Sensitive style

The sensitive style (German: empfindsamer Stil), empfindsam style, or tender style is a style of musical composition and poetry developed in 18th-century Germany, intended to express "true and natural" feelings, and featuring sudden contrasts of mood. It was developed as a contrast to the Baroque Affektenlehre (lit. "The Doctrine of Affections"), in which a composition (or movement) would have the same affect (e.g., emotion or musical mood) throughout.[citation needed]


The German noun "Empfindsamkeit" is usually translated as "sensibility" (in the sense used by Jane Austen in her novel Sense and Sensibility), while the adjective empfindsam is sometimes rendered as "sentimental" or "ultrasensitive" (Heartz and Brown 2001). "Empfindsamkeit" is also sometimes translated, and may even be derived from the English word sentimentality, since it is related to the then-contemporary English literature sentimentality literary movement (O'Loghlin 2008, 46).


The empfindsamer Stil is similar to and often considered a dialect of the international galant style, which is marked by simple homophonic textures (a single, clear melody, supported by subordinate chordal accompaniment) and periodic melodic phrases. (Palmer 2001, xvii; Wolf 2003). Empfindsamkeit, however, unlike the broader galant style, empfindsamer Stil tends to avoid lavish ornamentation (Palmer 2001, xvii).

The dramatic fluidity that was a goal of the empfindsamer Stil has encouraged historians to view mid-century Empfindsamkeit as a slightly earlier parallel to the showier and stormier phase called Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) that emerged around 1770 (Heartz and Brown 2001). These two trends are together regarded as "pre-Romantic" manifestations, because of their emphasis on features such as extreme expressive contrasts with disruptive incursions, instability of key, sudden changes of register, dynamic contrast, and exciting orchestral effects, all of which are atypical of musical classicism as practiced in the second half of the eighteenth century (Irving 2013, 903).

In musicEdit

The empfindsamer Stil is especially associated with the so-called Berlin School at the Prussian court of Frederick the Great. Traits characteristic for composers of this school are a particular fondness for Adagio movements and precise attention to ornaments and dynamics (O'Loghlin 2008, 46–47), as well as the liberal use of appoggiaturas ("sigh" figures) and frequent melodic and harmonic chromaticism (Wolf 2003).

Composers in this style include:

Poets in this style include:

See alsoEdit


  • Heartz, Daniel, and Bruce Alan Brown. 2001a. "Empfindsamkeit". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Irving, John. 2013. "Pre-Romanticism in Music". Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760–1850, 2 vols., edited by Christopher John Murray, 903–04. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-45579-8.
  • Lang, Paul Henry. 1941. Music in Western Civilization. New York: W. W. Norton, pp. 585ff. Reprinted 1997, ISBN 978-0-393-04074-6.
  • Newman, William S. 1963. The Sonata in the Classic Era. A History of the Sonata Idea 2. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
  • O'Loghlin, Michael. 2008. Frederick the Great and His Musicians: The Viola da Gamba Music of the Berlin School. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-7546-5885-6.
  • Palmer, Kris. 2001. Ornamentation According to C. P. E. Bach and J. J.Quantz. Bloomington: 1stBooks Library. ISBN 9780759609358.
  • Wolf, Eugene K. 2003. "Empfindsam style". The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition, edited by Don Michael Randel. Harvard University Press Reference Library 16. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01163-2.

Further readingEdit

  • Apel, Willi. 1969. Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-37501-7.