What Fresh Hell Is This?

January 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Schubert

I almost missed Mozart's birthday. I cannot miss this one.

Franz Schubert, one of the preeminent composers in the history of (for lack of a better term) the western European art music tradition, was born this day in the city of Vienna in 1797. Mostly unknown in his own short lifetime and living almost completely within Beethoven's, Schubert nevertheless composed some of the masterpieces in that tradition. You can not go through this day without hearing Gretchen am Spinnrade:

This lieder was originally composed for voice and piano but since it's Renée Fleming singing and Claudio Abbado conducting I think should be OK.


The text is, of course, Goethe. His Faust Part I. Gretchen is sitting at a spinning wheel thinking about her absent lover, Faust. In German:
Meine Ruh' ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer,
Ich finde sie nimmer
Und nimmermehr.
Which roughly translates into English as:
My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.
Think of it this way. Her lover is gone. She misses him and everything inside her feels heavy and wooden. Who hasn't felt that way when a lover has gone?

Listen for the accompaniment. Schubert set it to sound like what the pedal of the spinning wheel does when spinning. It's obvious Gretchen is spinning throughout the song except when she gets to this point:
Und ach, sein Kuß!
She's just finished describing Faust and when gets to his kiss "sein Kuß!". The spinning wheel stops. Gretchen collects herself, tries to start again, and then stops. When she finally starts spinning she's singing the opening gesture of the song, "Meine Ruh' ist hin..."

It's an amazing moment.

Oh yea, Johnny Rotten was born today, too.

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