Gute Nacht Mutter…

In the many conversations we have had with our German musik collector friends around the world it is quite surprising how many, though hugely knowledgeable about this wonderful interest of ours, did not realise the very sad story that lies behind this most famous of German war-time songs that, Wilhelm Strienz ‘made legend’ in the Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht… and though the full story of both the song and the Wunschkonzert are explained more fully in my book The Military Music of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945, I thought I’d share a taste of it with you as it certainly adds some incredible meaning to this song when you then listen to it:

The outbreak of World War Two saw the introduction of the most important and popular light entertainment programme broadcast nationally on Grossdeutsche Rundfunk: ‘Das Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht’ (Request Show for the Armed Forces) and first transmitted on October 1st 1939, it became a regular feature of Sunday afternoon listening…

Opening with Master of Ceremonies Heinz Goedecke’s words of welcome: “This is Greater German Radio: dear soldiers, dear listeners in the home country, dear friends beyond the borders, the fanfare is summoning the Request Concert for the Armed Forces…”  the Wunschkonzert offered an entertaining collection of variety songs, popular hits, stirring instrumental marches, unit marching songs, comic sketches and light classical music, all requested by the fighting men themselves and mailed in from the different theatres of war.

A German ‘Forces Family Favourites’, the Wunschkonzert was the soldiers’ very own show and forged a powerful link between those serving at the front and their families back in Germany and became a show-case for some of the best German music & light entertainment of the day. It was also to become the most important launch-pad for a number of famous and patriotic Third Reich songs, not least Norbert Schultze’s stirring Luftwaffe marching song Bomben auf Engeland’…

This first broadcast was also to include a heart-rending request that was to establish one song at the very heart of the armed forces request show…Gute Nacht Mutter!:

A German mother telephoned the radio station, her heart breaking from the loss of her only son in the Polish campaign. She had sat silently, listening to the names of young soldiers sending greetings and assurances to their mothers that they were fine, the tears running down her cheeks knowing that she would never receive such a comforting greeting from her boy, Walter, whom she had just been informed had been killed in the fighting at Radom in Poland…

His comrades had given him a soldiers’ burial with a birch-wood cross adorned with his steel helmet to mark his final resting place and his personal effects & notebook were sent back home to his mother. As she was now listening to the Wunschkonzert, with a Finnish choir singing a song of home, she opened up his notebook… and then rang the radio station: ”I have in my hand the notebook of my dear son and on the last page there are the lyrics to a song which he liked to sing, entitled Good Night Mother. Now he is dead this must be his last greeting to me…”

The member of the production staff who took the call went straight into the studio to relay the message to host Heinz Goedecke and the whole team went quiet as they took in the utter sadness of the mother’s request, then bass singer Wilhelm Strienz suddenly said. “I know that song..!”

Half an hour later, as the grief-stricken mother sat by the radio listening to the broadcast, along with most of Germany, Heinz Goedecke stepped up to the microphone and quietly related the story of her son’s notebook and his falling in Poland, adding “Walter has died not just for you, but for everyone”… and as the first bars of Erwin Lehnow’s  Gute Nacht Mutter’ filled the radio speaker, a radio legend song was born…. 

 

1. Good night, Mother, good night!

You thought of me at every hour.

You worried, fretted for your boy,

Sung him at night a lullaby,

Good night, Mother, good night!

I’ve caused you worry and grief,

You forgave me, Mother, kept watch.

Good night Mother, good night! 

2. Today a letter arrived from you,

A few short lines in your own hand,

Your love came to me across the miles,

Suddenly you were so close, I at your feet,

Suddenly it felt like home, wrapped in your love.

Now it is late and you are tired,

Worn by worries and care.

Your son is with you, sings you this song,

Sleep now till morning comes. 

3. Good night Mother, good night!

You thought of me at every hour.

You worried, fretted for your boy,

Sung him at night a lullaby,

Good night, Mother, good night!

I’ve caused you worry and grief,

You forgave me, Mother kept watch.

Good night Mother, good night..!

This wonderful song is featured on our 2-CD set the Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht performed by Eric Helgar, but the world famous version, as you’d expect, is also the final track of our CD:  Gute Nacht MutterThe Songs of Wilhelm Strienz 1935-1945.

I have to admit that when I went into the recording studio with audio engineer Woody to put the finishing touches this album and I prepared to record the ‘producer’s introduction’, I had just learned that my late mum, (and my best friend), had been diagnosed with terminal cancer… so trying to narrate this particular intro with a massive lump in my throat was not my easiest day in the voice-over booth, but somehow I got through it… just!

However when I now hear this song sung so emotionally in Wilhelm’s beautiful bass voice, it has a very personal resonance for me..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012

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