Song cycle

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A song cycle (German : Liederkreis or Liederzyklus) is a group, or cycle, of individually complete songs designed to be performed in a sequence as a unit. [1]

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The songs are either for solo voice or an ensemble, or rarely a combination of solo songs mingled with choral pieces. [2] The number of songs in a song cycle may be as brief as two songs [3] or as long as 30 or more songs. [1] The term "song cycle" did not enter lexicography until 1865, in Arrey von Dommer's edition of Koch’s Musikalisches Lexikon, but works definable in retrospect as song cycles existed long before then. [1] One of the earliest examples may be the set of seven Cantigas de amigo by the 13th-century Galician jongleur Martin Codax. [4] Jeffrey Mark identified the group of dialect songs 'Hodge und Malkyn' from Thomas Ravenscroft's The Briefe Discourse (1614) as the first of a number of early 17th Century examples in England. [5]

A song cycle is similar to a song collection, and the two can be difficult to distinguish. Some type of coherence, however, is regarded as a necessary attribute of song cycles. It may derive from the text (a single poet; a story line; a central theme or topic such as love or nature; a unifying mood; poetic form or genre, as in a sonnet or ballad cycle) or from musical procedures (tonal schemes; recurring motifs, passages or entire songs; formal structures). These unifying features may appear singly or in combination. [1] Because of these many variations, the song cycle "resists definition". [6] The nature and quality of the coherence within a song cycle must therefore be examined "in individual cases". [6]

Song cycles in German Lieder

Although most European countries began developing the art song genre by the beginning of the 19th century, the rise of Lieder in "Austria and Germany have outweighed all others in terms of influence." [7] German-language song composition at the end of 18th century shifted from accessible, Strophic form, more traditional folk songs to 19th century settings of more sophisticated poetry for a more educated middle class, "who were gradually supplanting the aristocracy as the main patrons of the arts". [8] Since these songs were relatively small-scale works, like the lyric poetry used for their musical settings, they were often published in collections, and consequently borrowed various poetic terms to mark their groupings: Reihe (series), Kranz (ring), Zyklus (cycle) or Kreis (circle). [9] In the first few decades of the 1800s, the collections of poetry and the subsequent song settings took on more underlying coherence and dramatic plot, giving rise to the song cycle. [10] This coherence allowed the song genre to be elevated to a "higher form", serious enough to be compared with symphonies and cycles of lyric piano pieces. [11]

Two of the earliest examples of the German song cycle were composed in 1816: Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (Op. 98), and Die Temperamente beim Verluste der Geliebten (J. 200-3, \Op. 46) by Carl Maria von Weber.

The genre was firmly established by the cycles of Schubert; his Die schöne Müllerin (1823) and Winterreise (1827), settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller, are among his most greatly admired works. Schubert's Schwanengesang (1828), though collected posthumously, is also frequently performed as a cycle.

Schumann's great cycles were all composed in 1840. They comprise Dichterliebe , Frauenliebe und -leben , two collections entitled Liederkreis (Opp. 24 & 39 on texts by Heinrich Heine and Eichendorf respectively)—a German word meaning a song cycle—and the Kerner Lieder (Op. 35), a Liederreihe (literally "song row") on poems by Justinus Kerner. Brahms composed settings (Op. 33) of verses from Ludwig Tieck's novel "Magelone", and modern performances usually include some sort of connecting narration. He also wrote Vier ernste Gesänge ("Four Serious Songs"), Op. 121 (1896). Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen , Kindertotenlieder , and Das Lied von der Erde expand the accompaniment from piano to orchestra.

Wolf made the composition of song collections by a single poet something of a specialty, although only the shorter Italian Songbook and Spanish Songbook are performed at a single sitting, and Eisler's Hollywood Liederbuch also falls into the category of anthology.

Das Buch der hängenden Gärten by Schoenberg and Krenek's Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen are important 20th-century examples. Wilhelm Killmayer composed several song cycles, on lyrics by Sappho, French Renaissance poets, German Romantic poets, and contemporary poets. The tradition is carried on by Wolfgang Rihm, with so far a dozen works.[ citation needed ] Graham Waterhouse composed a song cycle Sechs späteste Lieder after Hölderlin's late poems in 2003.[ citation needed ]

Song cycles in France

Berlioz's Les nuits d'été (1841) pioneered the use of the orchestra, and the French cycle reached a pinnacle in Fauré's La bonne chanson , La chanson d'Ève and L'horizon chimérique and later in the works of Poulenc. Recent masterpieces such as Poèmes pour Mi , Chants de Terre et de Ciel and Harawi were written by Messiaen. Paroles tissées and Chantefleurs et Chantefables by Lutosławski (only an honorary Frenchman) as well as Correspondances and Le temps l'horloge by Dutilleux should also be mentioned.

English, Scottish, and American song cycles

Perhaps the first English song cycle was Arthur Sullivan's The Window; or, The Song of the Wrens (1871), to a text of eleven poems by Tennyson. In the early 20th century, Vaughan Williams composed his famous song cycle, the Songs of Travel . Other song cycles by Vaughan Williams are The House of Life on sonnets by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and On Wenlock Edge on poems from A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad , the latter originally for voice with piano and string quartet but later orchestrated. The composer and renowned Lieder accompanist Benjamin Britten also wrote song cycles, including The Holy Sonnets of John Donne , Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo , Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente , and Winter Words , all with piano accompaniment, and the orchestral Les Illuminations , Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings , and Nocturne .

Raising Sparks (1977) by the Scottish composer James MacMillan (1997) is a more recent example. Trevor Hold wrote numerous song cycles, including many setting his own words, such as The Image Stays (1979), River Songs (1982) and Book of Beasts (1984). [12] The English composer Robin Holloway's many song cycles include From High Windows (Philip Larkin) (1977), Wherever We May Be (Robert Graves) (1980) and Retreats and Advances (A.S.J. Tessimond) (2016). His pupil Peter Seabourne's five song cycles include Sonnets to Orpheus (2016) setting eleven poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. Stephen Hough has written three cycles: Herbstlieder (Rilke) (2007), Dappled Things (Wilde and Hopkins) (2013), and Other Love Songs (2010) for four singers and piano duet. Graham Waterhouse composed several song cycles, based on texts by Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Irish female writers, among others.

American examples include Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs (1953), Mélodies Passagères, and Despite and Still, and Songfest by Leonard Bernstein, Hammarskjöld Portrait (1974), Les Olympiques (1976), Tribute to a Hero (1981), Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens (1989), Next Year in Jerusalem (1985), and A Year of Birds (1995) by Malcolm Williamson, Maury Yeston's December Songs (1991), commissioned by Carnegie Hall for its centennial year celebration, Honey and Rue by André Previn (composed for the American soprano Kathleen Battle). David Conte's American Death Ballads (2015) won the National Association of Teachers of Singing Composition Award in 2016. [13] Alex Weiser's song cycle in Yiddish and English, and all the days were purple (2019), was a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. [14]

Song cycles in other countries

Mussorgsky wrote Sunless (1874), The Nursery (1868–72) and Songs and Dances of Death (1875–77), and Shostakovich wrote cycles on English and Yiddish poets, as well as Michelangelo and Alexander Pushkin.

The orchestral song cycle Sing, Poetry on the 2011 album Troika consists of settings of Vladimir Nabokov's Russian and English-language poetry by three Russian and three American composers. [15]

Cycles in other languages have been written by Granados, Mohammed Fairouz, Cristiano Melli, Falla, Juan María Solare, Grieg, Lorenzo Ferrero, Dvořák, Janáček, Bartók, Kodály, Sibelius, Rautavaara, Peter Schat, Mompou, Montsalvatge, and A. Saygun etc.

Song cycles written by popular musicians (also called rock operas) are a short series of songs that tell a story or focus on a particular theme. Some musicians also blend tracks together, so that the start of the next song continues from the preceding one. Modern examples of this can be found in James Pankow's rock opera Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon (for Chicago on their self-titled second album) Pink Floyd's rock opera The Wall , Dream Theater's progressive metal albums Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory and The Astonishing , as well as Marvin Gaye's classic soul album What's Going On .

The R&B singer Raphael Saadiq's 2019 album, Jimmy Lee , is composed as a song cycle with personal narratives thematizing issues affecting African Americans, including addiction, stress, domestic conflict, AIDS, perpetual financial hardship, and mass incarceration. [16] [17]

Musical theater

One of the earliest song cycle musical theater works was created in 1991. This was December Songs (1991), created by Maury Yeston, and commissioned by Carnegie Hall for its Centennial celebration in 1991. It has been translated, performed and recorded in French, German. and Polish. [18] Other examples include Ghost Quartet by Dave Malloy (2014), Songs for a New World by Jason Robert Brown (1995), William Finn's Elegies (2003), Bill Russell's Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens (1989), and Myths and Hymns by Adam Guettel (1998).[ citation needed ]

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Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music, and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include "Erlkönig", the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 , the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 , the "Great" Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, the String Quintet, the three last piano sonatas, the opera Fierrabras, the incidental music to the play Rosamunde, and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lyric poetry</span> Formal type of poetry

Modern lyric poetry is a formal type of poetry which expresses personal emotions or feelings, typically spoken in the first person. It is not equivalent to song lyrics, though song lyrics are often in the lyric mode, and it is also not equivalent to Ancient Greek lyric poetry, which was principally limited song lyrics, or chanted verse, hence the confusion. The term for both modern lyric poetry and modern song lyrics both derive from a form of Ancient Greek literature, the Greek lyric, which was defined by its musical accompaniment, usually on a stringed instrument known as a kithara. The term owes its importance in literary theory to the division developed by Aristotle between three broad categories of poetry: Lyrical, dramatic, and epic. Lyric Poetry is also one of the earliest forms of literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carl Loewe</span> German composer and conductor

Johann Carl Gottfried Loewe, usually called Carl Loewe, was a German composer, tenor singer and conductor. In his lifetime, his songs ("Balladen") were well enough known for some to call him the "Schubert of North Germany", and Hugo Wolf came to admire his work. He is less known today, but his ballads and songs, which number over 400, are occasionally performed.

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<i>Frauen-Liebe und Leben</i> Cycle of poems by Adelbert von Chamisso

Frauen-Liebe und Leben is a cycle of poems by Adelbert von Chamisso, written in 1830. They describe the course of a woman's love for her man, from her point of view, from first meeting through marriage to his death, and after. Selections were set to music as a song-cycle by masters of German Lied, namely Carl Loewe (1836), Franz Lachner (c1839), and Robert Schumann (1840). The setting by Schumann is now the most widely known.

<i>Winterreise</i> Song cycle composed by Franz Schubert

Winterreise is a song cycle for voice and piano by Franz Schubert, a setting of 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Müller. It is the second of Schubert's two song cycles on Müller's poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin.

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The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility; the term was also used as an epithet of the god. Plato, in The Laws, while discussing various kinds of music mentions "the birth of Dionysos, called, I think, the dithyramb." Plato also remarks in the Republic that dithyrambs are the clearest example of poetry in which the poet is the only speaker.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erlkönig</span> Poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Die Forelle</span> Lied, or song

"Die Forelle", Op. 32, D 550. is a lied, or song, composed in early 1817 for solo voice and piano with music by the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797–1828). Schubert chose to set the text of a poem by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, first published in the Schwäbischer Musenalmanach in 1783. The full poem tells the story of a trout being caught by a fisherman, but in its final stanza reveals its purpose as a moral piece warning young women to guard against young men. When Schubert set the poem to music, he removed the last verse, which contained the moral, changing the song's focus and enabling it to be sung by male or female singers. Schubert produced six subsequent copies of the work, all with minor variations.

<i>Liederkreis</i>, Op. 39 (Schumann)

Liederkreis, Op. 39, is a song cycle composed by Robert Schumann. Its poetry is taken from Joseph von Eichendorff's collection entitled Intermezzo. Schumann wrote two cycles of this name – the other being his Opus 24, to texts by Heinrich Heine – so this work is also known as the Eichendorff Liederkreis. Schumann wrote, "The voice alone cannot reproduce everything or produce every effect; together with the expression of the whole the finer details of the poem should also be emphasized; and all is well so long as the vocal line is not sacrificed." Liederkreis, Op. 39, is regarded as one of the great song cycles of the 19th century, capturing, in essence, the Romantic experience of landscape. Schumann wrote it starting in May 1840, the year in which he wrote such a large number of lieder that it is known as his "year of song" or Liederjahr.

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In Western classical music tradition, Lied is a term for setting poetry to classical music to create a piece of polyphonic music. The term is used for any kind of song in contemporary German, but among English and French speakers, lied is often used interchangeably with "art song" to encompass works that the tradition has inspired in other languages as well. The poems that have been made into lieder often center on pastoral themes or themes of romantic love.

<i>Lhorizon chimérique</i>

L'horizon chimérique, Op. 118, is a song cycle by Gabriel Fauré, of four mélodies for voice and piano. Composed in 1921, the cycle is based on four of the poems from the collection of the same name by Jean de La Ville de Mirmont.

Franz Schubert's Wiegenlied"Schlafe, schlafe, holder süßer Knabe", D 498, Op. 98, No. 2, is a lullaby composed in November 1816. The song is also known as "Mille cherubini in coro" after an Italian language arrangement for voice and orchestra by Alois Melichar.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schwertlied</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schubert's song cycles</span>

Franz Schubert's best known song cycles, like Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise are based on separate poems with a common theme and narrative. Other song cycles are based on consecutive excerpts of the same literary work: Schubert's "Ave Maria" is part of such a song cycle based on excerpts of the same poem, in this case by Walter Scott.

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Susan Youens, Grove online
  2. One example is the set of Schubert songs from The Lady of the Lake. See the article on Schubert's "Ave Maria".
  3. Called dyad-cycles, according to Youens.
  4. Ferreira.
  5. Mark, Jeffrey. 'The Song-Cycle in England: Some Early 17th-Century Examples', in The Musical Times, Vol. 66, No. 986 (Apr. 1, 1925), pp. 325-328
  6. 1 2 Daverio, Chapter 9, "The Song Cycle: Journeys Through a Romantic Landscape", German Lieder in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Rufus Hallmark, p. 366
  7. Tunbridge, p. 2
  8. Tunbridge, pp. 2–3.
  9. Tunbridge, p. 3.
  10. Tunbridge, pp. 3–4.
  11. Tunbridge, p. 4
  12. Potter John. Trevor Hold obituary, The Guardian, 26 February 2004
  13. "Conte Wins 2016 NATS Art Song Composition Award". National Association of Teachers of Singing. 2016-04-01. Retrieved January 19, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. "Finalist: and all the days were purple, by Alex Weiser". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  15. "Troika: Russia's Westerly Poetry in Three Orchestral Song Cycles", Rideau Rouge Records, ASIN: B005USB24A, 2011, liner notes, p. 4
  16. Kot, Greg (August 23, 2019). "Raphael Saadiq bears soulful witness to his family's anguish on 'Jimmy Lee'". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  17. Christgau, Robert (November 13, 2019). "Consumer Guide: November, 2019". And It Don't Stop. Substack . Retrieved February 1, 2020.(subscription required)
  18. "December Songs | Works". Mauryyeston.com.

Bibliography