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date: 22 September 2020

Empfindsamkeit (Ger.)locked

  • Daniel Heartz
  • , revised by Bruce Alan Brown



A musical aesthetic associated with north Germany during the middle of the 18th century, and embodied in what was called the ‘Empfindsamer Stil’. Its aims were to achieve an intimate, sensitive and subjective expression; gentle tears of melancholy were one of its most desired responses. The term is usually translated as ‘sensibility’ (in the 18th-century or Jane Austen sense, which derives from the French sensibilité). ‘Sentimental’ is another translation, sanctioned by Lessing when rendering Sterne’s Sentimental Journey as Empfindsame Reise. One modern scholar, W.S. Newman, gives ‘ultrasensitive’ as an English equivalent.

German ‘Empfindsamkeit’ was part of a wider European literary and aesthetic phenomenon, largely British in origin (e.g. Shaftesbury’s cult of feeling, and Richardson’s novel Pamela, 1741), which posited immediacy of emotional response as a surer guide than intellect to proper moral behaviour. C.P.E. Bach (henceforth called simply Bach), who was close to Lessing and other progressive literary figures, best embodied the ideals of ‘Empfindsamkeit’ with respect to music. In his ...

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