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.)