Sunday, October 06, 2013

HALLOWEEN: Der Erlkönig

This'll be in addition to the Song of the Week this week. I just woke up this morning and, checking in on the AV Club's "What's On Tonight?" entry, I saw that tonight's episode of Boardwalk Empire is titled "Erlkönig," and I immediately had to hear this music. I haven't made a Halloween mix this year, but on the years I do make it, I always like to put this Franz Schubert piece on there. I thought I'd play it and post it while it's still gloomy and dark this morning (it's actually supposed to be pretty sunny today).

I don't post a lot of art music on here, but this is one of my all-time favorites. It's a Lied by Franz Schubert; the lyrics are text from a poem by Goethe with the same title based on the German legend of the Erlking, a supernatural being (sometimes called the Elf-King, but Alder-King is more literal and somehow darker) The Erlking haunts forests and carries off travelers. The poem is about a boy being carried home by his father on horseback at night. The boy begins to see the Erlking approaching, but the father cannot see him and tries to reassure his son that it's merely fog, or willows in the dark, or rustling leaves. But the boy is attacked by an assailant the father cannot see, and tries to rush home faster, but when he makes it home, the boy is dead.

The hoofbeats of the horse are represented by the song's only accompaniment: the rapid triplet beats of the piano. Their shifting speed represents not just the literal horse, but also the emotional state of the characters: the narrator, the father, the son, and the Erlking. All four are sung by one baritone in different registers and with different rhythmic nuances. It's a challenging piece for both singer and piano player.

I don't know anything about this performance, other than the name of the baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I literally typed "erlkonig" into YouTube, and this was the first thing that came up. Looking him up on Wikipedia, I see he died last year at the age of 86 and had an impressive career. He was held in high regard. Makes me feel like a jerk for this paragraph. His performance here is tremendous.


Yasmin said...

I never knew Schubert wrote music to the poem. Being German, I know the poem, of course. But I have to admit, I don't really like Goethe very much. I think most of it, if not all of it, has to do with having to read his work at school. I LOATHE Schiller's Wilhelm Tell because I had to read it three times!
Do Americans tend to dislike what they had to read in high school? Or are your reading assignments more accessible, the language more contemporary?

SamuraiFrog said...

I think kids anywhere just tend to dislike being told what to read. When I was in high school, I remember lots of kids complaining about whatever it was we had to read, just because they didn't want to be "forced" to read something and then have to discuss it. I know a lot of people who still hate Shakespeare from having had to read him in high school. And any text that used a lot of less contemporary words, like say The Crucible, was a special target of hatred.

I liked a fair bit of what we had to read, but there are books I really despised, too, like A Separate Peace and Lord of the Flies (a book I like now, but hated at the time). They try to give you something more accessible--it's why some classes teach Romeo and Juliet at the same time as West Side Story--but it doesn't always work out.