Short vocal comp., acc. or solo. Song is the natural human means of mus. self‐expression (as it is for most birds). There are various types of song—the individual folk‐song, the part‐song for a group of vv., the art‐song for the trained performer. Today a ‘song recital’ generally means an evening of Eng. songs (mus. settings of poems), Ger. Lieder, or Fr. mélodies. In opera the term aria or air is preferred to ‘song’ for a solo vocal item. Many composers—Berlioz, Mahler, Strauss, Elgar, Britten, Shostakovich, etc.—have written songs with orch., and the term is sometimes applied to a large‐scale piece, e.g. Song of the Earth (Mahler) and Song of Destiny (Brahms).
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.