Death and the Maiden

Der Tod Und Das Mädchen is a classical, German song written by Franz Schubert.

Yes it is an odd choice for assignment in which we have to analyze the language of a song, especially given that I don’t speak German in the slightest. I do however sing in German, so I know how to pronounce the words (which is really all I needed).

It is a song told in two points-of-views: death and the maiden. The maiden is confronted by death and is afraid, but death greets her fear with kindness and tells her not to worry. The lyrics work to reassure the listener that death, though initially scary, is in fact not so.

Der Tod Und Das Mädchen is not only a poem for German-speakers, but also for non-German-speakers who listen to it preformed in German. Now, that makes no sense, right? One can only analyze or be swayed by language if they understand it, right?

Wrong!

The first section of the song goes,

Vorüber! ach, vorüber!
Geh, wilder Knochenmann!
(Roughly translated to “Go away! Go away! You wild skeleton man”)

If you look at the word “Knochenmann,” (pronounced cuh-noch-en-man). the very sound of the word sounds like rattling bones. A different word could’ve been used, but Schubert, decided to use this one, which perfectly encapsulates the expectation of death and the fear the woman must be feeling upon confrontation with death.

The switch of point of view to death can be clearly heard by the change in tone. The woman is shrill, whereas death is calm and sings mostly in “d’s.” Death sounds nearly feminine, which makes death sound much more comforting and kind. This contrast the listener hears, affirms that the expectation/fear of death is much exaggerated.

When death speaks, death says,

Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebilt (Again roughly translated to “Give me your hand, you beautiful and delicate creature”)

Now this takes a little bit of German knowledge (or google translate), but if you hadn’t been won over by the kind tone, what death says is very shocking. Why is something that causes so much pain and suffering, actually warm?

The lyrics of this song were written in a time when young people died more frequently, so I believe that Schubert wrote this song to reassure the loved ones of the deceased that death is not as bad as it might seem.

2 thoughts on “Death and the Maiden

  1. Marissa K.

    This is such a cool song to analyze! I’ve also sung songs in a few different languages, and I always find the word choice interesting. I think that the author wrote exclamatory remarks for the maiden, such as “Ach” because those tend to sound especially harsh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane V

    I really like that you chose a song in another language. It’s crazy to think about all the music that is written out there, yet we often confine ourselves to analyze lyrical music in our own language. Its really cool that you took the time to research the meaning of this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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