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An Introduction to German Lieder: Franz Schubert and his Work

Updated on December 11, 2011

Franz Schubert (b. 1797- d. 1828)

Michael Holzer, a respected musician, began instructing Schubert when he was about ten. Holzer declared, "If I wished to teach him anything new, he already knew it. So in fact I really gave him no true instruction. I merely talked to him, and watched his musical progress with silent astonishment."

Schubert was Austrian born, and lived his tragically short life in Vienna. He is an early representative of the artistic period known as Romanticism. Artists of this period longed to break rules, to engage subjective fantasies, to enter into the realms of the exotic and strange, to explore the erotic, to delve into national, "folkish" origins--this in contrast with the preceding Classicism of Mozart and Hayden, which stood for balance, unity, order and homogenized forms.

In particular, Schubert is known for his profoundly beautiful Kunstlieder, or "art songs." Schubert, like many of his Romantic contemporaries, was deeply moved by poetry. This affection was so deep that he responded by creating melodies of breathtaking beauty. At his finest, Schubert had the ability to heighten the meaning of a poem as well as to charge the piano with unprecedented dramatic responsibility. Some of his best know Lieder are as follows:

  • "Ständchen", D. 957 no. 4
  • "Die Forelle", D. 550
  • "Gretchen am Spinnrade", op.2, D.118
  • "Heidenröslien", D. 257
  • "Du Bist die Ruh'", D. 776
  • "Erlkönig", op. 1, D. 328
  • "Nacht und Träume", op. 43 no. 2, D. 827
  • "Im Frühling", D. 882
  • "Am Meer", D. 957 no. 12
  • "Auf dem Wasser zu singen", op. 72, D. 774
  • "An Silvia", op. 106 no. 4, D. 891

Of the poets he set to music, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schlegel, Friedrich Schiller, Walter Scott, Heinrich Heine and Shakespeare were among his favorites. Below I have provided a sampling of Schuberts music with accompayning lyrics in the original German and their English translation. It is my hope that this article will inspire you to further explore the transporting beauty of the Art of German Romanticism.

"Ständchen", D. 957 no. 4

Text: Ludwig Rellstab (1799-1860)

Leise flehen meine Lieder
Durch die Nacht zu dir;
In den stillen Hain hernieder,
Liebchen, komm zu mir!
Flüsternd schlanke Wipfel rauschen
In des Mondes Licht;
Des Verräters feindlich Lauschen
Fürchte, Holde, nicht.
Hörst die Nachtigallen schlagen?
Ach! sie flehen dich,
Mit der Töne süßen Klagen
Flehen sie für mich.
Sie verstehn des Busens Sehnen,
Kennen Liebesschmerz,
Rühren mit den Silbertönen
Jedes weiche Herz.
Laß auch dir die Brust bewegen,
Liebchen, höre mich!
Bebend harr' ich dir entgegen!
Komm, beglücke mich!
My songs beckon softly
through the night to you;
below in the quiet grove,
Come to me, beloved!
The rustle of slender leaf tips whispers
in the moonlight;
Do not fear the evil spying 
of the betrayer, my dear.
Do you hear the nightingales call?
Ah, they beckon to you,
With the sweet sound of their singing
they beckon to you for me.
They understand the heart's longing,
know the pain of love,
They calm each tender heart
with their silver tones.
Let them also stir within your breast,
beloved, hear me!
Trembling I wait for you,
Come, please me!


"Die Forelle", D. 550

Trout Quintet in A major D667 - Theme and Variations

Some Recommended Musik

Schubert: Goethe-Lieder / Fischer-Dieskau, Demus, Moore
Schubert: Goethe-Lieder / Fischer-Dieskau, Demus, Moore

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is THE authoritative baritone vocalist for Schubert's lieder. Fischer-Dieskau's "Heidenroslien" is so good that even I play it over and over, although I've heard it so many times...Fischer-Deskau gives a beautiful rendition. His "Erlkonig" is such that he gets the four voices of the narrator, the child, the father, and the Erlkonig so well it is astonishing. This is a MUST HAVE for Schubert/Fischer-Deskau/piano lovers.


Text: Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739-1791)

In einem Bächlein helle, 
Da schoß in frohen
Eil Die launige Forelle 
Vorüber wie ein Pfeil.
Ich stand an dem Gestade
Und sah in süßer Ruh
Des muntern Fisches Bade
Im klaren Bächlein zu.
Ein Fischer mit der Rute
Wohl an dem Ufer stand,
Und sah's mit kaltem 
Wie sich das Fischlein 
So lang dem Wasser Helle,
So dacht ich, nicht 
So fängt er die 
Mit seiner Angel 
Doch plötzlich ward 
Die Zeit zu lang. Er 
Das Bächlein tückisch 
Und eh ich es gedacht,
So zuckte seine Rute,
Das Fischlein zappelt 
Und ich mit regem 
Sah die Betrogene an.
A brooklet soft and 
rushing on with glee
A trout like arrow 
so playfully and free.
And standing by the 
I gazed in pure delight.
At happy fishlet playing
In lucid brooklet bright.
A fisherman with rod
Stood watching from nearby;
He followed fishlet's 
With cold and scheming eye.
"So long stays clear that 
I thought, with comfort sure,
"He cannot trap my fishlet
Or catch it with his lure."
But soon with crude impatience,
He broke the calm;
He stirred and muddied all 
that water
And just as I had feared,
He tugged upon his rod
And dangled my fishlet on his hook.
Oh, how my heart was burning
Betrayed were fish and brook!



"Gretchen am Spinnrade", op.2, D.118

Suggested Reading

The Essential Canon of Classical Music
The Essential Canon of Classical Music

This book focuses on the key composers of each age. Dubal spends a lot of time on the artistic development of each composer. He does a good job describing the emotional impact of each of their major works and often provides a quotation from another composer who was impacted by that work. Finally, he provides a list of recommended CDs to get a beginner started in building a collection. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Text: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) , from Faust.

Meine Ruh' ist hin, 
Mein Herz ist schwer, 
Ich finde sie nimmer
und nimmermehr. 
Wo ich ihn nicht hab 
Ist mir das Grab, 
Die ganze Welt 
Ist mir vergällt. 
Mein armer Kopf 
Ist mir verrückt, 
Mein armer Sinn 
Ist mir zerstückt. 
Meine Ruh' ist hin, 
Mein Herz ist schwer, 
Ich finde sie nimmer 
und nimmermehr. 
Nach ihm nur schau 
ich Zum Fenster hinaus, 
Nach ihm nur geh ich 
Aus dem Haus. 
Sein hoher Gang, 
Sein' edle Gestalt, 
Seine Mundes Lächeln, 
Seiner Augen Gewalt, 
Und seiner Rede 
Sein Händedruck,
Und ach, sein Kuß!
Meine Ruh' ist hin, 
Mein Herz ist schwer, 
Ich finde sie nimmer 
und nimmermehr. 
Mein Busen drängt sich 
Nach ihm hin. 
Ach dürft ich fassen 
Und halten ihn, 
Und küssen ihn, 
So wie ich wollt, 
An seinen Küssen 
Vergehen sollt! 
My peace is gone, 
My heart is heavy, 
I will find it never 
and never more. 
Where I do not have him, 
That is the grave, 
The whole world 
Is bitter to me. 
My poor head 
Is crazy to me, 
My poor mind 
Is torn apart.
My peace is gone, 
My heart is heavy, 
I will find it never
and never more.
For him only, 
I look Out the window 
Only for him do I go 
Out of the house.
His tall walk, 
His noble figure, 
His mouth's smile, 
His eyes' power,
And his mouth's 
Magic flow, 
His handclasp, 
and ah! his kiss!
My peace is gone, 
My heart is heavy, 
I will find it never 
and never more.
My bosom urges 
itself toward him. 
Ah, might I grasp 
And hold him! 
And kiss him, 
As I would wish, 
At his kisses 
I should die! 

"Heidenröslein", D. 257

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe "Heidenröslein"

Text: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Sah ein Knab' ein Röslein stehn,
Röslein auf der Heiden,
War so jung und morgenschön,
Lief er schnell, es nah zu sehn,
Sah's mit vielen Freuden.
Röslein, Röslein, Röslein 
Röslein auf der Heiden.
Knabe sprach: Ich breche 
Röslein auf der Heiden!
Röslein sprach: Ich steche 
Daß du ewig denkst an mich,
Und ich will's nicht leiden.
Röslein, Röslein, Röslein
Röslein auf der Heiden.
Und der wilde Knabe brach's
Röslein auf der Heiden;
Röslein wehrte sich und 
Half ihm doch kein Weh und 
Mußt es eben leiden.
Röslein, Röslein, Röslein 
Röslein auf der Heiden.
Passing lad a rose blossom spied,
Blossom on the heath growing,
'Twas so fair and of youthful pride,
Raced he fast to be near its side,
Saw it with joy o'erflowing.
Blossom, blossom, blossom red,
Blossom on the heath growing.
Said the lad: I shall pick thee,
Blossom on the heath growing!
Blossom spoke: Then I'll prick thee,
That thou shalt ever think of me,
And I'll not be allowing.
Blossom, blossom, blossom red,
Blossom on the heath growing.
And the lusty lad did pick
The blossom on the heath growing;
Blossom, in defense, did prick,
'Twas, alas, but a harmless nick,
Had to be allowing.
Blossom, blossom, blossom red,
Blossom on the heath growing.


"Du Bist die Ruh'", D. 776

More Selections

The Schubert song companion
The Schubert song companion

John Reed's Schubert Song Companion provides clear and literal translations to the more than 600 known Schubert lieder. Reed also includes musical analysis and historical information about each song. This book is perfect for anyone from the Schubert scholar to the curious listener.


Text: Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866)

Du bist die Ruh,
Der Friede mild,
Die Sehnsucht du
Und was sie stillt.
Ich weihe dir
Voll Lust und Schmerz
Zur Wohnung hier
Mein Aug und Herz.
Kehr ein bei mir,
Und schließe du
Still hinter dir
Die Pforten zu.
Treib andern Schmerz
Aus dieser Brust!
Voll sei dies Herz
Von deiner Lust.
Dies Augenzelt
Von deinem Glanz
Allein erhellt,
O füll es ganz!
You are harmony
and rest.
You are yearning
and its cadence.
I dedicate to you,
as to a sacred place,
full of pain and joy,
my eyes and heart.
Turn to me now
and quietly
close the doors
behind you.
Drive other sorrows
far away:
May my heart fill
with delight in you.
This vaulted dome
with your light voice
alone is filled,
Oh let it ring.


Nacht und Träume, op. 43 no. 2, D. 827

Text: Matthäus Kasimir von Collin (1779-1824)

Heil'ge Nacht, du sinkest nieder; Nieder wallen auch die Träume Wie dein Mondlicht durch die Räume, Durch der Menschen stille Brust. Die belauschen sie mit Lust Rufen, wenn der Tag erwacht: Kehre wieder, heil'ge Nacht! Holde Träume, kehret wieder!


Holy night, you sink down; 
Dreams, too, drift down
Like your moonlight through space, 
Through the quiet hearts of men;
They listen with delight 
Calling out when day awakens:
Return, holy night! 
Fair dreams, return!

"Im Frühling", D. 882

Text: Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817)

 Still sitz' ich an des Hügels Hang, Der Himmel ist so klar, Das Lüftchen spielt im grünen Tal. Wo ich beim ersten Frühlingsstrahl Einst, ach so glücklich war.
Wo ich an ihrer Seite ging So traulich und so nah, Und tief im dunklen Felsenquell Den schönen Himmel blau und hell Und sie im Himmel sah.
Sieh, wie der bunte Frühling schon Aus Knosp' und Blüte blickt! Nicht alle Blüten sind mir gleich, Am liebsten pflückt ich von dem Zweig, Von welchem sie gepflückt!
Denn alles ist wie damals noch, Die Blumen, das Gefild; Die Sonne scheint nicht minder hell, Nicht minder freundlich schwimmt im Quell Das blaue Himmelsbild.
Es wandeln nur sich Will und Wahn, Es wechseln Lust und Streit, Vorüber flieht der Liebe Glück, Und nur die Liebe bleibt zurück, Die Lieb und ach, das Leid.
O wär ich doch ein Vöglein nur Dort an dem Wiesenhang Dann blieb ich auf den Zweigen hier, Und säng ein süßes Lied von ihr, Den ganzen Sommer lang.
Quietly I sit on the hill's slope.
The sky is so clear;
a breeze plays in the green valley.
Where I was at Spring's first sunbeam
once - alas, I was so happy!
When I was walking at her side,
So intimate and so close,
and deep in the dark rocky spring
was the beautiful sky, blue and bright;
and I saw her in the sky.
Look how colorful Spring already
looks out from bud and blossom!
Not every blossom is the same for me:
I like best to pick from the branch
from which she picked hers!
For all is as it was:
the flowers, the field;
the sun does not shine less brightly,
nor does the spring reflect any less charmingly
the blue image of the sky.
The only things that change are will and delusion:
Joys and quarrels alternate,
the happiness of love flies past,
and only the love remains -
The love and, alas, the sorrow.
Oh, if only I were a little bird,
there, on the meadow's slope,
then I would remain here on these branches,
and sing a sweet song about her
the whole summer long.

"Am Meer", D. 957 no. 12

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus Im letzten Abendscheine; Wir saßen am einsamen Fischerhaus, Wir saßen stumm und alleine.
Der Nebel stieg, das Wasser schwoll, Die Möwe flog hin und wieder; Aus deinen Augen liebevoll Fielen die Tränen nieder.
Ich sah sie fallen auf deine Hand Und bin aufs Knie gesunken; Ich hab von deiner weißen Hand Die Tränen fortgetrunken.
Seit jener Stunde verzehrt sich mein Leib, Die Seele stirbt vor Sehnen; Mich hat das unglücksel'ge Weib Vergiftet mit ihren Tränen.
The sea sparkled out in the distance By the light of evening's last glow; We sat near the solitary fisherman's house, We sat mute and alone.
The fog gathered, the water swelled, A seagull flew back and forth; From your eyes full of love Tears fell down.
I saw them fall on your hand And sank to one knee; From out of your white hand I drank the tears.
Since that hour my body consumes itself, My soul is dying of longing; This wretched woman Has poisoned me with her tears.

Auf dem Wasser zu Singen

Text: Friedrich Leopold, Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg (1750-1819)

  1. Mitten im Schimmer der spiegelnden Wellen; Gleitet, wie Schwäne, der wankende Kahn: Ach, auf der Freude sanftschimmernden Wellen Gleitet die Seele dahin wie der Kahn; Denn von dem Himmel herab auf die Wellen Tanzet das Abendrot rund um den Kahn.
  2. Über den Wipfeln des westlichen Haines Winket uns freundlich der rötliche Schein; Unter den Zweigen des östlichen Haines Säuselt der Kalmus im rötlichen Schein; Freude des Himmels und Ruhe des Haines Atmet die Seel im errötenden Schein.
  3. Ach, es entschwindet mit tauigem Flügel Mir auf den wiegenden Wellen die Zeit; Morgen entschwinde mit schimmerndem Flügel Wieder wie gestern und heute die Zeit, Bis ich auf höherem strahlendem Flügel Selber entschwinde der wechselnden Zeit.
  1. In the middle of the shimmer of the reflecting waves Glides, as swans do, the wavering boat; Ah, on joy's soft shimmering waves Glides the soul along like the boat; Then from Heaven down onto the waves Dances the sunset all around the boat.
  2. Over the treetops of the western grove Waves, in a friendly way, the reddish gleam; Under the branches of the eastern grove Murmur the reeds in the reddish light; Joy of Heaven and the peace of the grove Is breathed by the soul in the reddening light.
  3. Ah, time  vanishes on dewy wing for me, on the rocking waves; Tomorrow, time will vanish with shimmering wings Again, as yesterday and today, Until I, on higher more radiant wing, Myself vanish to the changing time.


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    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      This is a really nice hub - a must for classical music buffs such as myself.

      Note: Schubert isn't always thought of as a true romantic like Beethoven, Weber or Berlioz are. Schubert is hard to place....

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Just Across The State Line

      After reading your Hub, I am reminded of an album that I purchased over thirty-five years ago that featured an ensemble of the Marlboro Festival Orchestra (Rudolf Serkin, Jaime Laredo, et al.) performing Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, D. 667. During the famous "Theme and Variations" movement (from "Die Forelle"), the ensemble was joined by a cricket. Listening to that music with headphones on is one of the most peaceful and sublime experiences that one may enjoy upon this earth. I highly recommend that you find that rendition of the "Trout" Quintet and enjoy!


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