Fidelio has many languages: The language of Jein (neither ja nor nein as Leonore has to evade the romantic approaches of Marzelline, the prison ward’s daughter) or the language of rising and dwindling hope (of the prisoners and particularly Florestan), or the language of possession and dependence. (Here, the genitive kicks in!) However, nothing poses a greater contrast than the languages of murder and of joy. Read part 3 of the series about the origin and linguistics of Beethoven’s Fidelio with excerpts of my book Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas.
Language of Murder.
The verb prefix zer- is a tool of destruction. You can reißen (to tear, to rip) something, e.g., a document, but it can still be restored. If you add zer-, you will have zerreißen, and the document is gone, torn to shreds. The participle of zerreißen is zerrissen: der Rache Dunkel sei zerrissen, as Pizarro cries out when he faces his enemy Florestan. May the darkness of vengeance be ripped to pieces.
The verb fleischen stems from Fleisch (meat) and means inflicting a flesh wound. Being fleischen (or gefleischt sein), the wounded person can heal and live on, but there is no chance of survival when the perpetrator adds a zer-. The victim will be zerfleischt—mauled, mangled. Pizarro goes for Florestan’s heart. Florestan shall know, wer ihm sein stolzes Herz zerfleischt.
Other terms of murder and fright are fürchten (to fear), Dolch m (dagger), Mörder m (murderer), Mörderlust f (lust to kill), Rächer m (avenger).
Language of Joy.
The German language provides expressions for joy beyond words with a little trick: it says what it is not by using un- as prefix or -los as suffix—or it simply adds über. Leonore and Florestan’s joy is namenlos (nameless), unnennbar (indescribable), and not only groß but übergroß. They feel himmlisches Entzücken (heavenly rapture). When Leonore removes Florestan’s shackles, both rejoice, Welch ein Augenblick, unaussprechlich süßes Glück. What a moment, unspeakably sweet happiness.
Read soon part 4 of the Fidelio series: The Language of Time.