song, relatively brief, simple vocal composition, usually a setting of a poetic text, often strophic, for accompanied solo voice. The song literature of Western music embodies two broad classifications—folk song and art song.
Apart from the recently discovered cuneiform tablet containing a song from the Middle East of the 2d millennium BC, now thought to be the oldest notated music known, and apart from ancient Greek song (see Greek music), the manuscripts of which are lost, the first outstanding examples of art song before the baroque period are those of the troubadours, trouvères, minnesingers, and meistersingers. The refined, lyrical air de cour of late 16th-century France, for one or more voices with lute accompaniment, provided the inspiration for the ayre composed by the early 17th-century English lutenists, among whom were John Dowland, Thomas Campion, and Thomas Morley.
The Italians centered their principal attention upon the development of the opera. The principle of accompanied monody, which originated in Italy and is inseparable from the early development of opera, also marked the beginning of modern accompanied song, although the speech rhythms of recitative and the elaborateness of most opera arias are usually thought of as being beyond the realm of song. A direct influence is shown in the German lied of the 17th cent., a monodic song with a basso continuo accompaniment. Outstanding among earlier examples are the Arien of Heinrich Albert (1604–51) and those of Adam Krieger (1634–66).
The German romantic lieder of the 19th cent., in which the vocal line and the piano accompaniment are of equal musical significance, are considered to be among the finest of all art songs. The lied style was articulated by Schubert and developed further by Schumann, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf. Among the poets whose lyrics they used were Goethe, Chamisso, Eichendorff, Rückert, Wilhelm Müller, Heine, and Mörike. Among modern German songs those of Hindemith and of Schoenberg are outstanding. Some of these require the technique of Sprechstimme, a pitched declamation that is a hybrid of song and speech.
In France a renewed interest in song composition began in the 19th cent. with Berlioz and was continued in the works of Franck, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc. The foremost Russian composers of the genre include Glinka, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Gretchaninov, and Glière. The dramatic songs of Moussorgsky are particularly significant. In the United States the songs of Stephen Foster had such national appeal as to become incorporated into the folk tradition. Charles Ives brought a striking originality to the modern American art song.
See ballad; carol; chantey; hymn; plainsong; rock music; and spiritual. See also birdsong.
See P. Warlock, The English Ayre (1926); E. Schumann, German Song (1948); S. Kagen, Music for the Voice (1949); D. Ivey, Song: Anatomy, Imagery, and Styles (1970); D. Stevens, ed., A History of Song (1960, rev. 1970); H. T. Finck, Songs and Song Writers (1900, repr. 1973); J. Hall, Art Song (1974); M. Booth, The Experience of Songs (1981); S. S. Prawer, The Penguin Book of Lieder (1987); R. Lissauer, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1991, rev. ed. 1996).
Probably prehistoric man uttered some sort of song, and the origins of folk-songs are beyond discovery (though not beyond speculation!). Synagogue and church were among the official institutions where song developed, through chants and hymns, some of the latter being adaptations of folk and popular songs. With 12th-cent. minstrels and troubadours, the love-song and ballad developed, to be followed in the 14th and 15th cents. by songs of the Ger. Minnesinger and Meistersinger. By the end of the 15th cent., following the revolution of ars nova, song colls., many of them polyphonic settings, were pubd. in several countries. In Eng. in the 16th and 17th cents. the lute-songs, exemplified by Dowland and the madrigals of Weelkes and Byrd, in Sp. the lute-songs of Milán, and in It. the madrigals of Monteverdi and others all played a significant role in the growth of elaborate song-writing. Ger. developed the Lied, beginning with Hassler and Abert, and continuing through Mozart and Beethoven to the great flowering of Schubert, who more than any composer made the song a mus. form into which as much emotional and dramatic expression could be poured as into a sym. Some of his songs are strophic, i.e. repeating the tune in successive stanzas, others are ‘through-composed’ (durchkomponiert), i.e. developing freely from start to finish. Schubert was followed by Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Loewe, Marx, Mahler, Strauss, Pfitzner, and others. In Fr., Duparc, Debussy, and especially Fauré developed the mélodie in as distinctive and complex a fashion as the great Germans developed the Lied. Indeed, in the 19th and 20th cents., composers in Eng., Sp., USA, Russia, Hungary, etc. have added masterpieces to the world's treasury of song. Nor should the immense world of ‘popular song’, from 19th-cent. mus.-hall songs to today's ‘pop’ songs, be forgotten, ignored, or under-rated. Brave the man who will make a didactic value-judgement between Dives and Lazarus, Gretchen am Spinnrade, and Smoke gets in your eyes.
song / sông/ • n. a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung. ∎ singing or vocal music: the young airmen broke into song. ∎ a musical composition suggestive of a song. ∎ the musical phrases uttered by some birds, whales, and insects, typically forming a recognizable and repeated sequence and used chiefly for territorial defense or for attracting mates. ∎ a poem, esp. one in rhymed stanzas: The Song of Hiawatha. ∎ archaic poetry. PHRASES: for a song inf. very cheaply: the place was going for a song. on song Brit., inf. performing well: when he is on song, no one can stop him. a song and dance inf. a long explanation that is pointless or deliberately evasive: Don't give me a song and dance, Sandy. Yes or no? ∎ chiefly Brit. a fuss or commotion: she would be sure to make a song and dance about her aching feet.
a song in one's heart a feeling of joy or pleasure; originally with allusion to Lorenz Hart ‘With a Song in my Heart’, 1930 song.
Song of Roland the medieval chanson which tells of the death of the paladin Roland at Roncesvalles.
Song of Songs a book of the Bible containing an anthology of Hebrew love poems traditionally ascribed to Solomon but in fact dating from a much later period. Jewish and Christian writers have interpreted the book allegorically as representing God's relationship with his people, or with the soul.
Song of the Three Holy Children a book of the Apocrypha, an addition to the book of Daniel, telling of three Hebrew exiles, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, thrown (with Daniel) into a furnace by Nebuchadnezzar; protected by God from the flames, they sang the words which in the Anglican service of matins is the canticle of the Benedicite. (See also burning fiery furnace.)