Art song is a general term that refers to the kinds of songs written by classically-trained composers for classically-trained singers. Composers themselves don’t talk about writing “art songs,” they simply say “songs.” But it can be a useful term for distinguishing songs in the classical tradition from folk songs and pop songs.
In German, art songs are called Lieder—the singular is lied. In French, the word for a popular song is chanson, but for an art song it’s mélodie. In whatever language, an art song is a poem set to music, and when the marriage of poetry and music is a healthy one, the poetic images inspire and inform the musical language, while the music illuminates and intensifies the emotional expression of the words. And categories can blur: there are many who would say that the musically and poetically sophisticated show tunes of George and Ira Gershwin, for example, could be classified as art songs.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.