The moment I am writing this, it is dark, the wind is howling, the rain battering the windows. Low clouds are flying by, and occasionally I get a glimpse of the full moon. And there I can see father and son riding through the storm and trying to escape… the Erlking!
Does the Erlking exist?
The Erlking is a supernatural being, ensnaring human beings to satisfy his desire, jealousy and lust for revenge. Evil!! And if you listen to Franz Schubert’s song “Der Erlkönig” (D.328), based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, you might be tempted to believe the “Erlkönig” really exists. Especially when “Der Erlkönig” is sung by the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. The drama in her voice makes me shiver and I could listen to it over and over again. The proximity of lust and scare is of a strange fascination and has made the fortune of more than one movie director.
The romantic composer Schubert really has sparked my passion for the German Lied, as I have explained in a rather philosophical post some time ago. Anne Sofie von Otter and the German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff have recorded several songs by Schubert and those I like best. My family has a hate-love relationship to “Die Forelle” (D.550), written in 1817. My daughter and me, we just love it and often sing it just for fun… until my wife starts moaning: “Oh no, not that one again!” And still, she has to concede that it is beautiful!
The same goes for “An Silvia” (D.891) which is a delicate love song honouring a character from a Shakespearian comedy. A lovely, vivid melody for the strings and Anne Sofie von Otter’s voice shown to its best advantage. Fabulous! And the next track on the recording “Im Abendrot” (D.799) is moving me each time I listen to it just like “Die junge Nonne”. The latter one describes a young nun’s devotion to God but the text marked by an obvious ambiguity as it can also be read as a lustful declaration of a very earthy love if it weren’t for the final Alleluja!
Anne Sofie von Otter’s expressive voice give another song a most emotional power: “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (D.118). And if you listen closely and have an ear for movie soundtracks, you will realize that the strings’ part has been used in that incredible German war movie “Das Boot” to move forward the scene where a German submarine is crossing at a fast speed the Atlantic to attack an Allied convoy.
Finally I would like to emphasize the song “An die Musik” (D.547), sung by Thomas Quasthoff. Schubert composed it in 1817 using a text of one of his best friends, Franz von Schober. It was precisely the year he had left the teaching job at his father’s school and moved into Schober’s house. A step towards independence…
The black and the white rose
Recently in that excellent biography of Robert Schumann written by Martin Geck, I came across the distinction of black and white Romanticism. The concept was new to me, but I find it appropriate: dark moods, dominated by death, desolation and suffering – the black rose – and light moods marked by a naive joy, heroic love and glorification of nature – the white rose. Schubert was a master gardener of both.
© Charles Thibo