Musical Stylings of “Der Erlkönig”

by Bryce Arbour

“Der Erlkönig” or simply “Erlkönig” is a famous poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The most popular musical composition of the poem is Franz Schubert’s lied “Erlkönig,” (1815) which we listened to in class. The lied, posted below, features an urgent piano line (which mimics galloping) while one vocalist sings the lines of the four characters (narrator, father, child, and Erlkönig) in slightly different pitches:

Carl Loewe, however, composed a different version of “Erlkönig” in 1817-18 that was similar to Schubert’s but not quite the same. His is less melodic, though the piano and vocal stylings are very similar. I thought this was vaguely interesting until I read online that even though Loewe composed his version a few years after Schubert’s, he had no knowledge of Schubert’s composition. Thus, his composition is so eerily similar to Schubert’s that it almost sounds like a cover, even though he had no idea what Schubert’s sounded like. I found this fascinating because it shows that poetry, though it can be interpreted in different ways, often has a certain “feel” or atmosphere to it that musical accurately extols.

After reading about the similarities between the two different versions, I was curious as to how many other modern musical renditions of “Erlkönig” existed. I discovered an interesting metal rendition of the song from a band named “Hope Lies Within” that was posted in 2012. I feel like this version, though with guitars and drums, still captures the essence of urgency and darkness that is apparent in the older versions:

Even if the music is not my style, the animation is pretty cool. Another metal version from a band named “Abrogation” also exists:

Each composition brings a little something new to the poem, and I find all them interesting in the sense that Goethe’s simple words can be so differently performed by pianos, voices, guitars, drums etc. Music is a universal art!

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