Archive for November 3rd, 2012

“Gretchen am Spinnrade”

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Franz Schubert, born in Vienna, is well known for being one of the masters of German Lieder composition. In his relatively short career, he composed over 600 art songs including his famous song cycles Winterreise and Die schöne Müllerin. With his blending of music and poetry in textual illustration and dramatization, he transformed the portrayal of the art song.

Gretchen am Spinnrade is a song based upon an excerpt from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epic work, Faust. Schubert completed this piece in 1814 as a teenager, and it is considered one of the works that paved the way for the evolution of German Lieder. In this scene, Gretchen is sitting alone in her room at the spinning wheel after her lover Faust abandoned her and made a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles.

Even though the poem is strophic, Schubert varies the musical settings of each verse with drama. Text depiction is largely integrated in the song as the piano accompaniment portrays the rotation of the spinning wheel with the constant sixteenth notes that rise and fall in the right hand as well as the motion of the treadle in the repeated dotted half-notes in the left hand. With these figures, the piano brings about feelings of agitation as Gretchen anguishes over her beloved’s departure. When recalling the passionate memory of Faust, she enters a trance-like state in her fantasy as the music builds into a dramatic climax as she mentions his kiss. At this point in the music, there is a pause in the piano as if she has taken her foot off the spinning wheel. There is a brief interlude of recovery before she continues her task and succumbs once more to her grief in this deeply complex and psychological portrayal of a woman in love.

“Gretchen am Spinnrade”                           “Gretchen at the spinning wheel”

Meine Ruh ist hin,                                                       My peace is gone,

mein Hertz ist schwer,                                              my heart is heavy,

ich finde sie nimmer                                                  I will find it never

und nimmermehr.                                                      and nevermore.


Wo ich in nicht hab,                                                   Where I do not have him

ist mir das Grab,                                                           is for me a grave,

die ganze Welt                                                               the whole world

ist mir vergällt.                                                             is loathsome to me.


Mein armer Kopf                                                         My poor head

ist mir verrückt,                                                          is deranged,

mein armer Sinn                                                         my poor mind      

ist mir zerstückt.                                                         is shattered.


Nach ihm nur schau ich                                             For him only do I gaze

zum Fenster hinaus,                                                    out from the window,

nach ihm nur geh ich                                                  for him only do I go

aus dem Haus.                                                               out of the house.


Sein hoher Gang,                                                        His fine gait,

sein’ edle Gestalt,                                                       his noble stature,

seines Mundes Lächeln,                                         his mouth’s smile,

seiner Augen Gewalt,                                               his eyes’ power,

und seiner Rede                                                        and of his speech

Zauberfluß,                                                                 magic flow,

sein Händedruck,                                                     his handclasp,

un ach, sein Kuß!                                                       and ah, his kiss!

Mein Busen drängt                                                      My bosom yearns

sich nach ihm hin,                                                       for only him,

ach dürft’ ich fassen                                                   ah, could I embrace him

und halten ihn,                                                             and hold him,

und küssen ihn,                                                            and kiss him,

so wie ich wollt’,                                                          so much I want,

an seinen Küssen                                                         in his kisses

vergehen sollt’.                                                            I would perish.

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