Continuing my series on German Lieder, I’m looking at Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the spinning wheel) by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Schubert composed over 600 songs, this one at the astonishingly young age of 17. It is one of my all time favourite songs, both for its simplicity and its incredible power.
The text is taken from Goethe’s Faust, Part One, where Gretchen, having been wooed by Faust, is sitting at her spinning wheel, obsessed by the thought of him. Her love for him is so overwhelming that her heart is in turmoil and she believes she will never find peace again:
Meine Ruh ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer;
Ich finde sie nimmer
My peace is gone,
My heart is sore,
It is gone forever
(Translation by Philip Wayne, 1949)
The piano accompaniment, with its repetitive, rolling semi-quavers, conveys the idea of the spinning wheel forever turning. The only time in the song when the spinning wheel stops is when Gretchen remembers the passion of Faust’s kiss!
This recording by Barbara Bonney, accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons, captures the mood of the song perfectly.