“Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Franz Schubert) – Translation, Pronunciation Guide and Analysis

“Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Franz Schubert) – Translation, Pronunciation Guide and Analysis

The following article is about Franz Schubert’s song “Der Tod und das Mädchen”. It provides you with a translation, a pronunciation guide and an analysis of the text.

Text and translation

Vorüber, ach vorüber
geh, wilder Knochenmann!
Ich bin noch jung. Geh, Lieber,
und rühre mich nicht an!

Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebild
bin Freund und komme nicht zu strafen.
Sei gutes Muts! Ich bin nicht wild.
Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen.


Go past, oh go past,
go wild bone man!
I am still jung. Go, dear,
and do not touch me!

Give your hand, you beautifuly and tender creature
I am friend and do not come to punish.
Be of good courage! I am not wild.
You shall sleep softly in my arms.

Historical background

Grien, Tod und das Mädchen

Hans Baldung Grien: Der Tod und das Mädchen, 1517

The poem on which Franz Schubert’s wonderful song is based, originates from 1775 and was written by German poet Matthias Claudius. Claudius uses the picture of an encounter between death and a maiden that death has come to take with him. This has been a well-known theme since the 15th century.

The poem consists of two stanzas with four lines each. In the first stanza the maiden is speaking and in her short exclamations we can sense her panic and fear of death. In the second stanza, death soothes her by telling her that he’s not a wild creature but comes as a friend.

Franz Schubert set this poem to music in 1817. It is written in d minor and consists of four parts: the piano prelude, the maiden’s part, death’s part and an postlude. The tempo is marked as “mäßig” which can be anything from andante to moderato.

The piano starts with a slow rhythm of one long and two short notes which is known as Pavane rhythm. This rhythm was often used for funeral marches and Schubert made use of it to paint the picture of death relentlessly entering the maiden’s room.

When the maiden sees death, she gets into a panic which is symbolized by the agitated accompaniment in the piano, the edgy rising and falling of the melody and the fact that the maiden’s part consists of an unlucky thirteen bars.

In part three, the rhythm of the beginning takes over again, and death speaks to the maiden. He introduces himself as friend, tells her to not be afraid of him and reassures her that she will sleep softly in his arms.

The song ends similar to it s beginning with the Pavane rhythm but this time in d major (key has changed in part three).

Pronunciation and interpretation

“Vorüber, ach vorüber”

In this case, V is pronounced as F.
The first R in “vorüber” is rolled, the second as part of the end syllable “-er” is pronounced as [ə].
Make sure to pronounce the Ü properly; in case you’re not sure about its correct sound, read this article.

The maiden lies in her bed, ill and fatigued, when death enters her room. Seeing him she instantly realizes that he’s about to take her with him and she cries out in panic. Her agitation becomes clear not only in the piano accompaniment but also in the breathless pause after the first “vorüber” and the rising of the melody. It gives the impression of the maiden summoning all the power she has left in her body to hold death at bay.

“Geh wilder Knochenmann”

The only closed vowel in this line is the E in “geh”, all the others are open.
Contrary to the line before, this here must be be sung in legato. Fortunately, there are no tricky consonants or clusters that would make a legato difficult. Just go with the flow and remember that the “-er” in “wilder” is pronounced [ə].

In this line, the girl shows a first peak of her fear, shouting at him that he’s a “wild bone-man”. We could almost imagine that she grabs a pillow and throws it – together with her words – at death.

“Ich bin noch jung”

It may be challenging to let the I of “bin” stay open during the long note but nevertheless make sure to keep it that way.

Here the girl changes her strategy and tries to reason with death by saying that she’s still young, implying that he should get old people first. Maybe it’s also and attempt to wake pity in death: being young she hasn’t had much of her life.

“Geh, Lieber, und rühre mich nicht an“

E, I and Ü in „Geh“, „Lieber“ and „rühre“ are long and closed, all the other vowels are short and open. Pay special attention to the two CH-sounds in “mich” and “nicht” and make sure that they are pronounced softly. In this article I describe the different CH-sounds in German.

Again, the girl changes her strategy and addresses death as lover. The use of the word “Lieber” here is interesting: had it been written in lowercase letters, it would have meant “rather” (as in “go rather”) whereas here, written with a capital L, it means “Dear”. There is some discussion going on about this spelling and some say that it’s an error of copying and it was meant as “rather”.

However, I like the idea of the girl trying to flatter death and thus changing his mind. Maybe it’s the way she has learnt to go when wanting something from others. The maiden tries  to smooth-talk death into leaving her alone, i.e. letting her live.

But already at “rühre mich nicht an” the accompaniment changes from the agitated rhythm into the long-short-short beat of the beginning.

By the second “rühre mich nicht an”, the maiden has realized that there’s no escape and she starts surrendering to her fate.

“Gib Deine Hand, Du schön und zart Gebild‘“

The I in “gib” and the A-sound in “Deine” are closed, as are the U in “du”, the Ö in “schön” and the A in “zart”.

Although “gib”, “Hand” and “Gebild’” end with a soft plosive, you must pronounce them hard, that means as P and T. Make sure to pronounce every consonant of the cluster at “und zart” [unt tsart], especially the two separate Ts.

While in the former line the maiden panic-strickenly implores death not to touch her, here, death reverses roles and asks the maiden to touch him, or rather give him her hand. Apart from the physical touch, this choice of words can also be interpreted as giving him her hand in a kind of marriage. You remember that the girl addresses death as “Lieber” (“Dear”); death repeats as a lover, here.

A further proof for this theory is death’s description of the girl as “schön und zart Gebild’” (beautiful and tender creature).

While in the preceding stanza, death was purely described from the girl’s point of view as terrifying bone-man and her enemy, here death gives us a very different impression of his character. He does not attack but, on the contrary, asks her to give him her hand voluntarily. The accompaniment has slowed down again, making his advances very soft, even tender. All this, added to his admiring words for her beauty, give the impression of a lover seducing.

„Bin Freund und komme nicht zu strafen“

Here, again, the D at the end of “Freund” must be pronounced as T.

Pronounce the diphthong EU in “Freund” as a succession of [ɔ] and [ø], holding the [ɔ] for approximately three quarters of the note and finishing off with the [ø]. For further information on how to pronounce German diphthongs, head over to this article.

Here, death changes his „appearance“ from lover to friend, thus changing the common conviction that death is the punishment for severe wrong-doing. He makes it very clear that he does not come to punish anybody. The soothing effect is intensified by the melody being on almost one note only, calming the girl with its monotony.

The most genial twist in this line, however, is that Schubert changes the whole musical setting from minor to major during the word “strafen”. We can almost see how the girl’s view changes at this point from seeing death as a brutal enemy, to a lover to a friend (a father figure even) that can be trusted.

“Sei gutes Muts, ich bin nicht wild“

The S of „sei“ is voiced, the ending S of “gutes Muts” are both unvoiced. You may prolong the N between “bin nicht”, combining the two words to one and thus holding the legato line. Make sure to pronounce the T at the end of “nicht” and “wild” audibly but without overdoing it.

Death tells the maiden to have courage (instead of fear), promising that he is soft (not wild as she thought at first). Again, the melody dwells on one note only, increasing the girl’s trust into death and also lulling her into sleep.

“Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen“

The beginning S of „sollst” and “sanft” are both voiced and the combination of these two words may be a bit challenging due to the many voiced and unvoiced consonants in perceivably rapid succession. Make sure to pronounce every single sound distinctly and make a short pause between the two words so that you can start the voiced S of “sanft” anew.

We have reached the final state where the girl has surrendered to death completely. He promises her that he will hold her in his arms where she shall sleep softly. The poet picks up the idea of death resembling deep sleep. It is a very peaceful and soft picture conjured up in our minds that we hold during the postlude.


Schiele, Tod und Mädchen

Egon Schiele, “Tod und Mädchen”, 1915

Schubert has mastered to set to music a picture of a whole world into a two-and-a-half-minute song. In it we not only witness a change of perception in the girl from regarding death as brutal, sentencing enemy to a loving and tender friend, we experience it ourselves by the genial musical setting (remember the  rhythm and the clever change from minor to major).

I never get tired of listening to this masterpiece of poetry and music. There are many wonderful interpretations out there and as usual I have chosen two of my favourite ones below.

The first is sung by the wonderful Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:


This version is interpreted by the great Christa Ludwig:


“Auch kleine Dinge” (Hugo Wolf) – A Guide to Pronunciation, Analysis and Interpretation

“Auch kleine Dinge” (Hugo Wolf) – A Guide to Pronunciation, Analysis and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation guide and text analysis
(interpretation tips) of
“Auch kleine Dinge” by Hugo Wolf

Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken,
auch kleine Dinge können t(h)euer sein.
Bedenkt, wie gern wir uns mit Perlen schmücken,
sie werden schwer bezahlt und sind doch klein.
Bedenkt, wie klein ist die Olivenfrucht,
und wird um ihre Güte doch gesucht.
Denkt an die Rose nur, wie klein sie ist,
Und duftet doch so lieblich, wie ihr wisst.

Even small things can delight us,
Even small things can be precious.
Think how gladly we adorn ourselves with pearls,
They are paid a heavy price for but are only small.
think about how small an olive is
And yet it is desired for its quality.
Think about the rose, how small it is
And yet it smells so lovely, as you know.

Historical background

This beautiful song opens Hugo Wolf’s first book of his “Italienisches Liederbuch” (Italian Songbook) which was composed in two parts, the first of which in 1891. The poems in the two books come from a collection of Italian poems collected and translated into German by Paul Heyse.

Wolf preferred high-quality poems which he set into high-quality music, contrasting to for example Franz Schubert, who often took mediocre poems but nevertheless set them to brilliant music.

Delving into the Hugo Wolf’s biography we could get the impression that he was not a very amiable character: a lazy pupil who got expelled from school, not getting his feet to the ground in the musical world, “switching sides” and working as music critic at a magazine – a job he only got because one of his patrons paid for it. In this profession he very clearly and mercilessly expressed his ardent admiration for Richard Wagner and his deep contempt of Johannes Brahms.

In 1887 (at the age of 27), he published his first twelve songs, quit his job at the magazine and dedicated his life to composing. During the following nine years he was extremely productive, wrote hundreds of songs, three operas, choral and instrumental music. Yet, his creative outbursts of productivity were often interrupted by periods of depression and anxiety,

Hugo Wolf also suffered from syphilis. In 1897, he slipped into syphilic insanity and spent most of the time until his death in 1903 in asylums.

Pronunciation and interpretation

“Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken“

Start the song tenderly. You are inwardly reflecting the topic. Imagine all the small things in your life that give you value, that delight you. I’m pretty sure that a smile will appear on your face. Hold that feeling when starting the song!

To sing the German diphthong AU in “auch” correctly, bear in mind that the U is pronounced as [ɔ]. Pronounce the EI in “kleine” as [ae] For more details on the correct execution of German diphthongs, head over here.

Also in “auch”, we have one of the German CH-sounds which in this case is pronounced [x].
If CH in German are a mystery to you, you’ll definitely want to read this article.

Make sure that the G in the NG-sound of “Dinge” is silent (like in the English word “ring”), even though a vowel follows.

The I in “Dinge” is open, as is the Ö in “können”.
If you’re not entirely sure how to pronounce a German Ö, this article’s what you’re looking for.

We have a consonant cluster in the word “entzücken”, consisting of four sounds (although there are only three consonants): [nt-ts]. It is important that you make a very slight stop between the two T-sounds and thus distinguish the prefix from the verb.

The repeated pitches on the changing syllables of “können uns ent-“ can be tricky regarding good tuning. I recommend practising this passage as one long note on the respective vowels (ö-e-u-e). Glide from one vowel to the other controlling your pitch. Only when you’ve mastered that, add the consonants.

“auch kleine Dinge können teuer sein”

The German word “teuer” (or “theuer” as found in some older editions) has two meanings, “expensive” and “precious” or “dear”.

In “teuer” we have the third variant of German diphthongs which is pronounced [ɔø]. Make sure that the ending “-er” is carried out as [ɐ].

The S in “sein” is voiced which is easier when – as recommended above – the preceding word ends with an [ɐ].

“Bedenkt, wie gern wir uns mit Perlen schmücken”

In this song line, the focus transitions from inner reflection to an outward-bound statementHere, we have reached the point where we address an audience of some kind, be it just one person or a group of people we are talking to. (Yeah, I know, “bedenkt” usually indicates plural but it can also be the former polite form of “bedenke”.)

You may make a very small caesura after “bedenkt”, but make sure to sing the whole phrase on one breath and not interrupt the legato line. Remember to pay attention to your pitch.

Although we have twice the vowel E in “bedenkt”, it is pronounced in two different ways: sing the prefix “be-“ as schwa [ə] and the E in “denkt” as [Ɛ]. The following idea may help you to get the pronunciation right: let the first vowel head towards a short and open [Ø] and the second towards an [æ].

The only long and closed vowels in this phrase are the I in “wie” and “wir”, all other vowels are open.

Don’t roll the R in “gern” as well as in “Perlen” too much; I’d rather recommend carrying them out as single tongue tap.
(Did you know there are three different ways of pronouncing the German R in singing? This article dives deeper into this matter!)

As I said, the Ü in “schmücken” is short and open and tempting as it might be to make it closed, please resist! Think (only!) of an Ö instead and you’ll get the right colouring.

“sie werden schwer bezahlt und sind doch klein”

The choice of words here, “schwer bezahlt” (heavily paid for) is uncommon in German; you’d rather say “teuer bezahlt” or, at best, “hoch bezahlt” which, energetically speaking, have a much lighter vibration. And Wolf did something genially here: to take the heaviness, and thus the seriousness of the word “schwer”, he set it at the highest note of an ascending line.

Brilliant as it is from a musical point of view, it bears a challenge for the singer as E and I are not our favourite vowels for high notes. That said, don’t sit on “schwer” but hold the legato line and head over to “bezahlt”.

Pronounce the S in “sie” voiced; the vowels in “sie”, “werd-“, “schwer”, “-zahlt” and “klein” are long and closed, all others short and open.

“Werden” and “schwer” both have an R which, again, should not be rolled excessively but pronounced as a one-tap trill or even
as vocalic R.

“Bedenkt, wie klein ist die Olivenfrucht”

Where the pearls addressed our visual sense, the olives here speak to our taste.

The combination of T/D-sounds in “ist die” may be a bit challenging, yet not that much when you know how to do it😊: hold the S a bit longer (thus, imploding the T-sound) and explode with a clear D of “die”.

The O and I in “Oliven” are long and closed vowels whereas the U in “frucht” is open. You may have an (open) O in mind when singing the U, just to give it the right colouring.

“und wird um ihre Güte doch gesucht”

The syncope and dwelling on „Güte doch gesucht” provide this phrase with a dreamlike quality, awakening one’s desire or appetite (for olives, in this case 😉).

The I, Ü and U in “ihre”, “Güte” and “gesucht” are long and closed, the other vowels are all short and open.

Make sure to pronounce the CH-sounds in “doch” and “gesucht” correctly as [x].

“Denkt an die Rose nur, wie klein sie ist”

The dreaminess increases here, with the phrase sung on only three notes. The three closed vowels of “Rose”, “nur” and “klein” add to this dreaminess. Imagine holding a small rose in your hand, tenderly protecting it from all harshness and admiring it for it’s beauty.

The S in “Rose” and “sie” are voiced, the one in “ist” is unvoiced.

Start the phrase with a clear D and avoid adding a shadow sound (like N) before.

“Und duftet doch so lieblich, wie ihr wisst”

After vision and taste, we now address the sense of smelling. In my opinion, this is the trickiest part of the song: singing the “duftet” very tenderly and intimately on this high note. The F in “duftet” can be used cleverly to waft the rose’s perfume a little more.

It’s also interesting to see how the vowel colouring changes from the relatively heavy U/O (und duftet doch so) to a light I (lieblich, wie ihr wisst). Make this colouring audible without overdoing it.

The U in “duftet” and the O in “doch” are open, the O in “so” as well as the I in “lieb-“, “wie” and “ihr” are closed. The CH-sound in “lieblich” is the lighter version and must be pronounced as [ç].

The S in “so” is voiced, the double S in “wisst” on the other hand is unvoiced.


“Auch kleine Dinge” is an easy song regarding range but challenging when it comes to tone and tuning. The “little things” are demonstrated in small intervals and you have to make sure to tune the semitones perfectly.

Pick a tempo that’s not too slow (so as not to make it dramatic) and let your breath flow easily. Sometimes when we want to sing quietly and in tune, we tend to tense up, squeeze our throat and thus darken the voice. Make sure to sing this song very lightly and with a free (but supported) voice.

This is a song where you can let your imagination help you: imagine small things that are precious to you. It needn’t be pearls and olives, use something that you like and think of them as you sing about the poet’s images.

As usual, I’ve linked two recordings of “Auch kleine Dinge” by Hugo Wolf. The first is sung by Christa Ludwig:


Here Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau interprets the song:


“An die Musik” (Franz Schubert) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

“An die Musik” (Franz Schubert) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation guide and text analysis
(interpretation tips) of
“An die Musik” by Franz Schubert


Du holde Kunst,
in wie viel grauen Stunden
wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
hast mich in eine bessre Welt entrückt!

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen,
ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
den Himmel bess’rer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

Oh noble art,
in how many grey hours
when life’s fierce orbit weaved around me,
did you kindle my heart to warm love
did you carry me away to a better world!

Often has a sigh, pouring from your harp,
a sweet, holy chord of you,
unlocked the heaven of better times
oh, noble art, I thank you!


Historical and political background

In 1817, when this poem was written (and the song composed), the Napoleonic wars had just ceased a few years ago and Europe and its borders had been reordered in the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The goal was of course, to avoid further wars in Europe. Yet, the price for this prescribed peace was the suppression of national and liberal as well as democratic aspirations.

Every movement was watched suspiciously and censorship was extreme. Whenever something was to be published, even novels or poems it had to undergo a strict examination. Many works were censored, their writers even prosecuted. It was forbidden to bring books across a border.

In these times of post-war and restauration, severe suppression of free opinion and speech, Schubert and his circle (among it many poets) were in a constant conflict between the desire to express themselves and their thoughts and the need to stay out of conflict with the law.

It’s no wonder, they wished for a “better world” and I’m sure they meant it when – as in Schober’s poem – they used the arts to get there. Music helped (and helps!) to forget the sorrows and woes and to escape to some otherworldly place.


Franz von Schober

Franz von Schober (1796 – 1882) was an Austrian poetrist, librettist, lithograph, actor and “Legationsrat”. He was close friends with Franz Schubert, the sometimes even called themselves “Schobert”.

From 1818 they lived together in Schober’s apartment in Vienna. Schober loved the arts and was well acquainted with many artists, especially the ones in Schubert’s circle. It’s also due to him that Franz Schubert’s work became known during his life time and beyond.

Franz Schubert set 13 of Schober’s poems to music, one of them “An die Musik” in 1817.


The song

The poem is an expression of thanks to music. In these two stanzas the author (musician, singer,…) thanks music, the “noble art” for helping them getting away into a “better world”.

In his poem, Schober praises the Romantic view of music – or art in general – as a place of refuge and a means to alleviate the sorrows and pains of earthly presence like in a prayer. Art plays the role of a spiritual act as a kind of religious service.

This song is an expression of thanks as well as a prayer.

In this blog article, we’ll tackle the song line by line, analysing the obvious and underlying meaning of the text and looking at its pronunciation. let’s dive right in:


Du holde Kunst

You’re addressing music like a person, yet it is taken as the most abstract form: art. If Schober hadn’t given his poem the title “An die MUSIK”, we wouldn’t know (at least not now) that he meant music. Art is the umbrella term here and could mean anything: music, poetry, painting, drawing, singing,…

The German word “hold” means friendly, lovely, graceful – words we usually attribute to a woman and which are here attributed to music.

In this line, the U of “Du” is the only closed vowel. Make sure that all the other vowels are open, especially the U in “Kunst” as contrast to “Du”. As “Kunst” has to be held rather long, it may be a bit of a challenge to fing the right colouring.


In wie viel grauen Stunden

It’s interesting that Schober doesn’t refer to “dark” (= black) but “grey” hours. Grey is a rather neutral color that doesn’t stand out, and thus doesn’t necessarily represent gloom or tragedy but the gnawing distress of constant worrying, sorrow, boredom, dullness,

I guess we all know these hours of nothingness, where we feel burdened, bored and frustrated. Times like these make us either feel trapped and bound, not to be able to do what we want; or bored and frustrated because we cannot see a way out. Either way, it’s a mixture of anger, frustration and hopelessness that makes hours “grey”.

The I in “in” is open whereas the I in “wie” and “vielen “ are closed.
Make sure you get the diphthong in “grauen” right: hold the [a] for approximately three quarters of the note length and then glide over to the [ɔ]. You’ll find more information on how to pronounce German diphthongs correctly here.

Pronounce the U in “Stunden” open. This may be a bit of a challenge as the note is relatively long. Nevertheless, don’t get tempted to close the vowel too much (see “Kunst” in the preceding line).


Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt

What an incredibly poetic use of words! We can see life weaving a net around us that gets tighter and tighter. And why does Schober use the word “wild”? Did he really mean fierce – which would imply some malicious intent? Or did he mean “uncontrollable”, meaning that life’s a series of (sometimes bad) incidents? These may seem petty thoughts but it’s important that you as a singer make up your mind about them. What’s your impression in this case? Although no one will ask you about it, it’ll mirror in your interpretation.

The O in “Wo” and the first E in “Leben” are the only closed vowels in this line. Make sure the CH-sound in “mich” is not to throaty – you’ll find invaluable information on the different CH-sounds in German here.

You can either pronounce the -er in “wilder” as a schwa: [ə] or with a one-flap R which alters the vowel to [Ɛɾ]. There’s more information on the different uses of R in German in this article. Make your choice and stick to it throughout the whole song.

Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden

How great a contrast between this and the preceding line, between “life’s fierce orbit” and the “kindling of warm love” in one’s heart. It’s a bit like being in the eye of the storm: no matter how insane things are around you, you are calm and safe, warm and full of love – thanks to music.

In order to hold the legato line, we must make several implosions here, for example “has-du”, “en-tsunden”. The succeeding Zs in the term “Herz zu” are a bit tricky because you must pronounce the double sound TS twice in rapid succession. (More on the Z here).

The -er of “warmer” is pronounced similar to “wilder” in the preceding line (see there).

Make sure to articulate every sound of the TZ in “entzunden” very clearly: [Ɛnt-tsun-dƐn]

Hast mich in eine bessre Welt entrückt

A better world. What better place to get put into, especially when things are hard and you don’t have any control on the ongoings in the world’s turmoil around you.

“Entrückt” is an interesting word: in the beginnings of its use, it meant something like “being taken with force”, but later on it got a spiritual touch, meaning that mind or soul (or both) went or were taken beyond material boundaries into a spiritual world.

This line is repeated, showing us its significance. The stress in the first time lies on “Welt”, whereas at the repetition it lies on “bessre”. With the repetition and the different stresses, Schubert covers both important words.

Except for the A-sound in “eine”, we only have open vowels here.

Prolong the (open) A of „hast“ and speak the STM (“hast mich”) as late as possible to uphold the legato.
The same goes for “bessre”: prolong the first E (which is open) and take the S as beginning of the next syllable (-re).

We have a glottal onset at the beginning of “entrückt”, but make sure that it’s only a very slight one by speaking the T of the preceding word “Welt” almost as beginning of “entrückt”: Wel -t I e-ntrü-ckt
If you are not sure how to pronounce an authentic German Ü, this article may be interesting.

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf‘ entflossen

Here we have the image of music as a human being, holding a harp that sometimes pours out “sighs” (which get specified in the next line). When at first, music was addressed as “art”, that is an abstractum, we now have a personification. This increases the intimacy of the second stanza, giving it the touch of a love song.

Again, we have only one closed vowel in this line and that is the A-sound in “deiner”. All other vowels are open.

Make a small caesura after “Seufzer” – the comma is often a good indicator when to make a pause or draw a breath.


Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir

A “sweet” and “holy chord”. The words already tell you how to sing the phrase: sweet and holy.

The holiness of this prayer-like song finds its reflection in the “holy chord”

Make sure to pronounce the S at the beginning of “süßer” voiced, the ß unvoiced. Again, you can make a small caesura between “süßer” and “heiliger” – not only because of the comma but also because these two words describe very contrary characteristics.

Although I’d recommend pronouncing the -er of “süßer” and “heiliger” as schwa-sounds, you may also articulate a discreet one-flap R if that makes it easier for you to combine them with the following words.

The R in “Akkord” must be clearly audible.

“Dir”, however, is pronounced without the R-sound: [di:a]

Den Himmel bessrer Zeiten mir erschlossen

In the first stanza we were “taken to a better world”, presupposing that this world exists now, maybe parallel to our world or the circumstances we live in.

In this line, however, music unlocks the “heaven of better times”. We have switched from locality to temporality, indicating that right now we do not have good times but that they will come.
One could argue that this is only a hope expressed. Yet, in my opinion the poet/singer already feels the energy of this not yet visible paradise, either implying that its appearance is right around the corner or – by imagining and feeling it – we play an active role in materializing it.

Be aware that “erschließen” not only means to unlock but also to (make) understand something. As “heaven” implies a spiritual place (not a material one), this may refer to experiencing spiritual bliss.

The E in “den” and the A-sound in “Zeiten” are the only closed vowels in this line.

As in the preceding line, the -er of “bessrer” and “erschlossen” as well as “mir”s may be pronounced as schwa-sounds or with a one-flap R.

“Himmel” may be a bit of a challenge here, especially making sure that the I is open throughout the relatively long note. As a trick, you could think(!) of an Ü to give the vowel the right colouring.


du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür

Similar to the end of the first stanza, Schubert switches the musical focus and thus the stress in the repetition: the first stress lies on “dir”, the second one on “danke”. The song ends (almost) with the same words as it has begun “du holde Kunst”, forming wonderfully a closed circle.

Be careful that the A in “danke” doesn’t get too nasal. This is a common issue with vowels followed by NG or NK. Be very strict with yourself and pay close attention to the production of a clear and brilliant A.

All vowels, except the E in “danke”, are closed which makes it very easy in this context.

Do not pronounce the R at the end of “dafür”; you may make the R in “dir” a one-flap R – but only the first time when it is followed by “dafür”. In the repetition where the line ends with “dir”, the R shouldn’t be pronounced.



Although the song is considered a beginner’s level it has its challenges.

The first is to keep the vowels open even on long notes. Vowel coloring is very important

Next, we have the legato lines. Thankfully enough, there are no difficult consonant clusters to be taken care of here; nevertheless, the fluent combination of words is not always easy.

And last but not least there’s the challenge to sing this song with a real intention of thanks. Don’t become tempted to get overly sentimental or pathetic. Schubert is anything but that!


As usual, I add two recordings of this wonderful song. The first one is sung by the late Christa Ludwig:


Whereas this version of the song is interpreted by Julian Prégardien:

“Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Franz Schubert) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

“Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Franz Schubert) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation guide and text analysis (interpretation tips) of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” by Franz Schubert

Text and Translation

Meine Ruh ist hin                                                                    My peace is gone
Mein Herz ist schwer                                                             my heart is heavy
Ich finde sie nimmer und nimmermehr.                           I’ll never and nevermore (again) find peace.

Wo ich ihn nicht hab, ist mir das Grab,                             Where I don’t have him, mine is the grave
die ganze Welt ist mir vergällt.                                           The whole world is bitter to me
Mein armer Kopf ist mir verrückt,                                     my poor head is crazed
mein armer Sinn ist mir zerstückt.                                    My poor mind is shattered

Meine Ruh ist hin                                                                 My peace is gone
Mein Herz ist schwer                                                           my heart is heavy
Ich finde sie nimmer und nimmermehr.                         I’ll never and nevermore (again) find peace.

Nach ihm nur schau ich zum Fenster hinaus,                For him only I look out of the window
nach ihm nur geh ich aus dem Haus.                               For him only I leave the house
Sein hoher Gang, seine edle Gestalt,                                His walk walk, his noble appearance
seines Mundes Lächeln, seiner Augen Gewalt,              his mouth’s smile, his eyes‘ power
und seiner Rede Zauberfluss,                                            And his speech’s magic flow,
sein Händedruck und ach, sein Kuss!                              the press of his hand and oh, his kiss!

Meine Ruh ist hin                                                                My peace is gone
Mein Herz ist schwer                                                          my heart is heavy
Ich finde sie nimmer und nimmermehr.                        I’ll never and nevermore (again) find peace.

Mein Busen drängt sich nach ihm hin,                           My bosom urges towards him
ach dürft ich fassen und halten ihn                                oh if only I could seize and hold him
und küssen ihn, so wie ich wollt                                      and kiss him as I want
an seinen Küssen vergehen sollt,                                   in his kisses I would die
oh könnt ich ihn küssen wie ich wollt,                           oh if only I could kiss him as I want
an seinen Küssen vergehen sollt!                                    In his kisses I would die

Meine Ruh ist hin                                                                My peace is gone
Mein Herz ist schwer…                                                      my heart is heavy…

Historical background

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The above poem was written by no less than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great German poet. It’s integrated in his great drama “Faust – Der Tragödie erster Teil“, the most important work in German literature!

Goethe’s “Faust” premiered in 1808.

Franz Schubert

In October 1814, October 19 to be exact, Franz Schubert set the poem to music. As a title he simply chose the stage directions “Gretchen am Spinnrade”. Many consider this extraordinary song the first real “German Lied” and the date of its composition is sometimes declared “the birthday of the Romantic Art Song”.

Schubert was only seventeen years old when he wrote this masterpiece!

The story of “Faust”

Let me just sum up the plot of Goethe’s “Faust” so that we get to know a bit more about Gretchen’s situation:

“Faust” tells the story of the scientist Heinrich Faust who sold his soul to the devil.

Although very well educated, Faust is weary of the fact that he can’t find out more about the essential secrets of life. In his depression he wants to kill himself but is kept from suicide by the devil.

Why the devil? Before the actual drama, there is a prologue where God muses about good and evil. God is convinced that man is by nature good and that not even a sceptic like Faust could be tempted by evil. The devil holds against it, and they make a bet.

Faust then is lured to make a pact with the devil: Mephisto (the devil) promises to be at Faust’s service and to grant him every wish he has. In return, Faust promises his soul to the devil if he wants to grasp a happy moment. From now on, the devil is at Faust’s side.

Faust meets Gretchen

Gretchen und Faust.

When Faust sets his eyes on Gretchen for the first time he is charmed by her. He demands from Mephisto that he helps him making Gretchen his lover.

They meet, first in the garden house than at her neighbour’s garden and Faust is desperate to have sex with her. He gives Gretchen a sleeping drug for her mother so that they can meet undisturbedly (which they do). The mother, however, dies from the drug.

Gretchen confides her affair with Faust to her brother Valentin who wants to take revenge on her and challenges Faust on a duel. Mephisto, however, intervenes with magic and Faust kills Valentin. In dying, Valentin curses Gretchen and makes her affair public. When Gretchen goes to church to pray, a demon appears and confirms her suspicion that she is pregnant.

Faust in the meantime has fled with Mephisto. At one point, he gets news that Gretchen has become crazy, drowned her new-born baby and was now in prison to await her death sentence. He urges Mephisto to free her and they get into prison. Gretchen, however, refuses to come with him, dies and her soul is saved.

Mephisto takes Faust with him.


Musical and textual background

Gretchen spinning

Goethe placed the poem shortly after the first romantic encounter between Gretchen and Faust. She’s infatuated with the overwhelming feelings of first love. We must not forget that she is very young, sixteen to be exact and totally unexperienced when it comes to love.

Further, she is a very good girl, pious, innocent and pure. Now she has seen a different world, and she’s on the brink of transitioning from child to adult. No wonder, she’s overwhelmed by all the feelings Faust stirs in her!

The song starts with one and a half bars of piano accompaniment, a regular beat symbolizing the motion of the spinning wheel. The rhythm in the left hand acts as the pedal movement Gretchen does with her foot but also as her heartbeat.

“Gretchen am Spinnrade” – Pronunciation guide and analysis

We’ll tackle this song line by line and gather insights regarding pronunciation and interpretation by looking closer at the text and analyzing it:

Meine Ruh ist hin

Start this song very silently. The sound level for the piano is set as pianissimo and the same goes for the voice. Remember it’s an inner monologue Gretchen does, her thoughts flying off while she’s working automatically.

Carry out the diphthong [ae] in “Meine” by holding the [a] for approximately three quarters of the note and finish the last quarter off with the [e]. If you want to dig deeper in the matter of German diphthongs, here’s the article for you.

Sing the U in “Ruh” long and closed, but the I in “ist” and “hin” as open vowels. Make sure that the H in “Ruh” is silent.

mein Herz ist schwer

This and the preceding line are the quietest, most introvert and – above all – most legato lines in the whole song. This is valid for all three times these lines are repeated during the song.

Gretchen each time becomes immersed in the monotony of spinning and the endless wheel of her thoughts reflecting the movements of the spinning wheel.

In “Herz” we have a consonant cluster as the Z represents two sounds, a [t] and an [s]. Although tempting, none of the three consonants ([rts]) must be omitted. You may read more on how to tackle German consonant clusters here.

I sometimes hear that the R is turned into a schwa-sound but that’s wrong! You needn’t roll the R (you can if you want) but a one-flap R it should be at the least.

The final R in “schwer” on the other hand is a schwa-sound: pronounce it gently as [ɐ]

Make the E in “Herz” as well as the I in “ist” open, but the E in “schwer” long and closed before you glide over to the schwa [ɐ].

ich finde sie nimmer und nimmermehr

The finality of her fate – that she’ll never find again peace and calmness again – hits Gretchen. And although we could brush this off as the over-dramatic views of a teenage girl, we already know that she is right: she’ll get drawn in deeper and deeper into the spiral of evil, entangling herself so much that there will be no way back to her calm and quiet life.

For this reason, “nimmer” as well as “nimmermehr” should be sung with a little more emphasis.

All I-sounds are open, except the one in “sie” which is long and closed.

The same goes for the second E in “nimmermehr”: it’s long and closed before it glides over to the schwa-sound (see the preceding line).

Wo ich ihn nicht hab, ist mir das Grab

This is quite a dramatic statement and I know how tempted one can become to sing it dramatically. But remember the scene: Gretchen is sitting at the spinning wheel doing work and having an inner(!) monologue.

You should stress the words according to their meaning, of course, but don’t do a dramatic outburst (yet.) Gretchen is certainly not throwing things around in a tantrum.

In this line we have a regular change between open and closed vowels:

Wo   ich   ihn  nicht  hab    ist     mir  das    Grab [o:] – [i] – [i:] – [i] –   [a:] – [i] –   [i:] – [a] – [a:]

Although the consonants in this line make it relatively easy to bind the words to a smooth legato, there are a few parts you must pay attention to:

“nicht hab” may be a bit tricky due to the two different H-sounds in rapid succession. Pronounce the CH in “nicht” as well as in “ich” as [ç] which is the light version of the CH-sounds (about which you can read up here) and the H in “hab” is even lighter and pronounced [h].

The challenge is to not only to get these two different sounds right but also combine them with the T of “nicht” (which must be audible).

Die ganze Welt ist mir vergällt

„vergällt“ literally means ‘made of bile’ which is said to be one of the most bitter substances known. You might bear this in mind when singing the bitterness.

Be careful that you don’t add a shadow sound like N before “die”.

If you make a small caesura after “Welt” or not is up to you and your interpretation of the song. You might also hold the legato line until “vergällt”. In that case, you should implode the T, that is : prolong the L of “Welt” and add the T at the very last moment, almost as beginning of “ist”.

Mein armer Kopf ist mir verrückt

Gretchen’s dispair increases as she fears she’s gone crazy. If you want to make the text sound breathless and agitated, you may make a short break after “Kopf” but you may also sing on to the end of the line to stress the “verrückt”.

„verrückt“ literally means ‘out of place’, ‘shifted’. So when the head is no longer at it’s place, you are out of your mind…

Be careful that no H-sound sneaks in before “armer”; as for the R at the end of the word: you may pronounce it as schwa-sound but if you are unsure about the right E-sound, I recommend doing the R as a one-flap trill.

The double R in “verrückt” however, must be rolled.

Mein armer Sinn ist mir zerstückt

„zerstückt“ actually is quite a brutal word, its literal translation being ‘cut up’ or ‘chopped’.

The short outburst of emotions comes to a fatigued end on the word “zerstückt” which also symbolizes in the piano accompaniment.

Pronounce the second R in “armer” as schwa, followed by the voiced S of “Sinn”.

In “zerstückt” we have again a consonant cluster as the ST has to be pronounced [ʃt].

Nach ihm nur schau ich zum Fenster hinaus

While in the first few lines Gretchen muses about her feelings, her heart, head and mind, she now shifts her attention to Faust, his appearance (Gestalt) , his brains (Rede)  and his sensuality (Kuss).

That means her focus changes from inward to outward view. Nevertheless, it’s still an inner monologue.

The CH in “nach” is the slightly harsh [x]-sound.

However small, there is a tiny glottal onset between “schau” and “ich”. Pay attention that you don’t add a shadow H.

Nach ihm nur geh ich aus dem Haus

Gretchen is urged outside by her longing for Faust: she can’t help but look out of the window for him every so often and go out of the house to see if he’s coming.

Be careful: the H in „ihm” as well as the one in “geh” are silent

All vowels except the I in „ich“ are closed, the diphthong AU is pronounced [ao].

Sein hoher Gang, sein edle Gestalt

The tone becomes sweeter than before as Gretchen is remembering lovingly Faust’s image. She visualizes him and indulges in his appearance, “hoher Gang” meaning “upright posture” (i.e. the posture of a member of the upper class, someone used to command).

And we learn about Faust’s “noble” physique, probably as a contrast to the somewhat stout and plump looks of the simple people.

Bearing in mind that she is a plain girl of no high rank, it’s no wonder she got caught by his attention towards her.

The first H in “hoher” is an audible [h], the second, however, is silent. The same goes for the second G in “Gang”: it’s silent, as N and G form an [ŋ]-sound.

Pronounce the S in “sein” voiced, and keep in mind that the ST in “Gestalt” is pronounced [ʃt].

Seines Mundes Lächeln, seiner Augen Gewalt

We’re zooming in from Faust’s figure to his face, his mouth and eyes to be exact, which are the two parts of the face that people permanently scan when facing someone the like.

Also, there is the contrast between “Lächeln” (smile) and “Gewalt” which not only means ‘power’ but also ‘violence’, describing the spell Gretchen feels when she’s looking into Faust’s eyes.

The vowels in “Mundes”, “Lächeln” and „Gewalt“ are all open.

To make it easier for you to hold the legato line and also to make sure you get the right sound, I recommend making the R of “seiner Augen” a one-flap trill.

Und seiner Rede Zauberfluss

I’m not quite sure if Faust really got some magic in his speech by the devil or if it is just the huge difference in the use of language between Faust’s scholarly background and Gretchen’s simple one. In the end, it’s of no importance WHY his words have mesmerized her only that they did.

The agitation that has started earlier (when exactly is up to you, whether you already start it at the description of his figure or at the face) becomes more intense.

To bind “und seine “ smoothly together, prolong the N at the end of “und” a bit and set the T (D at the end of a word is pronounced T) as the starting sound of the next word: un-tseine

The first E in “Rede” is closed, the second one is open. Both syllables are on the same note length and should be sung accordingly.

I recommend pronouncing the R in “Zauberfluss” as vocalic R (i.e. dropping it off), because this is easier for the legato line.

Sein Händedruck und ach, sein Kuss

Gretchen is reliving her last encounter with Faust when he had kissed her. The agitation culminates in this kiss and Gretchen even stops the paddle of the spinning wheel (or slips off it) when lingering on the remembrance of the kiss.

Ä and E in “Händedruck” sound almost the same which can complicate the matter a bit but with a bit of practice you’ll manage to pronounce it as [hƐndə].

The U in Kuss is open which may be a challenge regarding that the word is sung on a fermata.

Mein Busen drängt sich nach ihm hin

“Busen” means ‘bosom’ and is also a synonym for ‘heart’ which is interesting as both, her love but also her awakening lust push her towards Faust.

The following vowels in this line are closed: U in “Busen”, A in “nach” and I in “ihm”.

Alhough tempting, don’t breathe after “sich” but hold the legato until “hin”.

The consonant cluster in “drängt sich” may be a challenge: pronounce every consonant clearly, EXCEPT the G and bear in mind that the S in “sich” is voiced.

Ach, dürft ich fassen und halten ihn

The movement becomes more passionate.

„fassen“ is not exactly ‘touching’ but rather ‘seizing someone (passionately)’ which is what Gretchen wants to do with Faust. The fact that she thinks about her becoming active is unusual for the time where the man had the active part and the woman the receiving one. This is why she says ‘if only I were allowed to…’

Both, “ich” and “ihn” start with a little glottal onset. To hold the legato, I recommend not doing the onset too harshly but smoothly bind “dürft ich” and “halten ihn” together – without smearing two words into one, of course!

Und küssen ihn, so wie ich wollt

Gretchen not only wants to grab Faust and hold him but also kiss him (and probably more). She gets completely caught up in her desire.

Pronounce the S in „so” voiced (the double S in “küssen” is, of course, unvoiced).

„ihn“ vs. „ich“: the first I is long and closed, the second one is open.

“so” vs. “wollt”: the first O is long and closed, the second one is open

An seinen Küssen vergehen sollt

„vergehen“ is translated as ‘dying’ but actually it means vanishing, melting or dissolving. In this case, I guess, Gretchen speaks of ‘melting into Faust’ or ‘becoming one’ with him.

‘Dying as translation, however, is also justifiable when we become aware that in French a sexual climax is sometimes referred to as “la petite mort”, ‘the small death’.

I know it’s tempting to add H’s to “seinen” and “vergehen”, especially as they are sung on several notes but please pay attention that you don’t do that. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf would turn in her grave.


Gretchen is a very young, plain girl who has fallen madly in love and can’t talk about it to anyone but only to herself in an inner monologue.

She is very authentic in her feelings as she is not used to pretending or lying.

Transporting her inner turmoil, her restlessness, her despair, the butterflies in her stomach, her desire and love is the high art of this song. You as a singer are to show us these alternating emotions without becoming overly dramatic.

Below I’ve attached YouTube videos with recordings of this song.

The first is with Christa Ludwig:

The second is sung by Barbara Bonney:

“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” (Robert Schumann) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” (Robert Schumann) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation guide and interpretation tips on
“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” by Robert Schumann


Text and translation


Im wunderschönen Monat Mai                                          In the beautiful month of May
als alle Knospen sprangen,                                                  When all buds were bursting open
da ist in meinem Herzen                                                      In my heart
die Liebe aufgegangen.                                                        Love has burst open.

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai                                         In the beautiful month of May
als alle Vögel sangen                                                            When all birds were singing
da hab ich ihr gestanden                                                    I confessed to her
mein Sehnen und Verlangen.                                            My yearning and desire.


Historical background

This wonderful, dreamy song is the first of the sixteen songs that form the song cycle “Dichterliebe” (‘Poet’s Love’) by Robert Schumann.

A picture of Robert and Clara Schumann, 1847
Robert and Clara Schumann, 1847

All poems Schumann used for “Dichterliebe” were written by the German author and poet Heinrich Heine as part of his cycle “Lyrisches Intermezzo“ (lyric intermezzo).
Schumann set 20 of these poems to music but removed four songs before pubishing the cycle.

Robert Schumann wrote the whole cycle in just one week in May (!) 1840.

In that year, he finally married his long-term love, Clara Wieck. Clara’s father had been strictly against that relationship and did everything he could to separate the lovers. The letters they wrote to each other during this difficult time are still available and I strongly recommend reading them as they give insight of their mutual ups and downs.


Musical and textual background

“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai“ consists of two stanzas and is written as a strophic song.

It starts with a short piano opening that doesn’t make it quite clear if it’s set in a major or minor key (the original was written in F# minor). Although at first sight (or rather: listening) it appears to be a sweet reminiscence of a spring love, the musical setting implies a small bitterness to the sweetness. In fact, the whole cycle “Dichterliebe” tells the story of a love that in the case of events is rejected and thus shows a series of emotions, from love to disappointment, anger and sadness.


Pronunciation and interpretation

We’ll tackle this song line by line and I’ll give you insights regarding pronunciation and interpretation by taking a closer view of the text:

“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai”

The I and U in the first two syllables are open vowels, with the U a bit more challenging due to the long note. Nevertheless, make sure to pronounce it open. A trick that might help you is to think (!) of a closed O while singing the open U.

“wunderschönen” bears a further difficulty, the “-er”. Although I recommend pronouncing it as a schwa-sound [ə] and in doing so omitting the R, it might be easier for you to actually pronounce the R with one flap to get the preceding E-sound right. Here you’ll find an article on the different German R-sounds.

The O in “Monat” is closed whereas the A is open. For further information on German diphthongs like the AI in “Mai”, read this article.

The whole atmosphere at the beginning of this song is dreamy and reminiscent. The narrator is lost in thoughts about a certain period of his life that has been over now. He knows the outcome of the whole story (that is: the cycle) but at that stage we as audience do not know yet.

“als alle Knospen sprangen”

In this line we have only open vowels and unvoiced S. The SP in “Knospen” is pronounced as written, [sp], but the SP in “sprangen” must be pronounced as [ʃp].

Unlike for example in English, G in the NG of “sprangen” must not be heard. Just pronounce the [ɳ].

The sixteenth notes on the O of “Knospen” might be a bit tricky, especially the drop down to the third note. Make sure you sing this part very flexible and pay attention that you sing a clean legato.

This line is a natural description of buds bursting into bloom, describing the beauty of spring.

“da ist in meinem Herzen”

Both A in “da” and in “meinem” are closed, the remaining vowels are open.

Between “da” and “ist” we have a slight glottal onset which I recommend you should carry out. I’ve heard version where these two words are slightly bound together but the risk to blur the sounds too much is relatively high.

Remember that the Z in “Herzen” actually consists of two sounds, adding up to three when we count the preceding R. The mini consonant cluster must be carried out like this [rts]

Now we come to the main point of the story: the narrator recounts falling in love (which he will tell in the next line) and the music is building up tension. Make sure to hold this tension to the next line:

“die Liebe aufgegangen”

“die” and “Liebe” have long, closed I-sounds and again we have a glottal onset. This time between “Liebe” and “aufgegangen”.

As with “sprangen” in the second line, the G in the NG in “-gegangen” remains silent.

The crescendo which has already started in the preceding line increases. Naturally, it would culminate in “Liebe” but the Schumann’s music leads us to the climax in “aufgegangen”.

But please bear in mind: this is a romantic art song, not an aria. Don’t overdo the emotions here.

The second stanza starts with the exact same words as the first: “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai”. The narrator has fallen back into sweet reminiscence, the line being sung in piano again.

“als alle Vögel sangen”

Again we have the glottal onset between “als” and “alle”, just like in the second line. And similar to that line, the sixteenth notes, here on “Vögel” must be sung as legato and flexible as possible.

If you want to read more on the German Umlaute like the Ö in “Vögel” you will find an article here.


“da hab ich ihr gestanden“

In this line we have two glottal onsets, one before “ich”, the other before “ihr”. The first one might be omitted and slightly bound with the preceding “hab”, but the second one is necessary.

All A-vowels in this line are long and closed, as is the I in “ihr”; the other vowels are open.

The ST in “gestanden” is actually pronounced [ʃt].

As in the stanza before, the tension rises in this line, supported by a crescendo. Hold the tension. The audience can barely remain on their seat as they are dying to know what he confessed to her!


“mein Sehnen und Verlangen”

The A-sounds in “mein” and “Verlangen” are closed, as is the first E in “Sehnen”.

Also, the S of “Sehnen” is voiced.

The tension builds up further in revealing the confession: finally, we know that the narrator not only has fallen in love but that he actually confessed his feelings to the beloved.



This song bears several stumbling blocks or rather things you should watch out for:

One of the challenges, in my opinion, is to hold that balance between the sweetness of reminiscence on one side and the little bitter nuances we sometimes sense in the accompaniment and changes from major to minor.

Another difficulty is to hold the legato line while at the same time making sure to pronounce the text articulately.

And lastly, articulate pronunciation is one thing but it should never be overdone and interrupt the musical flow.


As in all pronunciation and interpretation guides, I have attached two recordings of “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai”. The first is sung by the “King of Lied”, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai”, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau



Usually, we expect “Dichterliebe” to be interpreted by a man. I’ve found a recording, however, with the wonderful soprano Christine Schäfer. A very intriguing interpretation:

“Im wunderschönen Monat Mai”, Christine Schäfer
“Von ewiger Liebe” (Johannes Brahms) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

“Von ewiger Liebe” (Johannes Brahms) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation guide and interpretation tips on “Von ewiger Liebe” (Johannes Brahms)

Text and translation

Dunkel, wie dunkel in Wald und in Feld!                                             Dark, how dark in forest and in field!
Abend schon ist es, nun schweiget die Welt.                                     Evening it’s already, now the world is silent.
Nirgend noch Licht und nirgend noch Rauch,                                   Nowhere any light, and nowhere any smoke,
Ja, und die Lerche sie schweiget nun auch.                                        Yes, and the lark is silent, as well.

Kommt aus dem Dorfe der Bursche heraus,                                     Comes out of the village the boy,
Gibt das Geleit der Geliebten nach Haus,                                          escorting his beloved home,
Führt sie am Weidengebüsche vorbei,                                               Leads her past the willow bushes,
Redet so viel und so mancherlei:                                                         talks so much and of so many things:

„Leidest du Schmach und betrübest du dich,                                  „Do you suffer disgrace and are you sad,
Leidest du Schmach von andern um mich,                                      Do you suffer shame by others because of me,
Werde die Liebe getrennt so geschwind,                                          Our love shall be sundered quickly then,
Schnell wie wir früher vereiniget sind.                                             As quickly as we were united in the past.

Scheide mit Regen und scheide mit Wind,                                       Sunder with rain and sunder with wind,
Schnell wie wir früher vereiniget sind.“                                            As quickly as we were united in the past.”
Spricht das Mägdelein, Mägdelein spricht:                                      Says the maiden, maiden says:

„Unsere Liebe sie trennet sich nicht!                                                „Our love does not sunder!
Fest ist der Stahl und das Eisen gar sehr,                                        Strong are steel and iron very much
Unsere Liebe ist fester noch mehr.                                                   Our love is even stronger
Eisen und Stahl, man schmiedet sie um,                                         Iron and steel can be reforged
Unsere Liebe, wer wandelt sie um?                                                 Our love, who could change it?
Eisen und Stahl, sie können zergehn,                                              Iron and steel can be melted
Unsere Liebe muß ewig bestehn!“                                                    our love must remain forever!”

Historical background

The poem was not written – as sometimes indicated – by Joseph Wentzig but goes back to a Sorbian folksong which August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben translated and adapted. It was first published in 1837. Johannes Brahms set it to music in 1864 and later added it to his Op.43 “Vier Gesänge”, a collection of four more or less unrelated songs which, nevertheless, have become some of the most sung songs by Brahms.

Pronunciation and interpretation

We’ll tackle this song line by line and I’ll give you insights regarding pronunciation and interpretation by taking a closer view of the text.

Dunkel, wie dunkel in Wald und in Feld!

The songs starts with the narrator describing a scene outside a village at night.

How beautiful that we have an U here that underlines the darkness described in this phrase!
Nevertheless, make sure it is an open U.
In fact, the only closed vowel in this line is the I in “wie”, all other vowel sounds are open.
Also, bear in mind that the D at the end of “Wald” and “Feld” is pronounced T.

Bind “Wald und in” as well as possible without slurring the words

Strictly speaking, nothing happens in these first lines, the girl just describes the lack of light and sound in “Wald und Feld”: “dunkel”, “schweiget”, nirgend noch Licht/Rauch”.

These are internal thoughts, kind of an inner monologue. When you do this song, imagine what you are seeing, watch these surroundings, then tell your audience.

Abend schon ist es, nun schweiget die Welt.

Contrary to the line before, we have several closed vowels here: the A in “Abend”, the O in “schon” and again the a in “schweiget”. Remember that EI in German is pronounced [aƐ]. (Here you will find a guide on how to sing German diphthongs (like EI) correctly.)

The word sequences “Abend schon” and “und schweiget die” are challenging regarding the legato.
Both first words end with a T-sound (the D in “Abend” is pronounced as T).
To hold the legato, “implode” the T of “Abend” by prolonging the N and then explode the T into the SCH:
“A -ben – tschon”.

It is similar with “und schweiget die”: “un-tschwei-ge-die”.
The only difference lies in the D as first letter of “die” but the process stays the same:  implode the T and head over to exploding the D (“die”).

See the comma after “es”? Make a small caesura there and breathe if you must.

Nirgend noch Licht und nirgend noch Rauch, ja

Again, all vowels, except the diphthong AU are open.

Bind both “nirgend noch” as described above to “nir-gen-tnoch”, making sure that the T-sound is clearly audible. This is a tricky combination and you must take the utmost care that no shadow vowel sneaks in between T and N.

After “Licht” you might breathe if you must but either way make a short break after “Licht”. The same (without breathing!) goes for “Rauch”: make a short break.

“Ja” here is a sound of realization like “aha” or just “ah”. The girl goes from a visual perspective (no light and smoke) to an audible one in the next phrase (no bird sound) and this “ja” is the bridge between both sensory perceptions.

und die Lerche sie schweiget nun auch.

You already know how to combine “und die” and “schweiget nun”.

The I in “sie” and “die” are closed as is the U in “nun” and the A-sounds in the diphthongs EI and AU.

The CH in “Lerche” is pronounced [ç]. To read up on the different CH-sounds in German, head over to this article.

The S in “sie” is voiced.

Although the word ending “-et” of “schweiget” is unstressed, Brahms has set it on a relatively long note. The trick now is, to hold the note on the open E but head over to this phrases emphasis which is “auch”.

Kommt aus dem Dorfe der Bursche heraus

The piano accompaniment changes and builds up more tension and although the next phrase has the same melody (with slight rhythmic changes) as the first one, it must be sung with a very different colour: bolder, stronger, more vivid and excited. It’s partly from the girl’s point of view, partly from an overall view like from a narrator.

Imagine the boy, what does he look like, what does he wear, how does he move? See him before your inner eye and then put all the excitement you have when he appears into the next words.

Except for “der” and AU in “aus” and “heraus” all vowels are open.

Bind “kommt aus” as described above and use the voiced M to your advantage.

“der” can be challenging regarding vowel coloring: either pronounce a one-flap R when you are not quite sure about the vowel (read up more on the different R-sounds in German here) or make the R a vocalic R and pronounce the word [de:ɐ].

All other Rs in this line must be pronounced.

gibt das Geleit der Geliebten nach Haus,

Hold your tension during the next lines. We are zooming in on the scene, first seeing the boy coming out of the village, now we see him joining his loved one and accompanying her home.

Both “Geleit” and “Geliebten” start with a schwa-sound [ə] but do not be tempted to shorten the notes! In fact, you might think of an Ö (only think!) to get the sound right and keep it on this relatively long note but without putting any stress onto it.

Take a look at the combination of “nach Haus”: we have two different H-sounds here, [x] (“nach”) and [h] (“Haus”). Yet, when we combine them here, we must combine the two to [na: xa:ɔs].

Führt sie am Weidengebüsche vorbei,

We are zooming in even further and now we can see the willow shrub the boy and girl pass on their way.

The Ü in „führt“ as well as the I in “sie” are both long and closed, as is the A-sound in “Weiden-“.

If you roll the R in “führt”, it’ll help you get the right vowel sound and lead on to the TS “führt sie”.

Please remember that the S in “sie is voiced; yet in this case it’s quite complicated to form a voiced S after a T. Do not try too hard to make a perfect voiced S but go on to “Weiden-“.

Make sure to speak the Ü in “-gebüsche” short and open by heading on to the SCH-sound, even dwelling there a tiny bit. Also, as before, the “ge-“ is a schwa-sound.

Redet so viel und so mancherlei:

Now we are so close we can hear what they are talking: the boy (for he is doing the conversation now) talks much “viel” and about various topics (“mancherlei”)

The first E in (“redet”) as well as the O in “so” and the I in “viel” are closed, the S in “so” is voiced – and this time you should clearly make them voiced.

“Mancherlei” might be a bit of a challenge at first but when you know that the CH is a [ç] and you might form a vocalic R, i.e. leave it out after a schwa, it’s actually quite easy (with a little bit of practice ?).

Leidest du Schmach und betrübest du dich,

The boy is speaking now and you must change your singing colour accordingly.
Again, have an image of him in mind.
He’s young, passionate, impetuous, probably agitated because what he is talking about to the girl is not an easy topic:
Will people’s talk influence you to end our love? Are you going to leave me?

“Schmach” is a very strong word, describing shame and (public) humiliation. “Betrübest” as well has two components, sadness and sorrow.

Start the boy’s words with a reasonable loudness, you will have to make a crescendo during the next lines.

The A in “leidest” and “Schmach” are closed, as are the U/Ü in “du” and “betrübest”. Clearly distinguish the CH-sounds in “Schmach” and “dich”.

The succession of “und betrübest” bears the challenge of T-B which must be both audible.

Leidest du Schmach von andern um mich,

The boy repeats the first phrase “Leidest du Schmach” as it seems to be something that has been on his mind for some time, and it seems to be unbearable to him to know that this was the case.

If you can, sing this phrase on one breath.

Bind the words as well as possible but without omitting consonant sounds (like the T in “leidest du”).

Here as well, we have both CH-sounds, the [x] in “Schmach”, however, must be done a bit less than in the line above as here it is succeeded by the F-sound of “von”.

Werde die Liebe getrennt so geschwind,

This line may be interpreted in two ways: 1) he declares that he’d rather separate from the girl than causing her distress. 2) he fears that the girl might separate from him due to people’s talk.

Either way, the agitation increases, it becomes louder (poco più f) and stronger.

Pronounce the first E in “werde” closed [e:], the second one open [ə], which might be a bit tricky to hold on that long note. In fact, we have quite a number of [ə] in this line: “Liebe”, “getrennt” (attention: the second E is [e]!), “geschwind”. Make sure to pronounce them with the right colouring.

The O in “so” is closed and the S is voiced. Here, however, with the preceding T of “getrennt” and the eight notes it’s very hard to voice the S. Thus, don’t put too much focus on it, I don’t think it’s important here. If you can voice it, then go ahead and do so (congrats) but make sure that the legato line is not interrupted.

schnell wie wir früher vereiniget sind.

In this line we have two Rs that I recommend using as vocalic R: “wir” [wi:ə] and “früher”

The R in the prefix “ver-“, however, must be made a one-flap R to achieve the right vowel coloring and minimize the glottal onset before “-einiget”.

Like in the line above, we have another case of a voiced S following a T-sound “vereiniget sind”. Here, however, a voiced S is a good deal easier to produce as the “-get” is on a longer note and thus you have time to prepare the voiced S.

Scheide mit Regen und scheide mit Wind

We reach the climax in this and the next line, they’re the loudest part in the whole song (sempre più forte). The boy is calling the elements “Regen” and “Wind”; feel the fierceness of rain slashing into your face and the gusts of wind.

While in the previous lines the boy spoke in a passive voice about separation (“werde die Liebe getrennt” – “love is to be separated”), he now demands an action from the girl: “scheide…” – “separate” (if you feel that way).

Roll the R of “Regen” and voice the W in “Wind” to transport this fierceness to your audience.

schnell wie wir früher vereiniget sind

The pronunciation is described above; I just want you to pay attention with the high note of “ver-“: do not put too much stress on it, the emphasis lies on “-ei-“.

Spricht das Mägdelein, Mägdelein spricht:

The narrator makes a short appearance, announcing that now the girl speaks. The tone has already changed considerably (“dolce”), we have a calmer tempo (“quite slow”) and pianissimo.

Do you see how the first part of the sentence almost mirrors the second part?

“Spricht” (das) – “Mägdelein” — “Mägdelein” – “spricht”.

What a great way to put stress on a statement without becoming loud or using extraordinary words.

Make this statement very neutral. Remember, you are the narrator now.

In “spricht” we have a wonderful example of a consonant cluster: six consonants and only one vowel. Let’s break the vowels down into sounds: the SP at the beginning of “spricht” is pronounced as [ʃp]. Do not linger on the P for to long but head straight over to the R.
The CH is one sound [ç], again leading to the T which you should pronounce audibly but without overdoing it. This is a very quiet passage.

As usual, I recommend practising the word by speaking it very slowly and accurately at first.

The Ä of “Mägdelein” is a closed [Ɛ:].

Unsere Liebe sie trennet sich nicht

Now the girl is speaking and her first sentence makes it all clear: their love is a lasting one.

Sing this in a very simple manner, calm and sweet (dolce), to make a contrast to the boy’s fears and agitation before.

The only closed vowels in this line are the I in “Liebe” and “sie”. All S are voiced (“unsere”, “sie”, “sich”) and the CH are both pronounced [ç).

Fest ist der Stahl und das Eisen gar sehr

The girl becomes more animated (un poco animato) as she takes the firmness of iron and steel as a comparison with their love.

Here, the first three words must be combined as above by prolonging the vowels and using the last letters as beginning of the next word: [fƐ – sti – stde:ə -ʃta:l]

Make the S in “Eisen” voiced.

unsere Liebe ist fester noch mehr

The melody reaches a climax in “Liebe” and becomes sweet again in “fester noch mehr”. The essential here is to NOT become pathetic. Make this very simple, very sweet.

The only closed vowels here are – again – the I in “Liebe” and the E in “mehr”.

I would not make a clear glottal onset between “Liebe” and “ist” but bind them slightly so that the legato line is not interrupted.

Eisen und Stahl, man schmiedet sie um

The girl now corrects herself by saying that iron and steel aren’t that firm, because they can be forged and thus changed in form.

This phrase reflects an inner thought which we can see in the cautious melody. The tempo becomes a bit slower (un poco ritardando), the loudness diminishes to piano and the tune becomes sweet again (dolce). The idea seems to have just arisen in the girl.

Make a small caesura after “Stahl” and bind “sie” and “um” without a glottal onset.

The S in “Eisen” and “sie” are voiced. The main vowels in “Eisen”, “Stahl”, „schmiedet“ and „sie“ are closed, all others are open.

unsere Liebe, wer wandelt sie um?

The girl asks the boy a rhethoric question because for here it is unshakingly true that no one can change their love. You could even imagine a reassuring smile on her face when asking, the way you might look at a child who asks if the sun will rise again tomorrow.

Make a short break after “Liebe”.

The Two W in “wer” and “wandelt” are voiced consonants and help you to keep the legato line.

As in the line above, I recommend binding  “sie” and “um” together.

Eisen und Stahl, sie können zergehn

The girl goes even one step further by telling that iron and steel can even be destroyed (despite the firmness and hardness she took as an example in the first line of her speaking part).

Melody and accompaniment become more animated and from “sie können” onward there is a crescendo until the end of the song.

The Ö in “können” is open. If you are not sure how to pronounce a German Ö correctly, you’ll find an article about it here.

The R of the prefix “zer-“ might either be rolled, flapped or left out and made a vocalic R. I personally would recommend rolling it slightly to underline the animation (and to keep the legato). However, it is completely up to you how you pronounce it here. Try out different versions and look what suits you (and the song!) best.

unsere Liebe unsere Liebe muss ewig, ewig bestehn!

This is the song’s climax which is supported by the long high notes on ”Liebe”, “unsere” and “ewig”.

“Unsere Liebe” is repeated, but Brahms did something very clever here: he put the stress in the first phrase on “Liebe” and in the second one on “unsere” so that it becomes ‘our love, our love’. Purely ingenius!

The same goes for the next line: the first climax is on “Liebe”, the second one on “ewig”.

Make a break (and take a deep breath) before “ewig bestehen”, brazing yourself for singing out the girl’s ultimate truth. (By the way: I heard something very interesting lately about the difference between “infinite” and “eternal”. “Infinite” describes a place within a (limitless) space-time-structure, eternity is beyond a structure and thus without space and time. Be careful, then, when you want to swear “eternal love”, it could really last forever ?).


This song’s challenge lies in the very different personalities of the three people speaking (narrator, boy and girl).

The narrator is not neutral but describes the setting very intensely and from a very personal point of view.
Yet, he is the quietest part in this piece.

The boy is all agitated and anxious: he knows that people are talking badly about him and is almost crazed with the fear of losing his beloved. He works himself into quite a state.

The girl, on the other hand, is the strong one in this song, unshakable in her love.
Her part shows the greatest emotional variety, going from calm and composed, over reassuring, to the final outburst of declaring everlasting love.

As usual, I add below two versions of this song. The first one is sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The other is interpreted by Brigitte Fassbänder: