Franz Schubert, the name defines an era and a genre. A rare composer who's symphonic works represent the best legacy of the classical tradition, while his songs define German lied and exemplify the height of romantic lyricism.
Schubert’s success with lied began with his masterpiece, Gretchen im Spinnrade. Written in the early romantic era, the year 1814. It is based on a text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a poet whose works would become the most associated with the romantic music of the era due in part to Schubert’s well loved settings. It was Schubert’s first successful foray into lied. Indeed, this was his 30th vocal and piano pairing and it was in this masterpiece that he created at one stroke, the Romantic German lied. This success emboldened him and in the following year brought about the composition of more than one-hundred and forty more lied.
We can surmise from Schubert’s drafts and sketches that the initial influence was melodic.
The words of a poem engendered a tune. Harmony (chordal structure of a composition) and modulation (change of key) were then suggested by the contours of the melody. But the external details of the poet’s scene—natural, domestic, or mythical—prompted such wonderfully graphic images in the accompaniments as the spinning wheel, the ripple of water, or the “shimmering robe” of spring
The German lied, an art song for voice and accompaniment, quickly came into vogue because of the of using instrumental music to convey what was beyond the words in a text. This tied into the the Romantic ideals of the supernatural. Composers often unified lieder around a common theme, creating a collection of songs called a song cycle. Romantic lieder would generally be written for a solo voice with piano accompaniment, which often required a virtuoso technique.
Primarily salon music, individual lieder lacked the scope of contemporary opera arias especially as regards length but are more intimate and emotionally refined. Lieder song cycles allowed for programatic development. Related by a single topic but giving scope for considerable musical development. There then arose different styles of setting lied. Simple-strophic setting was the use of a single musical structure to be repeated for each stanza of poetry. Modified-strophic setting has the same musical frame for each stanza but with changing details in the voice and accompaniment to suit the progressing text. Through-composed setting has an entirely different musical plan for each new stanza. The simple-strophic approach is effective if the entire poem suggests a central mood that can be captured in the music or if the composer creates a neutral setting that avoids detailed text illustration.
Prosody and syntax must follow a regular pattern in each stanza if the result is to be satisfactory. Thus in Franz Schubert’s “Das Wandern” (“Wandering) from the cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Miller’s Beautiful Daughter), the accompaniment suggests the...