Translation, pronunciation guide and interpretation tips on “Bist du bei mir” by Johann Sebastian Bach / Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel
Text and translation
Bist du bei mir, geh‘ ich mit Freuden If you are with me, I will go with joy
zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh'! To death and to my rest!
Ach, wie vergnügt wär' so mein Ende: Ah, how cheerful were my end:
Es drückten Deine schönen Hände your beautiful hands would press shut
mir die getreuen Augen zu. my faithful eyes.
This song was included in Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous collection of pieces in the “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach” of 1725. For that reason, it was thought of as having been composed by Bach and was assigned the BWV number 508.
Today, however, we assume that this song was not written by Bach but by the German composer Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690 – 1749). It is assumed to be an aria from Stölzel’s opera “Diomedes” which – sadly enough – seems to be lost.
How “Bist du bei mir” came into the Bach household we do not know. Bach and Stölzel were in the same places but at different times; they shared acquaintances but if they met personally we also do not know.
What we do know, however, is that Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena was an accomplished singer and Johann Sebastian gathered songs for her in his “Notenbüchlein” (notebooks).
One stress of this line (supported by the music) lies on “du”, the second one lies on “mir”.
Geh ich mit Freunden – I will go with joy
Make the E in „geh“ a closed sound, but both I in “ich” and “mit” open.
Be very strict with yourself to pronounce the CH-sound in “ich” correctly by letting the tongue rest in the position of the I and exhaling in this same position (if you want to learn more on German CH-sounds, you might be interested in this blog post).
Normally, between the E of “geh” and the I of “ich” there would be a tiny glottal onset. In this case, however, I recommend binding together (but not slurring!) both vowels so that the legato is not interrupted. In order to do that you have to articulate each vowel 100 % correct!
When this line is sung the third time, the melody changes and “geh” starts relatively high. The challenge here is to make the G a pure sound without adding a shadow vowel before.
The diphthong EU in “Freuden”, where this line’s emphasis lies (trill!), is pronounced [ɔø] and you must be aware of the length of each vowel:
hold the first vowel (in this case the [ɔ]) for approximately three quarters of the note and then transition smoothly to the second vowel (here an [ø]).
(Here you will find a detailed description on how to sing German diphthongs correctly.)
Roll the R in “Freuden”.
Zum Sterben und zu meiner Ruh – to death and to my rest
The German Z is a so-called affricate or combination consonant indicating that despite only one letter is spelled, it is pronounced with two (consonant) sounds. Here it is a T and S in short succession and both must be audible. (More information on the German Z can be found in this article).
The U in “zum” is open whereas the one in “zu” is closed.
Also, pronounce the T in “Sterben” very clearly as one tends to slur it into a D after the initial ʃ-sound.
Both E in this word are open but differ slightly from each other: the first one (“Ster-“) should be an [Ɛ] whereas the second one (“-ben”) is a a schwa [ə].
Roll the R of “sterben” crisply.
Unlike the first line where I recommended combining the words “bist du” by imploding/exploding the D/T-sounds, you should make a short break between the words “und” and “zu” which – as you certainly remember – starts with a T-sound.
While both, “Sterben“ and „Ruh” are stressed in this line, the musical focus lies more on the latter.
Ach, wie vergnügt – Ah, how cheerful
The CH of „Ach“ is different from the one in „ich“, a bit throatier but be very careful that it does not become a K-sound.
You could make a short break after “Ach” as the comma afterwards indicates. Additionally, as I said earlier, “ach” can be interpreted in many differnt ways (joy, languish, sigh etc.) and you are invited to use different versions with each line.
The I in “wie” is closed and the W is voiced; use it to your advantage.
Whether you pronounce the R in “vergnügt” or make it a vocalic R is up to you. However, if you choose the latter version make sure that the colouring of the preceding vowel is absolutely correct! If you are unsure, carry out a one-flap R as this will help you with the vowel.
The Ü in “vergnügt” is closed. (Here you will find tips on how to say a proper German Ü).
Although it might be tempting to omit one ore more consonants of the second syllable (“-gnügt”), this would be wrong. Please make sure that your audience hears every single sound. If you practice this word by speaking it very slowly at first and than add tempo, I am sure you will manage perfectly.
Wär so mein Ende – would my end be
In this line we have only voiced consonants: W (“wär”), S (“so”), M (“mein”) and D and N (“Ende”).
They make it a lot easier to sing this phrase legato-like.
The Ä in “wär” is the same sound as the first E in “Ende”.
Also, “Ende” must be sung with an audible glottal onset.
Sing the O in “so” closed and remember that the S is voiced.
Es drückten Deine schönen Hände – Your beautiful hands would press shut
Despite many false recommendations, the Ü in “drückte” must be open! I know this is a bit of a challenge but if you think (only think!) of an Ö while singing the Ü you will get the correct sound.
“Drücken” (or “drückten” here) means shut with a certain amount of pressure which in this context I find a bit disturbing. Do not overstress but head over to “schönen Hände”.
Pronounce the plosive sounds (C)K and T in this word clearly.
Apart from the Ö in “schönen” (and the [a] in “deinen”) every vowel in this line is open.
Mir die getreuen Augen zu – my faithful eyes
Both I in „mir“ and “die” are closed as is the U in “zu”.
Roll the R in “getreuen” and make sure you get the diphthongs in this word as in “Augen” right (see above).
“Bist du bei mir” is considered “Hausmusik” (house-music) which means it was played in the family circle, i.e. in rather intimate surroundings.
It is a very light, simple song, communicating intense love in a simple, joyful manner.
The challenge is to sing it with a very even vocal line. All eight notes, especially when they are sung on one syllable (“Sterben”, “meiner” “du”,…) must be of exactly the same length.
However, what you can do to add your own interpretation is use the language to make tiny breaks between the words/notes. Legato in baroque music is not to be observed as strictly as for example in a Romantic art song.
In fact, the music here is very close to a dance. You might want to try experimenting with contrasting the dotted notes against the even sections.
In addition, when word phrases are repeated on different melodies, you might play with vowel colourings (all within the correct framework of course) and different emphases.
Take the phrase “Ach, wie vergnügt” for example: “ach” can be an expression of excitement as well as longing (and many other things). Play with the phrases, try out different ways of interpretation or use a different version with every line.
All in all, this is a very simple song – which does not mean it is easy to sing. It combines passionate love, calm serenity and joy.
Below, I have attached two recordings of this aria.
Translation of and pronunciation guide for the choral parts of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Johannespassion” (Part I)
As an ambitious choir, you will sooner or later come across Johann Sebastian Bach’s choral works.
Bach worked 17 years as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, that means he was the artistic leader of the Thomaner choir for which he wrote numerous works.
One of them is St. John’s Passion or “Johannespassion” which I want in parts to analyze here.
In this article you will find a detailed pronunciation guide an all choral parts in the first part of “Johannespassion”.
Whether you are a choral singer or a choir conductor aiming to perform St. John’s passion, this guide will support you regarding German pronunciation.
Historical background of the “Johannespassion”
The “passio secundum Johannem” (BWV 245) is one of two surviving passions written by the German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. It is based on chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John in the Luther Bible and was premiered on Good Friday, April 7, 1724 in Leipzig and is . Bach revised it several times, adding and replacing parts of it. Compared with the “Matthäuspassion”, the “Johannespassion” has been described as “more extravagant, with an expressive immediacy, at times more unbridled and less ‘finished’” (Wikipedia). For further information on the historical background of Bach’s “Johannespassion”, look here.
Singing in a choir presents different challenges than singing as a soloist.
First of all, we must realize that a choir is a bunch of individuals acting as one collective group. You could compare it to a shoal of fish: It consists of many individual fish who act harmoniously together, giving the impression that it is ONE large fish.
There are, however, two main differences between a choir and a shoal of fish:
⇨ If the fish do not work together co-ordinately and harmoniously, their survival is in danger.
⇨ Fish do not have an ego.
The role of a conductor for that matter is to accept every singer’s individual personality and ability and nevertheless combine them to a homogenous, harmonious unity, acting as ONE.
Basics for a good choir sound
There are a few basic things to keep in mind for making a good choir sound:
⭐ Consonants: Sing consonants at exactly the same time.
⭐ Vowels: Vowels have gradations. Make sure that every choir member knows perfectly well which sound to choose and how to produce it.
⭐ Diphthongs: get sure on how long to hold the first vowel and when to speak the second one. (We’ll treat this matter later in the text.)
⭐ Legato/marcato: Consonants will help you to express both, either by smoothly combining them to a fluid sound or by using them to put emphasis on certain parts.
⭐ Breathing: There is the concept of choral breathing, meaning individual breathing also during long notes so that the overall sound is not destroyed. On the other hand, it is important that you carry out caesuras together, for example when there is a comma, a full stop or an exclamation mark.
⭐ Word emphasis: It is always a good recommendation to read the text first and become clear on which words are emphasized and sing accordingly. Remember, one of the goals of the music is to support the meaning of the text.
That said, let’s dive right into the choral part of St. John’s passion and look at it thoroughly phrase by phrase:
Herr unser Herrscher, Lord, our master,
dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist. Whose fame in every land is glorious.
Zeig uns durch deine Passion, Show us through your passion
dass du, der wahre Gottessohn, that you, the true son of God,
zu aller Zeit, through all time,
auch in der größten Niedrigkeit, even in utmost lowliness,
verherrlicht worden bist. have been glorified.
Herr unser Herrscher: Lord, our master
The whole piece starts with a word that is quite challenging to pronounce: “Herr”
The E of “Herr” is open and the double R at the end must be rolled. It need not be done so excessively here ,but nevertheless articulated well as this will give additional colour and underline the pleading character of this word.
The R in “unser” should be at least carried out as one-flap R. If this were a spoken text or an art song with one singer performing only, we could make this last R a schwa-sound (similar to the a-sound in the English word “ago”). In a choir part, however, it is essential that all consonants are pronounced very clearly. Furthermore, it will make it easier to achieve the correct vowel sound.
The double R in “Herrscher” – you might have guessed it – is rolled. You can use it to put additional stress on the word and make your interpretation more vivid.
The “-er” on the other hand, may either be rolled (one-flap) or treated as a vocalic R. The decision which version to take is, of course, up to the conductor who must ensure that all choir members pronounce the sound in the same way.
Having heard so much about the different German R-sounds, you might want to read on here on this topic.
“dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist“:
whose fame in every land is glorious
As a choir you can use the S, L and Rs in this phrase to sing fluidly without interrupting the line while at the same time using them for clear articulation and rhythm.
The (closed) U in “Ruhm” and the (open) A in “Land(en)” are the vowels we dwell on (helped by Bach’s musical setting) and “dessen”, “in allen” and “herrlich ist” are the rhythmical impulses.
“Zeig uns durch deine Passion”: Show us through your passion
The Z is a so-called combination consonant (affricate), meaning it consists of two sounds and is pronounced [ts]. To learn more on the Z, head over to this article.
Whenever you have to sing a diphthong as in “zeig” or “deine” on a long note, you can use this simple rule of thumb: The first vowel (in this case an [a]) is sung for roughly three quarters of the note. Then make a smooth transition to the second vowel and finish with the final consonant. Practice to carry out this transition with tongue movement alone as moving the jaw would have a negative impact on both your pronunciation and your singing. (Here you will find a blog post on German diphthongs.)
The U in “uns” and “durch“ are open.
If you pronounce the R in “durch” or not is up to your conductor. I always recommend to do a one-tap R which makes it easier to preserve the colour of the vowel. The use of a vocalic R [ɐ] requires that ALL choir members know how to produce this sound correctly; otherwise we have a mixture of vowel sounds ranging from [ɔ] via [ua] to [a].
Normally, “Passion” is pronounced with the stress lying on the O, touching the I only slightly. In this case, however, Bach prolongs the I by setting it onto two sixteenths and you will of course sing it accordingly but without putting too much emphasis on the I.
“dass du, der wahre Gottessohn“: that you, the true Son of God
Here we have
▻ three open vowels, “dass”, “Gottes”,
▻ one vocalic R, “der”
▻one schwa-sound, wahre” and
▻ three closed vowels “du”,“wahre“ and „-sohn“.
Normally, „Sohn“ would be pronounced with a voiced S, but here, following the unvoiced S of “Gottes”, this is nearly impossible. Do not overdo it and allow yourself to speak just one stressed, unvoiced S in “Gottessohn”.
„zu aller Zeit, auch in der größten Niedrigkeit“:
through all time, even in utmost lowliness
Again, we have the Z in “zu” and “Zeit”; make sure to pronounce them as combined consonants.
“Zeit” and “auch”: remember what we said earlier about diphthongs on long notes: prolong the first vowel sound for about three quarter of the note and then smoothly change to the second vowel.
The ß in “größten” is an unvoiced S, the Ö preceding the S-sound is closed.
“Niedrigkeit”: here we have two I-sounds, one closed (“nied”), one open (“ig). The G in “ig” here is pronounced as CH-sound (the light version of it [ç]). If you want to learn more about the different CH-sounds in German, you might find this article interesting.
“verherrlicht worden bist”: have been glorified
The “ver-“ contains a further one-flap R, whereas the double R in “-herrlicht” must be rolled, similar to the R in “worden”.
2b. and 2d. Chorus
“Jesum von Nazareth”: Jesus of Nazareth
Normally, we would of course say “Jesus von Nazareth”, yet Bach sometimes uses the Latin ending of the different cases, in this case the accusative.
The first S in “Jesum” is voiced which is pretty helpful for underlining the hysterical touch of this scream.
“Jesum” is screamed twice before it is further described as “von Nazareth”:
both A in “Nazareth” are closed, the E in the same word is open. Despite the fact, that “Nazareth” is written with an H at the end, do not pronounce an English th-sound. It’s just a T.
Oh große Lieb' Oh great love,
oh Lieb' ohn' alle Maße oh love beyond measure
die dich gebracht auf diese Marterstraße! that brought you to this path of martyrdom!
Ich lebte mit der Welt in Lust und Freuden I lived with the world in delight and joy
und du musst leiden. and you have to suffer.
“Oh große Lieb, oh Lieb ohn‘ alle Maße“:
oh great love, oh love beyond measure
Try to sing this line as legato as possible.
Except for “alle” and the Ablaute, all vowels are closed here.
Whenever there is a B written at the end of a word – as here in “Lieb’” – always pronounce it as P.
“die dich gebracht auf diese Marterstraße“:
that brought you to this path of martyrdom
The emphasis of this line lies on “Marterstraße”, especially on the syllables “Mar-” and the “-stra-“. So, no matter how the setting of the music and how much your choir wants to dwell on the eighth notes, raise the tension until you reach “-straße”.
The I in “die” and “diese” are closed, the one in “dich” is open.
Make sure that every choir member speaks the CH of “dich” and “gebracht” correctly – they are different! Otherwise, you’ll have a mixture of CH, K and SCH.
The S in “diese” is voiced, whereas the ß in “Marterstraße” is unvoiced and the A preceding the ß is closed.
Pronounce the first R in “Marter” articulately (I recommend rolling it); the second you should carry out as one-flap R, not as schwa-sound as this would change the vowel colour.
“Ich lebte mit der Welt in Lust und Freuden“:
I lived with the world in delight and joy
Do not be tempted to make a break after “mit”, the climax of this line is “Lust und Freuden”
Apart from the first E in “lebte” we have only open vowels here.
Pronounce the T in “mit”, “Welt” and “Lust” with confidence and make sure to do so together and at the same time. (Not quite sure how to form a perfect German T? Head over to this article.)
“und du must leiden”: and you have to suffer.
This line has two stresses, one on “du” (as a contrast to “ich” in the preceding line) and the other on “leiden” (as contrast to the pleasure and joy).
The combination of the two consecutive Ds of “und du” may be a challenge for you at first but as a choir it is essential that you make both sounds clearly audible. Bear in mind, however, that the D in “und” is actually pronounced as T.
Dein Will gescheh, Herr Gott, zugleich Your will shall be done, Lord God, both,
Auf Erden wie im Himmelreich. on earth as it is in heaven.
Gib uns Geduld in Leidenszeit, Give us patience in times of suffering,
Gehorsam sein in Lieb und Leid; that we obey in love and suffering;
Wehr' und steur' allem Fleisch und Blut, Restrain and guide all flesh and blood
Das wider deinen Willen tut! that acts against your will!
“Dein Will gescheh, Herr Gott, zugleich“:
Your will shall be done, Lord God, both
Bearing in mind that the W of “Will’” is a voiced sound, you may go to the W a bit earlier than the eighth note and prolong it a tiny bit before saying the open I.
Although tempting, do not make the first E of “gescheh” closed but pronounce it open.
Depending on the conductor and because there is a comma written after “gescheh” (as well as after “Gott”), you might make a small caesura here.
Again, the double R in “Herr” must be rolled.
“auf Erden wie im Himmelreich“: on earth as it is in heaven
Pronounce the E of „Erden” with a tiny glottal onset. It need not be strong but nevertheless audible. In no case do we want a combination of the two words to “auferden”. Make a clear distinction so that your audience can hear two words.
The R in “Erden” need not be pronounced, make it an [e:ɐ].
Use the voiced character of the Ms of “im” an “Himmelreich” to your advantage and dwell a bit on them, keeping the line together.
“Gib uns Geduld in Leidenszeit“: give us patience in times of suffering
Although the words “Gib” and “Geduld” end with a “soft” plosive, remember to pronounce them at the end of a word as P, respectively T.
When L follows N in “in Leidenszeit” be careful that no shadow vowel sneaks in. You can avoid this by bringing the tongue into the position of the L while still saying the N.
The Z following the NS in “Leidenszeit” may be a challenge; after all, it is the sound [nsts]. Nevertheless, you have to make sure to pronounce all four sounds very clearly!
“gehorsam sein in Lieb und Leid“:
that we obey in love and suffering
Audibly pronounce the H in “gehorsam”: it is not a silent H (as for example in the word “gehen”) but consists of the prefix “ge-“ and the adjective “-horsam”.
The O and A in “gehorsam” are closed.
Here again, we have a glottal onset with “in” and it is important to make it audible without overdoing it. Maybe your conductor (or you, if you are a choir conductor) makes a small caesura before the “in”.
Remember to pronounce plosives at the end of “Lieb” and “Leid”, turning B into P and D into T.
“wehr und steur allem Fleisch und Blut“:
restrain and guide our flesh and blood
Use the voiced W of “wehr” to colour your performance, that is: dwell on it for a fraction of the quarter note.
“Steur” is difficult, even for German choirs who, knowing that the word normally is “steuer”, tend to sing it like that and thus make two eighth notes out of the quarter.
However, Bach was German, and I think he knew what he did in applying that word to a single quarter note. So, let’s apply the same rule as for every German diphthong and prolong the [ɔ] for approximately three quarters of the quarter note and then end it with the [øɾ] as late as possible.
We have a consonant cluster in “und steur” ([ntʃt]]; make sure that every single sound is clearly audible.
Make the D at the end of “und” a T.
“das wider deinen Willen tut!“: that acts against your will
There is no difference in pronunciation between the words “wieder” (again) and “wider” (against), the I is always closed.
As “Willen” (with an open I) is a bit more emphasized than “wider” I would recommend dwelling a bit on the W in “Willen”only.
The U in “tut” is closed.
Wer hat dich so geschlagen, Who has struck you thus
Mein Heil, und dich mit Plagen my saviour and with torments
So übel zugericht'? so evilly treated you?
Du bist ja nicht ein Sünder You are indeed not a sinner
Wie wir und unsre Kinder, like us and our children
Von Missetaten weißt du nicht. of wrongdoing you know nothing.
Ich, ich und meine Sünden, I, I and my sins
Die sich wie Körnlein finden that can be found like grains
Des Sandes an dem Meer, of sand by the sea,
Die haben dir erreget have provoked for you
Das Elend, das dich schläget, this misery that assails you
Und das betrübte Marterheer. and this tormenting martyrdom.
“Wer hat dich so geschlagen“: Who has struck you thus
Except for the O in “so” and the A in „geschlagen”, every vowel in this line is open.
The R in “wer” is not rolled but a vocalic-R [ɐ]; make sure that every choir member know exactly how to produce the correct sound.
The T and D in “hat dich” must be pronounced separately so that they can be clearly distinguished. Although the tempo is relatively slow, you might want to practice that part until it can be easily carried out by all choir members.
The S in “so” is voiced.
Depending on dialectal background, the two E in “geschlagen” are sometimes even a challenge for German choirs ?. Here is the solution: the first E (“ge-“) is pronounced [Ɛ] whereas the second E (“-en”) must be pronounced [ə].
„mein Heil, und dich mit Plagen so übel zugericht‘?“:
my saviour and with torments so evilly treated you?
Paradoxically, EI (“mein”, “Heil”) does not have an I-sound in it. Always pronounce this spelling as [ae].
Similar to the line above, articulate the Ds of “und dich” separately.
The main vowels in “Plagen”, “so” and “übel” are closed as is the U in “zugericht”.
„Du bist ja nicht ein Sünder“: you are indeed not a sinner
The sound of J in “ja” is comparable to the Y-sound in “yes”; make sure that no H sneaks in before the [ʝ], unlike the CH in “nicht”.
Make the S in “Sünder” voiced and the Ü open (!).
„wie wir und unsre Kinder“: like us and our children
The I in “wie” is closed, the ones in “wir” and “Kinder” are open.
Pronounce the final Rs in “wir” and “Kinder” as vocalic Rs.
Both U in „und“ and „unsre“ are open.
Remember to make the D at the end of “und” a T.
„von Missetaten weißt du nicht“: of wrongdoing you know nothing
The double S in “Missetaten” tempts to stress this sound by dwelling on it. However, I urge you to make all S in this choral (also in “weißt”) as softly as possible.
Prolong the open I of “Misse-“ as long as possible and use the S as smooth transition to the open E.
Differentiate the T and D of “weißt du” clearly.
„Ich, ich und meine Sünden“: I, I and my sins
This line should be performed with more emphasis = forte!
Make a small caesura after the first (and maybe even the second) “ich” to underline the despair of realisation.
Also, pay close attention to articulate the CH in the right way but without overdoing it.
The Ü in “Sünden” is open.
„die sich wie Körnlein finden des Sandes an dem Meer“:
that can be found like grains of sand by the sea
The S in “sich” and “Sandes” are voiced.
The S at the end of “des” followed by the S at the beginning of “Sandes” must be connected as follows: prolong the open E in “des” and set the S (without break!) a tiny bit before the actual note of “Sa-“.
Also connect “Sandes” with “an” without interruption of the legato line. Here, the glottal onset is not as important as the legato.
„die haben dir erreget“: have provoked for you
No shadow vowel before “die”!
The first E in “erreget” is open, the middle one is closed and the last one is open
Roll the R but at the latest possible point and without overdoing it.
“das Elend, das dich schläget“: the misery that assails you
You see the comma after “Elend”? This is the reason why here we have to make a small caesura by separating the Ds of “Elend” and “das”.
In “dich schläget” we seem to have a consonant cluster. Considering that CH and SCH are just one sound, however, we can break down the six consonants into three sounds which makes it still a cluster but hopefully a less intimidating one.
I do admit, however, that the CH followed by SCH can be a challenge. The good news is: it can be managed by practice.
“und das betrübte Marterheer”: and this tormenting martyrdom
Here, “und das” must be connected by “imploding” the first D and exploding the second one.
The R in “betrübte” and “Marter-“ must be rolled, at least carried out as a one-flap R but never omitted completely!
The B in “-trübte” is pronounced as P, the double E in “-heer” is closed.
“Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer?“: Are you not one of his disciples?
Due to the high tempo it is not only nearly impossible but also unwanted that a choir pronounces every consonant of “bist du”. In fact, if you carry it out as “bis-du”, rapidly followed by “nicht”, this will be the most authentic sound.
The G in the NG in “Jünger” must not be heard (an English example for that sound is “ring”). However, to make the agitation clearer, I recommend prolonging the NG-sound instead of dwelling on the Ü.
Also, there is a glottal onset between “Jünger” (which ends in a vocalic R) and “einer”.
Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück, Peter, who does not recollect
seinen Gott verneinet, who denies his God,
der doch auf ein' ernsten Blick who yet at a serious glance
bitterlichen weinet. weeps bitterly.
Jesu, blicke mich auch an, Jesus look upon me, too,
wenn ich nicht will büßen; when I do not want to repent;
wenn ich Böses hab getan, when I have done evil
rühre mein Gewissen! stir up my conscience!
“Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück“: Peter, who does not recollect
Make a caesura after „Petrus”.
The E of “Petrus” is closed, the U is open.
You can pronounce the combination of TD in “nicht denkt” either letter by letter or again with an imploding T, followed by an exploding D.
In the case of “denkt zurück” it is a bit different as we have two successive plosives in “denkt”, K and T, followed by the Z. Here, you prolong the N of “denkt” and go on by pronouncing [kts] as (almost) one sound (Remember: German Z is [ts]).
„seinen Gott verneinet“: who denies his God
Most of the consonants in this line support the legato.
The S of “seinen” is voiced.
Your tongue can prepare the G of “Gott” already while still saying the N of “seinen” so that there is no audible break.
Make the R in “verneinet” a one-flap R, it will help getting the vowel colour right.
“der doch auf ein’ ernsten Blick“: who yet at a serious glance
As you know, “der” is pronounce with a vocalic R.
Make sure that no shadow vowel sneaks in before the D of “der” or “doch” and pay attention to the correct pronunciation of the CH in “doch”
Let there be an audible glottal onset before “auf”, “ein” and “ernsten”.
Pay attention to the word “Blick”: no shadow vowel must be heard.
„bitterlichen weinet.“: weeps bitterly.
Both I in “bitterlichen” are open and have the same colour. Normally the syllable division of “bitter-” is “bit-ter-”. However, in choir singing it is recommended to divide as follows: “bi-tter-“ as this version sounds a lot better.
„Jesu, blicke mich auch an“: Jesus, look upon me, too
Make a short caesura after “Jesu” (comma!) but pay attention that there is no shadow vowel before “blicke”.
Bear in mind that the CH-sounds of “mich” and “auch” are different.
“wenn ich nicht will büßen“: when I do not want to repent
Use the W of “wenn” and “will” and dwell on them a bit.
Pay attention to the CH in “ich” and “nicht” (the sounds are alike)
The Ü of “büßen” is closed and the ß unvoiced.
“wenn ich Böses hab getan“: when I have done evil
The W of “wenn” is voiced.
Make the Ö of “Böses” closed; if you are not sure how an authentic German Ö (or German Ü for that matter) sounds, you might want to read this article and/or that one.
„rühre mein Gewissen!“: stir up my conscience
Both R in “rühre” should be rolled.
The H in “rühre” is not pronounced but simply indicates that the preceding Ü is closed and long.
The E in “Gewissen” is open and the double S is unvoiced.
Translation, pronunciation guide and interpretation tips onW. A. Mozart’s aria “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” from the opera “Die Zauberflöte”
Text and translation
In diesen heil’gen Hallen Within these hallowed halls
Kennt man die Rache nicht one does not know revenge.
Und ist ein Mensch gefallen and if a human has fallen
führt Liebe ihn zur Pflicht love will guide them to duty.
Dann wandelt er an Freundes Hand Then he wanders on a friend’s hand
vergnügt und froh ins bessre Land merry and happy into the better land.
In diesen heil’gen Mauern Within these hallowed walls
wo Mensch den Menschen liebt. Where human loves human,
kann kein Verräter lauern, no traiter can lurk
weil man dem Feind vergibt. Because one forgives the enemy.
Wen solche Lehren nicht erfreun, Who these lessons do not please
verdienet nicht ein Mensch zu sein. Does not deserve to be a human.
The aria is sung by Sarastro, high priest of the temple of wisdom in the second act of Mozart’s best-known opera, “Die Zauberflöte”.
Sarastro had kidnapped Pamina, the queen of the night’s daughter and she is know in his hands. Tamino, a young prince is sent to rescue and is promised her hand when he succeeds.
When Tamino is granted access to Sarastro’s temple he learns that Sarastro is good and he chooses to become part of Sarastro’s community.
The aria is written in E major, a key slightly unusual for Mozart. It shows a contrast (also in content) to the bleak D minor of the preceeding aria of the Queen of the Night (“Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”). Here, calmness and peace are dominant, supported, of course, by the bass voice.
“In diesen heil’gen Hallen”
The beginning with the two different I sounds might be challenging: you have to start with a glottal onset and on a vowel that for some of us shows some difficulties.
The I of “in” is open, the one of “diesen” is closed; It may help you to hold the jaw position of “in” while speaking the N and go on with exactly this position to “diesen”.
I love the alliteration of “heil’gen Hallen”. However, some singers are unsure how the H at the beginning of a word is pronounced. The answer is: voiceless and not too sharp (NOT like CH), an English example for this sound would be the H in “home”.
The E sharp in “Hallen” tends to be flat, so make sure that you support enough during the phrase.
“kennt man die Rache nicht”
This is the essence of Sarastro’s brotherhood in a nutshell: they do not hold the common belief of “eye by eye, tooth by tooth” valid and do not “know revenge”.
Make sure to articulate the K of “kennt” clearly.
Furthermore, pay attention to the open vowels here: “kennt”, “man”, “nicht”. In case of “kennt” and “nicht” it may help you to think (only think!) of an Ö, respectively an Ü to produce the correct sound.
The verb „gefallen“ – like „fallen“ – does not only mean a physical but also a moral or spiritual downfall.
Again, we have a glottal onset starting the phrase. Fortunately, this time it is an U (if an open one) which makes it easier. Nevertheless, avoid overdoing the glottal onset as it could otherwise harm your vocal cords.
Pronounce the D in “und” as T.
You might be tempted to guide the open E in “Mensch” towards an Ä-sound but I would recommend to (again) think (!) of an Ö.
The only closed vowel in this phrase is the [a] in “ein.
“führt Liebe ihn zur Pflicht”
Not rules, nor the fear of punishment, i.e. nothing imposed from the outside world guides the human but only their morality deriving from love.
Now “Pflicht” consists almost solely of consonants. I cannot give you a shortcut here, but recommend to practice it slowly at first while making sure that all consonants are articulated well.
“Dann wandelt er an Freundes Hand”
„Wandeln“ is quite an unsual word to use here; neither “wander” nor “stroll” fully describe its overall meaning. In fact, it is sometimes used in connection with angels, describing their way of movement – strolling peacefully through Paradise.
In Sarastro’s world, your “opponent” will reach out for you and you will wander side by side. What a wonderful world!
The accumulation of the sound AN is remarkable here: we have it in “dann”, “wandelt”, “an” and “Hand”. In combination with the melody, this gives the phrase an easy, almost dance-like touch. After all, it shows us paradise. Who wouldn’t want to dance into it?
The H in “Hand” is the same as the H in “heil’gen” and “Hallen”: make it audible but not too harsh.
“vergnügt und froh ins bess’re Land”
Here we have the joy and happiness we spoke of in the last phrase of the text. The “better land” meaning no physical place but a world with the values of Sarastro’s community, a world based on wisdom and love.
“Vergnügt” might be a challenge for some of you:
? Bear in mind, that the R of the prefix “ver” is not pronounced (it is rather [ə]).
? Make the first G (“gnügt”) a soft G and the second one (“gnügt”) a K.
? Pronounce the Ü closed, articulate the Ts clearly and you are well set.
In the word “bess’re”, an E has been omitted, it’s common spelling being “bessere”. You cannot leave out the R here but must roll it. Just in case you missed the link above on the different pronounciation of the German R, click here.
The first stanza is done, the second of course is on the same melody. Let’s have a look at what to expect:
“In diesen heil’gen Mauern”
Here we have almost the same words and vowels as in the aria’s first line, only “Hallen” (halls) was substituted with “Mauern” (walls).
When a diphthong is to be sung on a long note, the first sound (in this case an open A) should last for roughly three quarters of the note. Then make a smooth transition to the second vowel (here: [ɔ]) and finish with the final consonant.
In this case the situation is slightly different as we have a third “vowel”, the schwa of “-ern”. So again, prolong the [a] for approximately three quarters of the melody line and instead of doing one, you just say two vowels at the end, making sure that they transition smoothly.
Attention: Do not dwell on the middle vowel but head towards the schwa.
“wo Mensch den Menschen liebt”
Everybody is guided by both, self-love and “love to thy neighbour” . A perfect world where the vibes are so high that bad feelings cannot exist.
The rapid succession of the words “Mensch” and “Menschen” can be challenging, especially if you have trouble with the [nʃ]. Practice it very slowly at first and don’t let the eighth notes stress you.
Bear in mind, that the E here are open, whereas the I in “liebt” is a closed vowel.
“kann kein Verräter lauern”
The alliteration of „kann kein“ is a powerful way to express Sarastro’s side blow towards the Queen and Monostatos. Use the K to make your statement.
The same goes for the R in “Verräter”: it supports you in sounding thunderous but without frightening Pamina away again.
The “-er” of Verräter as well as the “-ern” in “lauern”, however, are pronounced as vocalic r [ɐ].
For the correct use of the diphthong AU in “lauern”, see my notes on that topic two lines above (“Mauern”).
“weil man dem Feind vergibt.”
“Feind” is a strong and negatively occupied word – like “Verräter” in the line above. I believe they were chosen to state that despite Sarastro’s (and his community’s) belief that love is the base for peaceful coexistence, they do not close their eyes from the reality outside their walls.
This line dwells on the A-sounds of “weil” ([ae]), “man” (open) and “Feind” ([ae]). You could even add the “ver-“ of “vergibt” to this list ([Ɛɐ]) if you do not choose to pronounce a one-tap R here.
Although “-gibt” in “vergibt” is spelled with a b, it must be pronounced as P ([gi:pt]).
“Wen solche Lehren nicht erfreu’n”
The E in “wen” and “Lehren“ is closed, the H in “Lehren” must not be pronounced.
You can (and should) combine the N at the end of “Lehren” and at the beginning of “nicht” and make use of this voiced consonant.
The [ɔ] in “erfreun” ([ɔø]) must be held over both quarter notes. Do not give in to the temptation to sing [frɔ-øn] but sing [frɔ-ɔøn].
“verdienet nicht ein Mensch zu sein.”
Contrasting to the enemies and traitors in the two preceeding lines, Sarastro summarizes that in his opinion love resides in every human’s heart and if someone does not like these thoughts (or lessons) they cannot be considered human (any more). He tells Pamina that in his opinion she – unlike her mother – is still human!
Again, you can either use a one-tap r or a [Ɛɐ]-sound for “ver-“.
The I in “-dienet” is closed, the one in “nicht” is open. Make sure to make an audible distinction between both sounds.
Pay attention to the Z in “zu” (see Line 4) and remember that it stands for two sounds ([ts]) in rapid succession.
The challenge with this aria, in my opinion, is that despite being sung with this full, sonorous bass voice it has to be very gentle. Think of it: Pamina is scared to death! She fears revenge for what her mother demanded from her. And she has been brought up thinking that Sarastro is one of the bad guys who want to harm her and her mother, maybe might even force her to marry him.
Now you as Sarastro have to make sure that you calm the frightened young lady. Be kind, be generous, show her the path to this wonderful world where only love rules and no one has to fear anything.
Below I have attached two recordings of this aria.
Translation, pronunciation and interpretation guide on Gustav Mahler’s art song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”
Text and translation
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, I have become lost to the world
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben, who I used to ruin so much time with,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen, It has heard nothing from me for such a long time,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben! It may as well think I have died!
Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen I do not care at all
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält. If it takes me for dead.
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen, I cannot even contradict it
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt. For I have really died to the world
Ich bin gestorben im Weltgetümmel I have died in the world's turmoil
Und ruh in einem stillen Gebiet. And rest in a quiet realm.
Ich leb allein in meinem Himmel, I live alone in my heaven,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied. In my love, in my song.
What a very German song! It seems to be melancholy and world-weary – but do not let yourself be deceived…
The poem was written by Friedrich Rückert and is part of the cycle “Liebesfrühling” (love spring) which he wrote for his later wife.
The text does not have a balladic plot or bold metaphors but talks about the lyrical narrator who seems to live on an island of inner peace.
Gustav Mahler set this text to music in 1901. It is not the only song based on poems by Friedrich Rückert that Mahler composed. Yet, they do not build a cycle (like for example the “Kindertotenlieder”) but were written randomly between 1899 and 1903.
It is typical for Mahler that he composed all Rückert songs with piano accompaniment at first and orchestrated them later.
My own thoughts
When I heard this song for the first time, I mistook it for being desperate and depressed. I was in my early twenties, hungry for life and could not understand that one would one day become weary of all that I thought was life.
In the course of the last twenty years, however, I have gained a more and more deep understanding of what the narrator means. 2020 has thrown us back unto ourselves with plenty of time to reflect our lives and many of us have discovered that so many distractions of the outside world are just that: distractions that bring us away from who we really are. It has revealed to some of us that we have become what society, family, tradition expected us to become (or what we thought was expected from us); shown the false idols we have run after, trying to snatch a piece of their self-awarded glamour and influence.
Before starting to write this article I was convinced that now I understood the text in every detail: the decision to consciously turning away from the outside turmoil and retreat into an inner world of peace, not as an act of protest but as a logic quiet step on the path to self-development towards our true nature seem no longer unreasonable.
However, during the process of analyzing the poem anew for this article, I found various stumbling blocks for interpretation, the use of certain words puzzling me.
Let’s break it down line by line and you will see what I mean:
“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”
I have become lost to the world.
The most important thing with this song is to sing it legato, avoiding to interrupt the song line with consonants. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it seems… ?
The meaning of the idiom “abhanden kommen” is a lot more complex than just “to lose”. It bears one the one hand a level of neglect on the looser’s side, on the other hand there is a willingness (if not an intention) on the side of the lost object “become lost”. Applied to this poem, we may have reason to suspect that the world had neglected the narrator and he or she and willingly withdrew from it.
The stanza starts with a difficult sound for non-German singers, the “ch”. I won’t go into detail here, if you want to learn more about the different ch-sounds in German read this blog post.
In order to hold the legato line, make sure that you prolong the vowels and voiced consonants (n, w, m) and speak the plosives (b, g, k, t) at the last possible time.
Make sure that despite their length, open vowels are pronounced openly: “ich bin”, “gekommen”
“Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben”
Which I used to ruin so much time with.
One would have expected the narrator to say „Zeit verbracht“, i.e. spend time. The English word spend makes the positive aspect even more clear. Another possibility of word use might have been “Zeit vergeudet”, i.e. waste time.
Yet, here we have “verdorben” which is a far stronger expression and shows us that the narrator does not regret his decision to retreat from the world.
The T followed by a D in “mit der” can be a bit tricky at first. Make sure to pronounce both consonants as clearly as NECESSARY but do not interrupt the legato line.
If you pronounce the R in “der” and “ver(dorben) or not is up to you. If you do, make it a very tender one-flap R. (Find more on the different pronunciations of R in this blog post). The recordings I have attached below show both versions, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau pronouncing the R and Mrs. von Otter leaving it off.
The first S in “sonst” is voiced but here, following the CH in “ich” this is nearly impossible without having too large a break between the two words (Remember: we do not want to interrupt the legato). For that reason, it is ok to make the S unvoiced here.
(Feeling a bit nervous that I really wrote that, though. Some diction coaches might skin me alive for that statement…
Make sure to hold your support throughout the whole (descending) phrase; the “verdorben” tends to become flat otherwise.
“Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen”
It has heard nothing from me for such a long time.
This sounds a bit wistful, as if the narrator had a guilty conscience for “going underground”. Considering Mahler’s musical setting and the dwelling on “lange”, it seems as if they realized for the first time how long the time that the world hasn’t heard from them really was.
The S in “sie and “so” are both voiced and here they must be pronounced that way!
A short note on the NG in “lange”: G is not pronounced. Make it sound like NG in “longing”.
Resist the temptation to make a break after “lange”, the focus of this sentence lies on “vernommen”. Sing the whole phrase on one breath.
“Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben”
It may well believe that I have died.
Mahler’s melody gives us the impression that the narrator speaks out the thought of “gestorben” unconsciously at first, startles a bit (dwelling on the O), becomes sad (descending line) and then realizes that their social death it is of no consequence for neither them nor the world. A whole world lies in this (open) O! Savour it without haste.
Again, the S in “sie” and “sei” are voiced.
The sound you should pay attention to in this phrase is the T in “gestorben”. Make it a clear T, not like the D in “verdorben”. It’s also easier to manage the leap to “-orben” when you use the T as a kind of springboard and speak it slightly before the piano G sharp.
“Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen”
I do not care at all
Now, the narrator seeks to clarify that it is of no concern to them what the world thinks. We are zooming in from the world’s view to the narrator’s view.
Mahler’s instruction (“A bit more fluid but without haste”) underlines the narrator’s urgency to proof that the world’s interpretation of their absence is of no importance.
The consonant cluster in “nichts daran” may be a challenge and unfortunately I cannot give you a shortcut here: every sound must be clearly audible even if your tongue has to dance a tarantella ?
Although this phrase’s stress lies in parts on the word “nichts”, do not dwell on it for too long but sing on to “gelegen”.
“Ob sie mich für gestorben hält”
If it takes me for dead
A quick reminder – in case you have not guessed it already – that the S in “sie” is voiced.
Although the O in “gestorben” is the longest note in this phrase, I would recommend not to overdo it. This is not a passionate Puccini aria but an introverted (love) song.
Pronounce the T in “gestorben” as articulate as in the phrase above.
“Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen”
I can hardly contradict it
While reflecting, the narrator realizies (and admits) that they did withdraw from the world on purpose. We are witnessing the development of some inner awareness.
In this phrase we have three CHs (“ich”, “auch”, “nichts”) with two different sounds which could be a bit challenging. If you want to learn more on “ich and ach” click here.
Make the S of “sagen” voiced; you will have to make a little stop after “nichts” in order to set the voiced S. Do not be tempted to connect the words to “nichtsagen”: it would sound as “nicht sagen” which has a slightly different meaning.
At the same time, “sagen” should not be overstressed as the focus of this phrase lies on “dagegen”.
“Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt”
For I have really died to the world.
I think “wirklich” might be a challenge to pronounce: first, both I are open and second, every consonant must be clearly audible although the tongue is darting forward and backword from R to K, from L to CH and forward again to B (“bin”).
As above, the T of “gestorben” must be clearly articulated.
It is up to you if you pronounce the R of “der”; I think it is easier to do so with a one-flap R but choose the version that’s more convenient for you.
“Ich bin gestorben im Weltgetümmel”
I have died in the world’s turmoil.
Throughout the poem, Rückert uses the word “world” instead of “earth”, thus making a contrast between people and everything man-made on one side and nature on the other side. Imagine being in a large crowd of people, seeing them hustling and bustling, feeling their emotions that flood you like waves. Realizing their expectations how you should be in order to fit into their idea of normality. You would slowly drown in this sea of distraction, expectation and overwhelm which is what happened to the narrator.
But why does the poet say “died in turmoil” instead of something like “I am dead to turmoil”? Did he want to stress both aspects, the narrator’s overwhelm as well as their decision to withdraw from society?
I don’t know.
You are invited to form your own opinion…
Again “gestorben”, nothing new to say here (just in case you forgot: pronounce the T clearly).
The Ü in “Weltgetümmel” is open and needs attention because of the note’s length.
In this phrase you can literally bath in the voiced consonants N, W and M. Use them to your advantage.
“Und ruh in einem stillen Gebiet”
And I rest in a quiet realm.
This is the climax of the poem (the last two lines are a conclusion) and yet it is the quietest part of it which makes it more of a reverse climax.
The whole poem retreats step by step from the outside to the inside world. Now we get to know where the narrator not only resides but rests: in a quiet realm deep down inside themselves.
In the U (“ruh”) we can feel the quietness and peacefulness of this place as a great contrast to the “Weltgetümmel” before. Take the rolled (but not overdone) R as a springboard to the B flat of “Ruh”.
Make advantageous use of the N and M in “in einem” and ensure that the T of “stillen” is clearly audible (you may use this as a springboard for the octave leap as well) but without destroying the dream-like meldoy.
Hold your intonation during the descending line of this phrase by keeping up the support.
“Ich leb allein in meinem Himmel”
I live alone in my heaven.
The narrator has created his own paradise (heaven) he has chosen to live in. This retreat is neither motivated by anger, nor fear or resignation. Nor is it a flight into an illusional world. The narrator is neither a victim nor does he bear a grudge against the world or is disappointed. They simply made the decision to turn away from what they have recognized as being not right for them (the outside world) and to choose a lifestyle that lets them lead their life just as they please, not trying to fulfil anyone’s expectations.
To me, this is the essence of freedom and peace.
Mahler’s instructions describe this passage as “intimate” and “without intensification”, placing the focus on complete introspection.
“Allein” in German has two meanings: “alone” and “solely”. It is not clear in this context which version Rückert means; in my opinion it is very likely that both are valid.
Here again we have many voiced consonants (L, N, M). Savour them, especially as there is no need to change your jaw position in building them (except for the B).
“In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied”
In my love, in my song
“Lieben” in German is first and foremost a verb not a noun (which would be “Liebe”), thus, “das Lieben” describes love as an action. At first sight, it does not seem to be of importance but on second thought it must bear some significance. Otherwise Rückert could have easily said “in meiner Liebe”.
To me, “in meiner Liebe” sounds more passive than “in meinem Lieben” but this is only my opinion and you should feel and interpret for yourself. After all, this is what makes art songs interesting.
The melody of the first “in meinem Lieben” repeats (in modulation) the one of “in meinem Himmel”. When it is sung again in a descending line, starting pianissimo, it is a continuation of the piano’s or orchestra’s melody.
Pay attention to the glottal onset of “in”, especially when the G sharp is challenging for you. Support well and start the “in” very tenderly and pianissimo, almost sighing it.
The sequence of descriptions for this place (Himmel – Lieben – Lied) shows again the zooming in from the outside world to the inner core. Here is the place where the narrator can “sing his own song” meaning live his individuality without being forced to fulfil society’s expectations.
During the postlude you have the opportunity to contemplate the newly-found world you talked about and hold your tension until way after the final fermata. If there is a song you must not hurry through, it is this one. It teaches us as singers to stay with utmost concentration in the present moment which is only possible when we have taken care of the best possible preparation.
I have added two of my favourite recordings of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”.
Translation, pronunciation and interpretation guide on W. A. Mozart’s aria “Ach, ich fühl’s” from the opera “Die Zauberflöte”
Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden, Ah, I feel it, it has disappeared
Ewig hin der Liebe Glück! Forever gone love’s happiness!
Nimmer kommt ihr Wonnestunden Never will the hours of bliss come
Meinem Herzen mehr zurück! Back to my heart!
Sieh’, Tamino, diese Tränen, See, Tamino, these tears,
Fließen, Trauter, dir allein! Flowing, beloved, for you alone!
Fühlst du nicht der Liebe Sehnen, If you don’t feel the longing of love
So wird Ruh’ im Tode sein! Then there will be peace in death!
This aria is sung by Pamina, the Queen of the Night’s daughter in the second act of Mozart’s best-known opera “Die Zauberflöte”.
Pamina was kidnapped by evil Sarastro, the Queen’s enemy. The Queen sends Tamino, a young prince, to rescue her daughter; he sets out, accompanied by Papageno a bird-trader and “strange bird” (himself).
When Tamino reaches Sarastro’s temple he learns that Sarastro is not evil but good; he enters the temple to find Pamina (and eventually become a member of Sarastro’s crew). (For a detailed description of the plot, click here)
When Tamino and Pamina see each other for the first time they both fall in love with each other. The more bitter it is for Pamina when she meets Tamino for the second time and he does not talk to her! Not knowing that he has taken a vow of silence , she, of course, thinks that he does not love her (anymore)
In the aria “Ach ich fühl’s”, Pamina expresses her sadness and despair over Tamino’s silence and rejection, announcing suicide at the end.
“Ach, ich fühl’s…”
The aria is written in a deeply-sad G minor key and begins with a very short orchestral foreplay, resembling a funeral march before the soprano (Pamina) sings – or rather sighs – her first words “Ach, ich fühl’s”.
These three words already bear three difficulties for non-German singers: the two different CH-sounds of “ach” and “ich” and the Umlaut “Ü”.
In this blog post here, you can read about the ach/ich-sounds and here you will find more about the formation of a correct German Ü.
Although there is a break after “ach”, the phrase should be sung in one breath leading towards “fühl’s” where the emphasis lies.
“…es ist entschwunden…”
(In some versions: „es ist verschwunden“): make sure the „es“ is a pure open German „e“ not an „ö“. Keep your mouth position for the “ist”, it will make the leap to the G sharp much easier. Also, pay attention to the two “t”s in “ist” and “entschwunden”: they must be audibly articulated but not over-exaggerated.
The consonant cluster in “entschwunden” may seem difficult at first. Practice it slowly and support very well. If you then keep in mind that both the “n” and the “w” are voiced consonants and that the “sch” represents only one sound, the perceived three million consonants have melted down to two. ? The emphasis in this phrase lies on the “schwund” of “entschwunden”, not on “ist”.
“…ewig hin der Liebe Glück.”
As here we have almost only two vocals in different facettes (“e:” and “i:/y:”), keep the position of your mouth in nearly the same position throughout the whole phrase. On “ewig” we have the first small coloratura. Sing it as legato as possible and make sure to have perfect pitch of the D in “ewig” which sometimes tends to be flat.
The repetition of this phrase is very tricky regarding vowel colouring. Especially the leap from “der” to “Liebe” (B flat) can only be managed with a lot of support on the letter “d” of “der” and an adjustment of the [i:] vowel in “Liebe”. It may help you to think an [a:] while singing the [i:].
The [y:] of “Glück”, however, must not be changed. “Glick” is not right.
“Nimmer kommt ihr Wonnestunden…”
In my opinion, this short phrase in major key is the saddest part of the aria. Bittersweet, it is both reminiscence of the “Wonnestunden” and the realization that these hourse of joy and bliss will never come back again. Notice that we have three consonant pairs which make the preceding vowel short and open: “nimmer”, “kommt” and “Wonne”.
The [i:] in “ihr” is the only long and closed vowel here.
“…meinem Herzen mehr zurück.”
The first phrase is sung slightly pushing forward as realization sinks in. Its repetition, with this beautiful but tricky legato line may resemble some inward (!) sobbing. Take a good breath before “meinem” to sing through to the staccatti and maybe even to the end of the phrase. Make the “k”-sound of “Glück” very pronounced.
“Sieh, Tamino”: For the first time in the whole aria Pamina addresses Tamino directly, i.e. going from inward contemplation to actual speaking. Sing it on one breath and make sure to keep the support during the break between “sieh” and “Tamino”. Some singers do this part in a more dramatic way, thus expressing the outward communication (or the attempt of it); others make it a very tender approach, impersonating the woman traumatized by rejection. How you interpret this passage is up to you (and the conductor) but make sure that it stays Mozart and does not become a Wagner or Puccini.
“…diese Tränen fließen, Trauter, dir allein.”
The phrase moves forward as Pamina shows her tears: “diese Tränen fließen, Trauter, dir allein”, appealing to Tamino’s compassion. Take note of the following diction issues:
⫸ Pronounce the “t”s of “Tränen” and “trauter” clearly;
⫸ The “s” of diese” is voiced, the “ß” in “fließen” is unvoiced.
⫸ The only sure [r]-sound is the one in “Tränen”. The “r” in Trauter is a [ə], “dir” is usually pronounced as [di:a], followed by a glottal onset of “allein”. It may be pronounced with a one-flap “r” to avoid this onset. In the latter case, the “r” must not be more than a hint.
“Fühlst du nicht der Liebe sehnen,…”
“Fühlst du nicht der Liebe Sehnen”: The combination of the “t” at the end of “fühlst” and the “d” at the beginning of “du” is a bit difficult. With the rhythm, it is impossible to pronounce both expressly so we make a short stop at the “s” of fühlst, prolonging it slightly (!) and pronouncing the “d” of “du” a bit more articulate than usual. The “I”s of “nicht” and “Liebe” have once more to be adjusted towards an “a” as both lie on an A flat and B flat and are sung very piano, resembling an almost soundless cry.
“…so wird Ruh im Tode sein.”
“So wird Ruh im Tode sein“. Here we have only dark, dull vowels (o, u, a [zaen], determining the bleak atmosphere of Pamina’s last words in this aria where she announces suicide. Make sure to make the “m” of “im Tode” audible, its nasal characteristic will help you.
A further challenge in this phrase is the octave leap of the second “so wird Ruh”; it may help you to make a breathy, unvoiced “r” sound (one-tap flap) and set the “u” of “Ruh” onto the G sharp, i.e. not start on the G sharp with an audible rolled “r”.
“Im Tode sein” is repeated three times. It seems to me (but again, this is only my interpretation) that the first time Pamina sings these words, she is just speaking (or rather: singing) her first thoughts out loudly, frightening back when she actually hears herself say it (pay attention to the dissonant chord). She then tries again the taste of the words “im Tode sein”, culminating in a very quiet, yet determined, last repetition.
I think the most difficult aspect of this aria is that Mozart’s “Zauberflöte” is the most frequently played opera in the world and a large part of your audience will know the arias by heart and in manifold interpretations. Despite its deceptive simplicity it is not easy to perform (a characteristic that is a rule with all Mozart’s music), not only for pronunciation reasons but also because it is sung almost throughout in piano and with difficult legato lines, accompanied quite sparsely.
Below I have attached two recordings of this aria.
One is sung by Tiana Lemnitz (a recording of 1937 )
Translation, pronunciation guide and interpretation tips on “Erlkönig” by Franz Schubert
„Der Erlkönig” is a famous ballad by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, written in 1778 as part of a singspiel. It tells the story of a father riding home with his ill son by night through the woods. The son has increasingly severe hallucinations of a creature he calls the alder king who he imagins speaks to him and attempts to pull him into his kingdom. The father tries to calm the child and hurries to get back home with him. When he enters his court, the boy has died in his arms.
The story goes back to the traditional Danish ballad “Elverskud” where the elf-king’s daughters try to lure humans to satisfy their desires. The Danish “elverkonge” originally means “king of the elves” and has nothing to to with alders (the German “Erlkönig” translates literally as “Alder King”). It has often been suggested that “Erlkönig” is a mistranslation.
Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.
„Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?“
„Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig Mit Kron und Schweif?“
„Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.“
„Du liebes Kind, komm geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel ich mit dir;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.“
„Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?“
„Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.“
„Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.
„Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?“
„Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau,
es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau.“
„Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt,
und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.“
„Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!“
Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind,
er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
erreicht den Hof mit Müh und Not;
in seinen Armen das Kind war tot.
Approaches of Interpretation
The story has been interpreted in several ways:
1. The first is more or less similar to the actual text: the boy is ill and hallucinates because of his high fever of which he dies in the end.
2. The boy is a victim of sexual abuse through the father who is shown with two faces: the abusive father (the Erlkönig) and the good, protective father who tries to blandish his deeds by calming the child and telling him that he imagines things.
3. A third variant is that the Erlkönig is a symbol for the boy’s awakening lust of puberty and that he attempts to pull the boy into his kingdom with erotic fantasies. The boy loses his innocence and his childhood. His death stands for the entering of the adult world, sexuality and his breaking away of his family. The father tries to prevent that by bringing him back home in time, but the arising male urges cannot be stopped.
Linguistic and Formal Analysis
The poem consists of eight stanzas with four verses in the pattern AABB. This accentuates the dialogue-like character of the ballad, e.g. in the dialogues between father and son. The son opens each stanza with the question if the father didn’t hear or see the Erlkönig (V13/14, V21/22). The father answers always rationally, explaining the images as being natural phenomena (fog, dried leaves, old willow trees). Goethe was one of the first writers of nature-magical ballads that showed the conflict between popular beliefs (son) and the ratio of the enlightened man (father).
The ballad has been set to music by several composers. This article treats the version of Franz Schubert who composed this art song in 1815. He revised the song three times before publishing it in 1821. Schubert’s “Erlkönig” is through-composed with a constantly changing harmonic structure as the piece modulates within characters.
In the ballad, four people are represented by a single singer: a narrator, the father, the son and the alder king. Each person has its own range of voice and many singers give each part a different colour of voice.
The narrator sings in middle range, starting in minor key.
The father sings in deep range, singing in minor and major mode.
The son sings in the highest range, mostly in minor mode.
The Erlkönig sings in mid range and in major mode
The Music of Franz Schubert’s “Erlkönig”
The song starts with a piano foreplay; the music is agitated, imitating the rhythm of horse hooves with rapid triplets and introducing a leitmotif in the left hand. A narrator sings the first words of the melody, starting in G minor: “Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.” [Who rides that late through night and wind? It is the father with his child.] Both, the words and the music create a spooky and sinister atmosphere. All vocals (except the “I” in “Wind” and “Kind”) are dark sounds, adding to the gloomness. Although “spät” is held for three quarters (and you of course may breathe after it), the phrase should not be interrupted. Make sure to hold the tension until “Wind”.
The next words show a contrast and describe how the father protectively holds the child in his arms: “Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm, er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.” [He has the child well in his arm, he holds him safely, he holds him warm.].
We are zooming in on the rider and ending in a close-up of father and son until we can hear them speak to each other: “Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?” [My son, why are you looking so fearful?]. The father’s part starts a fifth deeper than the narrator’s, beginning with a low D and moves within small intervals (a third being the largest). The rising, temporarily even chromatic melody line shows that the father, despite his calm words, is worried. And he has every reason to be: the son tells him in a fearful whisper (pp) about a creature, the Erlkönig, he imagines seeing: “Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht? Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?” [Father, don’t you see the alder king? The alder king with crown and cape?]. By the way: the German word “Schweif” not only means ‘cape’ or ‘train’ but also ‘tail’ which may be a sexual allusion.
The father, tries to calm his son by telling him that he has mistoken the fog for a person. “Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif” [My son, it is a streak of fog.].
Enter the Erlkönig! It is almost as if he were sitting right next to the boy, whispering into his ear: “Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! Gar schöne Spiele spiel ich mit Dir;” [You lovely child, come, go with me! I will play wonderful games with you.]. The accompaniment changes for the first time, letting the hooves no longer sound agitated in a gloomy atmosphere but almost creating the impression of a joyful, carefree carriage ride in the sun. It is also notable, that the part begins and ends in a major key. The Erlkönig uses his power of seduction, beckoning the child to come with him, promising him “wonderful games” (again maybe a sexual allusion) and trying to lure the boy with [colourful flowers] (“bunte Blumen”) and [golden robes] (“gülden Gewand”).
The boy is scared and wants to have the father’s confirmation of what he had just heard: ”Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht, was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?” [My father, my father and do you not hear what alder king is promising me?]. The melody is dominated by chromatics, increasing the expression of the boy’s fear and despair. Note, that the first part of the sentence (until “hörest du nicht”) is sung forte, while the second part is in piano, almost as if the boy was afraid of saying aloud what he experienced. Also, the plea is higher in pitch than the first one.
The father, however, does not give an answer to the boy’s question but commands him to be quiet: “Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind; in dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.” [Be calm, stay calm, my child; the wind is rustling through dried leaves.]. As before, we can hear the worry underneath the calming words.
Once again, the accompaniment changes, becoming almost dance-like, when the Erlkönig appears a second time:”Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn? Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön; meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein“ [Precious boy, do you not want to go with me? My daughters will wait on you, my daughters lead the nightly dance and rock and dance and sing you to sleep.]. The last part (“und singen und tanzen…”) is repeated, emphasizing the feeling of a dance or even a lullaby.
The boy is even more agitated now and shouts out to his father that he sees Erlkönig’s daughters: “Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?” [My father, my father, and do you not see Erlkönig’s daughters in the gloomy place?]. A last time, the father tries to soothe the boy: “Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau, es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau“ [My son, my son, I see it clearly, there shimmer the old willows so grey.] Schubert gives this answer an even more agitated touch by inserting two fifth steps (“mein Sohn”, “genau”) and expanding the range to an octave. This and the fact that the father’s part for the first time end in a minor key show that he is very alarmed.
When the Erlkönig now appears for the last time, he does not bother to sugarcoat his intentions any longer; his words are explicit: “Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt, und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt!“ [I love you, I am excited by your beautiful body and if you are not willing, then I will use force!]
The piano accompaniment has not changed this time, which adds to the expressed threat. Also, the harmonies are characterized by dissonances and an increase in volume, and the loudest part of the song (fff) is the Erlkönig’s last words “so brauch ich Gewalt!”
The boy’s reaction comes almost instantly, and he cries out in horror and dispair: “Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an! Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!” [My father, my father, he is touching me now! Erlkönig has hurt me!]. It is a statement now, no longer a question, that the boy, crazed with fear and having lost all control, cries out at the top of his voice. Note that the father does not reply to him now. He himself is overwhelmed with horror (or guilt). Words are no longer of use; he is forced to act.
The Lied enters its final part where the narrator describes the father’s feelings and reaction: “Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind, er hält in den Armen das ächzende Kind“ [the father is terrified, he is riding swiftly on, he holds the groaning child in his arms]. The narrator as well is agitated which shows in the ascending notes, culminating in the word “ächzende” and the accelerando that drives the song to its end. After this agitated ride, symbolized by the piano with volume, increasing tempo and dynamics, the father finally reaches his farm or courtyard. “Erreicht den Hof mit Müh und Not;“ [he reaches the courtyard with great difficulties ]. The tempo slows down and the accompaniment stops completely after “Müh und Not”, adding an even more dramatic effect to the last words: “In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.” [In his arms the child was dead]. As the piano has ceased to play, rhythm and tempo vanish into the background and the last words “war tot” have an almost recitative-like Quality.
It is notable that the last verb is in the past tense (“war tot” [was dead]) while the whole ballad is written in the present tense. As mentioned before, this could indicate that the boy’s innocence died due to a sexual abuse or that he crossed the threshold from boy to man.
Schubert’s “Erlkönig” is a masterpiece of the Romantic Age and the genre of through-composed art songs that started for a reason with Franz Schubert.
At his time, Schubert’s setting to music of the “Erlkönig” with all its complicated harmonies and dissonances was something totally new to the audience. Nevertheless (or because of that) it was celebrated as a masterpiece. The composition is daring, virtuous, hard to sing and to accompany. But even more so, it is close to the text, incredibly expressive and emotional.
There are those rare occasions where famous texts find a suitable artistic representation that become inextricably linked with the original. Schubert’s music of Goethe’s ballad “Der Erlkönig” is an example for that.