In a cold night in a big forest, a man finds a woman galloping alone and offers to escort her home. She tells him about her worries and about a lost love that broke her heart and asks him to leave her alone as he does not realise who she is (the readers do not know yet who this strange woman is). Nonetheless, the man refuses to abandon her and insists on taking her home but it suddenly strikes him who she really is. Although he had never seen her, he knew about Lorelei’s existence. Then she says: “You know me well”. Since he is lost in the woods, it is not difficult to imagine what will happen after the encounter. The villagers who live outside the forest are aware of the nature of that place, as no one who has ventured inside the woods has ever come back alive. In the next two lines of the verse, it explains us for the first time where we are. “I rule alone in towers high over the Rhine”. This is the first reference to the river Rhine. Then Lorelei pronounces the first sentences that the man said to her. When she repeats “this night is cold”, we can understand it as a presage of the man’s death. In this last sentence, it becomes clear that the path the man took is a cul-de-sac, although it was initially thought to be a harmless romance.
The first indication in the music score is “ziemlich rasch” (quickly) in the brilliant tone of E-Major. In the first four measures of piano introduction, we can hear the hunting horns in a nice wild atmosphere that will later mention “Hear, now, the woods horns, near and far!”. Then the voice starts with the interrupted sentence “it is late” and “it is cold”. Then the confident man declaration comes until the culminant point of the sentence “schöne” (beautiful). With the last word of the sentence of this verse “heim” (home), Schumann changes the tone to C-Major and as a result the mood. In the new tone and with the octave movements in the piano. Lorelei starts her sad story about her abandonment and her broken heart. The piano finishes with a sudden forte “Hear, now, the wood horns, near and far”. We do not know if the sadness is fake and is all part of Lorelei’s plan or if it is real, the interpreter can make up his own mind. With this sentence, forte changes the piano accompaniment: repeated chords with the right hand and a descending accompaniment with the left hand complement the voice while Lorelei tells the man to leave the forest, and finishes with a B-minor tone. This is when the piano starts again with the good mood and cheerfulness that the E-Major offers. Here, the man still has the intention of captivating the young and beautiful woman and it is complemented again with the hunting horns as the start of the piece. Suddenly with the word “Leib” (body), he feels stunned and starts to understand the situation. The texture of the piano changes abruptly to staccato chords. The line of the chant is always ascending with the text “God save my soul!”, which then turns into an echo in the accompaniment preparing “you are the demon, Lorelei!” with a ritardando forte in B-Major. The man rests speechless and Lorelei explains to him who she is using the seductive tone of E-Major with an ascending high line. Schumann repeats the sentence “You know me well” a second time to give emphasis to the man’s mistake: entering the woods, knowing what could happen to him. The intensity increases now until “it is late, it is cold” and with a threating voice says “you will never leave this forest” with accents on top of each chord to make the declaration of intentions of the witch clearer. The word “nimmermehr” (never) is repeated three times, the second time using a ritardando to mark insistence. In the postlude the horns from the prelude sound again, playing exactly the same notes, the same music, as if this had never happened or as if it was starting again.
Es ist schon spät, es wird* schon kalt,
Was reitst du einsam durch den Wald?
Der Wald ist lang, du bist allein,
Du schöne Braut! Ich führ dich heim!
"Groß ist der Männer Trug und List,
Vor Schmerz mein Herz gebrochen ist,
Wohl irrt das Waldhorn her und hin,
O flieh! Du weißt nicht, wer ich bin.
So reich geschmückt ist Roß und Weib,
So wunderschön der junge Leib,
Jetzt kenn ich dich - Gott steh mir bei!
Du bist die Hexe Lorelei. -
"Du kennst mich wohl - von hohem Stein
Schaut still mein Schloß tief in den Rhein.
Es ist schon spät, es wird* schon kalt,
Kommst nimmermehr aus diesem Wald."
"The hour is late; this night is cold.
Why ride so lonesome through this wood?"
"The road is long; you go alone.
You lovely maid -- I'll take you home!"
"Great are the guileful ways of man.
My broken heart within me cries with pain !
Hear, now, the wood horns, near and far!
Oh, fly, oh, fly -- You know not who I am!"
"Your horse so noble, your beauty so rare; -
So wondrous fair is your charm; your youthful face and form"
"Yes! Now I know! God save my soul!
-- You are the demon, Lorely!"
"You know me well, you know me well -
I rule alone in towers high o'er the Rhine.
The hour is late! - this night is cold -
You nevermore shall leave these woods!"
(translation by Schula Keller)