German lied (Ger: “song”, plural lieder) is – at its most basic – German poetry set to music, typically of the romantic era, spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Lied can be considered the German language equivalent to English art song. The earliest lied has often been tied to Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who was undoubtable an influence to Brahms and the Schumanns in the creation of their own lieder. Other notable composers of lieder include Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Wagner.
With the rise of German literature – including literary greats such as Goethe and von Schiller – composers were influenced to set the text to music to honour the beauty of love and romanticism that was becoming ever-prevalent in 18th century German discourse. In fact, the earliest influences of romantic lied can be seen in the compositions of Mozart and Beethoven, who both wrote vocal music with accompaniment. It is Franz Schubert, however, who is considered the pioneer of popularizing and standardizing lied as a musical art form.
By the time Brahms and the Schumanns were composing lied, the form was heavily solidified and structured thanks to prolific composers including Schubert and Mendelssohn. The versatility of lied can seen in its popularity throughout the past three centuries – including the 20th Century when experimental Austrian composers (Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern of the Second Viennese School, to name a few) adapted the format to new and exciting possibilities.
Lied was also not restricted to the German language. The English art song, the French melody, and the songs of Russia can all be traced back to similar origins and concepts.
Schubert: Der Erlkönig (Find it in the collection: catalogue link)
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder (Find it in the collection: catalogue link)
References / Recommended Reading
Norbert Böker-Heil, et al. “Lied.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/16611>
S. Youens: Schubert’s Poets and the Making of Lieder (Cambridge, 1996)
E.F. Kravitt: The Lied: Mirror of Late Romanticism (New Haven, CT, 1996)
H. Platt: Text-Music Relationships in the Lieder of Johannes Brahms (diss., CUNY, 1992)