14 February 2011

Franz Schubert - Erlkönig

Franz Schubert - Erlkönig, orchestral arrangment by Hector Berlioz.
Sung by Thomas Allen, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

I figured it was time for another song, but this one is quite different from Les Nuits D'Été (even though it was arranged by Berlioz). It's a much darker song, both in its music and in its lyrics, the fact that it's sung by a baritone might also make a difference (although there are some amazing versions of this song sung by mezzo-soprano). The lyrics are a poem by Goethe:

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

"Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?" —
"Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?" —
"Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif."

"Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir;
Manch' bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand." —

"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?" —
"Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind." —

"Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehen?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein." —

"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?" —
"Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. —"

"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt." —
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!" —

Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Müh' und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Franz Schu
bert (1797-1828) was an Austrian composer, who, as you you can tell, died at a really, really early age. But he still wrote a ridiculous amount of songs (around 600 if I remember correctly) as well as 9 symphonies, a bunch of operas and a whole lot of piano music. I have to admit that I'm not a huge Schubert fan, I find most of his works dull but some, like the Erlkönig, are amazing. Though to be honest it's the orchestration by Berlioz that makes it even more exciting for me, it makes it a bit more... violent perhaps? And that appeals to me, unsurprisingly. If you want to hear more of Schubert's work I'd definitely suggest his (unfinished) 8th Symphony and his 14th String Quartet.


  1. I have to admit I seem to like song with lyrics less than just musical piece. I have trouble on what to focus... it always feels a bit like I can't properly focus on both the voice and the music (and I always find it harder to focus on the voice when I don't understand the lyrics).

    Though it's always nice to discover new things, and what songs with lyrics can sound like in a more classical way :)

  2. I completely understand, it's how I used to feel about vocal classical music. For me it just really took some getting used to, I found a bunch of songs I liked (such as the Berlioz one I posted earlier) and listened to them quite regularly and then sort of moved on up from there. So all I can say is, stick with it! Of course it's not for everyone, but the feeling of not knowing what to focus on does get less, at least it did for me :).

  3. Schubert's music can be, I agree, sometimes unsurprising to the point of fault. And yet, I'd say, there is an occasion for every great composer, and this is no different for Schubert. At least I've heard no better music to fit the special sort of melodramatic mood brought on by misappropriated romantic sentiments and imploded amorous designs, as his Winterreise. In such moods its simplicity and nonchalance are a remedy, not to mention the lyrics.

    As for the piece you presented, the Erlkönig, I've not had an occasion to listen to it before. It is very interesting to attend the small variance in the singer depending on whether he is in the role of the poetic speaker, the father or the son. It is pleasant to the ear.

    As for the question of focus and amiable introduction and familiarization: my own experience has been that the music that I dislike usually becomes music that I like after I sit through the right concert with the right orchestra and the right conductor presenting it to me, and in the right mood. The trick to appreciating classical music, as I understand it, is to focus on the more subtler tones, while letting the more prominent ones surprise.