Knoxville: Summer of 1915


Deutsche Aussprache

(German Pronunciation) Guide

Vowels (in general):

A                     “Ah”

E                      “Eh” or “Ay” (actually sounds like something between the two)

I                       “eeeeeee”

O                     Say “Oh” and think “Aw” (JUST LIKE LATIN!!)

U                     “ooooooo”

Y                     Exactly like a U with an umlaut (see below)

W                    Never a vowel in German  – always the same sound as the English “V”

Vowels mit Umlauts

(those funny dots that look like drunken colons):

An umlaut is the equivalent of putting an “e” next to a vowel.  In fact, when people didn’t have umlauts on their typewriters (back in the days of the covered wagons), they just typed an “e” instead , like this : ä = ae Tränen (tears) would have been typed: Traenen

Umlauts are ONLY used with a, o and u in German (I have no idea what those crazy Norwegians do with them!)

An umlaut, as you might imagine, creates a dipthong, altering the sound of the vowel. So,

Ä         “AY” or “AI” as in “hair”

Ö         “oo” as in “Look,” or like the French “eu” in “vieux” or the French e in “de”

Ü         “euoooo” Almost exactly like the French “u” in “tu” – a deliciously dark sound

Other vowel combinations:

AI                    “EYE”

AO                  “OW” as in “cow”

AU                   “OW” as in “cow”

EE                    “AY” – so similar to Ä that it’s not worth mentioning the difference

EI                     “EYE”

EU                   “OY” as in “BOY”

IE                     “EEE”

Any other vowel combinations: pronounce them separately – do not blend.

Two final notes on vowels:

German has the schwa (ə} sound that most of us learned about in school.  This is basically the “uh” sound and it is often at the end of words and is most often an “e,” e.g. “Sprache” (Shprach-uh)  And since the Germans drop “r”s at the ends of words more than the Brits,  we’ll probably sing it a lot.

The vowels give us the open mouths we need to get the sound out, so they are very important and we should be consistent in singing them properly.

And in the immortal words of the world famous organist/choirmaster, Nancy G. Stavely: “Don’t get your vowels in an uproar!”


Most of the German consonants are similar to English.  German differs from English in the following consonant pronunciations:

C         No real German words start with C – the ones that do are usually inspired from    other languages.  C in German is almost always a soft c – like s – and more frequently like a “ts” sound – like the German ‘z’

G         Always a hard G (NOTE: opposite of Latin!) In fact, it’s so hard, that if it’s at the end of a word, it’s often pronounced as a “K” or it can be pronounced as an “IG” (see below), e.g. as in “selig” (“blessed”) which can be pronounced “zay-leek” or “zay-leech” (“soft” ch on the middle of the tongue – see below)

J           Pronounced like the English “Y”

R          Guttural “R” like the French, or rolled R (this is the preferred method for singing, since the sound isn’t strangled on it’s way out into the world).  Or if in a short word, it is done as the Brits would do – and more or less ignored. (See “Schwarz” below)

S          At the beginning of the word – always pronounced as an English “Z”; at the END of a word, pronounced like the English “s”

SS        At the end of a word (see also Final Miscellaneous at end) always pronounced with soft “S” sound

V         Pronounced like the English “F”

W        Pronounced like the English “V” (are we having fun yet?)

Z          Pronounced “TS” “Schwarz” (“Black”) is pronounced “Shvahts” (I told you they drop their ‘r’s!)

Other miscellany on German consonants

SH       If you see these letters together in German, it is NOT to be pronounced as it is in English – most likely they are together because they are in the middle of a compound word, like “Ludwigshafen” (tr: Ludwig’s Harbor”) and is pronounced “Loodviks Haffuhn”

SCH    If you want the English SH sound, this is the way you do it in German

CH       Remember, C rarely, if ever starts a true German word – most likely you will see this letter combination at the end of a word.  If it is at the beginning of the word (as in the German word for choir (chor)), it is pronounced in the guttural way.  It can be pronounced one of two ways, depending on the vowel that precedes it or the region of the country in which it’s spoken.

If an A, an O, or a U precede it, you would say the guttural “ch” – as if one were clearing the back of one’s throat (Ach! – no English equivalent – like a messy “Ock!”  Or “Buch” (“book”) (boohch) Or, if an O, like the Scottish “Loch Lomond”

If an E or an I precede a CH the CH sound is pronounced more softly – from the middle of the tongue. Try saying the word “Hue” or “Hugh” and the initial “H” sound you make will be that soft CH sound.  Try saying that and stop before you say the “U” sound and you will have it.  Now add a sound before it:

Ich (I) (“eech”) or Pech (bad luck) (“Peych”)

The soft CH at the end of a word most likely will be sung VERY briefly, as any S would, and because its sibilance is somewhat softer, it can be a rather pleasant end to a musical phrase.

Final Miscellaneous Information

German, like some of the European languages, has modernized its script. The old type face of the early 20th century and before has been gone since the late 40s, but a few vestiges did remain for quite some time, so you may see the following in your music:

ß – This may look like a cursive capital B, but it is the equivalent of a double S called an “Esszett” (not sure if I spelled it correctly). For example, it’s used in the German word for white “weiß” (weiss) (“Vice”).

Traditionally, nouns are always capitalized in German.

“H” in German music means B; “B” is a B flat. [see comment below – thanks:)!]

Dur means “major” and Moll means “minor”

Some Comments from Readers the World Over:

“Oxknit” writes:

Good guide! I have a British English accent but I believe that North American accents are even further away from German than ours are. My choir did a lot of work with a German language coach before a competition and she pointed out the following:

  • Germans think the English-speaking mouth is very lazy. Our coach got us to emphasise all consonants, especially F, H, T, P and K, to the point where we thought we were massively overdoing it and she thought we were just about there. And don’t even get me started on “PF”…
  • The last consonant in a word is always unvoiced, so what looks like a ‘D’ is pronounced ‘T’, etc
  • She made us push our lips forward for O and U so that the sound was rounder and got us to work to have a bigger differentiation between the sound of the vowels that we were used to
  • She had a bit of a bugbear about Ls. German Ls are “light”, not “dark”: the front third or so of the tongue is pushed up against the hard palate, wherever the Ls is in the word. She said that getting that right helped with the pronunciation of other sounds because the tongue is in the right place.

When it came to performance, my friend’s mum, who was Austrian, said that she could actually tell what we were singing without looking at the programme notes. (She implied that this had not been the case for the other choirs.)

If people are having difficulties with the guttural consonants, get them to try pronouncing “Zschochescherstraße”, which is an actual street in Leipzig. If they can do that, they can do anything!

“Linkemasche/Nattie” writes:

Cool document! I have a couple of tiny comments, though.

The Umlaut section assumes knowledge of French pronunciation, so I’d include instructions on how to do ö and ü without that knowledge. Ö I’ve seen described as making the mouth for O and trying to say E. Ü I’ve seen described as the mouth for U and trying to say I, or vice versa.

Lastly, a tiny little pedant point about C – I think that’s generally pronounced ts like a Z, rather than straight s.

Hope that’s helpful and not overly pedantic 🙂


“Katicilli” writes:

Just an addition zo this: linkemasche uses the German vowels in her description. So for English speaking people the description should be (I hope):
For “Ö”: Forming the mouth for an “o” and trying to say “a”
For “Ü”: Forming the mouth for an “u” and trying to say “e”

And a comment to following line:

Ö “oo” as in “Look,” or like the French “eu” in “vieux” or the French e in “de”

I have never seen an “ö” pronounced as an “oo”!

”C” in the beginning of a word also sometimes is pronounced as “k”, e.g. in “Café” or “Clown”.

EDIT: I just noticed: “ö” is pronounced like the “e” in “German”

Something helpful for those of you working on JSB’s Easter Cantata (Christ lag’ in Todesbanden):

Cantata Text                                                  Word-for-word translation                             Pronunciation

(don’t forget to roll your ‘r’s)

Christ lag in Todesbanden                                 Christ lay in Death’s bonds                               Krist lock in toad ess bond’n

Für unser Sünd gegeben                                    For our Sin given                                              Foor oonsuh soont gegehb’n

Er ist wieder erstanden                          He is again arisen                                              Ehr ist veeduh ehrshtondun

Und hat uns bracht das Leben                           And has us brought the life                                Oont hot oonce brokt doss lehb’n

Dess wir sollen fröhlich sein                               So we should happy be                         Dess veeah sawllen frŏoleesh zine

Gott loben und ihm dankbar sein                       God praise and him thankful be             Gawt lohbuhn oont eem donkbah zine

Hallelujah                                                         Hallelujah                                                         Hah – lay –loo-yah

Den Tod, Niemand zwingen kunnt                     The Death, No one force(overcome) could       Dayn Tawt, Neemant tsvinguhn koont

Bei allen Menschen kindern                               Among all Mankind children                              Buy ahllen menshen kinduhn

Das macht alles unser Sünd                               That makes all our Sin                           Doss makt ahlless oonsuh soont

Kein Unschuld war zu finden                             No innocence was to find                                  Kine oonshult vah tsoo find’n

Davon kam der Tod, sobald                             From there came the death, so soon                  Dahfun kahm dehr Tawt, zohbawlt

Und nahm über uns Gewalt                               And took over us power (force)                        Oont nahm oobuh oonce gevahlt

Hielt uns in seinem Reich gefangen                     Held us in his realm imprisoned             Heelt oonce in zine-uhm Reish gefonguhn

Hallelujah                                                         Hallelujah                                                         Hallelujah

Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn                               Jesus Christ, God’s Son                                    Yayzoose Kristoose Gawtess Zawn

An unser Statt ist kommen                                To our place has come                          Ahn oonzuh shtott ist kawmuhn

Und hat die Sünde weg getan                            And has the sins away done                              Oont hot dee soonduh vayk getahn

Damit, den Tod genommen                               Therewith, the death taken                                Dah mitt dayn Tawt genawmuhn

All sein Recht und sein’ Gewalt             All his right(s) and his power                             Ahl zine Reysht oont zine gevahlt

Da bleibet nichts denn Tod’s gestalt                  There remains nothing (of) death’s form Dah bleybett neeshts dayn Tawts geshtahlt

Den Stach’l hat er veloren.                                The sting has he lost                                          Dayn shtockel hot ehr fehlawr’n

Hallelujah!                                                        Hallelujah!                                                        Hallelujah

Da Tod und Leben rungen                                With Death and Life at stake                             Dah Tawt oont lehb’n roong’n

Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg               It was a wondrous War                                    Ess vah ayn voonduhrleeshuh Kreek

Das Leben behielt den Sieg                               The life held the victory                         Das Lehb’n buheelt dayn Zeek

Es hat den Tod verschlungen                             It has the Death swallowed                               Ess hot dayn Tawt fairshloong’n

Die Schrift hat verkündiget                                The Scripture has fortold                                   Dee Shrifft hot fairkoondeegett

Wie ein Tod den andern frass                            As a Death the other devoured              Vee ine Tawt dayn onduhn fross

Ein Spott aus dem Tod ist worden                     A joke out of the Death has become                 Ine shpawt owce dehm Tawt isst vawd’n

Hallelujah                                                         Hallelujah                                                         hallelujah

(Bass solo)

Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm                           Here is the righteous Easter Lamb                     Heear isst doss rehshtuh Awstuh-lomm

Davon Gott hat geboten                                    Of which God has announced                           Dahfun Gawt hot geboht’n

Das ist hoch an des Kreuzes Stamm                  That is high on the Cross’s stem                        Doss isst hokh on dehs Kroytses Stahmm

In heisser Lieb’ gebraten                                   In hot love “glowed” (lit. “fried”)                       In hice-uh leep gebrawt’n

Das Blut zeichnet unser Tür                               The blood shows our door                                Doss Bloot tzeye-shnet oonce-uh Toor

Das halt der Glaub’ dem Tode für                     That holds the Faith the Death before                Doss hahlt dehr Glowp dehm Toaduh foor

DerWürger kann uns nicht mehr schaden           The slayer can us not more harm           Dehr voorguh kahn oonce neesht mehr shahd’n

(Soprano solo)

So feiern wir das hohe Fest,                           So celebrate we the high feast                              Zoh fiyan veeahr doss hoe-uh fest

Mit Herzensfreud’ und Wonne              With heartfelt joy and gaiety                              Mit Hertsensfroyduh oont vawnuh

Das uns der Herr erscheinen lässt                  That us the Lord to shine lets                                doss oonce dehr hehr ehrshine-uhn lest

Ist selber die Sonne                                         Is Himself the Sun                                              ist zelbuh dee zawnuh

Der durch seiner Gnaden Glanz                     That through his Gracious Glow                Dehr doorch zinah gnahd’n glonts

Erleuchtet unsre Herzen ganz                         Enlightens our hearts fully                          ehrhloyshtet oonzruh hair-tsuhn gonts

Der Sünden Nacht ist verschwunden              The Sins Night has disappeared               Dehr zoonduhn nockt ist fairshvoond’n

Hallelujah!                                                       Hallelujah                                                          hallelujah


Wir essen und leben wohl                                 We eat and live, well                                         Veeah essuhn oont laybun vawl

Im rechten Osterfladen                                    In the righteous Easter Host                                im reshtuhn Awstuh-flahd’n

Der alte Sauerteig nicht soll sein                    The old leaven not should be                                 dehr ahltuh zow-a-tike neesht zawl zine

Bei dem Wort der Gnaden                              By the word of the Gracious                               by dehm vawt dehr gnahd’n

Christus will die Koste sein                            Christ wants the meal to be                                  Kristoose vill dee Kawstuh zine

Und speisen die Seele’ allein                          And feeds the soul alone                          oont shpiezen dee zayluh ahline

Der Glaub’ will keins andern leben.               The faith wants no other life                                   dehr glowp vill kine ahnduhn lehb’n

Hallelujah!                                                       Hallelujah                                                          Hallelujah

One thought on “Miscellany

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