Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Schubert - Gretchen am Spinnrade

Johann Goethe was a writer that inspired the entire 19th century world of art, specifically the Germanic-speaking world.  Franz Schubert fell under the spell of Goethe's works early on, and the first lied he set to Goethe's text was Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen At The Spinning Wheel), the text of which was taken from a scene in Faust. The year was 1814 and Schubert was 17 years old. Goethe remained an inspiration to Schubert for the rest of his short life as he wrote over 80 lieder to texts of Goethe, including his famous setting of Der Erlkönig

The scene depicts Gretchen at her spinning wheel as her mind drifts to Faust, a man she has recently met and fallen deeply in love with.  Schubert uses the piano as an illustrative device as the music depicts the wheel spinning in the right hand notes, the clicking of the spool that gathers the yarn in the staccato eighth-note accompaniment in the left hand and the pedal that makes the wheel spin in the lower notes in the left hand:

The passion of Gretchen grows until it reaches near madness in the 7th stanza, when the piano depicts the halting of the spinning wheel as she is overcome with the thought of his kiss. The wheel makes a few false starts before it begins again. The passion grows once again, until the first stanza is repeated and the wheel stops.  The song begins and ends in D minor, but Schubert takes the harmony far afield, a characteristic of Schubert's music that was to continue.  This song of 1814 led to one of Schubert's most productive years when in 1815 he wrote over 100 lieder as well as many works for orchestra and chorus.

There were many composers that wrote works of musical imagery before Schubert. The cantatas of Bach as well as the oratorios of Handel are but two examples of works that contained illustrative music, but Gretchen am Spinnrade was a turning point in the history of the German lied.  Schubert's fertile imagination and his pairing of the voice and piano as equal partners in musical expression influenced countless song composers.

Gretchen At The Spinning Wheel
My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never again.

Where I do not have him,
That is the grave,
The whole world
Is bitter to me.

My poor head
Is crazy to me,
My poor mind
Is torn apart.

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never again.

I look only for him
Out the window
Only for him do I go
Out of the house.

His tall walk,
His noble figure,
His mouth's smile,
His powerful eyes,

His mouth's
Magic flow,
His touch,
and ah! his kiss!

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never again.

My bosom urges itself
toward him.
Ah, might I grasp
And hold him!

And kiss him,
As I want,
With his kisses
I should die!

No comments:

Post a Comment