What is Art Song?

Question: What is Art Song?

Answer: Art song can be traced back to the Medieval period but became especially popular during the Romantic era. Thus, it is considered a genre of Romantic music. Art song is written by a professional composer and performed by a trained singer.

The main characteristics of an art song are;

  • it is a short piece for solo voice
  • the verses are well-written and may either be through-composed (each stanza of the poem is sung to new music) or strophic (all stanzas of the poem are sung to the same music)
  • often accompanied by the piano using virtuoso techniques
  • high artistic and literary quality
  • ends with a postlude (concluding section played by the piano)
  • A group of art songs that is connected by a musical idea is called a song cycle. An example of a song cycle is "Cypress Trees" by Antonin Dvorak.

    German art song is known as lied, or lieder when referring to its plural form. Early lieder were monophonic and existed during the 12th to 13th centuries. By the 14th century, polyphonic lieder were preferred which reached its peak by the mid-16th century. Afterward, the popularity of lieder diminished but was once again revived during the 19th century. Works of notable poets like Goethe were set to music by equally notable composers such as:

  • Johannes Brahms - Wrote about 300 solo works.

  • Franz Schubert - Composed 650 lieder (i.e. "Death and the Maiden," "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel," Little Heath Rose," "The Erlkönig" and "The Trout") and several song cycles (i.e. "Winterreise").

  • Robert Schumann - Composed 160 songs and 5 song cycles.

  • Hugo Wolf - Wrote about 300 songs; many of which were published after his death.

  • Lieder may also be accompanied by a chamber ensemble or a full orchestra.

    Music Sample
    Listen to " Erlkönig' by Franz Schubert sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau courtesy of YouTube.

    More Information
    Visit the Lied and Art Song Texts Page for texts and translations of various art songs.