Listening Reaction For The Schubert Song, Erlknig – Assignment Example

Listening Reactions for the Schubert Song Erlkönig. The Schubert song Erlkönig, Opus D.328) was composed in late 1815 but it was based on a much older ballad written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1747-1828) in 1782 for a play called Die Fischerin (The Fisherwoman). This in turn was based on an ancient Danish folk tale of an elf king who used to steal children. At the time of writing Schubert was a young man with a reputation to make while Goethe was Germany’s greatest living author. It was fashionable at the time for Schubert and others to put literary pieces to music in the form of “Lieder” (Songs) for performance during smaller gatherings by a single voice with piano accompaniment. These were free standing works in their own right, quite separate from their original settings.
Goethe’s original ballad consists of eight verses with proper rhymes and a regular rhythmic beat caused by stress on particular important words. Schubert’s adaptation retains the eight verses but changes the rather dull rhythm by introducing faster rising triplet scales on the piano. There is a long prologue of some 15 bars which sets up this galloping pace, and then the voice follows with tonal switches to represent the characters of the father (low, reassuring base tones) the son (increasingly high pitched cries) and the Erlkönig (lyrical and smooth, but turning more aggressive towards the end). There is dramatic development rising to a crescendo where the listener expects the journey to end and the boy to be snatched to safety in the nick of time, but instead the drumming piano stops in the fourth bar from the end, and there is a loaded silence followed by a unexpected soft cadence which signifies the death of the boy.
If the work has any faults then it is perhaps the fact that it is both difficult to play and very demanding to sing, both technically in terms of speed in playing the base and breath in singing the text. The singer needs also an almost actorly skill if he or she is to depict each distinct character in a few brief lines. The work’s greatest attraction is its dramatic development and the perfect representation of each character’s salient features through the music. It mingles music and text so well together that people now immediately think of the song, and not the poem, when they hear the word “Erlkönig” and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Schubert’s Lied has eclipsed Goethe’s ballad in artistic merit. Goethe remains Germany’s national poet, but he is little known outside that country. Schubert’s genius has ensured that this work, at least, has attained worldwide celebrity and lasting appreciation, as is testified by the many famous renditions of the piece that have been made since its creation.
Wold, Martin, Miller and Cykker. (1995) Introduction to Music and Art in the
Western World. 10th edition. New York: McGraw Hill, pp. 258-261.