Aria Linguistics: Ach ich fühl’s

Aus: Die Zauberflöte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder

Rolle: Pamina

Fach: Lyrischer Sopran (auch Jugendlich-dramatischer Sopran)

The following recording of Ach ich fühl’s was made by the Italian-American soprano Anna Moffo.


Background and content:

Tamino has been told that he has to fullfil several tasks to get accepted into the temple of wisdom. One of the tasks is to be silent when he meets his beloved Pamina. She appears, speaks with him, but he does not respond. Pamina implores him to talk, without success. Pamina is heartbroken. She believes that Tamino does not love her anymore.

In the first half of “Ach, ich fühl’s” she proclaims that love’s happiness has disappeared and that the blissful times will never return to her heart. In the second half she speaks to Tamino directly: Her tears flow only for him. In a somewhat strange train of thought she discovers peace in death, if he does not feel the longing for love, a phrase she repeats several times.

The mood, the style

The music of this aria carries deep sadness. We witness how the flame of a candle slowly expires – love, the hope for love – until it is just a trail of smoke, rising from the wick.

The first word is already exasperation: Ach.

The Englisch word ache and “ach” look similar, and both have to do with pain. “Ach” is a sigh, an interjection, an expression of pain and regret. If anything says everything about the mood of this aria, then it is “ach”.

The vocabulary

The aria is made of a vocabulary of despair.

verschwinden = (verb) to disappear, to vanish, here as verschwunden (in the past).

nimmer = (adverb) not only never, but never ever. The word nie has a similar meaning: never, but nothing is more uncompromizing than nimmer. It speaks about the future, and together with mehr (nimmer mehr) it makes sure that the future will be bleak.

The word nimmer is counterbalanced by ewig = forever, eternal.

Tränen = (noun) plural of die Träne (f) (tear)

Sehnen (n) = (noun) the longing, yearning, to ache for something

Ruh’ (or Ruhe) (f) = (noun) rest, peace, calm

Tode (or Tod) (m) = (noun) death

There are words that replace persons or things, so called pronouns, words like it, he, she etc.

es = replaces das Glück

ich = I

dir = to you, dedicated to you

du = you

ihr = in English we might – but don’t want – to say: you’all.

The structure of the language and its intricacies

 Ach ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden,

Ewig hin der Liebe Glück!

Pamina feels it. It has vanished. The word is verschwinden, but here Pamina uses it in the past by changing it to verschwunden, preceded by ist. This construction tells us that this past has relevance to the time it is spoken (or sung).

The word es replaces the term happiness of love, der Liebe Glueck (love’s happiness). In modern days we say: das Glück der Liebe. For today’s ears of a German speaker, the phrase der Liebe Glück as well as der Liebe Sehnen, see below, sound poetic and a bit out-dated.

Es, das Glück der Liebe is ewig hin, forever gone.

The word hin describes a direction, a movement away from the speaker. When something is hin, also something intangible as the Glück der Liebe, then it has gone literally away from the speaker. We use hin mostly when valued, positive things, ideals, plans etc. are gone, destroyed or spoiled. Otherwise we use weg or kaputt etc.

Nimmer kommt ihr Wonnestunden

Meinem Herzen mehr zurück

Here, the German language offers us one of its idiosyncrasies: Words, put together to create a meaning that is different, stronger, or more precise than each of its compounds. Here it is Wonnestunden. She speaks directly to the hours of bliss (Wonnestunden) and addresses them with ihr.

Although the Wonnestunden are the things that will never return, they are not in the first position of the sentence. The word nimmer (never) is in first position. This is most important for Pamina at the moment.

The Wonnestunden will nimmer … mehr (never ever) zurückkommen (return) to meinem Herzen.

The word mein says who possesses: The speaker, Pamina, refering to her heart (Herz).
She adds -em to mein and says meinem, and -en to Herz and says Herzen.
These constructions are unknown in the English language. They are called dative and indicate when something is given, something happens in or at a certain location or when they are preceded by certain activities (verbs).

Sieh, Tamino, diese Tränen

Fließen, Trauter, dir allein.

She addresses Tamino twice, first as Tamino, then as Trauter.

The word Trauter means the familiar trustworthy person and has its roots in the verb trauen (to trust, to dare).

“Look, Tamino, these tears are flowing, loved one, for you alone.”

Fühlst du nicht der Liebe Sehnen,

So wird Ruh’ im Tode sein!

The aria begins with ach and the verb fühl’s, and it ends with fühlst, this time speaking to Tamino. She speculates about his feeling of der Liebe Sehnen in a conditional phrase. If he does not feel the yearning of love, she wonders, the rest will be in death. The word Liebe appears twice in that aria, at the beginning and at the end, and twice she repeats it as a scream of despair.


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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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