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.”