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"Erlkönig"

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Franz Schubert
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor / Music of Mahler, Schubert & Mozart Mar. 7 - 9, 2013
© Peter Laki

Franz Peter Schubert was born in Himmelpfortgrund, near Vienna (now part of the city) on January 31, 1797, and died in Vienna on November 19, 1828.  He wrote the songs heard at this weekend's concerts between 1814 and 1826.

The six songs performed at this weekend's concerts run a total of approxximately 25 minutes in performance. 

 

The German word Lied (song) has found its way into the English language, denoting a special variety of piano-accompanied song set to German lyrics.  The Lied evolved from more modest antecedents into one of the major Romantic genres, largely owing to the genius of a single composer, Franz Schubert.  Schubert was able to evoke the most passionate drama in a few minutes of music, and he could achieve transcendence by the simplest means imaginable.

          Schubert's songs were not written for the concert hall but for the informal musical evenings so dear to the composer and his friends.  At these evenings, Schubert would sit at the piano and accompany singers like Johann Michael Vogl, longtime member of the Court Opera, or such well-trained amateurs as Karl Schönstein.  Schubert himself had a pleasant singing voice, having started his career as a choirboy in the Vienna Stadtkonvikt (Imperial and Royal City College).

          Schubert wrote more than 600 songs, of which fewer than a third were printed during his lifetime.  The songs didn't begin to circulate more widely until decades after the composer's death.  If Schubert's music gradually came into its own with performers and audiences, it was largely through the efforts of composers such as Robert Schumann, who discovered the manuscript of the ?Great C-Major" symphony; Felix Mendelssohn, who conducted the premiere; Franz Liszt, who popularized Schubert's music through numerous transcriptions; and Johannes Brahms, who was one of the driving forces behind the publication of Schubert's collected works.

          One of the consequences of this newly-found enthusiasm for Schubert was that the songs broke out of the isolation of private homes and entered the world's great concert halls.  It was soon realized that because of their great richness in colors, Schubert's piano parts lent themselves admirably to orchestration.  Although some of the intimacy of the songs was bound to get lost in the process, the orchestral arrangements enhanced the dramatic power and depth of feeling inherent in the music.  They also reveal a great deal about how Schubert was seen by successive generations of composers.

 

VI. Erlkönig, D. 328 (1815)

Erl King

words by Goethe

orchestrated in 1914 by Reger

 

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 gehn?

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.

 

Who's riding so late through night, so wild?

It is the father who's holding his child;

He's tucked the boy secure in his arm,

He holds him tight and keeps him warm.

 

?My son, why hide you your face in fear?"

?See you not, father, the Erl King near?

The Erl King in his crown and train?"

?My son, 'tis but a foggy strain."

 

?Sweet lovely child, come, go with me!

What wonderful games I'll play with thee;

Flowers, most colorful, yours to behold.

My mother for you has garments of gold."

 

?My father, my father, and can you not hear

What Erl King is promising into my ear?"

?Be calm, stay calm, o child of mine;

The wind through dried leaves is rustling so fine."

 

?Wouldst thou, fine lad, go forth with me?

My daughters should royally wait upon thee;

My daughters conduct each night their song fest

To swing and to dance and to sing thee to rest."

 

?My Father, my father, and can you not see

Erl King's daughters, there by the tree?"

?My son, my son, I see it clear;

The ancient willows so grey do appear." 

 

?I love thee, I'm aroused by thy beautiful form;

And be thou not willing, I'll take thee by storm."

?My father, my father, he's clutching my arm!

Erl King has done me a painful harm!"

 

The father shudders and onward presses;

The gasping child in his arms he caresses;

He reaches the courtyard, and barely inside,

He holds in his arms the child who has died.

 

Transl. Walter Meyer