From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Angst means fear or anxiety (anguish is its Latinate equivalent, and anxious, anxiety are of similar origin). The word angst was introduced into English from Danish angst via existentialist Søren Kierkegaard. It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety or inner turmoil. The term Angst distinguishes itself from the word Furcht (German for "fear") in that Furcht is a negative anticipation regarding a concrete threat, while Angst is a (possibly nondirectional) emotion, though the terms are colloquially sometimes used synonymously.
In other languages having the meaning of the Latin word pavor, the derived words differ in meaning, e.g. as in the French anxiété and peur. The word Angst has existed since the 8th century, from the Proto-Indo-European root *anghu-, "restraint" from which Old High German angust developed. It is pre-cognate with the Latin angustia, "tensity, tightness" and angor, "choking, clogging"; compare to the Greek "άγχος" (ankhos): stress.
Existentialist philosophers use the term "angst" with a different connotation. The use of the term was first attributed to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). In The Concept of Anxiety (also known as The Concept of Dread, depending on the translation), Kierkegaard used the word Angest (in common Danish, angst, meaning "dread" or "anxiety") to describe a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and fear in the free human being. Where the animal is a slave to its instincts but always conscious in its own actions, Kierkegaard believed that the freedom given to people leaves the human in a constant fear of failing his/her responsibilities to God. Kierkegaard's concept of angst is considered to be an important stepping stone for 20th-century existentialism. While Kierkegaard's feeling of angst is fear of actual responsibility to God, in modern use, angst was broadened by the later existentialists to include general frustration associated with the conflict between actual responsibilities to self, one's principles, and others (possibly including God). Martin Heidegger used the term in a slightly different way.
Angst in serious musical composition has been a reflection of the times. Musical composition embodying angst as a primary theme have primarily come from European Jewish composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, written during the period of great persecution of the Jewish people shortly before and during the period of Nazi activity in Europe. A notable exception is the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich whose symphonies use the theme of angst in post-World War II compositions depicting Russian strife during the war. However, it is the Jewish artists, Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka in music and literature that have embraced the theme of angst so highly in their work that they have become synonymous with the term to the point of popular joking and cartoons today.
Angst appears to be absent from important French music. Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie and Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, composed before World War II, reflect melancholy sentiment without angst in soft, quiet compositions. The effect of angst is achieved by Shostakovich, Mahler and Berg in compositions of wide dynamic range, at times seemingly spinning out of control (Mahler), and atonal music using the twelve-tone row method of composition (Berg, Schoenberg and others) to create an angst ridden atmosphere of grotesque sound. The theme of angst is portrayed in Mahler's Symphony No. 6 ("The Tragic") and in Alban Berg's poignant Violin Concerto dedicated, "To the memory of an angel".
In popular music
Angst, in contemporary connotative use, most often describes the intense frustration and other emotions of teenagers and the mood of the music and art with which they identify in accordance with adult stereotype. Heavy metal, punk rock, grunge, nu metal, emo, and virtually any alternative rock dramatically combining elements of discord, melancholy and excitement may be said to express angst. Angst was probably first discussed in relation to popular music in the mid- to late 1950s that was popular amongst the nuclear disarmament and antiwar protester subculture. Folk rock songs like Bob Dylan's 1963 Masters of War and A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall articulated the dread caused by the threat of nuclear war. A key text is Jeff Nuttall's book Bomb Culture (1968) which traced this pervasive theme in popular culture back to Hiroshima.
- Byronic hero, an archetypal "rebel" in literature, described by Byron in 1812, with attitudes similar to those with angst in modernity.
- Fear of death
- Terror management theory
- The Mean Reds