The Great German Composers eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about The Great German Composers.
of arms, and the old mystic legends so dear to the German heart.  Tieck writes of the “Minnesinger period:”  “Believers sang of faith, lovers of love; knights described knightly actions and battles, and loving, believing knights were their chief audiences.  The spring, beauty, gayety, were objects that could never tire; great duels and deeds of arms carried away every hearer, the more surely the stronger they were painted; and as the pillars and dome of the church encircled the flock, so did Religion, as the highest, encircle poetry and reality, and every heart in equal love humbled itself before her.”

A similar spirit has always inspired the popular German song, a simple and beautiful reverence for the unknown, the worship of heroism, a vital sympathy with the various manifestations of Nature.  Without the fire of the French chansons, the sonorous grace of the Tuscan stornelli, these artless ditties, with their exclusive reliance on true feeling, possess an indescribable charm.

The German Lied always preserved its characteristic beauty.  Goethe, and the great school of lyric poets clustered around him, simply perfected the artistic form, without departing from the simplicity and soulfulness of the stock from which it came.  Had it not been for the rich soil of popular song, we should not have had the peerless lyrics of modern Germany.  Had it not been for the poetic inspiration of such word-makers as Goethe and Heine, we should not have had such music-makers in the sphere of song as Schubert and Franz.

The songs of these masters appeal to the interest and admiration of the world, then, not merely in virtue of musical beauty, but in that they are the most vital outgrowths of Teutonic nationality and feeling.

The immemorial melodies to which the popular songs of Germany were set display great simplicity of rhythm, even monotony, with frequent recurrence of the minor keys, so well adapted to express the melancholy tone of many of the poems.  The strictly strophic treatment is used, or, in other words, the repetition of the melody of the first stanza in all the succeeding ones.  The chasm between this and the varied form of the artistic modern song is deep and wide, yet it was overleaped in a single swift bound by the remarkable genius of Franz Schubert, who, though his compositions were many and matchless of their kind, died all too young; for, as the inscription on his tombstone pathetically has it, he was “rich in what he gave, richer in what he promised.”


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The Great German Composers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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