Nineteenth-Century Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) is renowned as one of the great masters of German Lieder, having composed over 600 works in the genre. He wrote his setting of Gretchen am Spinnrade (“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel”), derived from Goethe's Faust, when he was 17 years old. Originally for voice and piano, Gretchen provides a first-person account of the feelings of its titular character as she works at her spinning wheel while reflecting on her conflicted emotions regarding Faust. The constant motion in the accompaniment part, echoing the tireless spinning of the wheel and the regular fall of her foot on the pedal, churns over a swiftly changing series of harmonies, representing both how swept away she is by her feelings for Faust but also her pain of not being able to be with him. The wheel's only pause comes when Gretchen reflects on Faust's kiss; it is the only moment in the song where she completely forgets her task at hand, so wrapped up is she in her tumultuous thoughts. As the musical patterns of the spinning wheel slowly but insistently return, Gretchen's composure is regained, and she returns to her task. This transcription for four clarinets employs a fluid exchange of the spinning wheel pattern across all four parts, and Gretchen's lyrical melody is also passed throughout the ensemble, allowing each player to have moments of both technical challenge and lyrical expressiveness.
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