Analysis of Franz Schubert's Lied “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” - op. 2

Seminar Paper 2011 5 Pages

Musicology - Miscellaneous


Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed one of his most famous Lieder “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel”) in 1814 when he was just seventeen years old. This Lied which is a setting of a scene of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust I exemplary shows the mastery of Schubert. With seemingly simple means he paints the clear picture of smitten Gretchen who sits at the spinning wheel and yearns for the intellectual, older, nobleman Heinrich Faust after their kiss in the garden house.

Each of the ten stanzas of the original text by Goethe consists of four lines which all have approximately the same length. On the other hand, the rhyme scheme (mostly abcb), the cadenzas (mostly masculine) and especially the measure which is not continously iambic on the other hand show some irregularities. Goethe gave the text an “A B C A D E F A G H” form with stanza A acting as a chorus which suggests that Goethe probably also intended it to be sung by Gretchen. Each of these stanzas consists of four lines which have all approximately the same length. The placement of the chorus makes sense with regard to the content: First, Gretchen expresses her longing for Faust and how their encounter confuses her. From stanza D on, she describes how she waits for him every minute and romanticizes his appearance by listing all his features. Eventually, the first peak is reached at the end of strophe F in which she first mentions their kiss. After the slightly calming chorus, the text intensifies till the second peak is reached in stanza H when she expresses how deeply she wants to kiss him, no matter what damage this may cause for her. Both peaks are not only visible in the content but also in the stylistics Goethe used. Firstly, an enjambement speeds up the transition to stanza F and H which both end with an exclamation. In the latter case, this is even more emphasized because Goethe used a parallelism between the last line of stanza G, and the first line of stanza H. Both lines start with “und” and end with “ihn” which strengthens the climax to the peak in the last line of stanza H. Small climaxes can also be found in the stanzas itself. For example in stanza A, the uneasy state of mind of Gretchen is highlighted by the augmentation of the word “nimmer” to “nimmermehr.”



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Utrecht University – Roosevelt Academy
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franz schubert gretchen am spinnrade op. 2 lied Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel liedanalyse musiktheorie analysis goethe faust



Title: Analysis of Franz Schubert's Lied “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” - op. 2