Mozart – Aria: “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” from the Opera Zaide

by Max Derrickson

Aria: “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” from the Opera Zaide

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(Born in Salzburg in 1756; died in Vienna in 1791)

In 1778 Austrian Emperor Joseph II began setting up a new opera company called Nationalsingspiel (“National Singspiel”) to produce German operas.  Vienna, at the time, was still filled with Italians, and except for the Bohemian-Austrian Christoph Gluck, most of the contemporary operas were being written in Italian and modelled on the Italian standards.  In its brief life until 1783, Joseph II’s opera company failed to produce many great masterpieces, though, ironically, Antonio Salieri was quick to write a winning work, sung in German, but still Italian in style. In 1782, the greatest work to be composed was Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384; The Abduction from the Seraglio; also known as Il Seraglio).

Before this great opera, however, Mozart began an earlier one in 1779-80 at the beginning of the new Opera Company.  A colleague encouraged Mozart to write a German singspiel, or “singing play,” where instead of recitative to carry the narrative between sung numbers, the performers would speak the dialogue.  Mozart reportedly was incredulous, [. . .]  Das Serail was found among Mozart’s scores by his wife after his death, and the opera was prepared for performance in 1830, with the title Zaide by which it is now known.

Turkish pirates in the 1700’s were on the prowl in the Mediterranean, taking loot and conscripting Christian slaves.  Operas and stories about these Westerners escaping Turkish captivity were much the rage in Vienna in Mozart’s day.  Having found a librettist in Johann Schachtner, Mozart’s Zaide took up this popular theme.  Zaide is the heroine Christian slave who falls in love with another slave, Gomatz.  The Sultan who owns them is enraged because of his own affections for Zaide, but at the end [. . .]

“Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” (“Rest gently, my dearest life (Beloved)”) appears in Act I when Zaide first discovers Gomatz, at that moment asleep under a tree.  She instantly falls in love, and leaves him her [. . .]  It’s one of Mozart’s most beautiful arias, especially remarkable given that this is one of his first forays into full opera writing.

Simplicity and lyricism fill this lovely work, and it contains two of Mozart’s signature master traits.  First, is the style of the melody which comes from Mozart’s admiration for the music of Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian Bach.  Mozart’s technique is a true assimilation [. . .]  The second is a particularly lovely accent by Mozart.  As Zaide sings her words of love, the oboe often repeats a bit of her phrase, as if [. . .]


German Lyrics
Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben,
schlafe, bis dein Glück erwacht;
da, mein Bild will ich dir geben,
schau, wie freundlich es dir lacht:
Ihr süssen Träume, wiegt ihn ein,
und lasset seinem Wunsch am Ende
die wollustreichen Gegenstände
zu reifer Wirklichkeit gedeihn…