs from other French vocal pieces referred to as chansons. The Spanish Canción and the Italian Canzone refer to songs generally and not specifically to art songs.

Art song formal design[edit]

The composer's musical language and interpretation of the text often dictate the formal design of an art song. If all of the poem's verses are sung to the same music, the song is strophic. Arrangements of folk songs are often strophic,[1] and "there are exceptional cases in which the musical repetition provides dramatic irony for the changing text, or where an almost hypnotic monotony is desired."[1] Several of the songs in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin are good examples of this. If the vocal melody remains the same but the accompaniment changes under it for each verse, the piece is called a "modified strophic" song.

In contrast, songs in which "each section of the text receives fresh music"[1] are called through-composed. Some through-composed works have some repetition of musical material in them.

Many art songs use some version of the ABA form (also known as "song form"), with a beginning musical section, a contrasting middle section, and a return to the first section's music.

Art song performance and performers[edit]

Performance of art songs in recital requires some special skills for both the singer and pianist. The degree of intimacy "seldom equaled in other kinds of music"[1] requires that the two performers "communicate to the audience the most subtle and evanescent emotions as expressed in the poem and music."[1] The two performers must agree on all aspects of the performance to create a unified partnership, making art song performance one of the "most sensitive type(s) of collaboration".[1]

Even though classical vocalists generally embark on successful performing careers as soloists by seeking out opera engagements, a number of today's most prominent singers have built their careers primarily by singing art songs, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Thomas Quasthoff, Ian Bostridge, Matthias Goerne, Susan Graham, and Elly Ameling.

Pianists, too, have specialized in playing art songs with great singers. Gerald Moore, Graham Johnson, and Martin Katz are three such pianists who have specialized in accompanying art song performances.

Prominent composers of art songs[edit]



Austrian and German[edit]

Main article: Lieder


Main article: Mélodie


19th-century composers:

20th-century composers:


Eastern European[edit]







See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Meister, An Introduction to the Art Song, pp. 11-17.
  2. ^ Art Song, Grove Online
  3. ^ Randel, Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 61
  4. ^ Kimball, Introduction, p. xiii
  5. ^ a b Kimball, p. xiv
  6. ^ Meister calls it "a variety of art song" (p. 13); Kimball does not include these works in her study(p. xiv)
  7. ^ Meister, p. 14, and Kimball, p. xiv
  8. ^ Meister refers to them as a "hybrid medium", p. 14
  9. ^ Benjamin Britten, Complete Folksong Arrangements (61 Songs), edited by Richard Walters, Boosey & Hawkes #M051933747, ISBN 1423421566
  10. ^ Neither Meister nor Kimball mention sacred songs generally, but both discuss the Brahms songs and selected other works in their books on art song.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]