German Folksong: Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein/ Hark Who’s Rapping at my Door

Link to audio recording of song: Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein/ Hark Who’s Rapping at my Door:

Informant’s Explanation: “It’s very simply a story of someone’s in love with someone, he or she marries someone else, and he or she dies young, and on the grave, they plant forget-me-nots. It’s very simple, you know, in strophic form. It’s very easy, anyone can sing it, you don’t need to have any singing education or musical talent.”

Analysis: Interestingly, the song combines a weighty theme with a lively, upbeat melody. The music does not quite seem to match the story—from the notes alone, you could never guess at the speaker’s misery. According to my informant, almost all German folksongs are in major keys; so, apart from this tradition of writing cheerful folksongs, it is difficult to explain why such a disconnect would exist between the words and the melody. Perhaps, the lyrics and music were written by different people with different visions for this song.

Multiple versions of the song can be found online, including at the following links: