German Folk Music

German folk music has changed significantly over the years. In the past, the music focused on celebrating Germany's history, natural surroundings, the German culture and German values. These songs, called "Volkslieder," were sung by school choirs and were lauded by the government. Grandparents and children alike sang these songs to celebrate their German heritage.

Songs with a Message
Some German folk focuses on virtues or admirable character qualities. These songs are sung to encourage good character and morality. One example of such music is the following:

Freut Euch de Lebens (Life Let Us Cherish)
Life let us cherish
While yet the lamp is a glow
Gather ye roses
While they still grow.

We borrow trouble, that we do
And hunt for thorns and find them too
And miss the lovely violet
That grows beside the way

On envious wishes be not bent
But in your garden plant content
You'll find it soon becomes a tree
That bears you golden fruit.

This German folk song celebrates the change of the seasons, when the cold weather of winter has passed and is replaced by the warmth of spring. Because it can be quite gloomy in Germany in the winter, there are several folk songs written about the change of the seasons.

Burschenlust (Student's Delight)
Now May has come back and
The tress are all in bloom
If you like to be sad,
You may keep to your room!

As the clouds through the blue vault
Of heaven are whirled
My heart would be off and
Away through the world.

So up and away ere
The sunshine shall fail
Up over the mountain
And down through the dale.

The rivulets tinkle
The breeze it blows strong,
My heart's like a lark and
Joins in with a song.

In the late 1960s, a movement against Volkslieder began as popular culture changed both the tune and tone of German folk music. German folk songs came to be influenced by the popular American and British folk songs that flooded the radio. Folk songs began to reflect the values expounded by the German students who participated in the student revolution in Western Germany. These folk songs were social and political commentaries focused on the sorrow, anger and frustration of what young Germans considered the reality of life in Germany at the time. These songs were often thinly veiled criticisms of the government.

A popular collection of these kinds of folk songs is "Volkmusik in Jeans," a collection of 23 German folk songs that are representative of music from the 1950s through the year 2000. If you listen to this, you can see how the very first democratic and anti-government songs were much more opaque, but political sentiments grew more and more transparent as the years passed. Interestingly, both East and West Germany experienced increased political sentiment in songs. In Eastern Germany, German folk music took a prominent place at the annual Festival des Politischen Liedes, a festival featuring political songs.

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