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"Gretchen am Spinnrade", Op. 2

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Franz Schubert
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor / Music of Mahler, Schubert & Mozart Mar. 7 - 9, 2013
© Peter Laki

Franz Peter Schubert was born in Himmelpfortgrund, near Vienna (now part of the city) on January 31, 1797, and died in Vienna on November 19, 1828.  He wrote the songs heard at this weekend's concerts between 1814 and 1826.

The six songs performed at this weekend's concerts run a total of approxximately 25 minutes in performance. 

The German word Lied (song) has found its way into the English language, denoting a special variety of piano-accompanied song set to German lyrics.  The Lied evolved from more modest antecedents into one of the major Romantic genres, largely owing to the genius of a single composer, Franz Schubert.  Schubert was able to evoke the most passionate drama in a few minutes of music, and he could achieve transcendence by the simplest means imaginable.

Schubert's songs were not written for the concert hall but for the informal musical evenings so dear to the composer and his friends.  At these evenings, Schubert would sit at the piano and accompany singers like Johann Michael Vogl, longtime member of the Court Opera, or such well-trained amateurs as Karl Schönstein.  Schubert himself had a pleasant singing voice, having started his career as a choirboy in the Vienna Stadtkonvikt (Imperial and Royal City College).

 Schubert wrote more than 600 songs, of which fewer than a third were printed during his lifetime.  The songs didn't begin to circulate more widely until decades after the composer's death.  If Schubert's music gradually came into its own with performers and audiences, it was largely through the efforts of composers such as Robert Schumann, who discovered the manuscript of the ?Great C-Major" symphony; Felix Mendelssohn, who conducted the premiere; Franz Liszt, who popularized Schubert's music through numerous transcriptions; and Johannes Brahms, who was one of the driving forces behind the publication of Schubert's collected works.

One of the consequences of this newly-found enthusiasm for Schubert was that the songs broke out of the isolation of private homes and entered the world's great concert halls.  It was soon realized that because of their great richness in colors, Schubert's piano parts lent themselves admirably to orchestration.  Although some of the intimacy of the songs was bound to get lost in the process, the orchestral arrangements enhanced the dramatic power and depth of feeling inherent in the music.  They also reveal a great deal about how Schubert was seen by successive generations of composers.

 

II.  Gretchen am Spinnrade, D. 118 (1814)

Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel

words by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

orchestrated in 1915 by Max Reger (1873-1916)

 

Meine Ruh' ist hin,

Mein Herz ist schwer,

Ich finde sie nimmer

Und nimmermehr.

 

Wo ich ihn nicht hab

Ist mir das Grab,

Die ganze Welt

Ist mir vergällt.

 

Mein armer Kopf

Ist mir verrückt,

Mein armer Sinn

Ist mir zerstückt.

 

Meine Ruh' ist hin,

Mein Herz ist schwer,

Ich finde sie nimmer

Und nimmermehr.

 

Nach ihm nur schau ich

Zum Fenster hinaus,

Nach ihm nur geh ich

Aus dem Haus.

 

Sein hoher Gang,

Sein' edle Gestalt,

Seine Mundes Lächeln,

Seiner Augen Gewalt,

 

Und seiner Rede

Zauberfluß,

Sein Händedruck,

Und ach, sein Kuß!

 

Meine Ruh' ist hin,

Mein Herz ist schwer,

Ich finde sie nimmer

Und nimmermehr.

 

Mein Busen drängt sich

Nach ihm hin.

Ach, dürft ich fassen

Und halten ihn,

 

Und küssen ihn,

So wie ich wollt,

An seinen Küssen

Vergehen sollt!

 

My peace is gone,

My heart is heavy,

I will find it never

and never more.

 

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 more.

 

For him only, I look

Out the window

Only for him do I go

Out of the house.

 

His tall walk,

His noble figure,

His mouth's smile,

His eyes' power,

 

And his mouth's

Magic flow,

His handclasp,

and ah!  his kiss!

 

My peace is gone,

My heart is heavy,

I will find it never

and never more.

 

My bosom urges itself

toward him.

Ah, might I grasp

And hold him!

 

And kiss him,

As I would wish,

At his kisses

I should die!

 

Transl.  Lynn Thompson