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Art song

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Title: Art song  
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Subject: César Cui, Fabio Campana, Connie Converse, Aaron Copland, Lieder
Collection: Art Songs, Song Forms, Western Classical Music Styles
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Art song

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 1
  • Languages and nationalities 2
  • Art song formal design 3
  • Art song performance and performers 4
  • Prominent composers of art songs 5
    • British 5.1
    • American 5.2
    • Austrian and German 5.3
    • French 5.4
    • Spanish 5.5
    • Italian 5.6
    • Eastern European 5.7
    • Nordic 5.8
    • Russian 5.9
    • Ukrainian 5.10
    • Other 5.11
      • Filipino 5.11.1
      • Afrikaans 5.11.2
  • See also 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Art song characteristics

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:

  • Songs that are part of a staged work (such as an opera or a musical) are not usually considered art songs.[5] However, some Baroque arias that "appear with great frequency in recital performance"[5] are now included in the art song repertoire.
  • Songs with instruments besides piano and/or other singers are referred to as "vocal chamber music", and are usually not considered art songs.[6]
  • Songs originally written for voice and orchestra are called "orchestral songs" and are not usually considered art songs, unless their original version was for solo voice and piano.[7]
  • Folksongs are generally not considered art songs unless they are concert arrangements with piano accompaniment written by a specific composer[8] Several examples of these songs include Aaron Copland's two volumes of Old American Songs, the Folksong arrangements by Benjamin Britten,[9] and the Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Spanish Folksongs) by Manuel de Falla.
  • There is no agreement regarding sacred songs. Many song settings of biblical or sacred texts were composed for the concert stage and not for religious services; these are widely known as art songs (for example, the Vier ernste Gesänge by Johannes Brahms). Others sacred songs may or may not be considered art songs.[10]
  • A group of art songs composed to be performed in a group to form a narrative or dramatic whole is called a song cycle.

Languages and nationalities

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

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

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



Austrian and German



19th-century composers:

20th-century composers:


Eastern European







See also


  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.


  • Draayer, Suzanne (2009), Art Song Composers of Spain: An Encyclopedia, Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, ISBN 978-0-8108-6362-0
  • Draayer, Suzanne (2003), A Singer's Guide to the Songs of Joaquín Rodrigo, Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, ISBN 978-0-8108-4827-6
  • Kimball, Carol (2005), Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and Literature, revised edition, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hal Leonard,  
  • Meister, Barbara (1980), An Introduction to the Art Song, New York, New York: Taplinger,  
  • Randel, Don Michael (2003), The Harvard Dictionary of Music, Harvard University Press, p. 61,  
  • Villamil, Victoria Etnier (1993), A Singer's Guide to the American Art Song (2004 paperback ed.), Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press,  

Further reading

  • Emmons, Shirlee, and Stanley Sonntag (1979), The Art of the Song Recital (paperback ed.), New York: Schirmer Books,  
  • Hall, James Husst (1953), The Art Song, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press 
  • Ivey, Donald (1970), Song: Anatomy, Imagery, and Styles, New York: The Free Press,  
  • Soumagnac, Myriam (1997). "La Mélodie italienne au début du XXe siècle", in Festschrift volume, Échoes de France et d'Ialie: liber amicorum Yves Gérard (jointly ed. by Marie-Claire Mussat, Jean Mongrédien & Jean-Michel Nectoux). Buchet-Chastel. p. 381-386.
  • Walter, Wolfgang (2005), Lied-Bibliographie (Song Bibliography): Reference to Literature on the Art Song, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang,  
  • Whitton, Kenneth (1984), Lieder: An Introdution to German Song, London: Julia MacRae,  

External links

  • Joy In Singing
  • The Lied and Art Song Texts Page
  • Art Song Central
  • The Art Song Project
  • Art Song Composers of Spain
  • Ukrainian Art Song Project
  • Ukrainian art songs. Audio files.
  • Spanish vocal music, in English.
  • Canciones de España—Songs of Nineteenth-Century Spain [1]
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