Bertas Lied in der Nacht, D 653

Bertha's song at night-time

(Poet's title: Bertas Lied in der Nacht)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 653

    [February 1819]

Text by:

Franz Grillparzer

Text written February 1817.  First published October 3, 1818.

Bertas Lied in der Nacht

Nacht umhüllt
Mit wehendem Flügel
Täler und Hügel,
Ladend zur Ruh.

Und dem Schlummer,
Dem lieblichen Kinde,
Leise und linde
Flüstert sie zu:

“Weißt du ein Auge,
Wachend im Kummer,
Lieblicher Schlummer,
Drücke mir’s zu.”

Fühlst du sein Nahen,
Ahnest du Ruh?
Alles deckt Schlummer,
Schlummre auch du.

Bertha's song at night-time

Night is covering up –
With its flapping wings –
The valleys and hills,
Offering an invitation to rest.

And to sleep,
That lovely child,
Gentle and soothing,
It whispers:

“If you know any eye
That is awake because of distress,
Dear sleep,
Close it for me.”

Can you feel how near it is?
Do you have a sense of rest?
Sleep is covering everything,
You too, go to sleep.

Themes and images in this text:

Covers and coveringEyesHills and mountainsLullabiesNear and farNight and the moonRestSleepValleysWhisperingWings

Berta is a central character in Grillparzer’s play Die Ahnfrau (The Ancestress), which was first performed in Vienna on 31st January 1817. However, the text set to music by Schubert under the title ‘Bertas Lied in der Nacht’ does not appear in any printed version of the play. It first appeared in the journal Janus on Sunday, 13th October 1818 (this is clearly Schubert’s source, whether or not he attended the play). A number of theories have been suggested as to why the poem does not appear in any printed version of Die Ahnfrau. Perhaps it was an early draft of the lullaby in Act One (‘Schlummre ruhig, guter Vater’ – see below), or perhaps one of the actresses who covered the role of Berta was not capable of singing such a long, complex song and so Grillparzer produced a simpler version. It is also possible to read the stage directions in such a way that ‘Schlummre ruhig, guter Vater’ is not intended to be sung at all, but is a spoken monologue AFTER Berta has sung her lullaby and her father has fallen asleep, in which case ‘Bertas Lied in der Nacht’ would represent the text of the lullaby itself.

Berta sings her father to sleep in the first major scene of the play, which has outlined the background to the characters. Count Borotin has explained to his daughter Berta (and to the audience, of course) that he feels that the family is doomed to extinction. His only son died at the age of three (or so he believes), and he takes seriously a legend about an ancestress whose unhappy forced marriage led her to curse her descendents. The only way forward will be for him to allow Berta to marry the young man (Jaromir) she has fallen for and trust that the family might continue through her line. Having made this decision, he invites Berta to sing:

Ich weiß Edelmut zu ehren,
Wenn er sich und andre ehrt.
Bring ihn mir, er soll erfahren,
Daß dem reichen Borotin
Er sein reichstes Gut erhalten,
Soll erfahren, daß dein Vater
Für das Gold der ganzen Welt
Dich nicht für bezahlet hält.—
Doch jetzt, Berta, nimm die Harfe
Und versuch es, meinen Kummer
Um ein Stündchen zu betrügen.
Spiel ein wenig, liebe Tochter!

(Berta nimmt die Harfe. Bald nach den ersten Akkorden nickt der Alte und schlummert ein. Sobald er schläft stellt Berta die Harfe weg.)

Schlummre ruhig, guter Vater!
Daß doch all die süßen Blumen,
Die du streust auf meinen Pfad,
Dir zum Kranze werden möchten
Auf dein sorgenschweres Haupt.—
Ich soll also ihm gehören,
Mein ihn nennen, wirklich mein?
Und das Glück, das schon als Hoffnung
Mir der Güter größtes schien,
Gießt in freudiger Erfüllung
Mir sein schwellend Füllhorn hin!

Ich kann's nicht fassen,
Mich selber nicht fassen,
Alles zeigt mir und spricht mir nur ihn,
Den Wolken, den Winden
Möcht' ich's verkünden,
Daß sie's verbreiten so weit sie nur ziehn!

Mir wird's zu enge
In dem Gedränge
Fort auf den Söller, wie lastet das Haus;
Dort von den Stufen
Will ich es rufen
In die schweigende Nacht hinaus.

Und naht der Treue,
Dem ich mich weihe,
Künd ich ihm jubelnd das frohe Geschick
An seinem Munde
Preis ich die Stunde
Preis ich die Liebe, preis ich das Glück. (Ab.)

(Pause.—Die Ahnfrau, Bertan an Gestalt ganz ähnlich, und in der Kleidung nur durch einen wallenden Schleier unterschieden, erscheint neben dem Stuhle des Schlafenden und beugt sich schmerzlich über ihn.)

Graf (unruhig im Schlafe).
Fort von mir!—Fort!—Fort! (Er erwacht.)
Ah—bist du hier meine Berta?
Ei das war ein schwerer Traum,
Noch empört sich mir das Innre!
Geh doch nach der Harfe, Berta,
Mich verlangt's Musik zu hören!

(Die Gestalt hat sich aufgerichtet und starrt den Grafen mit weitgeöffneten toten Augen an.)

Graf (entsetzt).
Was starrst du so graß nach mir,
Daß das Herz im Männerbusen
Sich mit bangem Grausen wendet,
Und der Beine Mark gerinnt!
Weg den Blick! Von mir die Augen!
Also sah ich dich im Traume
Und noch siedet mein Gehirn.
Willst du deinen Vater töten?

(Die Gestalt wendet sich ab und geht einige Schritte gegen die Türe.)

So!—Nun kenn ich selbst mich wieder!—
Wohin gehst du Kind?

Die Gestalt (wendet sich an der Türe um. Mit unbetonter Stimme).
Nach Hause. (Ab.)

Der Graf (stürzt niedergedonnert in den Sessel zurück. Nach einer Weile).
Was war das?—Hab ich geträumt?—
Sah ich sie nicht vor mir stehn,
Hört' ich nicht die toten Worte,
Fühl ich nicht mein Blut noch starren
Von dem grassen, eis'gen Blick?—
Und doch, meine sanfte Tochter!—
Berta! Höre, Berta!

* * * * * 

I know how to respect nobility
When it respects itself and others.
Bring him to me and he will experience
How a rich Borotin
Receives his richest goods,
He will experience how your father
Would not accept all of the gold in the world
Or considered that you could be paid for. - 
But now, Bertha, take your harp
And try to ease my distress
By diverting me for a short while.
Play a little, dear daughter!

(Bertha takes her harp. Soon after he hears the first chords the old man starts nodding and falls asleep. As soon as he is asleep Bertha puts the harp away.)

Sleep calmly, good father!
May all the sweet flowers
Which you have strewn in my path
Form a garland
For your head, so heavy with care. - 
So am I really going to belong to him,
Call him mine, truly mine?
And happiness, which previously was just hope
And seemed to be the greatest of my possessions,Is pouring with joyful fulfillment
Into my swelling horn of plenty!

I cannot grasp it,
I cannot grasp myself,
Everything is pointing to him and speaking to me about him alone,
The clouds, the winds,
I want to let it be known
As far as they spread!

It is too narrow for me 
In this crush
I shall go out onto the balcony, since the house is so oppressive;
Out there from the steps
I shall proclaim it,
Calling into the silent night.

And if my faithful one approaches,
He to whom I have devoted mysel,
I will celebrate and tell him the happy news
From his mouth
I shall value the time
I shall value the love, value the happiness. (Exit)

(Pause. - The ancestress, with a face very similar to that of Bertha, and in terms of clothing differing only by a flowing veil, appears next to the sleeping man's chair and painfully bends over him.)

Count (restless in his sleep)
Get away from me! Away! Away! (He wakes up)
Oh - are you here my Bertha?
Oh, that was a terrible dream,
I am still tormented deep down!
So, Bertha, go back to the harp,
I am longing to hear some music!

(The apparition has straightened up and is staring at the Count with wide open dead eyes.)

Count (horrified)
Why are you staring at me in that awful way,
Making the heart in my manly breast
Turn away with anxious horror,
And making the marrow in my bones congeal?
Stop looking! Turn your eyes away from me!
This is how I saw you in my dream
And my brain is still boiling.
Do you want to kill your own father?

(The apparition turns away and moves a few steps towards the door.)

Oof! - Now I know who I am again! - 
Where are you going, child?

The apparition (turns around by the door. With a flat voice).
Home. (Exit)

The Count (struck down again, falls back into his chair. After a while.)
What was that? - Did I dream it? -
Did not I see her standing before me,
Did I not hear the dead words,
Can I not feel my blood freezing
Because of that hideous, icy gaze? - 
And yet, my gentle daughter! -
Bertha! Listen, Bertha!

It is clear from the old man’s confusion that Bertha’s song does not have the desired effect. It does not offer calm and relief from his anxieties about the future. Rather, it intensifies them and he finds that the ancestress with her dreaded predictions of doom is still a vital, terrifying presence. The same actress would have been playing both Bertha and the apparition, so the audience would have been aware that the Count’s worries centred inextricably around both his past and his future.

There is an echo of this anxiety in ‘Berthas Lied in der Nacht’, with its central question: ‘Ahnest du Ruh?’ (Do you have a sense of rest?). The verb ‘ahnen’ (to have a presentiment, to be vaguely aware of something) might lie behind the title of the play itself, ‘Die Ahnfrau‘, which is usually taken to mean ‘The Ancestress’ but could also mean something like ‘The woman who appears in intimations’.

Bertha’s song to her father therefore fails in its central purpose. It is supposed to offer awareness of the comfort that comes from rest and sleep, but in fact it only serves to awaken the anxieties brought about by the prophecies of the ancestress.

Original Spelling

Bertas Lied in der Nacht

Nacht umhüllt 
Mit wehendem Flügel 
Thäler und Hügel, 
Ladend zur Ruh.  

Und dem Schlummer, 
Dem lieblichen Kinde, 
Leise und linde 
Flüstert sie zu:  

"Weißt du ein Auge, 
Wachend im Kummer, 
Lieblicher Schlummer, 
Drücke mir's zu."  

Fühlst du sein Nahen? 
Ahnest du Ruh? 
Alles deckt Schlummer, 
Schlummre auch du.

Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Janus. [Eine Zeitschrift. Herausgegeben von Friedrich Wähner. Schrämbl, Wien, 1818-1819] No. 1, Sonnabend, den 3. Oktober 1818, page 3; and with Grillparzers Sämmtliche Werke in zehn Bänden. Dritte Ausgabe. Erster Band. Stuttgart. Verlag der J. G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung. 1878, pages 11-12 (here with the title Bertha’s Lied).

To see an early version of the text, go to page 3  [11 von 374] here: