Bar five of Schubert's art song entitled Nacht und Träume. The vocal part, including the melody notes and the text, is in the top stave. The two staves below are the piano part.

An art song is a Western vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment, and usually in the classical art music tradition. By extension, the term "art song" is used to refer to the collective genre of such songs (e.g., the "art song repertoire").[1] An art song is most often a musical setting of an independent poem or text,[1] "intended for the concert repertory"[2] "as part of a recital or other relatively formal social occasion".[3] While many vocal music pieces are easily recognized as art songs, others are more difficult to categorize. For example, a wordless vocalise written by a classical composer is sometimes considered an art song[1] and sometimes not.[4]

Other factors help define art songs:

Languages and nationalities

A recording of singer Helge Rosvaenge (Tenor) and Gerald Moore, Pianoforte, performing Der Feuerreiter

Art songs have been composed in many languages, and are known by several names. The German tradition of art song composition is perhaps the most prominent one; it is known as Lieder. In France, the term mélodie distinguishes art songs from other French vocal pieces referred to as chansons. The Spanish canción and the Italian canzone refer to songs generally and not specifically to art songs.


The composer's musical language and interpretation of the text often dictate the formal design of an art song. If all of the poem's verses are sung to the same music, the song is strophic. Arrangements of folk songs are often strophic,[1] and "there are exceptional cases in which the musical repetition provides dramatic irony for the changing text, or where an almost hypnotic monotony is desired."[1] Several of the songs in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin are good examples of this. If the vocal melody remains the same but the accompaniment changes under it for each verse, the piece is called a "modified strophic" song. In contrast, songs in which "each section of the text receives fresh music"[1] are called through-composed. Most through-composed works have some repetition of musical material in them. Many art songs use some version of the ABA form (also known as "song form" or "ternary form"), with a beginning musical section, a contrasting middle section, and a return to the first section's music. In some cases, in the return to the first section's music, the composer may make minor changes.

Performance and performers

Performance of art songs in recital requires special skills for both the singer and pianist. The degree of intimacy "seldom equaled in other kinds of music"[1] requires that the two performers "communicate to the audience the most subtle and evanescent emotions as expressed in the poem and music".[1] The two performers must agree on all aspects of the performance to create a unified partnership, making art song performance one of the "most sensitive type(s) of collaboration".[1] As well, the pianist must be able to closely match the mood and character expressed by the singer. Even though classical vocalists generally embark on successful performing careers as soloists by seeking out opera engagements, a number of today's most prominent singers have built their careers primarily by singing art songs, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Thomas Quasthoff, Ian Bostridge, Matthias Goerne, Wolfgang Holzmair, Susan Graham and Elly Ameling. Pianists, too, have specialized in playing art songs with great singers. Gerald Moore, Geoffrey Parsons, Graham Johnson, Dalton Baldwin, Hartmut Höll and Martin Katz are six such pianists who have specialized in accompanying art song performances. The piano parts in art songs can be so complex that the piano part is not really a subordinate accompaniment part; the pianist in challenging art songs is more of an equal partner with the solo singer. As such, some pianists who specialize in performing art song recitals with singers refer to themselves as "collaborative pianists", rather than as accompanists.



Main article: English art song


Main article: American art song

Austrian and German

Main article: Lieder


Main article: Mélodie



19th century:

20th century:

Latin American

In Spanish:

In Portuguese (all Brazilian):


Eastern European



Main article: Russian art song






Main article: Art song in Arabic

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Meister, An Introduction to the Art Song, pp. 11–17.
  2. ^ Art Song, Grove Online
  3. ^ Randel, Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 61
  4. ^ Kimball, Introduction, p. xiii
  5. ^ a b Kimball, p. xiv
  6. ^ Meister calls it "a variety of art song" (p. 13); Kimball does not include these works in her study of art songs.(p. xiv)
  7. ^ Meister, p. 14, and Kimball, p. xiv
  8. ^ Meister refers to them as a "hybrid medium", p. 14
  9. ^ Benjamin Britten, Complete Folksong Arrangements (61 Songs), edited by Richard Walters, Boosey & Hawkes #M051933747, ISBN 1423421566
  10. ^ Neither Meister nor Kimball mention sacred songs generally, but both discuss the Brahms songs and selected other works in their books on art song.
  11. ^ a b c Composers – Ukrainian Art Song Project Archived 2015-04-16 at the Wayback Machine


Further reading