"Liebestod" ([ˈliːbəsˌtoːt] German for "love death") is the title of the final, dramatic music from the 1859 opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. When used as a literary term, liebestod (from German Liebe, love and Tod, death) refers to the theme of erotic death or "love death" meaning the two lovers' consummation of their love in death or after death. Other two-sided examples include Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliet, and to some degree Wuthering Heights. One-sided examples are Porphyria's Lover and The Sorrows of Young Werther. The joint suicide of Heinrich von Kleist and lover Henriette Vogel is often associated with the Liebestod theme.
The aria is the climactic end of the opera as Isolde sings over Tristan's dead body.
Mild und leise
Softly and gently
In popular culture
- "Liebestod, Liebestod, Liebestod" is the choral refrain of the song "Love, You Came to Me" from the 1969 Off-Broadway musical The Last Sweet Days of Isaac, by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford. The song is sung by a man and woman stuck in an elevator, as they prepare to make love, believing that they will soon die.
- Mild und leise is also the title of an 18-minute synthesized composition by Paul Lansky, made in 1973 on an IBM 360 mainframe and based on harmonic inversions of the Tristan chord, which was made famous by Wagner's opera. Parts of it became the foundation for Radiohead's song "Idioteque".
- "Liebestod" is one of the scenes in the 1987 film Aria, featuring a young man (James Mathers) and woman (Bridget Fonda in her first credited film role) who drive to Las Vegas to have sex and then commit suicide together.
- In "Demimonde," episode 4 of season 1 of Showtime's Penny Dreadful, Dorian Gray plays this on a gramophone for his guest Ethan Chandler, telling him that it is the only cylinder in his collection that he is not yet bored with.
- In Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Shakespeare adaptation, Romeo + Juliet, the opera version of Isolde's Liebestod is the background music played shortly after the death of Juliet (Claire Danes), who shoots herself in the head with Romeo's (Leonardo Dicaprio) handgun after watching him ingest poison and die; it continues to play during a flashback montage of their relationship during the film, as the camera pans away from the bodies of the dead lovers who are left in each other's arms.
- In Season 19, Episode 2 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the episode entitled "Mood", as part of a serial rapist signature, a ritual not necessarily required to commit the crime, the suspect played the song in order to commit the act
- Bronfen, Elisabeth, Liebestod und Femme fatale. Der Austausch sozialer Energien zwischen Oper, Literatur und Film, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2004. ISBN 3-518-12229-0