Storm, Stress, and The Sorrows of Young Werther

Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”) was the name of a German literary movement that reached its apex in the 1770s—just as Goethe was writing The Sorrows of Young Werther. For much of the 18th century, rationality and objective detachment had been prized in poetry and art, but writers of the Sturm und Drang movement believed that powerful emotions, rather than intellectual reason, should be the driving force behind artistic work. Ideally, these writers believed, poetry should overwhelm the reader, leaving them awestruck by both the work’s content and its form.

Though it initially began as a literary movement, Sturm und Drang was quickly taken up by artists and musicians, as well. Paintings of gloomy land- and seascapes were all the rage, as were depictions of nightmarish visions. Composers drew on minor keys and employed dark orchestration, including low-pitched instruments and frequent use of tremolo, to create a similar sentiment in music. (For two excellent examples of Sturm und Drang in music, listen to the opening bars of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D Minor or the overture to his opera Don Giovanni.)