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I'm a Lebanese, in the Arab world, we had singers who sang extremely long songs, ranging from 30 to 130 min, the genre is called Tarab, طرب. It's no longer popular nowadays because today's generation doesn't have that much time to spend listening to one song, so if a new singer wants to sing such songs, he'll usually trim it to 8 minutes max. No new songs of that genre are produced nowadays. Example

The songs are filled with music played by a complete orchestra live on stage, and the singer had to have a strong voice, it's a must have so not everyone could sing Tarab. To make such songs, sometimes it would take 2 years.

So is there or was there an English music genre characterized by extremely long songs and many instruments? If so name please the most famous singers of that genre. Some would say the opera, but that's not English.

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    With respect to all forms of art, including music, there isn't really an "English" music genre the way that you are thinking of it - it's really European. Ideas in art, music, and science have been flowing back and forth throughout Europe literally for centuries. – Donald.McLean Jun 4 '15 at 14:50
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In the Western classical music tradition we have the "song cycle", which is a collection of many short songs written by one composer as a single work. The songs are supposed to be performed all at once, in order, and either tell a single story (a setting of a long narrative poem or a number of poems by one poet), or which use different poems by different poets to explore a certain mood or emotion. Typically a song cycle is written for one singer and one piano, but there are song cycles for one singer and orchestra as well.

One famous example is Winterreise ("a journey in Winter") by the composer Franz Schubert, set to poems by Wilhelm Müller, in the German language. It was published in 1827. It is written for a male singer and piano. It consists of 24 songs and it takes more than one hour to sing the entire piece.

Schubert also set a poetic story of Wilhelm Müller's called Die schöne Müllerin ("The beautiful miller's daughter"), which also takes one hour to sing.

The song cycle has been a popular form in German-, English- and French-language music, since the mid-1800s.

Examples of well-known English-language song cycles are:

Songs of Travel from 1904 by Ralph Vaughan Williams to poems by Robert Louis Stephenson, 24 minutes in length.

Hermit Songs from 1953 by Samuel Barber to poems by several poets, 18 minutes in length

Update:

You added "Some would say the opera, but that's not English."

Excuse me, but there are thousands of operas written in English, starting about 400 years ago, just as there are thousands of operas written in French, Italian, German, Russian, and practically every other language. There were even a few operas written in Arabic in the 20th century.

Opera is a stage play which has many different actors who sing their words while they act their parts. An opera also has a chorus of singers, it usually has dancers, and much more. An opera can be anywhere from about 45 minutes to 3 hours in length.

Since your question was about a very long piece sung by a single singer, that is where "opera" does not fit into your definition. I know of no opera that uses only one singer.

  • As far as English language song cycles are concerned, the band Yes put together a string of similar song lengths beginning with Close to the Edge in 1972 and ending with Gates of Delirium in 1975. Also, Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick was essentially one long song clocking in around 45 minutes (and up to 78 minutes when played live). Since they're both considered Progressive Rock, I'd include that genre in there as well. – Johnny Bones May 31 '15 at 13:23
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    @JohnnyBones, I'm a huge progressive rock fan myself, but I don't really think this applies here, as these progressive rock epics have long stretches of instrumental music where no one sings. Lynob's question was about works where one singer sings almost continuously throughout the entire length of the piece. – user546 May 31 '15 at 17:15
  • Good point. :o) Now that I took a listen to one, I see what you're saying. – Johnny Bones May 31 '15 at 18:16
  • I was actually listening to Yes' "Close to the Edge" when I read your comment. For real! – user546 Jun 1 '15 at 15:10
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I'm a metal and rock fan, I must say, if it has to be something, definitely progressive rock/metal (maybe classical too). eg: One of the songs by Dream Theater [Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence] is 45 minutes long. It takes up an entire disc by itself while the other 5 songs on the album occupy another disc. Its anyways typical for such bands to play upto 10-15 minutes on almost every song.

Anyways, its a good song, have a listen :)

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    Big fan of Dream Theater, one of the best prog bands ever :) – DJ Aftershock Jun 8 '15 at 9:13
  • i know right? ;D – blablaguy Jun 21 '15 at 11:45
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On a more contemporary slant you could say progressive rock music is charactorised by 'long' songs.

Artists like Genesis, Marillion, Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake & Palmer regularly produced 30 minute plus songs.

I also get the feeling that some of these songs would have been much longer but the bands where contricted by the length of track on records and the perceived attention span of their audience.

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Traditional English ballads (stuff like "Greensleaves" or "Henry Martin") tended to have something like 30 stanzas. Modern renditions pick the most notable 3 to 5 stanzas and leave it at that, and that's the version known and actually printed in song books. It usually takes some effort to dig up the original (often rather tedious) version.

  • Many folk songs are very old and they accumulate many verses over the centuries. But it is never expected of a singer to sing all of them at once. A singer will select their three or four favorite verses and just perform those. – user546 Jun 1 '15 at 18:01

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