Franz Schubert: Der Erlkönig (poem by Goethe)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore
I chose this for Schubert's birthday (which is tomorrow) precisely because it is so disturbing and terrifying. Music can do that too! This is one of Schubert’s most famous songs, because it has such a gripping story, and because the characters are so clearly represented in the music. This singer does a masterful job of changing his voice and face for each character. When I made the mistake of watching this on the Amtrak last week I had tears streaming down my face! (I get emotional about Schubert. Also, I was sleep-deprived...) Tomorrow, we will watch an amazing version of this for solo violin; you can hear the characters in that as well.
This video has subtitles but I’ll summarize: It starts with the narrator describing a father and son on a frantic nighttime horseback ride. The father asks the child why he appears frightened; the son replies that he sees the “erlkönig” and is afraid of him. (The erlkönig is some kind of demon/fairy king, which we can tell is the hallucination of a sick child.) The father tries to comfort his son, explaining that he is mistaking natural phenomena for this creature. Then the erkönig himself appears, trying to tempt the child to come with him, and we realize he represents death, which the child is trying to resist. Finally, the child cries out that the erlkönig has hurt him, the father fears the worst, and when they reach their destination, the child has indeed succumbed to death, as if he had been unable to resist this horrible creature’s advances.
Amazing piano playing in this too—it must be exhausting!