Sei’n wir wieder gut – Part 2: the Linguistics


Last week we looked at backgound, style, and vocabulary of “Sei’n wir wieder gut,” an aria of the opera Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss. Now we examine what the character, der Komponist, is telling us, his language and the linguistics of the aria’s text. The recording in this YouTube video is by the Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.

Sei’n wir wieder gut!

The aria begins with an imperative; the Komponist addresses himself and his impresario, so, he has to conjugate the verb sein accordingly (for first person plural wir).
“Lets be good again!”
The verb sein is irregular. In imperative: (du) sei, (Sie) seien Sie, (ihr) seid, (wir) seien wir

Ich sehe jetzt alles mit anderen Augen!

It continues with a statement of change and reconciliation, a phrase German-speaking people would say also today when they change their view on things.
“Now, I see everything with different eyes.”

Die Tiefen des Daseins sind unermesslich!
Mein lieber Freund,
Es gibt manches auf der Welt,
Das lässt sich nicht sagen,

In a straightforward language, the Komponist ends the statement with a conclusive thought.
“The depths of existence are immeasurable! My dear friend,
There are some things in the world
That cannot be said. (Or: That cannot be expressed.)”

The combination reflexive + lassen + infinitive expresses a form of the passive voice when something can be done or is possible to be done. Das lässt sich nicht sagen = literally it lets itself not be said.

Die Dichter unterlegen ja recht gute Worte, recht gute.
Jedoch, jedoch, jedoch, jedoch, jedoch! –
Mut ist in mir, Mut, Freund!

The Komponist explains why some things cannot be expressed with words, which are after all the tools of poets. At first he praises the poets. They unterlegen (to add text to music or to highlight) pretty good words (recht gute Worte) but he modifies the praise with the particle ja, preparing the listener for an opposing or restrictive statement which opens with jedoch (however) – five times!
“Courage is in me, courage, friend!”

Die Welt ist lieblich
Und nicht fürchterlich dem Mutigen.

This sentence begins and ends with a noun, and in between the Komponist describes how the world relates to the courageous person. To the courageous person, the world is lovely and not terrible.
The phrase fürchterlich dem Mutigen appears as dative. Der Mutige is the indirect object and therefore must be expressed as dative while the adjective belongs to the predicate of the sentence. (Die Welt ist lieblich und nicht fürchterlich.)

Und was ist denn Musik?

Now, the Komponist begins to muse about music and to praise music, here adding the intensifier denn, making this a rhetorical question.

Musik ist eine heilige Kunst zu versammeln
Alle Arten von Mut wie Cherubim
Um einen strahlenden Thron, das ist Musik.

The librettist von Hofmannsthal, chose a word order similar to English:
“Music is a sacred art to gather
all kinds of courage, like cherubim
Around a shining throne; that is music.”

As in English, cherubim is plural for cherub, a biblical angel who guards paradise.

Und darum ist sie die heilige unter den Künsten.

And therefore, it is the sacred one among the arts.”

The pronoun sie stands for die Musik. Please note that the Komponist does not say that music is the most sacred art. He says, there is only one art that is sacred: music.


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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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