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Title Composer Description View or Listen Date Posted
Die Gedanken Sind Frei Anonymous
Voice and guitar
German Folksong, c. 1800
mus  pdf  mid  mp3  xml  2007-10-17

Title: "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" ("The Thoughts Are Free")

History

Subversive

This is a subversive song!  In certain times and places, you might go to jail for singing "Die Gedanken Sind Frei".  This song says that our thoughts cannot be bound or controlled, simply because—thoughts are free! 

In addition to its inspiring words, the song boasts a lively, catchy tune.  Who could ask for more?

Origins

We do not know who wrote the original words and music.  Versions of the text of "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" are attested during the Napoleonic period in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and there are hints that some of the words, at least, may be much older. 

An early printed version of the text (without melody) appeared in the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn, by Clemens Brentano and Arhim von Arnim, published in Heidelberg, 1808.  There the song has a different title, "Lied des Verfolgten im Turm" ("Song of the Persecuted in the Tower"), and is identified as "nach Schweizerliedern" ("derived from Swiss songs").  To this day, the Swiss claim "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" as a folk song of their nation.

Gustav Mahler included "Lied des Verfolgten im Turm" in his 1898 song collection, also called Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  Mahler set the text to an original melody, unsimilar to the traditional folk song tune.  Note also that the Wunderhorn version contains extra verses that are not now considered part of "Die Gedanken Sind Frei".

The earliest known publication of the song with both words and music occurs in Lieder der Brienzer Mädchen, published in Bern, Switzerland sometime between 1810 und 1820.

Copyright?

As the basis for my musical arrangement and English translation, I took the version in an old songbook, Deutsches Lautenlied (1916).  That version is out of copyright.  Therefore I'm free to base my arrangement and translation on it, and then donate my work to the public domain.  Ironically, some other Internet versions of "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" are proprietary.  Are thoughts truly free if they are entangled in copyright?

 

Text

 

Die Gedenken Sind Frei

Thoughts Are Free
Translated by Tom Potter

1 Die Gedanken sind frei,
wer kan sie erraten;
sie fliegen vorbei,
wie nächtliche Schatten.

Kein Mensch kan sie wissen,
kein Jäger erschießen;
es bleibet dabei:
die Gedanken sind frei!

My thoughts, they are free,
For, what man can guess them?
They pass by fleetingly
Like evening shadows.

No person can know them,
No hunter can shoot them,
It always shall be:
My thoughts, they are free!

2 Ich denke was ich will
und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still,
und wie es sich schicket.

Mein Wunsch und Begehren
kann niemand verwehren;
es bleibet dabei:
die Gedanken sind frei!

I think just what I want,
And what makes me happy;
But always quietly
And at the right moment.

My wish and desire,
No one can suppress them,
It always shall be:
My thoughts, they are free!

3 Sperrt man mich gleich ein
in finsteren Kerker,
so sind es doch nur
vergebliche Werke;

Denn meine Gedanken
zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei:
die Gedanken sind frei!

And if they lock me up
In deep and dark dungeons,
Then surely they will see,
Such actions will fail them..

My thoughts will defeat them,
Will smash through their fences
And overthrow their walls:
My thoughts, they are free!

4 Drum will ich auf immer
den Sorgen entsagen
und will mich auch nimmer
mit Grillen mehr plagen.

Man kann ja im Herzen
stets lachen und scherzen
und denken dabei:
die Gedanken sind frei!

And I shall renounce
Both sorrows and sadness,
And silly ideas
Shall no more torment me.

For I can be laughing,
Yes, I can be joking,
And deep inside of me:
My thoughts, they are free!

5 Ich liebe den Wein,
mein Mädchen vor allen,
sie tut mir allein
am besten gefallen.

Ich bin nicht alleine
bei meinem Glas Weine:
mein Mädchen dabei,
die Gedanken sind frei!

I love a drink of wine,
But love most my woman,
Yes, she and only she,
Knows best how to please me.

I'm never alone, with
My wineglass and woman
To keep me company:
My thoughts, they are free!

    Translation donated to the public
domain by Tom Potter, 2007

 

Remarks

Translation note

A conundrum for translators is how to render the recurring line "Die Gedanken sind frei", while preserving the song's rhythm and melody.  For, the German phrase has six syllables, while its most natural English translation, "Thoughts are free", has only three.  My solution, with many other translators, is to insert some extra English words into this line.  Another approach is simply to leave this line as is, in German—but translate everything else.  Pete Seeger's version in his Dangerous Songs album, 1966, is of this type.

Wein und Mädchen

Of the five verses appearing in Deutsches Lautenlied, I find the fifth and final verse (about wine and woman) to be pleasant, but a little off the subject of the preceding verses.  Thus, I have omitted it from my edition of the sheet music (see the "mus" and "pdf" links above).  I suspect that long ago, someone added this verse to dilute the message of the rest of the song.  Could this have been done in order to make the song publishable, that is, to get it past the censors?  But I have no evidence for this: if you like, put the verse back in!

Guitar accompaniment

I retained the original guitar setting by Paul Bernotatis in measures 1-17, and later in measures 52-68.  Then I elaborated Bernotatis's setting into a more plinky-plunky accompaniment in measures 18-34 and 69-85.  In the middle, I inserted an optional guitar solo interlude.

References

"Die Gedanken sind frei". (2007, September 20). Wikipedia article, visited 15-Oct-2007.

"Die Gedanken sind frei", song page in Frank Petersohn's "Leader in Lieder" ingeb.org website, visited 15-Oct-2007.  [Contains two versions of the German text, and information on early published versions.]

"Die Gedanken Sind Frei": "Mudcat Cafe" discussion thread visited 15-Oct-2007.  [Numerous postings giving alternate versions and translations, along with comments on the song's history.]

"Des Knaben Wunderhorn". article in German Wikipedia, visited 15-Oct-2007.  [Details on the history of an early song collection containing text of "Die Gedanken Sind Frei", under the title "Lied des Verfolgten im Turm".]

"Lied des Verfolgten im Turm", in Projekt Gutengerg-DE website, visited 15-Oct-2007.  [Contains the original text from volume 3 of Achim von Arnim's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, 1808.]

"Lied des Verfolgten im Turm", http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=4523  [Contains the text set by Mahler.]

W. Werckmeister (1873-?), editor, Deutsches Lautenlied, A. Köster Verlag, Berlin, 1916 edition, p. 533.  [My source for words and music of "Die Gedanken Sind Frei". ]

 

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