The Lorelei (German: Loreley, pronounced [loːʁəˈlaɪ]) is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea, and is the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge, a 65 km section of the river between Koblenz and Bingen that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in June 2002. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.
The name comes from the old German words "lureln" (Rhine dialect for "murmuring") and the Celtic term "ley" (rock). The translation of the name would therefore be: "murmur rock" or "murmuring rock". The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces to act as a sort of amplifier, giving the rock its name.1 The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to the urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many accidents, by combining the German verb "lauern" (to lurk, lie in wait) with the same "ley" ending, with the translation "lurking rock".
The rock and the murmur it creates have inspired various tales. An old legend envisioned dwarves living in caves in the rock.
In 1801, German author Clemens Brentano composed his ballad Zu Bacharach am Rheine as part of a fragmentary continuation of his novel Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter. It first told the story of an enchanting female associated with the rock. In the poem, the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. Brentano had taken inspiration from Ovid and the Echo myth.
In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano's theme in one of his most famous poems, Die Lorelei. It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. In 1837 Heine's lyrics were set to music by Friedrich Silcher in the art song Lorelei2 that became well known in German-speaking lands. A setting by Franz Liszt was also favored and over a score of other musicians have set the poem to music.3
The Lorelei character, although originally imagined by Brentano, passed into German popular culture in the form described in the Heine-Silcher song and is commonly but mistakenly believed to have originated in an old folk tale. The French writer Guillaume Apollinaire took up the theme again in his poem "La Loreley", from the collection Alcools which is later cited in Symphony No. 14 (3rd movement) of Dmitri Shostakovich.
Works about, or referencing, the Lorelei:
- German composer Felix Mendelssohn began an opera in 1846 based on the legend of the Lorelei Rhine maidens for Swedish soprano Jenny Lind;4 however, he died before he had the chance to finish it 5
- German composer Clara Schumann composed another version of Heine's poem in 1843.
- Two other completed operas from later that century were also written about the subject, Lurline by William Vincent Wallace and Loreley by Alfredo Catalani (first performed in 1860 and 1880 respectively)
- In Eichendorff's 1812 poem "Waldesgespräch", a rider meets a beautiful young woman in the forest who turns out to be "the witch Loreley"; she tells him that he will never leave the forest
- Sylvia Plath wrote a poem entitled "Lorelei" (part of the collection The Colossus and Other Poems, first published in 1960)
- The surrealist painter Edgar Ende produced an oil painting titled Loreley toward the end of his career, in 1963.
- The Heine Memorial in the Bronx, better known as the "Lorelei Fountain", takes the form of the mythical siren from Heine's poem.6
- Stephen Foster's song "Beautiful Dreamer" refers to mermaids chanting the wild Lorelei.
- Polish musician Kapitan Nemo released a synthpop song "Twoja Lorelei" ("Your Lorelei") in 1984.7
- German heavy metal band Scorpions released their song "Lorelei", which is about the love of a sailor, in their 2010 album Sting in the Tail.8
- US/English Renaissence band Blackmore's Night wrote a song Lorelei, telling about the nymph legend and the death toll she took.
- UK Prog Rock band Wishbone Ash produced a song about the mystery and dangers of Lorelei on their 1976 album "New England"
- The 1973 animated Star Trek episode "The Lorelei Signal" is about a planet of beautiful women who periodically lure ships to their world and draw the ships' men to their deaths.
A number of other musical works related to the subject of this article, along with others simply named "Loreley" or "Lorelei", may be found on the disambiguation page.
- Loreley - Ein Beitrag zur Namendeutung. Accessed June 16, 2006.
- Note: A scan of the sheet music and lyrics (printed in 1859; note the spelling "Lorelei") are available on the commons in three images: File:Lorelei1.gif, File:Lorelei2.gif, File:Lorelei3.gif
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lorelei". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Holland, Henry Scott; Rockstro, William Smith (October 2011). "La Tempesta". Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt: Her Early Art-Life and Dramatic Career, 1820–1851. vol.2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-1-108-03869-0.
- Steve Schwarz. "Felix Mendelssohn". Classical Net. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
- Joyce Kilmer Park Highlights - Heinrich Heine Fountain : NYC Parks "The Heinrich Heine Fountain (also known as the Lorelei Fountain) honors the German poet, writer, and social dissident Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), whose poem Die Lorelei immortalized the mysterious creature of romantic legend."
- Kapitan Nemo - Twoja Lorelei
- Scorpions - Sting in the Tail
- Mara, Darren; Illmer, Andreas (January 13, 2011). "Tanker carrying acid capsizes in Germany's Rhine River". Deutsche Welle.
- Media related to Loreley at Wikimedia Commons
- Loreley Information about the Lorelei rock and surrounding area
- Die Lorelei – Heinrich Heine's poem with English translation
- The Lorelei – Translation of the tale, from Ludwig Bechstein's German Saga Book
- Recordings from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project; search results for Loreley and Lorelei