Der Leiermann – The Organ-grinder

The title of this post is the name of a Franz Schubert composition and a poem by somebody called Wilhelm Mueller that I simply love. I came across the song in the movie ‘In Bruges’. The poem itself is in German, and I had to find a translation to understand the words; but the music is so appropriate to the mood of the poem that one almost doesn’t have to. The music is haunting and simple, and captures the sheer melancholy, the starkness, of the emotion in the poem that is so gripping.

Wilhelm Müller:

Der Leiermann

Drüben hinterm Dorfe
Steht ein Leiermann,
Und mit starren Fingern
Dreht er, was er kann.

Barfuß auf dem Eise
Schwankt er hin und her;
Und sein kleiner Teller
Bleibt ihm immer leer.

Keiner mag ihn hören,
Keiner sieht ihn an;
Und die Hunde brummen
Um den alten Mann.

Und er läßt es gehen
Alles, wie es will,
Dreht, und seine Leier
Steht ihm nimmer still.

Wunderlicher Alter,
Soll ich mit dir gehn?
Willst zu meinen Liedern
Deine Leier drehn?

Wilhelm Müller:

The Organ-Grinder

Way behind the hamlet
stands an organ man
and with freezing fingers
grinds the best he can.

Barefoot on the snowbank
swaying to and fro –
and his little plate has
ne’er a coin to show.

No-one comes to listen,
no-one comes to greet,
and the dogs are growling
at the old man’s feet.

And he lets it happen,
lets it as it will –
cranking – and his organ
never staying still.

Strangest of the Ancients,
must I walk with you?
Will you grind my Lieders
on your organ, too?

There are several renditions of the song by tenors. All the ones I’ve heard are good. Find the ones by Andreas Schmidt, Thomas Quasthoff, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

I found the translation of this and another poem, along with an essay on Schubert’s passion for his work, and much else besides, on this website. I’ve copied the translation to ‘Der Leiermann’ here, but please do go to the original website for everything else.