Marx’s gifts were essentially lyrical. With few exceptions, his songs eschew drama and violent emotion. In the settings from the Italienisches Liederbuch Marx shows himself master of the delicate cameo, albeit without Wolf ’s wit and pungency. Elsewhere expressions of rapture, nature mysticism and nostalgic yearning predominate, in settings of poets ranging from Romantics such as Novalis and Mörike to contemporary authors including Rilke, Dehmel and Hesse.
Of the generation of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, Marx was hostile to their musical radicalism, proclaiming to the end his belief in the power of tonality to express the whole gamut of human emotion. Like his older contemporary Richard Strauss, he remained au fond a late-Romantic (he liked to dub himself ‘a Romantic realist’) in a fractured, modernist age.
During the years 1908–12 Marx composed around 120 songs, some of which were published in the collections Italienische Lieder I–II (1912) and Lieder und Gesänge I–III (1910–12). Nowadays these songs are regarded as the finest works that he produced.