Sturm und Drang (the conventional translation is "Storm and Stress"; a more literal translation, however, might be storm and urge, storm and longing, or storm and impulse) is the name of a movement in German literature and music from the late 1760s through the early 1780s in which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in response to the confines of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements.
The philosopher Johann Georg Hamann is considered to have provided the ideological basis of Sturm und Drang, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a notable proponent of the movement, though he and Friedrich Schiller ended their period of association with it, initiating what would become Weimar Classicism.
French Neoclassicism, a movement beginning in the early baroque, and its preoccupation with rational congruity, was the principle target of rebellion for authors who would be known as adherents to the Sturm und Drang movement. The overt sentimentalism and need to project an objective, anti-personal characterization or image was at odds with the latent desire to express troubling personal emotions and an individual subjective perspective on reality.
The ideals of rationalism, empiricism, and universalism traditionally associated with the Enlightenment were combated by an emerging notion that the reality constructed in the wake of this monumental change in values was not an adequate reflection of the human experience and that a revolutionary restatement was necessary to fully convey the extremes of inner pain and torment, and the reality that personal motivations consist of a balance between the pure and impure.
The term Sturm und Drang first appeared as the title to a play about the ongoing American Revolution by German author Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, published in 1776, in which the author gives violent expression to difficult emotions and heralds individual expression and subjectivity over the natural order of rationalism. Though it is argued that literature and music associated with Sturm und Drang predate this seminal work, it is this point at which historical analysis begins to outline a distinct aesthetic movement occurring between the late 1760s through the early 1780s of which German artists of the period were distinctly self-conscious. Contrary to the dominant post-enlightenment literary movements of the time, this reaction, seemingly spontaneous in its appearance, came to be associated with a wide breadth of German authors and composers of the mid to late classical period.
Sturm und Drang came to be associated with literature or music aiming to frighten the audience or imbue them with extremes of emotion until the dispersal of the movement into Weimar Classicism and the eventual transition into early Romanticism where socio-political aims were incorporated (these aims asserting unified values contrary to despotism and limitations on human freedom) along with a religious treatment of all things natural. There is much debate regarding whose work should and should not be included in the canon of Sturm und Drang; one argument limits the movement to Goethe, Herder, Lenz and their direct German associates writing works of fiction and philosophy between 1770 and the early 1780s.
An alternative perspective holds that the literary movement is inextricably linked to simultaneous developments in prose, poetry, and drama extending its direct influence throughout the German-speaking lands until the end of the eighteenth century. While this argument has some merits, it should be noted that the originators of the movement viewed it as a time of premature exuberance which was then abandoned in later years for often conflicting artistic pursuits.
Kraftmensch existed as a precursor to Sturm und Drang among dramatists beginning with F.M. Klinger, the expression of which is seen in the radical degree to which individuality need appeal to no outside force outside the self nor be tempered by rationalism. These ideals are identical to those of Sturm und Drang, and it can be argued that the later name exists to catalog a number of parallel, co-influential movements in German literature rather than express anything substantially different than what German dramatists were achieving in the violent plays attributed to the Kraftmensch movement.
Major philosophical/theoretical influences on the literary Sturm und Drang movement were Johann Georg Hamann (especially the 1762 text Aesthetica in nuce. Eine Rhapsodie in kabbalistischer Prose) and Johann Gottfried von Herder, both from Königsberg, and both formerly in contact with Immanuel Kant. Significant theoretical statements of Sturm und Drang aesthetics by the movement's central dramatists themselves include Lenz' Anmerkungen übers Theater and Goethe's Von deutscher Baukunst and Zum Schäkespears Tag (sic). The most important contemporary document was the 1773 volume Von deutscher Art und Kunst. Einige fliegende Blätter, a collection of essays which included commentaries by Herder on Ossian and Shakespeare, along with contributions by Goethe, Paolo Frisi (in translation from the Italian), and Justus Möser.
The protagonist in a typical Sturm und Drang stage work, poem, or novel is driven to action not by pursuit of noble goals, but by baser motives, such as revenge and greed. Further, this action is often one of violence. Goethe's unfinished Prometheus is a prime example. Common ambiguity is achieved by the interspersion of humanistic platitudes next to outbursts of irrationality. The literature with Sturm und Drang has an anti-aristocratic slant and places value on those things humble, natural, or intensely real (i.e. painful, tormenting, or frightening).
The story of hopeless (and narcissistic) love and eventual suicide described in Goethe's sentimental novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) is an example of the author's tempered introspection regarding his love and torment. The story of Werther struck such a chord with youth that numerous suicides in the manner of Werther were reported after its publication.
Friedrich Schiller's drama, Die Räuber (1781), provided the groundwork for melodrama to become a recognized dramatic form through a plot portraying the conflict between two aristocratic brothers, Franz and Karl Moor. Franz is portrayed as a villain attempting to cheat Karl out of his inheritance, though the motives for his action are complex and initiate a thorough investigation of good and evil.
Both of these works are seminal examples of Sturm und Drang in German literature.
Musical theater stands as the meeting place where the literary movement Sturm und Drang enters the realm of musical composition with the aim of increasing emotional expression in opera. The obbligato recitative is a prime example. Here, orchestral accompaniment provides an intense underlay capable of vivid tone-painting to the solo recitative (recitative itself being influenced by Greek monody–the highest form of individual emotional expression in neo-platonic thought). Christoph Willibald Gluck's 1761 opera, Don Juan, exemplifies the emergence of Sturm und Drang in music, including explicit reference in the program notes that the intent of the D minor finale was to evoke fear in the listener.
Jean Jacques Rousseau's Pygmalion (1770) is a similarly important bridge in its use of underlying instrumental music to convey the mood of spoken drama to the audience. The first example of musical melodrama, Goethe and others important to German literature were influenced by this work.
Nevertheless, in comparison to the influence of Sturm und Drang on literature, the influence on musical composition remained limited and many efforts to label music as conforming to this thought current are tenuous at best. Vienna, the seat of the major German-speaking composers—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn specifically—was a cosmopolitan city with an international culture. Hence, those writing instrumental music in the city were writing more expressive music in minor modes with innovative melodic elements as the result of a longer progression in artistic movements occurring throughout Europe. The clearest connections can be realized in opera and the early predecessors of program music such as Haydn's Farewell Symphony.
The music associated with Sturm und Drang is predominantly written in a minor key conveying a sense of difficult or depressing sentiment. The major themes of a piece tend to be angular, with large leaps and unpredictable melodic contour. Tempos change rapidly and unpredictably, as do dynamics in order to reflect strong changes in emotion. Pulsing rhythms and syncopation are common as are racing lines in the soprano or alto registers. For string players, tremolo is a point of emphasis.
A Sturm und Drang period is often attributed to Viennese composer Joseph Haydn between the late 1760s through the early 1770s. Works during this period often feature an impassioned or agitated element, although pinning this as worthy of inclusion in the Sturm und Drang movement is difficult. Haydn never states this self-conscious literary movement as the motivation for his new compositional style. Though Haydn may have not considered his music as a direct statement affirming these anti-rational ideals (there is still an overarching adherence to form and motivic unity), one can draw a connection to the influence of musical theater upon his instrumental works with Haydn's writing essentially two degrees removed from Goethe and his compatriots.
Mozart's Symphony No. 25 (1773), otherwise known as the 'Little' G Minor Symphony, is unusual for a classical symphony; it is in a minor key, one of two minor symphonies written by Mozart in his career. Beyond its minor key, the symphony demonstrates rhythmic syncopation along with the jagged themes associated with musical Sturm und Drang. More interesting is the emancipation of the wind instruments in this piece with the violin yielding to colorful bursts from the oboe and flute. Exhibiting the ordered presentation of agitation and stress expected in the literature of Sturm und Drang, it is the influence of Vanhal's manic-depressive minor key pieces on Mozart's writing rather than a self-conscious adherence to a German literary movement which can be seen as responsible for Mozart's harmonic and melodic experiments in Symphony No 25.
The parallel movement in the visual arts can be seen in paintings of storms and shipwrecks showing the terror and irrational destruction wrought by nature. These pre-romantic works were fashionable in Germany from the 1760s through the 1780s, illustrating a public audience for emotionally provocative artwork. Additionally, disturbing visions and portrayals of nightmares were gaining an audience in Germany as evidenced by Goethe's possession and admiration of paintings by Fuseli capable of 'giving the viewer a good fright.'
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805)
Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751–1792)
Friedrich Maximilian Klinger (1752–1831)
Gottfried August Bürger (1747–1794)
Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg (1737–1823)
Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788)
Johann Jakob Wilhelm Heinse (1746–1803)
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803)
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
Georg Anton Benda
Johann Gottfried Eckard
Joseph Martin Kraus
Johann Heinrich Rolle
Johann Baptist Vanhal
Ernst Wilhelm Wolff
Johann Gottfried Müthel
Bernhard Joachim Hagen
Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kunzen
Franz Anton Rössler/Antonio Rosetti
Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf
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