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Lied (German pronunciation: [ˈliːt]; plural Lieder, [ˈliːdɐ]) is a German word meaning "song"; among English speakers, however, the word is used primarily as a term for European romantic songs, also known as art songs. The term is usually used to describe songs composed to a German poem of reasonably high literary aspirations, especially during the nineteenth century, beginning with Carl Loewe, Heinrich Marschner, and Franz Schubert and culminating with Hugo Wolf. The poetry forming the basis for Lieder often centers upon pastoral themes, or themes of romantic love. Typically, Lieder are arranged for a single singer and piano. Some of the most famous examples of Lieder are Schubert's Der Tod und Das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden) and Gretchen am Spinnrade. Sometimes Lieder are gathered in a Liederkreis or "song cycle"—a series of songs (generally three or more) tied by a single narrative or theme, such as Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben or Dichterliebe. The composers Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann are most closely associated with this genre, mainly developed in the Romantic era.
For German speakers the term Lied has a long history ranging from 12th century troubadour songs (Minnesang) via folk songs (Volkslieder) and church hymns (Kirchenlieder) to 20th-century workers songs (Arbeiterlieder) or protest songs (Kabarettlieder, Protestlieder).
In Germany, the great age of song came in the 19th century. German and Austrian composers had written music for voice with keyboard before this time, but it was with the flowering of German literature in the Classical and Romantic eras that composers found high inspiration in poetry that sparked the genre known as the Lied. The beginnings of this tradition are seen in the songs of Mozart and Beethoven, but it is with Schubert that a new balance is found between words and music, a new absorption into the music of the sense of the words. Schubert wrote over 600 songs, some of them in sequences or song cycles that relate a story—adventure of the soul rather than the body. The tradition was continued by Schumann, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf, and on into the 20th century by Strauss, Mahler and Pfitzner. Austrian partisans of atonal music, Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern, composed lieder in their own style.
Other national traditions
The Lied tradition is closely linked with the German language. But there are parallels elsewhere, notably in France, with the mélodies of such composers as Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy and Francis Poulenc, and in Russia, with the songs of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in particular. England too had a flowering of song, more closely associated however with folk song than with the 19th-century art song, in the 20th century represented by Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.
At the end of the 19th and during the 20th century classical lieder produced in the Netherlands were usually composed in several languages; Alphons Diepenbrock and Henk Badings composed Dutch, German, English and French songs and in Latin for choirs; together with a strong influenced from French impressionism and German romanticism which made the Dutch lieder tradition the only strong cosmopolitan one in Europe.
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