Der Freischütz (2): Slumber Approaching


Last week, Ännchen has tried to soothe Agathe’s worries about the whereabouts of her lover Max with a light-hearted arietta. Ännchen went to bed, hoping that her elder cousin were at ease. However, now that she is alone, staring through the window into the dark woods, Agathe speaks aloud her innermost feelings. How could she go to sleep (wie nahte mir der Schlummer), before she has seen Max (bevor ich ihn geseh’n) who has been with the evil Kaspar in the infamous Wolf’s ravine to cast magic bullets for tomorrow’s shooting competition? The text of her aria conveys how it feels to wait for a lover, as though riding a roller coaster of hope and worries, every second an eternity. Trying to connect with Max, she sends a little tune through the star-spangled night, hoping that it will reach him. Next, elevated she marvels at the beauty of nature not without discerning the “army” (das Heer) of dark clouds, deployed at the forest. She reaches out to God and prays, and again, worry creeps into her longing. The text becomes clouded by anguish, until – finally – she spots him at the edges of the forest, turning the aria into a jubilation of relief and again into extreme excitement. Her Herz wallt ungestüm, her “heart surges up” as he approaches the house. By the aria’s end, she is convinced that everything will be good tomorrow; luck and happiness will return.

This analysis of the aria’s linguistics is taken from my book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers”.


der Schlummer = slumber, here: sleep
der Pfad = path
fromm: pious,
here: godly, devout
die Weise = tune, manner
aufschwingen =
lit. to swing up in the manner of birds, here: to take wing, die Schwinge = bird’s wing
wallen = old German for to flow,
here: to surge up (emotion) in a wavelike motion
die Sternenkreise = circles of stars,
here: the night sky
die Himmelshalle = hall of heaven, the hall where God resides
die Engelsscharen = flocks of angels
hehr = old, poetic German for noble, sublime
die Grille = cricket
die Täuschung = illusion, delusion
der Wahn = madness
die Zähre = old German for
Träne = tear
der Pfand = deposit, forfeit,
here: pledge

The structure of the language and its intricacies

Take a listen first of a recording by soprano Lotte Lehmann from 1929.

Wie nahte mir der Schlummer,
Bevor ich ihn gesehn?
Ja, Liebe pflegt mit Kummer
Stets Hand in Hand zu gehn!

Agathe asks a rhetorical question: How could it be that “slumber would approach me,” meaning, that she gets sleepy, before she has seen him? Agathe chooses the subjunctive of nahen (to approach). She can say the subjunctive in two ways, first with the auxiliary verb würden and the infinitive nahen (wie würde mir der Schlummer nahen), or second by turning the verb nahen itself into its subjunctive form nahten. That is what she has decided to do. In the second line we discover the participle of sehen, namely gesehen. She presents us with the perfect tense, but we miss the auxiliary verb haben. In the old days people conveniently often dropped the auxiliary verb (haben or sein) when they saw that the participle was sufficient. The good old times are over. Today, we would say, “Wie würde mir der Schlummer nahen, bevor ich ihn gesehen habe?”

Yes, she confirms,
love usually goes with worries
always hand in hand!”

However, here she cannot do without an auxiliary verb, or else the meaning of her maxim would be lost.
Something/someone + pflegen + zu + infinitive = something or someone is in the habit of or usually does … infinitive. (pflegen as main verb = to nurse, to foster.) Here, love usually goes with worries hand in hand – always (stets).

Ob Mond auf seinem Pfad wohl lacht?
Welch schöne Nacht!

She asks whether the moon is casting light on his – Max’s – path. She uses the verb lachen (to laugh) for casting light, a phrase in German for the shining moon or – more common – the shining sun: Heute lacht die Sonne. As mentioned before, she does not add an article to the moon. She talks about the moon as if it were the name of a person.

What a beautiful night!”

Leise, leise,
Fromme Weise!
Schwing dich auf zum Sternenkreise.
Lied erschalle!

Gently, gently,
godly tune!
Swing up to the stars.
Sound loudly, song!”

She speaks in imperative to her tune and tells it to swing up and to sound loudly.
Imperative second person familiar (du) of
aufschwingen = schwing auf, here: with the reflexive sich to make sure that the tune swings up by itself. The word leise stands for quiet but also for gentle.

Feiernd walle
Mein Gebet zur Himmelshalle!

Agathe chooses another imperative, this time for walle ordering her prayer to surge up rejoicing (feiernd) to heaven.

O wie hell die goldnen Sterne,
Mit wie reinem Glanz sie glühn!
Nur dort in der Berge Ferne,
Scheint ein Wetter aufzuziehn.

Beginning with “O”, the first two lines reveal the euphoria the view at the skies has triggered; five words describe the night sky’s light: hell (bright), golden, rein (pure), der Glanz (glow, luster, radiance), glühen (to glow), just to be followed by a premonition, at the moment nothing more than an observation.
In the distance of the mountains, (
in der Berge Ferne – the “poet’s genitiv”, normally in der Ferne der Berge) a storm scheint (seems) to approach.
Usually, the noun das Wetter means weather, but here with an indefinite article (ein) it means storm, or bad weather. The verb aufziehen means to draw on, here as infinitive (scheinen + zu + infinitive).

Dort am Wald auch schwebt ein Heer
Dunkler Wolken dumpf und schwer.

Now, not assuming anymore, Agathe discovers an “army of dark clouds” that hovers over the forest. Her words counterpose the glory vocabulary just a few lines before: schweben, dunkel, dumpf, schwer.

Over there also, at the forest an army
of dark clouds hovers, hollow and heavy.”

Zu dir wende
Ich die Hände,
Herr ohn’ Anfang und ohn’ Ende!
Vor Gefahren
Uns zu wahren
Sende deine Engelscharen! –

Agathe speaks to God with an image. She turns (wenden) her hands (here: die Hände, meaning her own hands) to him (zu + dative, here: zu dir), constantly and urgently. (Ohn’ Anfang und ohn’ Ende!) She continues in imperative, second person singular, familiar (du) for senden = sende.

To protect (wahren) us against danger (here in plural: die Gefahren)
send flocks of your angels.”

Alles pflegt schon längst der Ruh’,
Trauter Freund, wo weilest du?

Everything and everybody “nurtures rest”, already. Der Ruhe pflegen (dative) is an old phrase for to rest. The adverb längst stands for already; schon is an intensifier.
schon längst = already for a while

Ob mein Ohr auch eifrig lauscht,
Nur der Tannen Wipfel rauscht;

No matter (here ob), how attentively (eifrig) I listen, only the top of the fir trees (die Tannen, singular: die Tanne) rustle.
das Ohr lauscht = the (
here: her) ear harkens, a poetic way to say “listen.”

Nur das Birkenlaub im Hain
Flüstert durch die hehre Stille –
Nur die Nachtigall und Grille
Scheint der Nachtluft sich zu freun. –

Agathe perceives the world in a pattern we earlier discussed. First, her sensitivity, hightened by her longing, lets her hear the tiniest “whisper” in the quiet world. Then, a moment later, her observation of the nightingale and the crickets is restricted by the subjectivity of the verb scheinen (to seem).

Only the leaves of the birches in the grove
whisper through the sublime silence –
only the nightingale and the cricket
seem to enjoy the air of the night.”

sich freuen + gentive object = to enjoy something, here: sich der Nachtluft freuen

Doch wie? Täuscht mich nicht mein Ohr?
Dort klingt’s wie Schritte!
Dort aus der Tannen Mitte
Kommt was hervor!
Er ist’s! Er ist’s!

But how? Does not my ear deceive me?
Over there, it sounds like steps!
There, from among the fir trees
something emerges!
It is him! It is him!”

First she hears something, then she sees something, building up the tension to the last line. (Er ist’s!) The phrase aus der Tannen Mitte (or aus der Mitte der Tannen) means literally from the midst of the many fir trees.

Die Flagge der Liebe mag wehn!
Dein Mädchen wacht
Noch in der Nacht! –

Agathe waves a cloth as a sign for Max, according to the librettist’s stage direction.

The flag of love shall fly!
Your girl is still awake in the night!”

Dein Mädchen means literally “your girl” but here it means “your love” or “your lover.” The infinitive of mag is mögen. It means “to like.” Depend on the context it also means “might,” so the flag of love might fly. Here, it would be more correctly, if Agathe put mögen in its imperative (Die Flagge der Liebe möge wehen.) to express desire and enthusiasm. However, her pattern of observation begins to set in – for her things seem to be.

Er scheint mich noch nicht zu sehn!
Gott, täuscht das Licht
Des Monds mich nicht,
So schmückt ein Blumenstrauß den Hut!

He doesn’t seem to see me yet (noch)!”

She presumes “by God” with a conditional that if the light of the moon does not deceive her, then a bunch of flowers (Blumenstrauß) decorates his hat (“his” hat with definite article, accusative; den Hut). The conditional construction beginning with the verb täuscht and continuing with so in the consequent main clause is rarely used in spoken language.
Täuscht das Licht des Monds mich nicht, so schmückt ein Blumenstrauß den Hut.

Normally we use the conjunction wenn, and dann in the main clause: Wenn das Licht des Monds mich nicht täuscht, dann schmückt ein Blumenstrauß den Hut.
The flowers on his head are a good sign for her.

Gewiss, er hat den besten Schuss getan!
Das kündet Glück für morgen an!

Certainly, he gave the best shot!
That heralds happiness for tomorrow!”
ankünden, or more common ankündigen = to announce, to give notice, to herald

O süße Hoffnung! Neu belebter Mut! –
All meine Pulse schlagen,
Und das Herz wallt ungestüm,
Süß entzückt entgegen ihm!

O sweet hope! Courage, newly refreshed!
All my pulses beat,
And my heart flows towards him (ihm entgegen), vehemently (ungestüm), sweetly delighted!”

Agathe is so excited that she has not only one pulse but several (der Puls, plural: die Pulse, here pronounced with a soft s).
She puts
ihm at the very end of the sentence. She could have said, “und das Herz wallt ihm ungestüm, süß entzückt entgegen”, but then, where would be the flow? The Herz is in the beginning, ihm at the end, in the middle nothing else but the wild flow of emotion, wavelike as the word wallen suggests.

Konnt’ ich das zu hoffen wagen?
Ja, es wandte sich das Glück
Zu dem teuern Freund zurück:
Will sich morgen treu bewähren! –

Could I dare to hope?”
Yes, she answers, happiness (or luck – das Glück has both meanings) has returned (zurückwenden, simple past: zurückwandten) to a precious (teuer) friend.
In the last line it is not clear who or what wants (not “will”, here it means: wollen; er, sie, es will) sich morgen treu bewähren. The verb bewähren means “to prove oneself” or “to stand the test.”

Ist’s nicht Täuschung? – Ist’s nicht Wahn?
Himmel, nimm des Dankes Zähren
Für dies Pfand der Hoffnung an!
“Is it not deception? Is it not madness?”
Ist’s is a contraction for ist es. The affirmative question of a negative is asked with ist es nicht. She addresses heaven (der Himmel) with the imperative of the separable verb annehmen (nimm … an = accept, second person, familiar).

Take the tears of gratitude
as my pledge of hope!”

Des Dankes Zähren in the “poet’s genitive”, normally Zähren des Danks.


All meine Pulse schlagen,
Und das Herz wallt ungestüm,
Süß entzückt entgegen ihm.



Published by


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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