Gretchen am Spinnrade
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"Gretchen am Spinnrade" (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), Op. 2, D 118, is a Lied composed by Franz Schubert using the text from Part One, Scene 18 of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust. With Gretchen am Spinnrade and some 600 other songs for voice and piano, Schubert was a significant contributor to the genre of the Lied. Gretchen am Spinnrade was originally composed for the soprano voice, but it has also been transposed to accommodate mezzo-sopranos and other voice types. Schubert completed Gretchen am Spinnrade in October 1814, three months before his eighteenth birthday.
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The song opens with Gretchen at her spinning wheel, thinking of Faust and all that he had promised. The accompaniment in the right hand mimics the perpetual movement of the spinning-wheel and the left hand imitates the foot treadle. The initial key of D minor sets a longing tone as Gretchen begins to sing of her heartache ("Meine Ruh' ist hin/Mein herz ist schwer"). The first section progresses from D minor to C major, A minor, E minor, F major, and then returns back to D minor. This, plus the crescendo, builds tension which releases only to be brought back to the beginning, much like the ever-circling spinning wheel. The song modulates to F major as Gretchen starts talking of Faust ("Sein hoher Gang/Sein' edle Gestalt") The left hand imitation of the treadle disappears and is replaced with block chords, giving this section a more free feeling. Additionally, the absence of the rhythmic, consistent treadle allows Gretchen to lose her sense of stability and reality as she swoons over Faust. This section increases tension with a faster tempo, louder dynamics, and higher pitch in the soprano and peaks at Gretchen's remembrance of Faust's kiss ("Und ach, sein Kuß!"). Similar to the previous section, the music returns to the home key of D minor as Gretchen resumes reality and begins her spinning once more. The third part begins again with "Meine Ruh' ist hin/Mein herz ist schwer," but this time Gretchen escalates in intensity much faster than the previous sections. However, the treadle-like left hand is present, keeping her rooted in reality. Gretchen comes down from this fantasy quicker than before, as she realizes she and Faust will never be together. With a heavy heart, Gretchen comes to terms with this hard truth. The song ends as it began: in D minor, alluding to the monotony of the spinning wheel, and how reality is always present.
Notable recordings include those by
- Elly Ameling and Jörg Demus
- Elly Ameling and Dalton Baldwin
- Barbara Bonney and Geoffrey Parsons
- Janet Baker and Gerald Moore.
- Nina Hagen, Street CD, 1991, titled "Gretchen"
- Anne Sofie von Otter, Schubert Lieder with Orchestra, CD, accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe led by Claudio Abbado.
Other notable recordings include those by Kathleen Ferrier, Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Christa Ludwig, Gundula Janowitz, Jessye Norman, Irmgard Seefried, Elisabeth Schumann, Lotte Lehmann, Rosette Anday, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
- Gretchen am Spinnrade: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- German text and English translation The Lied, Art Song and Choral Texts Archive
- Full score and MIDI file at Mutopia
- on YouTube, Kiri Te Kanawa, Richard Amner
- Link to recitation of poem for study Bergen Bel Canto Studio