The following research paper on Schubert’s lied ‘The Erlkoing’. The paper specifically examines the role of the piano in the Erlkoing.However, it is important to give a short summary of Schubert’s life and major composition style before examining the role of the piano in the erlkoing.
A short summary of Schubert’s life and major composition style
Schubert wrote songs which were referred to as lied. The term lied is a German word that was founded by Franz Schubert and is associated with a folk song.Usually, the composers of lied select an appropriate poem first before composing music that best projects the thoughts and mood of the text.
Franz Schubert was born in 1979 at Vienna location and was the youngest son in his family. He passed his early childhood years at home. He also developed love for music at a very young age.
His fondness of music was also stimulated by a close relative who took him often to visit a pianoforte warehouse where he would exercise without any guidance from a master.
Schubert joined a piano class at the age of seven where it became apparent that he had master the skills that he was bound to be taught by his masters. His father accounts that he prepared him for elementary lessons at the age of five. At the age of six, he sent him to a piano class where he emerged as one of the best student.
According to his father, Schubert happy moments were when he was at his play-hours together with his fellow schoolmates. His father continues to account that he taught his son the basic skills of playing violin while Schubert was eight years old.
He made sure that he played duets easily and very tolerably and it is afterwards when he sent him to Lichtenthal for singing. His choir-master Micheal Holzer,was very proud of him as he had never seen such a pupil who had the capability of mastering skills fast.
Actually,his master did not give him much lessons and instead, he amused himself as he found that Schubert already knew more than him. The school however played an important role in Schubert’s career as his pianoforte and organ playing skills were greatly enhanced.
Schubert also acquired some skills from his eldest brother Ignaz who taught him basic skills of playing pianoforte.Ignaz was however amazed by the fact that after a few months of practicing with him, he had already mastered the skills and thus, there was no need of further instructions(Fischer-Dieskau 56-59).
In 1810, Schubert wrote his first pianoforte composition made him famous as it was fabulous. During the following year, he wrote his first song ‘Klagegesang der Hagar’ and his composition skills were also amazing.
Gifted with a soprano voice, he was hired as a violin player and a solo singer at a local parish church while at a tender age of eleven years. Fischer-Dieskau(1976) in his study argued that his performances attracted huge numbers of listeners from all parts of the land.
Later, he was promoted to the Chapel Royal as a chorister and having mastered violin playing skills, he became a member of school band. His duty was to study on a daily basis and to execute symphonies of Mozart and Haydn as well as Beethoven’s works.
Schubert used the words of locally and internationally poets to write songs, he was most inspired by Goethe as he enabled him to write songs that had originality as well as startling power.
Schubert together with other composers such as Duparc and Faure strove to maintain a balance between the piano and the solo vocal line accompaniment.
The composers portrayed their specific concrete images by using the word painting. Word painting also favored the accompaniment of piano and other musical instruments (Fischer-Dieskau 56-59).
The role of the piano in the Erlkoing
The Erlkoing was composed by Schubert in 1815. The song describes about the death of a boy after being beset by a ghost. The song’s text originated from Goethe’s poem and it has been used as a traditional German song.
The song remains as one of the most famous song of Franz Schubert. In the Erlkoing, there are four characters who are involved i.e. the Erlkoing himself, the father, the son and the narrator (Fischer-Dieskau and Dietrich 56-59).The following are the main roles of piano in the Schubert’s Erlkoing;
The piano in the Erlkoing made the poem to be quite interesting. It made the lyrics to be interpreted in various ways and this makes it to be an interesting piece of art.
Firtsly, the performer used a different approach in resolving the Neapolitan. Instead of resolving the chord with a v to i, the performer uses iv chord which makes the piece to look odd. It makes the resolution to produce a different sound from which is expected by the audience.
Also,the piano makes the Erlkoing to be truly fascinating in that, it cerates a sense of urgency as a result of the scale wise motives that are produced using the weaker hand. In the Erlkoing, a sense of abruptness is created by the use of such dynamics as the subito forte (sf).
The subito forte dynamic in the Erlkoing remains valid until it is countermanded by an indication. The use of subito forte in the Erlkoing had an effect on the successive pitches. It enabled the audible intensity of sound to continue after an initial attack (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
The piano was used in the Erlkoing as it was associated with a rhapsodic style which enabled it to act as a partner as far as the depiction of emotion was concerned. In the Erlkoing, piano’s with six and a half octaves were invented.Also,the use of iron bars allowed piano’s with great dynamic ranges to be developed.
The piano enabled the poet to associate emotion, character and mood with each peace and this helped to achieve a musical performance. The Beethoven’s piano for instance played an important role in helping the poets to express their emotions in the Erlkoing.
By using the piano, a poet could connect to a wide range of emotions without seeming to be ungratefully unhappy. There; a poet could listen to himself too, think thoughts, feel feelings and feel thoughts.
The feeling that the poet have towards others guides them through seemingly endless variations (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
Piano in the erlkoing saw the emergence of virtuoso composres, audiences and conductor which was beneficial to all. While playing the Erlkoing music, the performers played the piano with ease by the left hand.
This provides the performer with an opportunity to speak promptly and clearly and to execute a flute-like tone. The performer while playing the Erlkoing does not execute too much effort (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
The piano is used in order to distinguish between the boy, the father and the Erlkoing. For instance, the Erlkoing’s melody’s are continuous and they stays in major keys. The boy and the father on the other hand have disjointed and short melodies withy minor keys.
The melodies of the Erlkoing sounds agreeable and sweet and this makes them to be sinister with regards to the song.Erlkoing adopts an easy approach and this enables the audience to know that he is indeed in charge of the whole situation.
The piano further distinguishes the melodies of the three in that, Erlkoing lines are the only parts in the entire song where the piano hammering relents and switches to an easier rhythm. The piano in the Erlkoing is also used to give a sense of tension.
A good example is that the hammering of the right hand of the piano stops when Erlkoing enters and plays an easy going melody while at the same time, giving a cradle-song lulling effect.
When the Erlkoing sings for the third time, the piano’s bass does not change but plays long notes and at the same time, the hammering continues with the right hand. The piano made Erlkoing’s line to be more appealing to the listeners than the lines of father and the boy (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
The piano in the Erlkoing plays an important role of helping the performers to express their words. The setting of words was an important aspect as far as the Erlkoing was concerned. The composers were however not concerned with drafting a lovely melody.
The composers required to have a good melody and also to express their words. Piano helped to evoke a mood, paint a picture and also enrich ideas more than a singer could do.
For instance, the piano is capable of suggesting wind that is blowing through the buildings or trees by the help of its rapidly moving notes as well as changes of dynamic levels (Hoffer 176).
Piano played an important role of helping reduce stress among conductors, performers and composers during the Erlkoing. The relaxing sounds of piano enabled people to relax in the Erlkoing.Piano usually set a soothing mood and also help in delineating characters in a song.
The art of playing piano enables people to relax their brains. It enabled such individuals as Schubert to maintain their mental health. Also, it is fun to play the erlkoing using a piano (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
According to Goethe (Byrne 76), Piano enhances the tonal quality of each voice i.e. The father’s hoarse sound, the child’s panic voice, and the erlkoing soothing luring sound. Just like galloping horses, piano has opening introductions and this makes the quality of musical themes to be impressive and expressive.
Usually, people’s voice can be beautiful and expressive musical instrument and when coupled with the tonal power of a piano moving result can be obtained.
Piano was used in the Erlkoing to enhance the voice progressions i.e. minor vs. major. During the Schubert’s days, the middle class purchased the Erlkoing song for family entertainment.Piano enabled the Erlkoing and other compositions to go beyond the music capabilities a good number of amateurs.
The piano allowed everyone to express their feelings regardless of their talent. The soprano voice of the piano helped to manage the song quite nicely. It helped to maintain a simple musical style and this made the performer to express the yearnings of his or her heart (Reed 42).
The role of the piano in the Erlkoing was to limit the physical distance between the audience and the poet. The introduction of the Erlkoing was associated with a strikingly chromatic progression that begins on a chord distance. The introduction of the voice allows the tonic chord to be reached.
Also, the harmony becomes diatonic and this makes the chord standards to be quite standard (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
The piano ‘s power enables it to act as a superego in the erlkoing i.e. the piano has much power in that it can stand voiceless with regards to textual voice.Also,the piano has power to authorize and to de-authorize its utterances. Piano has power to produce noises of different lengths.
Some notes that are produced by piano has sound long while others are quite short. Other sound notes are of medium length. The piano in the Erlkoing thus helps in defining the melody of the poem through its combination of short, medium and long notes.
Piano music is characterized by use of various symbols and characters. The symbols play a crucial role in telling the length of each sound note. The unique pattern and order of note lengths helped to form the melodic rhythm of the Erlkoing (Open University 207 Course Team 176-184).
The piano enabled the performers of the Erlkoing to play many notes and also to play complex chords easily. With the piano performer can voice his or her chords with a lot of versatility. The piano is capable of playing its own baseline i.e. it is not limited to play any number of octaves.
The performers thus found the piano to be more convenient as they could play any kind of base notes and rhythm (Byrne 42).
The fact that learning to play the piano is a complex task implies that it is an impotent musical instrument.The performers used the knowledge that they picked while learning the piano to enhance the Erlkoing (Byrne 76).
Playing the piano in a song plays an important role in improving the muscle tones of the poets. The piano in the Erlkoing helped to strengthen the muscles of poets’ hands and arms.
When playing the piano in the Erlkoing, the performers were completely focused. The training gave them a new confidence and also enhanced their self esteem (Capell 166-169).
The piano accompaniment in the Erlkoing provided other performers with an opportunity to play the music. The performers of the Erlkoing can thus group themselves into two groups that contrasts and complements one another.
This in turn helps to attract the attention of the listeners. The piano’s accompaniment also helps in according some sense support (Capell 167).
Schubert was a genius composer due to his peculiarly sensitivity to rhythmical features and expression. Schubert’s songs have been widely performed and published. The composers of the late 18 th and early 19 th century in Germany such as Klein and Bachmann have encompassed the Erlkoing in their works.
However, much of Schubert’s songs remained unknown during his lifetime. Goethe played an important role in promoting the work of Schubert as acted as his music advisor. The Erlkoing by Schubert is his most exciting and dramatic collection.
The mood of the Erlkoing is one of suspense and fear due to the mythical king which stated that whoever is touched by the king, and then he or she is bound to die.
The piano in the Erlkoing plays an important role in setting the mood. It also helps in delineating the four characters in the song.Also; the piano in the Erlkoing was intended to create drama and excitement by playing the role of the horse.
Byrne, Lorraine. Schubert’s Goethe settings. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003.
Capell, Richard. Schubert’s Songs: Preface by Martin cooper. London: Duckworth, 1973.
Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich. Schubert: A Biographical Study of his Songs. Ed. and trans.Kenneth S. Whitton. London: Cassel, 1976.
Hoffer, Charles. Music Listening Today, 4 th ed. London: Cengage Learning, 2011.
Open University 207 Course Team. From Enlightenment to Romanticism, c.1780-1830. Buckinghamshire: Open University Worldwide Ltd, 2004.
Reed, John. Schubert. The Master Musicians Series. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1987.