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Song cycle

Song cycle

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A song cycle is a group of songs
Art song
An art song is a vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano or orchestral accompaniment. By extension, the term "art song" is used to refer to the genre of such songs....

 designed to be performed in a sequence as a single entity. As a rule, all of the songs are by the same composer and often use words from the same poet or lyricist. Unification can be achieved by a narrative or a persona common to the songs, or even, as in Schumann's second Liederkreis, by the atmospheric setting of the forest. The unity of the cycle is often underlined by musical means, famously in the return in the last song of the opening music in Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte
An die ferne Geliebte
, opus 98, is a composition by Ludwig van Beethoven in April 1816. It is considered to be the first example of a song cycle by a major composer.-Beethoven's :...

.

The term originated to describe cycles of art song
Art song
An art song is a vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano or orchestral accompaniment. By extension, the term "art song" is used to refer to the genre of such songs....

s (often known by the German term "Lied
Lied
is a German word literally meaning "song", usually used to describe romantic songs setting German poems of reasonably high literary aspirations, especially during the nineteenth century, beginning with Carl Loewe, Heinrich Marschner, and Franz Schubert and culminating with Hugo Wolf...

er") in classical music, and has been extended to apply to popular music
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...

.

Classical music



The first generally accepted example of a song cycle is Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

's An die ferne Geliebte
An die ferne Geliebte
, opus 98, is a composition by Ludwig van Beethoven in April 1816. It is considered to be the first example of a song cycle by a major composer.-Beethoven's :...

(op. 98, 1816), along with the song cycle Die Temperamente beim Verluste der Geliebten (J. 200-3, op. 46, 1816) by Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school....

. The genre was firmly established by the cycles of Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

: his Die schöne Müllerin
Die schöne Müllerin
Die schöne Müllerin , is a song cycle by Franz Schubert on poems by Wilhelm Müller. It is the earliest extended song cycle to be widely performed. The work is considered one of Schubert's most important, and it is widely performed and recorded....

(1823) and Winterreise
Winterreise
Winterreise is a song cycle for voice and piano by Franz Schubert , a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller. It is the second of Schubert's two great song cycles on Müller's poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin...

(1827), based on poems by Wilhelm Müller
Wilhelm Müller
Wilhelm Müller was a German lyric poet.-Life:Wilhelm Müller was born at Dessau, the son of a tailor. He was educated at the gymnasium of his native town and at the university of Berlin, where he devoted himself to philological and historical studies...

, are among his most greatly admired works. Schubert's Schwanengesang
Schwanengesang
Schwanengesang is the title of a posthumous collection of songs by Franz Schubert.Unlike the earlier Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, it uses poems by three poets, Ludwig Rellstab , Heinrich Heine and Johann Gabriel Seidl . Schwanengesang has the number D 957 in the Deutsch catalogue...

(1828), though collected posthumously, is also frequently performed as a cycle.

Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

's great cycles were all composed in 1840. They comprise Dichterliebe
Dichterliebe
Dichterliebe, 'The Poet's Love' , is the best-known song cycle of Robert Schumann . The texts for the 16 songs come from the Lyrisches Intermezzo of Heinrich Heine, composed 1822–1823, published as part of the poet's Das Buch der Lieder. Following the song-cycles of Franz Schubert , those of...

, Frauenliebe und -leben
Frauenliebe und -leben
Frauenliebe und -leben is a cycle of poems by Adelbert von Chamisso, written in 1830. They describe the course of a woman's love for her man, from her point of view, from first meeting through marriage to his death, and after. Selections were set to music as a song-cycle by masters of German Lied,...

, two collections entitled Liederkreis (op. 24
Liederkreis Op. 24
Liederkreis, Op. 24 is a song cycle for voice and piano composed by Robert Schumann on nine poems by Heinrich Heine. The cycle was composed and published in 1840....

 & 39 on texts by Heine
Heine
Heine is a German family name. The name comes from "Heinrich" or the Hebrew "Chayyim" . When mentioned without a first name it usually refers ti the poet Heinrich Heine...

 and Eichendorf
Eichendorf
Eichendorf is a municipality in the district of Dingolfing-Landau in Bavaria in Germany....

 respectively) - a German word meaning a song cycle - and the Kerner Lieder (op.35), a Liederreihe (literally "song row") on poems by Justinus Kerner. Johannes Brahms composed settings (op.33) of verses from Tieck's novel "Magelone", and modern performances usually include some sort of connecting narration. He also wrote Four Serious Songs (Vier ernste Gesänge), Op. 121 (1896). Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic...

's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is Gustav Mahler's first song cycle. While he had previously written other lieder, they were grouped by source of text or time of composition as opposed to common theme...

, Kindertotenlieder
Kindertotenlieder
Kindertotenlieder is a song cycle for voice and orchestra by Gustav Mahler...

, and Das Lied von der Erde
Das Lied von der Erde
Das Lied von der Erde is a large-scale work for two vocal soloists and orchestra by the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler...

expand the accompaniment from piano to orchestra.

Hugo Wolf
Hugo Wolf
Hugo Wolf was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or lieder. He brought to this form a concentrated expressive intensity which was unique in late Romantic music, somewhat related to that of the Second Viennese School in concision but utterly unrelated in...

 made the composition of song collections by a single poet something of a speciality although only the shorter Italian and Spanish Songbooks are performed at a single sitting, and Hans Eisler's "Hollywood Liederbuch" also falls into the category of anthology.

Das Buch der hängende Garten
The Book of the Hanging Gardens
Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten is a fifteen-part song cycle composed by Arnold Schoenberg between 1908 and 1909, setting poems of Stefan George. George’s poems, also under the same title, track the failed love affair of two adolescent youths in a garden, ending with the woman’s departure and the...

by Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

 and Ernst Krenek
Ernst Krenek
Ernst Krenek was an Austrian of Czech origin and, from 1945, American composer. He explored atonality and other modern styles and wrote a number of books, including Music Here and Now , a study of Johannes Ockeghem , and Horizons Circled: Reflections on my Music...

's Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen are important 20th century examples, and the tradition is carried on by Wolfgang Rihm
Wolfgang Rihm
Wolfgang Rihm is a German composer.Rihm is Head of the Institute of Modern Music at the Karlsruhe Conservatory of Music and has been composer in residence at the Lucerne Festival and the Salzburg Festival...

, with so far a dozen works.

Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts . Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a...

's Les nuits d'été
Les nuits d'été
Les nuits d'été , Op. 7, is a song cycle by the French composer Hector Berlioz. It is a setting of six poems by Théophile Gautier. The collection was completed in 1841, and initially composed for either baritone, contralto, or mezzo-soprano, and piano...

(1841) pioneered the use of the orchestra, and the French cycle reached a pinnacle in Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th century composers...

's La bonne chanson
La bonne chanson (Fauré)
La bonne chanson, Op. 61, by Gabriel Fauré, is a song cycle of nine mélodies for voice and piano. He composed it during 1892–94; in 1898 he created a version for voice, piano and string quintet. The cycle is based on nine of the poems from the collection of the same name by Paul Verlaine...

, La chanson d'Ève
La chanson d'Ève
La chanson d'Ève, Op. 95, is a song cycle by Gabriel Fauré, of ten mélodies for voice and piano. Composed during 1906–10, it is based on the collection of poetry of the same name by Charles van Lerberghe. It is Fauré's longest song cycle.-Composition:...

and L'horizon chimérique
L'horizon chimérique
L'horizon chimérique, Op. 118, is a song cycle by Gabriel Fauré, of four mélodies for voice and piano. Composed in 1921, the cycle is based on four of the poems from the collection of the same name by Jean de La Ville de Mirmont.-Composition:...

and later in the works of Poulenc
Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music...

. Recent masterpieces such as Poèmes pour Mi, Chants de terre et de ciel and Harawi by Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex ; harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations...

, and Paroles tissées and Chantefleurs et Chantefables by Witold Lutosławski should also be mentioned.

Perhaps the first English song cycle was Arthur Sullivan
Arthur Sullivan
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer of Irish and Italian ancestry. He is best known for his series of 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including such enduring works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado...

's The Window; or, The Song of the Wrens
The Window (song cycle)
The Window; or, The Songs of the Wrens is a song cycle by Arthur Sullivan with words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Written in 1867–70, it was eventually published in 1871...

(1871), to a text of eleven poems by Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language....

. The composer and renowned Lied
Lied
is a German word literally meaning "song", usually used to describe romantic songs setting German poems of reasonably high literary aspirations, especially during the nineteenth century, beginning with Carl Loewe, Heinrich Marschner, and Franz Schubert and culminating with Hugo Wolf...

er accompanist Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

 also wrote cycles that are among the glories of the literature, including The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, 7 Sonnets of Michelangelo, Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente, and Winter Words, all with piano accompaniment, and the orchestral Les Illuminations, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is a song cycle written in 1943 by the English composer Benjamin Britten, scored for tenor accompanied by a solo horn and a small string orchestra...

, and Nocturne. Other examples include Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel
Songs of Travel
Songs of Travel is a song cycle of nine songs originally written for baritone voice composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with poems selected from the Robert Louis Stevenson collection of the same name. A complete performance of the entire cycle lasts between 20 and 24 minutes.They were originally...

, Samuel Barber
Samuel Barber
Samuel Osborne Barber II was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music...

's Hermit Songs
Hermit Songs
Hermit Songs is a cycle of ten songs for voice and piano by Samuel Barber. Written in 1953 on a grant from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, it takes as its basis a collection of anonymous poems written by Irish monks and scholars from the 8th to the 13th centuries, in translations by W....

(1953) and Despite and Still, and Songfest
Songfest: A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra
Songfest: A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra is a 1977 song cycle by Leonard Bernstein. The cycle includes 12 settings of 13 American poems, performed by six singers , both singly and in various combinations.The work was intended as a tribute to the 1976 American Bicentennial...

 by Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

, Hammarskjöld Portrait (1974), Les Olympiques (1976), Tribute to a Hero (1981), Next Year in Jerusalem (1985), and A Year of Birds (1995) by Malcolm Williamson
Malcolm Williamson
Malcolm Benjamin Graham Christopher Williamson AO , CBE was an Australian composer. He was the Master of the Queen's Music from 1975 until his death.-Biography:...

, Honey and Rue by André Previn
André Previn
André George Previn, KBE is an American pianist, conductor, and composer. He is considered one of the most versatile musicians in the world, and is the winner of four Academy Awards for his film work and ten Grammy Awards for his recordings. -Early Life:Previn was born in...

 (composed for the American soprano Kathleen Battle
Kathleen Battle
Kathleen Battle , is an African-American operatic soprano known for her agile and light voice and her silvery, pure tone. Battle initially became known for her work within the concert repertoire through performances with major orchestras during the early and mid 1970s. She made her opera debut in...

) and Raising Sparks by James MacMillan
James MacMillan (musician)
James MacMillan CBE is a Scottish classical composer and conductor.-Early life:MacMillan was born at Kilwinning, in North Ayrshire, but lived in the East Ayrshire town of Cumnock until 1977....

 (1997).

Modest Mussorgsky
Modest Mussorgsky
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was a Russian composer, one of the group known as 'The Five'. He was an innovator of Russian music in the romantic period...

 wrote Sunless
Sunless (song cycle)
Sunless is a song cycle by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, written in 1874, to poems by Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a relative of the composer.-Song Titles:The individual song titles are as follows:#«В четырех стенах» Within Four Walls...

(1874), The Nursery
The Nursery (song cycle)
The Nursery is a song cycle by Modest Mussorgsky, composed between 1868 and 1872, set to his own lyrics.-Song Data:-Series 1:-Series 2:...

and Songs and Dances of Death
Songs and Dances of Death
Songs and Dances of Death is a song cycle for voice and piano by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, written in the mid-1870s, to poems by Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a relative of the composer....

, and Dmitry Shostakovich wrote cycles on English and Yiddish poets, as well as Michelangelo and Pushkin.

Cycles in other languages have been written by Granados
Enrique Granados
Enrique Granados y Campiña was a Spanish pianist and composer of classical music. His music is in a uniquely Spanish style and, as such, representative of musical nationalism...

, Mohammed Fairouz
Mohammed Fairouz
Mohammed Fairouz is an Arab American composer.Having fulfilling many commissions and created a substantial body of frequently performed works, he is considered one of the most sought after composers of the young generation. Fairouz began composing at an early age and studied at the New England...

, Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla y Matheu was a Spanish Andalusian composer of classical music. With Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Joaquín Turina he is one of Spain's most important musicians of the first half of the 20th century....

, Juan María Solare
Juan María Solare
Juan María Solare is an Argentine composer and pianist.-Education:Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Solare studied and received his diploma in piano , composition and conducting at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música Carlos López Buchardo...

, Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt , and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.-Biography:Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in...

, Lorenzo Ferrero
Lorenzo Ferrero
Lorenzo Ferrero is a contemporary Italian composer with a predilection for opera, a librettist, author, and book editor. He started composing at an early age and wrote over a hundred compositions thus far, including twelve operas, three ballets, and numerous orchestral, chamber music, solo...

, Dvořák
Antonín Dvorák
Antonín Leopold Dvořák was a Czech composer of late Romantic music, who employed the idioms of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák’s own style is sometimes called "romantic-classicist synthesis". His works include symphonic, choral and chamber music, concerti, operas and many...

 and Janáček
Leoš Janácek
Leoš Janáček was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and all Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style. Until 1895 he devoted himself mainly to folkloristic research and his early musical output was influenced by...

, Bartók and Kodály, Sibelius and Rautavaara
Einojuhani Rautavaara
Einojuhani Rautavaara is a Finnish composer of contemporary classical music, and is one of the most notable Finnish composers after Jean Sibelius.-Life:...

, Frederic Mompou and Xavier Montsalvatge
Xavier Montsalvatge
Xavier Montsalvatge i Bassols was a Spanish Catalan composer and music critic. He was one of the most influential music figures in Catalan music during the latter half of the 20th century.-Life:...

, Nevit Kodali and A. Saygun etc.

Popular music


Song cycles written by popular musicians are a short series of songs that tell a story or focus on a particular theme. Some musicians also blend tracks together, so that the start of the next song continues from the preceding one.

Musical theater


Song-cycle musical theater works are becoming extremely popular among both composers and fans of the genre. One of the earliest was "December Songs", created by Maury Yeston, and commissioned by Carnegie Hall for its Centennial celebration. They have been translated and performed in both French and German. Other examples include Cats
Cats (musical)
Cats is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot...

by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd-Webber is an English composer of musical theatre.Lloyd Webber has achieved great popular success in musical theatre. Several of his musicals have run for more than a decade both in the West End and on Broadway. He has composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of...

, Songs for a New World
Songs for a New World
Songs for a New World is a work of musical theater written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. Its original off-Broadway production ran for 28 performances at the WPA Theater in New York City in 1995. The show sits on the boundary between musical and song cycle, but it is neither; it is an abstract...

by Jason Robert Brown
Jason Robert Brown
Jason Robert Brown is an American musical theater composer, lyricist, and playwright. Brown's music sensibility fuses pop-rock stylings with theatrical lyrics...

, William Finn
William Finn
William Alan Finn is an American composer and lyricist of musicals. His musical Falsettos received the 1992 Tony Awards for Best Music and Lyrics and for Best Book.-Biography:...

's Elegies
Elegies (William Finn)
Elegies is a song cycle by William Finn about the loss of friends and family and is a response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Most of the songs were composed in memory of Finn's friends, several of whom died of AIDS. Three songs deal specifically with the passing of his mother,...

, and Bill Russell
Bill Russell (lyricist)
Bill Russell is an American librettist and lyricist. Russell's works include Side Show Playbill Critics Circle , Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens , and Pageant .Russell received a Tony...

's Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
Elegies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is a song cycle with music by Janet Hood and lyrics and additional text by Bill Russell. The work features songs and monologues inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology...

. Also 'Myths and Hymns
Myths and Hymns
Myths and Hymns is a song cycle by composer Adam Guettel, based on Greek myth and lyrics found in an antique hymnal....

' by Adam Guettel
Adam Guettel
Adam Guettel is an American composer-lyricist of musical theater and opera . He is best known for the musical The Light in the Piazza, for which he won two Tony Awards, for Best Score and Best Orchestrations, and two Drama Desk Awards, for Best Music and Best Orchestrations.-Early years:Guettel...