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Angst is a German, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch word for fear, or anxiety. (Anguish is its Latinate equivalent, and anxious, anxiety are of similar origin.) It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of oppression, anxiety or inner turmoil. The term Angst distinguishes itself from the word Furcht (German for "fear") in that Furcht usually refers to a material threat (arranged fear), while Angst is usually a nondirectional emotion.[dubious ]

In other languages having the meaning of the Latin word pavor, the derived words differ in meaning, e.g. as in the French anxiété and peur. The word Angst has existed since the 8th century, from the Proto-Indo-European root *anghu-, "restraint" from which Old High German angust developed. It is pre-cognate with the Latin angustia, "tensity, tightness" and angor, "choking, clogging"; compare to the Greek "άγχος" (ankhos): stress.


Existentialist philosophers use the term "angst" with a different connotation. The use of the term was first attributed to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). In The Concept of Anxiety (also known as The Concept of Dread, depending on the translation), Kierkegaard used the word Angest (in common Danish, angst, meaning "dread" or "anxiety") to describe a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and fear in the free human being. Where the animal is a slave to its instincts but always conscious in its own actions, Kierkegaard believed that the freedom given to people leaves the human in a constant fear of failing his/her responsibilities to God. Kierkegaard's concept of angst is considered to be an important stepping stone for 20th-century existentialism. While Kierkegaard's feeling of angst is fear of actual responsibility to God, in modern use, angst was broadened by the later existentialists to include general frustration associated with the conflict between actual responsibilities to self, one's principles, and others (possibly including God). Martin Heidegger used the term in a slightly different way.

Classical music

Angst in serious musical composition has been a reflection of the times. Musical composition embodying angst as a primary theme have primarily come from European Jewish composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, written during the period of great persecution of the Jewish people shortly before and during the period of Nazi activity in Europe. A notable exception is the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich whose symphonies use the theme of angst in post-World War II compositions depicting Russian strife during the war. However, it is the Jewish artists, Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka in music and literature that have embraced the theme of angst so highly in their work that they have become synonymous with the term to the point of popular joking and cartoons today.

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