Imagine that you’re surrounded by the devil, disturbed by the forces of the darkness. You seek help, and the answer that you get from your peers is that “that is just your illusion, it’s no big deal”.
Then when the darkness finally got you, before you know it, you’re already breathless.
That is the story told by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, adapted by Franz Schubert, Der Erlkönig makes one of the most eerie masterpieces in the history of classical music.
Want some dramatic music for a boring day? Here’s some for you.
Image @Torley on Flickr. Yes, it’s THE Torley Linden from Second Life, and that’s a tree from Second Life!
Der Erlkönig speaks of a young boy riding on the father’s horseback as they rushes home to their farm. In the dark eerie night at the forest the boy sees the Erl King, the devil king as he tries to seduce the boy to join him in the darkness. The boy tells the father about what the Erl King is telling him, about the colorful flowers on shore, or the lady who will rock him to sleep, or the girls that will dance with him till the night.
The boy is scared, really scared. He knows that the Erl King is someone bad, and he tells his father about the “promises” that he is giving to him. But the father instead dismisses them as the boy’s illusions, saying that it’s just the rustling of the trees or the wisp of the fog. It’s not the devil, it’s just him, he says.
And the Erl King continues his deadly seduction. When he realizes that sweet talk can’t take the boy, he decided to use force instead. The boy cries as he shouts to his father that the Erl King had grabbed and gotten him, yet too concentrated on his journey the father ignored his pleads.
When they finally reached the farm, the father finds the boy motionless behind him, dead.
Before we get on to the music, let’s just give you a few pointers on the music. The genius of Franz Schubert had composed the music to be very graphic and lyrical, so even for the beginner classical music listener, it shouldn’t be too difficult to listen and feel. 😉
- The song sets in 4 point-of-views, one of the narrator that tells the story, one of the boy, one of the father, one of the Erl King, the devil himself. Listen closely as you will find the boy crying in distress as he is very scared, the father’s deep voice trying to calm down his son while he focuses on the journey, and the Erl King using his sweet voice to coo and seduce the boy.
- The repeating fast beats that occur throughout the song from the beginning till the end for the accompaniment is like the galloping of the horse, while the quick runs of the lower sounded instruments are like the Erl King chasing behind. Get picture?
- As the singer sings he/she will act according to the characters in the song. You can see, hear and feel the different personalities, even if they’re acted by the same person. Try to find the difference.
- Some of the videos may seem pretty old, yes, they may be in black and white, but that doesn’t mean a compromise of quality! Classical music is timeless, while the interpretation 50 years ago may be different with what they do today, it is still pretty good.
- If you don’t like the looks of the singers, you can follow the lyrics below, in both the original German and translated English version.
So, are you ready? Take your pick for which version of the music you want to listen by yourself, and let the music take you through to a journey of ups and downs in a few minutes.
Anne Sofie von Otter — Soprano
(Recommended for starters)
Thomas Quasthoff — Bass-Baritone
(Recommended for starters)
Francisco Araiza — Tenor
Eula Beal — Contralto
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau — Baritone
Asato Shizuki — Contralto (Japanese)
Now this one is a pretty special one, the Japanese sure can make something old seem new! Asato Shizuki uses her very own way to sing the song that is totally different from the classical method, if you’re into something new and special, or if you like the Japanese people’s way of exaggerating like what they do in Anime or Manga style, listen to this!
Evgeny Kissin — Piano (Schubert-Liszt Piano Transcription)
Yes, this is a piano version of the song, rearranged by Liszt the crazy piano virtuoso, played by a famous pianist today Evgeny Kissin. Listen to it and see if you can still feel the different personalities in the song. Only this time instead of using different voices to act, the pianist uses different type of piano techniques to differentiate the three personalities, one with a high voice, one with low voice, one with a very sweet tone.
Hilary Hahn — Violin (Schubert-Ernst Violin Transcription)
Considered as one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the violin, Der Erlkönig is squeezed to be played on a violin with all the galloping, the narrator, the boy, the father and the devil. Now that’s a lot of stuff to handle on just one violin, and it’s very, very hard! Do listen to it if you like violin music!…