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You love the tune but hate the text

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Hello all,

Longtime on and off lurker speaking. I've wondered whether any of you have experienced this and how you "deal" with it. I'm a German native speaker and I sometimes hate the texts that go with certain songs or arias. Sometimes I think the texts are just a little bit ludicrous, sometimes I find them so horrible that it really detracts from my enjoyment of the music. And sometimes I just can't listen to the music because of the texts. Cases in point: Schubert songs (just bad poetry sometimes in my obviously personal view), far worse is Wagner (of course) or certain Mahler songs - I don't really know whether I like the last movement of his fourth symphony because I can't stand the text, so much so that I stop listening. Anyone who has similar experiences? Maybe I should listen to performances of these compositions in languages I don't speak at all (if I find them, that is).

I don't remember any Schubert song lyrics as distractingly horrible. Some are a bit cheesy or sentimental, e.g. "Das Zügenglöcklein". "Das himmlische Leben" is rather funny, I think. The worst well known Mahler I find "Es sungen drei Engel..." in the 3rd symphony and the really worst I tend to skip is "Verlorne Müh" from Wunderhorn, because the music is not memorable either and trained singers trying that fake dialect (not sure if it was close to some dialect 200 years ago when this poetry was collected/edited but it sounds fake) is horrendous.

Wagner is a very special case. Often one cannot understand the text anyway. Sometimes it is quite poignant and poetic or even witty. (I think that Sachs' response to Walther "Wie fang ich nach der Regel an? - Ihr stellt sie selbst und folgt ihr dann" or even the "nationalist" final of Meistersinger (i.e. the elevation of German arts and artists above political conflict and disunity) are getting their points across quite well)
Then it is often so strange and far removed from normal language that it's literally beyond good and evil. "Wes Herd dies auch sei, hier muss ich rasten" is very good,  but "Ein Quell etc." for "I am thirsty, get me a drink" is just bizarre. Or calling the torch "Zünde" in Tristan, II. Words, either made up or totally uncommon and giving a comical impression.

I find Wagner's texts just plain awful.  I used to read them when listening to the operas, but I long ago stopped doing that.  I find most texts for most music to be less satisfactory than the music, so I always listen for the tune.  I will also write that as a native English speaker, I generally detest the English language when used in opera or art song, partly because I find English to sound comparatively ugly in such forms.  Someone like Ned Rorem is the very rare exception here.  English language pop and rock songs fare a bit better, but there the short, simple tune is definitely the thing.

Unfortunately, a large proportion of Schubert's texts are depressing. Even the ones that start off cheerful end up in weeping, sobbing, warm tears, cold tears, wanting to die etc. Johann Mayrhofer's texts are easily the worst. Mayrhofer and Schubert were friends but fell out. Mayrhofer outlived Schubert but committed suicide in 1836 - not surprising when you read his poetry. Schubert set more Mayrhofer than any other poet except Goethe.

Having said that Winterreise is my favourite of Schubert's lieder.

The texts of Bach's cantatas are pretty dreary - too much grief for sin etc. I usually read through the text then let the music take over rather than following the text word for word.

k a rl h e nn i ng:
Mostly in the pop music world. This q. arose on Twitter, and this was my view of "Tom Sawyer" by Rush.


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