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Basic German for music resources

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Jacey Kepich

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Many key music resources are only available in German. These include the Bach (Schmieder), Beethoven, and Mozart (Köchel) catalogs, and the critical notes to the new Bach and Mozart collected works. Often students are asked to refer to these resources, and they despair, since they know no German. If they're enterprising, they might type the text into Google Translate. Or they might ask a librarian.  Often, native English speakers can figure out enough by means of cognates, but that is difficult for ESL students, particularly for those for whom English is their only European language. 

This guide will not enable you to read music books in German.  Musicological German has a complex structure, which has been passed on to English musicological writing. But the resources we are discussing are more in the nature of notes or lists, and are grammatically simple. Below is a glossary, which include contextual notes in italics as needed. This will exclude most voice and instrument names, which are identical or similar to English, and any word which is exactly the same in both languages. Two examples from the sources follow, with explanations.

If you want more than this guide, but not a course, this may be of help:

Credit for the content and expertise provided in this guide goes to Jeffrey Quick, former Music Library Assistant at Kulas Music Library.
Updated 6/24/21.

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