Introduction to… Lieder

German “Lieder” (“songs” normally sung by one singer with a piano accompaniment)  are one of the most intense and successful examples of music and poetry mixing in Western Civilisation. If the words “Western Civilisation” put you off, or the mention of classical music causes an impending sense of hopelessness before an inevitable boredom, that is exactly why you should give them a chance. Lieder offer a chance to listen to classical music in the format of 3 minute long pop songs, a format that helps break down many of the barriers that can get in the way of enjoying classical music. The melodies are often set to poems from a golden age of German poetry, spreading from Sturm and Drang write through to late Romantic poetry. It is as if Miley Cyrus were channeling Elizabeth Bishop. Or it is as if Beethoven wrote a song and got Elizabeth Bishop to do the words, or vice versa, a song about a young boy pricking his hand on a rose or an evening by the fire, and Miley Cyrus stunned by how excellent this song was, and indeed how shallow her oeuvre in comparison up to that point had been, took a long and rewarding and with retrospect life-redeeming look in the mirror and developed a life long interest in Lieder and their best singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In such a case let us all be Miley Cyrus’s.

1. Seligkeit (Text by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty, Music by Schubert, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4muPgyvInE

My favourite Lied, the opening words “Joys without number bloom in heaven’s hall” are an expression of the “Seligkeit” (blissfulness) of the title of the song. But it is really the refrain and the yearning of “O da möcht’ ich sein, Und mich ewig freun!” (“O there I’d like to be, and endless rejoice”), the only sentence I could understand when I first heard the song, that I really love.

2. Die Taubenpost (Text by Johann Gabriel Seidl, Music by Schubert, sung by Heinrich Schlusnuss)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IM-yHRqRsg

The tale of a carrier pigeon, the song builds until the repeated statement that the pigeon is called “Sehnsucht” (“longing”) and is the emissary of the loyal lover. Perhaps the last song Schubert ever wrote before his early death, the song seems somehow too joyful.

3. Der Doppelgänger (Text by Heinrich Heine, Music by Schubert, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKVnL9JvuO8 

Showing the emotional versatility of Lieder, one of Heine’s most famous poems is put to music capturing the narrator’s horror and misery, as he sees his “Doppelgänger” before the house of his beloved.

4. An Syliva/Heidelröslein

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHas4Fss1fA / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG-B8inb9YE

The two most feel-good and catchy of the Lieder. “An Syvia” takes a song from Shakespeare’s Gentlemen of Verona and immortalises it for a German audience, while Goethe’s “Heidelröslein” is a simple and yet hypnotising take of a young boy who pricks his hand on a rose.

5. Dörthe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQRXu8pKUIo

It is difficult to trace a link between these songs and German songs today. Nonetheless, and ever if this song defiles the aforementioned German songs just by its presence on this list, Dörthe, a parody of a heartfelt love song by comedian Rainald Grebe is irresistable. It also proves to all those xenophobes out their who have nevertheless clicked on an article about German classical music and read to this point, that the Germans have a sense of humour.

This website has to be recommended for all Lieder fans http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/