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Sturm und Drang

Sturm und Drang was a literary and art movement that occurred in Germany in the late 18th century. It is generally characterized as a precursor to romanticism.

“Sturm un Drang” or “Storm and Stress” is a German movement that rejected the previously popular norms of neoclassicism. The movement sought to throw off the confines of rationalism and the Enlightenment and instead focus on the importance of emotion, individuality, and expression.

The movement is named for a play of the same name by Friedrich Maximillian Klinger, published in 1776. The play is set during the American Revolution and focuses on individual emotional reactions to the conflict

Much of the work associated with the movement, including the musical aspects, sought to shock the audience. Authors, artists, and composers imbued their works with the extremes of human experience and emotional reactions. The movement is credited with inspiring the larger Weimar Classicism period. 

Sturm und Drang pronunciation: Sturm uhnd drahng

Sturm und Drang


Sturm und Drang Definition

Sturm un Drang was a movement in the 18th century in Germany that concerned developments in visual arts, literature, and music. The movement has been described as proto-Romantic, meaning that it was a precursor to the incredibly important Romanticism literary movement that swept through Europe after the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads in 1798. 

Proponents of this German movement sought to emphasize the importance of individualism, lack of emotional restraint, and an end to rationalism and reason in the arts. Important figures that are usually (although not always) associated with the movement include Friedrich Maximillian Klinger, H.L. Wagner,  Johann Anton Leisewitz, and Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is also commonly cited as a major figure. 

Examples of Sturm und Drang Literature 

Prometheus by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘Prometheus’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was written between 1772 and 1774 but wasn’t published until 1789. It is considered to be one of the most important works of the Sturm und Drang movement. Here is the first stanza

Cover thy spacious heavens, Zeus,

With clouds of mist,

And like the boy who lops

The thistles’ heads,

Disport with oaks and mountain-peaks;

Yet thou must leave

My earth still standing;

My cottage, too, which was not raised by thee;

Leave me my hearth,

Whose kindly glow

By thee is envied.

Within the short poem, Prometheus addresses the god Zeus using a defiant and accusatory tone. The poem was so popular that it was later set to music by several different composers, beginning in 1819. 

Lenore by Gottfried August Bürger

‘Lenore’ is a well-known Sturm und Drang poem written by Gottfried August Bürger in 1773. It is also commonly characterized as a work of Gothic literature in that it deals with dark themes and characters. It has been credited with inspiring later authors who pioneered vampiric literature. Here is the last stanza: 

The churchyard troop,— a ghostly group,—
Close round the dying girl;

Out and in they hurry and spin

Through the dance’s weary whirl:

“Patience, patience, when the heart is

breaking;

With thy God there is no question-making:

Of thy body thou art quit and free:

Heaven keep thy soul eternally!

Bürger’s ‘Lenore’ was incredibly well-received after its publication and has been cited as influential on Romantic writers throughout Europe. 

An die Freude by Friedrich Schiller

‘An die Freude,’ or Ode to Joy,’ is an ode written in 1785 by Schiller. It was published in 1786 and has since become one of the most important works of the Sturm und Drang movement. He was inspired to write the ode while staying with his friend, Georg Joachim Göschen, in Leipzig. It is best known through its use by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony, completed in 1824. Here is the second stanza in English: 

Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt,

To be a friend’s friend,

Whoever has won a lovely wife,

Add his to the jubilation!

Yes, and also whoever has just one soul

To call his own in this world!

And he who never managed it should slink

Weeping from this union!

Scholars have noted that Schiller made a number of revisions to the poem, which was re-published after his death in 1808. It is the later versions of the poem that Beethoven used within his own composition. Interestingly, Schiller expressed dislike for the literary work, calling it “detached from reality.” 

Read Friedrich Schiller’s poems

FAQs 

What does the term Sturm and Drang mean?

The term “Sturm und Drang” means “Storm and Stress.” It is the title of one of the most important plays of the period and was later used to define the German literary, visual art, and musical movement in the 18th century. 

Is Beethoven Sturm und Drang?

There are elements of Beethoven’s works that scholars considered inspired by the Sturm und Drang movement. For example, he utilized one of the most important odes of the movement, ‘Ode to Joy,’ or ‘An die Freude,’ within his Ninth Symphony.

What author and poet was highly influenced by the Sturm und Drang movement of the 1770s?

Numerous authors were influenced by the Sturm und Drang German literary movement. But, scholars often refer to the impact the movement had on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s work.


Related Literary Terms 

  • Brechtian:  used to describe literature that relates to the work of Bertolt Brecht, a famed German playwright and poet during the early 1900s.
  • Aestheticism: a literary and artistic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries that focused on the importance of beauty.
  • Dadaism: an art and literary movement in Europe during the 20th century. It was a reaction to the senselessness of war during the early 1900s. 
  • Dirty Realism: a literary movement of the 20th century in North America. The movement’s authors use concise language and clear descriptions of the darkest parts of reality.
  • Fugitives: a movement comprised of a group of poets and scholars from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in the mid-1920s. 
  • Futurism:  an avant-garde movement that originated in Italy in the 20th century. It was part of the broader Futurist art movement.
  • Genre:  a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.


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