Art Song

Art songs are not new to the Romantic era. Many composers of earlier historical periods composed songs that would fit the definition of art song as listed in this page. We study art songs now because they were such an integral part of the Romantic repertoire, particularly that of Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. Because so many art songs in a Romantic style were composed by German composers, we often use the German word for songs, “lieder,” when studying this genre.


An art song is a vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment, and usually in the classical tradition. By extension, the term “art song” is used to refer to the genre of such songs. An art song is most often a musical setting of an independent poem or text, “intended for the concert repertory” “as part of a recital or other relatively formal social occasion.”

Art Song Characteristics

While many pieces of vocal music 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 and sometimes not.

Other factors help define art songs:

  • Songs that are part of a staged work (such as an opera or a musical) are not usually considered art songs. However, some Baroque arias that “appear with great frequency in recital performance” are now included in the art song repertoire.
  • Songs with instruments besides piano and/or other singers are referred to as “vocal chamber music”, and are usually not considered art songs.
  • Songs originally written for voice and orchestra are called “orchestral songs” and are not usually considered art songs, unless their original version was for solo voice and piano.
  • Folksongs are generally not considered art songs unless they are concert arrangements with piano accompaniment written by a specific composer Several examples of these songs include Aaron Copland’s two volumes of Old American Songs, the Folksong arrangements by Benjamin Britten, and the Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Spanish Folksongs) by Manuel de Falla.
  • There is no agreement regarding sacred songs. Many song settings of biblical or sacred texts were composed for the concert stage and not for religious services; these are widely known as art songs (for example, the Vier ernste Gesänge by Johannes Brahms). Others sacred songs may or may not be considered art songs.
  • A group of art songs composed to be performed in a group to form a narrative or dramatic whole is called a song cycle.

Languages and Nationalities

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.

Art Song Formal Design

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 isstrophic. Arrangements of folk songs are often strophic, 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.” 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” are called through-composed. Some 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”), with a beginning musical section, a contrasting middle section, and a return to the first section’s music.

Art Song Performance and Performers

Performance of art songs in recital requires some special skills for both the singer and pianist. The degree of intimacy “seldom equaled in other kinds of music” requires that the two performers “communicate to the audience the most subtle and evanescent emotions as expressed in the poem and music.” 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.”

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, Susan Graham, and Elly Ameling.

Pianists, too, have specialized in playing art songs with great singers. Gerald Moore, Graham Johnson, and Martin Katz are three such pianists who have specialized in accompanying art song performances.

Prominent Composers of Art Songs


  • John Dowland
  • Thomas Campion
  • Hubert Parry
  • Henry Purcell
  • Frederick Delius
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Roger Quilter
  • John Ireland
  • Ivor Gurney
  • Peter Warlock
  • Michael Head
  • Gerald Finzi
  • Benjamin Britten
  • Morfydd Llwyn Owen
  • Michael Tippett
  • Ian Venables
  • Judith Weir
  • George Butterworth
  • Francis George Scott


  • Amy Beach
  • Arthur Farwell
  • Charles Ives
  • Charles Griffes
  • Ernst Bacon
  • John Jacob Niles
  • John Woods Duke
  • Ned Rorem
  • Richard Faith
  • Samuel Barber
  • Aaron Copland
  • Lee Hoiby
  • William Bolcom
  • Daron Hagen
  • Richard Hundley
  • Emma Lou Diemer

Austrian and German

  • Joseph Haydn
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Franz Schubert
  • Hugo Wolf
  • Gustav Mahler
  • Alban Berg
  • Arnold Schoenberg
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • Viktor Ullmann
  • Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Johann Carl Gottfried Loewe
  • Fanny Mendelssohn
  • Felix Mendelssohn
  • Robert Schumann
  • Clara Schumann
  • Johannes Brahms
  • Richard Strauss
  • Hanns Eisler
  • Kurt Weill


  • Hector Berlioz
  • Charles Gounod
  • Pauline Viardot
  • César Franck
  • Camille Saint-Saëns
  • Georges Bizet
  • Emmanuel Chabrier
  • Henri Duparc
  • Jules Massenet
  • Gabriel Fauré
  • Claude Debussy
  • Erik Satie
  • Albert Roussel
  • Maurice Ravel
  • Jules Massenet
  • Darius Milhaud
  • Reynaldo Hahn
  • Francis Poulenc
  • Olivier Messiaen


19th-Century Composers

  • Francisco Asenjo Barbieri
  • Ramón Carnicer y Batlle
  • Ruperto Chapí
  • Antonio de la Cruz
  • Manuel Fernández Caballero
  • Manuel García
  • Sebastián de Iradier
  • José León
  • Cristóbal Oudrid
  • Antonio Reparaz
  • Emilio Serrano y Ruiz
  • Fernando Sor
  • Joaquín Valverde
  • Amadeo Vives

20th-Century Composers

  • Enrique Granados
  • Manuel de Falla
  • Joaquín Rodrigo
  • Joaquín Turina


  • Claudio Monteverdi
  • Gioachino Rossini
  • Gaetano Donizetti
  • Vincenzo Bellini
  • Giuseppe Verdi
  • Amilcare Ponchielli
  • Paolo Tosti
  • Ottorino Respighi
  • Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
  • Luciano Berio
  • Lorenzo Ferrero

Eastern European

  • Franz Liszt—Hungary (nearly all his art song settings are of texts in non-Hungarian European languages, such as French and German)
  • Antonín Dvořák—Bohemia
  • Leoš Janáček—Bohemia (Czechoslovakia)
  • Béla Bartók—Hungary
  • Zoltán Kodály—Hungary
  • Frédéric Chopin—Poland
  • Stanisław Moniuszko—Poland


  • Edvard Grieg—Norway (set German as well as Norse and Danish poetry)
  • Jean Sibelius—Finland (set both Finnish and Swedish)
  • Yrjö Kilpinen—Finland
  • Wilhelm Stenhammar—Sweden
  • Hugo Alfvén—Sweden
  • Carl Nielsen—Denmark


  • Mikhail Glinka
  • Alexander Borodin
  • César Cui
  • Nikolai Medtner
  • Modest Mussorgsky
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
  • Alexander Glazunov
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff
  • Sergei Prokofiev
  • Igor Stravinsky
  • Dmitri Shostakovich


  • Vasyl Barvinsky
  • Stanyslav Lyudkevych
  • Mykola Lysenko
  • Nestor Nyzhankivsky
  • Ostap Nyzhankivsky
  • Denys Sichynsky
  • Myroslav Skoryk
  • Ihor Sonevytsky
  • Yakiv Stepovy
  • Kyrylo Stetsenko



  • Marco Cahulogan
  • Carlo Roberto Quijano
  • Nicanor Abelardo
  • Juan dela Cruz


  • Jellmar Ponticha
  • Stephanus Le Roux Marais