put into words

Songs without Words

Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) is a series of eight books each consisting of six "songs", written for the solo piano by Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Composition and reception

The eight volumes of Songs without Words were written at various points throughout Mendelssohn's life, (two of the volumes being published posthumously). The piano became increasingly popular in Europe during this era, where it became the focal point of many middle-class households. The pieces are within the grasp of pianists of various abilities and this undoubtedly contributed to their popularity. This great popularity has caused many critics to under-rate their musical value.

The works were part of the Romantic tradition of writing short lyrical pieces for the piano, although the specific concept of 'Song without Words' was new. Felix's sister Fanny Mendelssohn wrote a number of similar pieces (though not so entitled) and she may have helped inspire the concept according to some music historians.

Mendelssohn himself resisted attempts to interpret the Songs too literally, and objected when his friend Souchay sought to put words to them to make them literal songs:

What the music I love expresses to me, is not thought too indefinite to put into words, but on the contrary, too definite. {Mendelssohn's own italics}
Other composers who were inspired to produce similar sets of pieces of their own included Charles Valentin Alkan (the five sets of Chants, each ending with a barcarolle), Anton Rubinstein, Ignaz Moscheles and Edvard Grieg.

The 8 Volumes

The first volume of songs, Opus 19, was composed between 1830-32.

The second volume of songs, Opus 30, was composed in 1835. In both of the first two volumes, Mendelssohn gave the 6th song the title Venezianisches Gondellied (Venetian Gondolier's Song).

The third volume of songs, Opus 38, was published in 1837. Song number 6 was given the title Duetto by Mendelssohn, since two melodies were written to represent two singers.

The fourth volume of songs, Opus 53, was composed in 1841.

The fifth volume of songs, Opus 62, was composed in 1844. It contains a further Venezianisches Gondellied and the so-called Spring Song.

The sixth volume of songs, Opus 67, was published in 1845. Song number 4, Spinnerlied (Spinner's Song), has also been given the nickname the "Bee's Wedding" since the busy accompaniment to the melody resembles the buzzing of bees.

The seventh volume of songs, Opus 85, was published posthumously.

The eighth and final volume of songs, Opus 102, was composed in 1845.


The scores of the Songs without Words are freely downloadable from IMSLP


Various arrangements of individual songs have been made: for orchestra, chamber ensemble, or solo instrument with piano accompaniment. One such example is the arrangement of 22 of the songs by Mendelssohn's student, the German violist Friedrich Hermann (1828-1907), for violin and piano.



External links

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