A song cycle is a set of songs whose texts—often by a single poet—are linked by a common subject, mood, or story. Though the songs of the cycle are all individual entities, they’re designed to be heard together. And if the marriage of music and poetry in the song represents a 19th century Romantic ideal, the song cycle carries that ideal even further, allowing for an expanded range of expression, a deeper exploration of the individual psyche.
Beethoven’s An die Ferne Geliebte, “To the distant beloved,” is generally considered the first modern song cycle, and Beethoven’s work was followed by wonderful song cycles by Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy, and a whole host of other great 19th and 20th century song composers. Indeed many Twenty-first century composers still find themselves attracted, and challenged, by the expressive potential of the song cycle.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.