The Lyrics and Translation of Dvorak's "Songs My Mother Taught Me"

A Czech Poem Translated for a Well-Known German Song

Antonin Dvorak
Literary icon Antonin Dvorak. Wikimedia Commons

Antonin Dvorak (1841–1904) is well-known for working with folk music in classical compositions. Composed in 1880, within a set of songs called the "Gypsy Songs," Dvorak's "Songs My Mother Taught Me" is one of the most famous and beloved songs of the set. Its memorable melody is both sad and optimistic. 

The texts used in this collection are poems written by Adolf Heyduk in Czech, then translated into German.

In the years since the lyrics have also been written in English. No matter the language, this is undoubtedly among the most popular songs for classical soloists to perform, particularly sopranos and tenors.

Czech Poem

Když mne stará matka zpívat, zpívat učívala,
podivno, že často, často slzívala.
A teď také pláčem snědé líce mučím,
když cigánské děti hrát a zpívat, hrát a zpívat učím!

German Text

Als die alte Mutter mich noch lehrte singen,
tränen in den Wimpern gar so oft ihr hingen.
Jetzt, wo ich die Kleinen selber üb im Sange,
rieselt's in den Bart oft,
rieselt's oft von der braunen Wange.

English Lyrics

by Natalia Macfarren

Songs my mother taught me,
In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids
Were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children,
Each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing,
Oft they flow from my memory's treasure.

The Full "Gypsy Songs"

Dvorak was a member of what we know as the Romantic period of classical music.

This period was marked by lovely melodies, chromatic harmonies, and generally romantic music of which Dvorak's work is a shining example.

He composed the "Gypsy Melodies" (better known as "Gypsy Songs, Opus 55") at the request of a famed tenor Gustav Walter (1834–1910). In Vienna, Walter was as popular as Dvorak and he was a member of the Vienna Court Opera (Wiener Hofoper).

Dvorak knew the poems of another contemporary, Czech poet Adolf Hejduk (1835–1923), and thought them to be a perfect fit for Walter. At the composer's request, Hejduk translated his work into German and Dvorak set them to music.

Seven songs in all, these pieces were very popular after their 1881 debut in Vienna. They quickly became favorites among audiences, and singers found them to be a pleasure to perform. Though all the songs are very well done and have enjoyed widespread notoriety, none has become as popular as "Songs My Mother Taught Me."

  1. "My Song of Love Rings Through the Dusk"
    • Czech - Má píseň zas mi láskou zní
    • German - Mein Lied ertönt, ein Liebespsalm
  2. "Hey, Ring Out, My Triangle"
    • Czech - Aj! Kterak trojhranec můj přerozkošně zvoní
    • German - Ei, wie mein Triangel wunderherrlich läutet
  3. "All Round About the Woods are Still"
    • Czech - A les je tichý kolem kol
    • German - Rings ist der Wald so stumm und still
  4. "Songs My Mother Taught Me"
    • Czech Kdyžmne stará matka zpívat, zpívat učívala
    • German - Als die alte Mutter
  5. "Come and Join the Danci"
    • Czech - Struna naladěna, hochu, toč se v kole
    • German - Reingestimmt die Saiten
  6. "The Gypsy Songman"
    • Czech - Široké rukávy a široké gatě
    • German - In dem weiten, breiten, luft’gen Leinenkleide
  1. "Give a Hawk a Fine Cage"
    • Czech - Dejte klec jestřábu ze zlata ryzého
    • German - Horstet hoch der Habicht auf den Felsenhöhen