Sturm und Drang  

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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 taking place 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 be the ideologue 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.


Historical background



French Neoclassicism, a movement beginning in the early Baroque, and its preoccupation with rational congruity was the principal target of rebellion for adherents of the Sturm und Drang movement. The overt sentimentalism and need to project an objective, anti-personal characterization or image was found to be at odds with the latent desire to express troubling personal emotions and an individual, subjective perspective on reality. It was considered that the Enlightenment ideals of rationalism, empiricism, and universalism had failed to adequately capture the human experience - its emotional extremes and the inherent impurity of personal motivations.

Origin of the term

The term Sturm und Drang first appeared as the title to a play by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, published in 1776, about the unfolding American Revolution, in which the author gives violent expression to difficult emotions and extols individuality and subjectivity over the prevailing order of rationalism. Though it is argued that literature and music associated with Sturm und Drang predate this seminal work, it was from this point that German artists became distinctly self-conscious of a new esthetic. This seemingly spontaneous movement was embraced by a wide array of German authors and composers of the mid to late Classical period.

Sturm und Drang came to be associated with literature or music aimed at frightening the audience or imbuing them with extremes of emotion. The movement soon dovetailed into Weimar Classicism and early Romanticism, whereupon a socio-political concern for greater human freedom from despotism was incorporated along with a religious treatment of all things natural. There is much debate regarding whose work should or should not be included in the canon of Sturm und Drang. One point of view would limit the movement to Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, Lenz, and their direct German associates writing works of fiction and/or philosophy between 1770 and the early 1780s. The alternative perspective is that of a literary movement inextricably linked to simultaneous developments in prose, poetry, and drama, extending its direct influence throughout the German-speaking lands until the end of the 18th century. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the originators of the movement came to view it as a time of premature exuberance which was then abandoned in favor of often conflicting artistic pursuits.

Related aesthetic and philosophical movements

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 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.

Sturm und Drang in literature


The protagonist in a typical Sturm und Drang stage work, poem, or novel is driven to action—often violent action—not by pursuit of noble means nor by true motives, but by revenge and greed. Goethe's unfinished Prometheus exemplifies this along with the common ambiguity provided by juxtaposing humanistic platitudes with outbursts of irrationality. The literature of Sturm und Drang features an anti-aristocratic slant while seeking to elevate all things humble, natural, or intensely real (especially whatever is painful, tormenting, or frightening).

The story of hopeless love and eventual suicide presented in Goethe's sentimental novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) is an example of the author's tempered introspection regarding his love and torment. Friedrich Schiller's drama, Die Räuber (1781), provided the groundwork for melodrama to become a recognized dramatic form. The plot portrays a conflict between two aristocratic brothers, Franz and Karl Moor. Franz is cast 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.

Notable literary works

In music

The Classical period music (1750–1800) associated with Sturm und Drang is predominantly written in a minor key to convey difficult or depressing sentiments. The principal themes tend to be angular, with large leaps and unpredictable melodic contours. Tempos and dynamics change rapidly and unpredictably in order to reflect strong changes of emotion. Pulsing rhythms and syncopation are common, as are racing lines in the soprano or alto registers. Writing for string instruments features tremolo and sudden, dramatic dynamic changes and accents.


Musical theater became the meeting place of the literary and musical strands of Sturm und Drang, with the aim of increasing emotional expression in opera. The obligato recitative is a prime example. Here, orchestral accompaniment provides an intense underlay of vivid tone-painting to the solo recitative. Christoph Willibald Gluck's 1761 ballet, Don Juan, heralded the emergence of Sturm und Drang in music; the program notes explicitly indicated that the D minor finale was to evoke fear in the listener. Jean Jacques Rousseau's 1762 play, Pygmalion (first performed in 1770) is a similarly important bridge in its use of underlying instrumental music to convey the mood of the spoken drama. The first example of melodrama, Pygmalion influenced Goethe and other important German literary figures.

Nevertheless, relative to the influence of Sturm und Drang on literature, the influence on musical composition was limited, and many efforts to label music as conforming to this trend are tenuous at best. Vienna, the center of German/Austrian music, was a cosmopolitan city with an international culture; therefore, melodically innovative and expressive works in minor keys by Mozart or Haydn from this period should generally be considered first in the broader context of musical developments taking place throughout Europe. The clearest musical connections to the self-styled Sturm und Drang movement can be found in opera and the early predecessors of program music, such as Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony.


A Sturm und Drang period is often attributed to the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn from the late 1760s to early 1770s. Works during this period often feature a newly impassioned or agitated element; however, Haydn never mentions Sturm und Drang as a motivation for his new compositional style, and there remains an overarching adherence to classical form and motivic unity. Though Haydn may not have been consciously affirming the anti-rational ideals of Sturm und Drang, one can certainly perceive the influence of contemporary trends in musical theatre on his instrumental works during this period.


Mozart's Symphony No. 25 (the 'Little' G-minor symphony, 1773) is one of only two minor-key symphonies by the composer. Beyond the atypical key, the symphony features rhythmic syncopation along with the jagged themes associated with Sturm und Drang. More interesting is the emancipation of the wind instruments in this piece, with the violins yielding to colorful bursts from the oboe and flute. However, it is likely the influence of numerous minor-key works by the Czech composer Johann Baptist Vanhal (a Viennese contemporary and acquaintance of Mozart), rather than a self-conscious adherence to a German literary movement, which is responsible for the harmonic and melodic experiments in the Symphony no. 25.

Notable composers and works

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

  • Symphonies, keyboard concertos and sonatas including-

Symphony in E minor Wq. 178 (1757-62)

Johann Christian Bach

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

  • Adagio und Fuge in D minor Falk 65

Joseph Haydn

Joseph Martin Kraus

  • Symphony in C minor Symphonie funebre
  • Symphony in C-sharp minor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Johann Baptist Vanhal

  • Symphony in D minor (Bryan d1)
  • Symphony in G minor (Bryan g1)
  • Symphony in A minor (Bryan a2)
  • Symphony in E minor (Bryan e1)

In visual art

The parallel movement in the visual arts can be witnessed 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 on 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.' Notable artists included Joseph Vernet, Philip James de Loutherbourg, and Henry Fuseli.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sturm und Drang" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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