(German - 'song';  singular - Lied;  plural - Lieder).  Term generally used in English for the Romantic art song from Schubert to Wolf and Strauss.

Early Forms

The earliest forms of lied, however, come from the 15th century, including 36 by Oswald von Wolkenstein; they are in two or three parts. A specifically German type, the "Tenorlied", first appearing in the "Lochamer Liederbuch" (circa 1460), is based on a pre-existing vocal line used as a cantus firmus (or Tenor). In the songs of Isaac and other early 16th-century composers four-part writing is the norm, with the Tenor virtually always in the highest male part. The 260 songs of his pupil Senfl explore many stylistic possibilities, including imitation, and often have a soprano "cantus firmus". The heyday of the "Tenorlied" ended circa 1550. Later the form received decisive impetus from Lassus; the highpoint of this period was reached in the circa 60 lieder of Hans Leo Hassler, whose synthesis of Italian style with German lyricism was influential. The polyphonic lied figures slightly in the works of Schein and thereafter hardly at all.

In the 17th century a new kind of lied arose, the Generalbass or continuo lied, mainly for literati, students and the cultivated middle class; they were simpler and often cruder than the courtly solo songs of other countries. Adam Krieger was the greatest continuo lied composer; his "Arien" (1667), mostly solos with continuo and instrumental ritornellos, vary from pastoral love-songs to lascivious drinking-songs. After 1670 the continuo lied declined, but it had a resurgence towards the mid-18th century with such composers as Telemann and J.V. Görner.

After 1750, a new aesthetic led to strophic lieder set to simple folklike melody with uncomplicated harmony and independent accompaniment. Berlin (where lied composers included C.P.E. Bach) was the principal center. The Second Berlin Lied School of circa 1770, including Reichardt and Zelter, used a more complex style and sought out better poetry, including Goethe's and Schiller's. Of Viennese composers only Mozart contributed significantly to the lied development.

Romantic Lieder

Beethoven can be claimed as creator of the Romantic lied, but it was Schubert's setting of Goethe's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (1814) and "Erlkönig" (1815) that first embodied the close identification with poet, character, scene and singer, as well as the concentration of lyric, dramatic and graphic ideas into an integrated whole, which characterize the finest 19th-century lieder. In addition to onomatopoeic devices (of which the cycles "Die schöne Müllerin" and "Winterreise" provide numerous examples) there are in Schubert's 610 songs hundreds of more deeply personal and less readily explicable verbo-musical ideas, corresponding to sunlight, evening, sleep, love, grief and so on, which occur in infinitely variable permutation.  Schubert's perfect compound of text and music was rarely matched by his successors.

In Loewe's 375 songs music is subordinate to words; his best settings are of narrative ballads such as "Edward" and "Erlkönig".

Mendelssohn aimed at formal perfection, in strophic songs with a varied last verse or coda.

Schumann's 260 lieder recombine the basic elements of verbal equivalence and musical independence, revealing him as Schubert's true heir; his personal innovation was to elevate the role of the piano. The rich flowering of German Romantic song with piano, to which Franz, Wagner, Liszt, Cornelius and others contributed, was maintained to the end of the century by two composers who represent opposite ends of the spectrum of lied composition.

Brahms was the supreme traditionalist: most of his 200 songs are carefully unified strophic or ternary structures, with often complex but rarely independent accompaniments. They reach heights of nostalgia and longing scaled by no other songwriter.

Wolf's procedures, in contrast, were poetry-oriented; he published songbooks devoted to particular poets (Mörike, Goethe, Eichendorff). His basic style is keyboard writing enriched by vocal and instrumental counterpoint, employing an extended harmonic language; his 300 songs encompass a wider emotional range than any other composer's since Schubert.

Although cultivated with distinction by Strauss and others, the lied with piano lost its central position after 1900, and in the orchestral cycles of Mahler it was taken from drawing room to concert hall. Schönberg and Berg followed Mahler, but neither paid much attention to the lied after World War I.


Gretchen am Spinnrade (1814)
Erlkönig (1815)
Die schöne Müllerin (cycle)
Winterreise (cycle)
Die Forelle
Der Wanderer
Du bist die Ruh'

Schubert had a supreme gift for making beautiful melodies.  Along with melody went a sensitive feeling for harmonic color.  Very often the piano figuration is suggested by some pictorial image of the text.

Dichterliebe (cycle)
Mondnacht (1840)
Die Lotosblume (1840)
Frauenliebe und Leben (cycle)

With Schumann we are in the full restless tide of Romanticism.  His melodic lines are warm and expressive, but lack the charm of Schubert.  Many of Schumann's lieder are really duets for voice and piano.

Magelone (cycle)
Wie bist du meine Königin
Meine Liebe ist grün
Auf dem Kirchhofe
Vier ernste Gesänge ("four serious songs")

The essential elements of Brahms' lieder are the melody and bass, the tonal plan and form.  The accompaniments are rarely pictorial, and there are not many of the instrumental preludes and postludes which are so important in Schumann's songs.  Yet the piano parts are marvelously varied in texture, frequently using extended arpeggio figuration and syncopated rhythms.

Auf einer Wanderung
Anakreons Grab
Grenzen der Menshheit

Wolf adapted Wagner's methods with discrimination;  the fusion of voice and instrument is achieved without sacrificing either to the other.  Some passages in Wolf's songs are clearly inspired by the idiom of "Tristan" with its chromatic voice-leading, appoggiaturas, and rapid modulations.

Traum durch die Dämmerung

Strauss wrote some 150 lieder, of which not more than a dozen or so -- mostly from his early period -- are commonly known outside Germany and Austria, but the ones we are acquainted with are more than ample to prove his mastery of the 19th-century German lied.