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New German School (Ger. Die neu-deutsche Schule)locked

  • Thomas S. Grey

A group of progressive musicians in the mid-19th century. The name was coined by Franz Brendel in an address to the first conference of German musicians (Tonkünstler-Versammlung) in Leipzig in 1859; it was offered as an alternative to the popular critical epithet ‘music (or musicians) of the future’. The spiritual fathers of this ‘school’ were Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz, although only Liszt had any extensive dealings with the numerous younger composers, performers and critics who made up its ranks. Despite objections that these leading figures were not uniformly ‘German’, and that neither Wagner nor, especially, Berlioz took any active role in fostering the identity of such a school, their names were consistently linked in the 1850s as the most significant proponents of musical progress. The triumvirate contributed models of new musical genres (the programme symphony, the symphonic poem, the music drama), innovations in harmonic language and orchestral technique, and new approaches to large-scale form involving motivic transformation, wide-ranging modulation and development, and principles of cyclic unity. Many of these innovations, whether in the context of vocal-orchestral or purely instrumental music, were understood to be motivated by the expression of ‘poetic ideas’, and the rapprochement of music with a broader intellectual culture was a unifying aim of the new school.

Aside from Brendel, many of the figures most active in propagating the ideas of the New German School were pupils or disciples of Liszt during his years at Weimar: Hans von Bülow, Joachim Raff, Louis Köhler, Felix Dräseke, Richard Pohl, Peter Cornelius, Hans and Ingeborg von Bronsart, and Carl Tausig. Although only Brendel and Pohl pursued journalism as a principal vocation, nearly all the New Germans were active as critics as well as musicians, contributing to Brendel’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (the leading organ of musical progressives since Schumann’s day) and more specialized progressive journals, such as the Anregungen für Kunst, Leben und Wissenschaft (edited by Brendel and Pohl from 1856 to 1861). The stimulus of Wagner’s tracts on artistic revolution and reform from 1849 to 1852, and of Liszt’s numerous essays of the 1850s (particularly ‘Berlioz and his Harold-Symphony’), was as least as important to the critical activities of the New Germans as was the music of these composers. By the time of Brendel’s death in 1868, however, Wagner and Liszt had grown apart, Berlioz had been for some time in a state of virtual retirement (he died the following year), and the New German School was already losing its cohesive identity. From the 1870s much of what this progressive party had stood for became gradually assimilated into the mainstream of European musical culture. The Lisztian genre of the symphonic poem, the innovations and ‘reforms’ of the Wagnerian music drama, and the extended chromatic-harmonic vocabulary common to both genres were all accepted elements in the status quo of musical ‘modernity’ by the end of the century.


  • F. Liszt: ‘Berlioz und seine Harold-Sinfonie’, NZM, 43 (1855), 25–32, 37–46, 49–55, 77–84, 89–97; repr. in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. L. Ramann (Leipzig, 1880–83), iv, 1–102; (part trans. in StrunkSR2, vi)
  • F. Brendel: ‘Zur Anbahnung einer Verständigung: Vortrag zur Eröffnung der Tonkünstler-Versammlung’, NZM, 50 (1859), 265–73
  • W.A. Ambros: ‘Die neu-deutsche Schule’, Culturhistorische Bilder aus dem Musikleben der Gegenwart (Leipzig, 1860), 129–92
  • J. Deaville: ‘Franz Brendel: ein Neudeutscher aus der Sicht von Wagner und Liszt’, Liszt-Studien, 3 (1986), 36–47
  • F. Riedel: ‘Die neudeutsche Schule: ein Phänomen der deutschen Kulturgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts’, Liszt-Studien, 3 (1986), 13–18
  • R. Determann: Begriff und Ästhetik der ‘Neudeutschen Schule’ (Baden-Baden, 1989)
  • P. Ramroth: Robert Schumann und Richard Wagner im geschichtsphilosophischen Urteil von Franz Brendel (Frankfurt, 1991)
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik